Exclusive Interview: “The Drift” Author C.J. Tudor
During the Covid pandemic, a lot of people felt trapped at home, even though they could leave to, say, go to the supermarket. But imagine if you couldn’t leave? Or worse, if you needed to leave but couldn’t? That, writer C.J. Tudor says in the following email interview, was “…the final piece of the puzzle” in cracking her new thriller The Drift (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook). Or, as she calls it, her new chiller.
Photo Credit: © Bill Waters
To begin, what is The Drift about, and when and where does it take place?
The Drift is essentially three connected stories set during a snowstorm in an undisclosed location. Meg wakes up in a stranded cable car with five strangers, no idea of how she got there, and a dead body. Hannah is trapped with other survivors in an overturned coach which is slowly being buried in the snow. Carter is holed up in an isolated ski chalet with a rag tag bunch of companions. But the power is failing, and something is lurking in the chalet’s depths.
Their stories are set against the backdrop of a viral pandemic in a near future, post-apocalyptic world. So, light reading.
Where did you get the idea for The Drift, and how, if at all, did that idea evolve as you wrote it?
I had the idea for The Drift back in 2019. I was thinking about locked-room mysteries and wondering what was the most impossible locked-room mystery you could write? The idea of a stranded cable car came to mind. But that wasn’t really enough to hang (no pun intended) a whole novel on, so I thought, how about three locked-room mysteries somehow connected? A stranded cable car, an overturned coach, and an isolated chalet. But it still needed something more. So, I started thinking about why these groups of people were trapped and why they weren’t being rescued? What else was going on in this world? For various reasons, I couldn’t write The Drift in 2019. And then the pandemic happened. In a way, that was the final piece of the puzzle.
You set The Drift in some, well, interesting settings. Is there a significance to, say, Hannah being trapped in a place that’s cold and could drop her to her death at any point as opposed to on a raft in the Caribbean that’s surrounded by sharks?
Ha ha! Maybe that could be for the next book.
I liked the idea of an icy setting. I don’t know why. It just appealed to me. Plus, I loved the idea of being trapped in a cable car hundreds of feet in the air with a dead body and a possible killer. Similarly, the overturned coach slowly being buried in a snowstorm was wonderfully claustrophobic. And of course, the chalet with something lurking in the basement. Cold and dark is always more creepy, isn’t it?
In the interview we did about your novel The Other People, you said, “Someone described my books as ‘chillers’ and I think that’s a really good description.” Is The Drift a chiller, or would you describe it differently?
I think it is definitely a chiller, maybe even more so than previous novels because it mixes in much more horror. Whereas previous novels were more small-town mysteries with a dash of supernatural, I pitched this one to my agent and editor as a “triple locked-room mystery / post-apocalyptic horror thriller.” I like to surprise them.
Wait, is that why The Drift is set in a cold environment, so you could call it a “chiller”?
I wish I was that forward thinking! But no. I wanted a setting that was very different to previous novels. I never specify where the book is set but, in my head, I was thinking North America. I wanted a big, wild canvas (even if my characters are mostly trapped).
The Drift is your sixth novel after A Sliver of Darkness, The Burning Girls, The Other People, The Hiding Place, and The Chalk Man. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Drift but not on your earlier novels?
Not really specific stories. But I definitely wanted this book to feel “bigger” than previous novels. I love authors who just go for it. Who aren’t constrained by genre or location. Obviously, Mr. King is a hero, and I love how he can write something as tight and claustrophobic as Misery and something as expansive as The Stand. I think, eventually, most authors want to flex their creative muscles and do something different. I certainly never want to be restricted to writing a certain type of book, set in a certain place. I might be U.K. based but it’s a big world out there.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of those things had a big influence on The Drift?
I’m not really a gamer of any type. But I enjoy a good limited series. Especially ones that mess with your head. I wanted The Drift to feel filmic. To have that scope. I always write very visually anyway, and I found myself doing that even more so with The Drift.
You also said in The Other People interview that, “…all my books exist in the same universe, but they are not all linked in some big story arc.” So, how does The Drift connect to your other books?
Well, there is an Easter egg in there if people have read The Chalk Man. The Drift is obviously set in the near future so it could feasibly be part of the same universe, just a few years ahead.
The Chalk Man, The Hiding Place, and The Other People have all been optioned as potential TV shows. Has there been any movement on any of these adaptations?
They are all still “in development,” as TV types say. But my fourth novel, The Burning Girls, has just finished filming for Paramount +, which is very exciting. The production team behind that, Buccaneer Media, have also optioned The Drift, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that, too.
This wouldn’t happen, but if the good people at Buccaneer Media asked you who they should cast to play Hannah and the other people in The Drift show or movie, who would you suggest?
I never let myself get drawn into speculative casting. Because often the perfect actor is someone you didn’t even think of. I’ve seen that with the casting for The Burning Girls. Also, the characters all kind of exist as real people in my head so I find it hard to stick an actor’s face on them.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Drift?
Hmmm. If you enjoyed my previous novels, this is a little different, but I think you’ll still enjoy the twists and turns and reveals — and the unreliable characters. If you’ve never read any of my books, jump in with this one because it’s a ride. Basically, if you enjoy mysteries, thrills, twists and turns and edge of your seat tension this is for you.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Drift, what snowy chiller of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I absolutely loved The Last by Hannah Jameson. It’s also set in a snow, post-apocalyptic world, but it’s a very different story. A group of strangers are trapped in an isolated mountaintop hotel after a nuclear war. And then they find a body. If you enjoyed The Drift, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.