There’s something about small towns. Whether it’s the Midsomer of Sunday evening TV, the Derry of King’s IT or the ‘upside-down’ Hawkins of Stranger Things. Small towns, it seems, are rife with murder, madness and horror. Oh, and gangs of pre-teens on bikes!
I was born in a small town in Wiltshire. Nothing horrific ever happened there, I hasten to add. But when I started to write The Chalk Man, I knew it was the perfect setting for my book.
Small towns can be quite insular places. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. A wrong word one day can become a poisonous dispute the next. There’s a lot of potential for simmering resentment to erupt into something far more sinister.
Then there’s the contrast. A pretty, picturesque setting makes the shock of something awful happening even greater. Not to mention the suspicion that behind the net curtains and hanging baskets, small communities harbour dark secrets and a deep mistrust of outsiders. Just think about The Wicker Man or An American Werewolf in London!
Many of the places in The Chalk Man are based upon my hometown – the park where the fair is held, a fast-flowing river I was always warned about playing near, a rundown playground, even the pubs and good old Woolies on the high street. It enabled me to give the fictional town of Anderbury a very vivid sense of place. And, of course, the gang of friends in my book is loosely based on me and my friends as pre-teens. Not in terms of individual characters. But the stuff we’d do: building dens in the woods, riding around on our bikes, hanging out in the park.
The Chalk Man has been compared to Stranger Things and IT. They are all set in small towns where dark things happen. The comparison is hugely flattering although, funnily enough, the book was written in 2015, before Stranger Things hit the screens, the new IT movie was released or the resurgence of interest in 80s horror.
The Chalk Man is certainly a homage to all the stuff I loved in the 80s, like Stephen King, The Goonies and scarier films I probably shouldn’t have been watching like (the aforementioned) An American Werewolf in London. The recurring ‘ghost’ of David’s friend in that film stayed with me for many years! But I’d like to think that The Chalk Man is more than that – it’s a mystery, a story about growing up, losing innocence, how good intentions can have terrible consequences and how hard it can be to escape our childhood. It’s a story I don’t think could have been told anywhere except in a small town.
It is also, perhaps, proof that you can take the girl out of the small town but you can’t take the murder, madness and horror out of the girl!
C J Tudor