Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Black Chalk author Christpoher Yates as part of the TLC tour for Black Chalk. You can read my review of the book here, and don’t forget to comment so you can be entered to win a copy!
Christopher J. Yates was born in London but brought up mostly in Kent. He studied Law at Wadham College, Oxford and then vacillated between the idea of a career in the law and working in puzzle magazines. After coming down on the side of the latter, he finally realised what he really wanted to do. Write.
He decided he would give himself until his fortieth birthday to attempt to achieve this dream. And then, just one day before turning forty, he found out that he was in fact going to become a published author. In Russia. (But that’s another story.)
Black Chalk is his first novel.
He now lives in New York City with his wife, Margi. And also his furiously hungry dog, Mabel.
Likes: cricket, cryptic crosswords, cooking
Dislikes: anything that doesn’t begin with the letter ‘C’
Now, onto the review! (I am bold, Christopher isn’t)
Black Chalk flips between the past and the present, with some twists and turns along the way. How did you map out the plot? Did you know exactly how it was going to play out before you started writing, or did it evolve as you went along?
I’m not a great plot mapper-outer. This isn’t a conscious decision and I’d certainly prefer more of a roadmap in my mind before I start writing but my head just doesn’t work that way. I know little snippets of plot when I start out, which act like a trail of breadcrumbs. So every day I wake up, follow the breadcrumbs and see where they lead me. Sometimes dramatic plot events just leap into my head, taking me completely by surprise—perhaps while I’m in the shower, or on the elliptical in the gym, say. This can be highly embarrassing—realizing something dramatic will happen to one of your characters and then having an emotional reaction to it in public. ‘Oh my God, Colonel Mustard’s going to murder Miss Scarlet with the lead pipe in the Billiard Room.’ And then you weep a little for poor Miss Scarlet. While you hope that the guy bench-pressing 300lbs ten feet away doesn’t notice.
- Did your experience as a puzzle writer influence how you wrote this book?
It certainly influenced me. I worked in an office for almost ten years as a puzzle editor and I still write puzzles as a freelancer. The Times (UK) described Black Chalk as “an inventive and intricate psychological puzzle thriller”. And I think the way I write a novel is a lot like solving a puzzle that I’ve set for myself. For example, the narrator at the beginning of Black Chalk has clearly been seriously damaged by… something. But I didn’t know what. I only knew that he had played a game of psychological dares with his friends many years ago. So the puzzle I set for myself was, ‘what on earth happened to him to turn him into a hermit who relies on strange routines and rituals to keep his life (barely) on track?’ I really didn’t know the answer to this when I started. So to a large degree, I experience the story the same way as the reader—a puzzle whose pieces gradually slot into place.
You are a British expat living in New York City. What do you love about your new city, and what do you miss from back home?
New York City has its own very special energy. I love the way New Yorkers will talk about anything, loudly, in public. (This is exceptionally helpful to a writer, thank you, New Yorkers.) I love the fact that a few blocks of New York contain as much life (restaurants, bars, art, stores, people etc.) as an entire borough of London. I love the buzz, the architecture, the food, the parks, the bridges, the attitude… I HATE the weather (long, cold winters; fierce, humid summers).
So I miss British weather—which I don’t think anyone can quite believe. Also, I miss London. I loved living in London but I don’t think I realized how cool London is until I returned as a visitor. I sorely miss pubs (a bar is NOT a pub). And (don’t tell them, most of them have large enough egos as it is) I miss my British friends.
- Tell us about your next project.
The book I’m working on now is entirely American—setting, characters, spelling, idioms etc.—which is a tough challenge as I’m almost entirely English. (I say ‘almost’ because I am now eligible for US Citizenship; in fact, the application is on my desk daring me to fill it in right now.)
This latest story begins in upstate New York, 1982, three teenage friends hanging out in a pine forest, where something terrible, violent and seemingly inexplicable happens right away. There’s also a married couple, living in 2008, and really it seems highly unlikely they should be together (because of what happened back in 1982). The wife has a serious physical injury and a great sense of humor. So it’s crime thriller meets tragicomedy meets unlikely love story. I have no idea how, why or even if it works.
I suppose that means it’s the latest puzzle I’ve set myself.
Do you have any additional questions for Christopher?