While every parent worries about losing their child, the idea of seeing it happen, and being incapable of stopping it, is unimaginable. It’s also what happens to the main character in C.J. Tudor’s new thriller — er, “chiller” — The Other People (hardcover, Kindle). In the following email interview, Tudor discusses what inspired and influenced this new novel, as well as her second, The Hiding Place, which has just come out in paperback.
Photo Credit: Bill Waters
To begin, what is The Other People about?
Okay so…driving home one night, stuck behind a rusty old car, Gabe sees a little girl’s face appear in the rear window.
She mouths one word: “Daddy.”
It’s his five-year-old daughter, Abbie.
He never sees her again.
Three years later, Gabe spends his days and nights travelling up and down the motorway, searching for the car that took his daughter, refusing to give up hope, even though most people believe that Abbie is dead.
Fran and her daughter, Alice, also put in a lot of miles on the motorway. Not searching. But running. Trying to keep one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them.
Because Fran knows the truth. She knows what really happened to Gabe’s daughter. She knows who is responsible. And she knows what they will do if they ever catch up with her and Alice…
Where did you get the idea for The Other People, and how did the plot evolve as you wrote it?
We were driving back from visiting relatives and found ourselves stuck in traffic on the M1. It was late and we’d been driving behind this same car for miles; a beaten-up old car with loads of faded stickers around the rear window.
I found myself wondering, what would happen if a face appeared in the rear window? What if it was someone in trouble, being kidnapped? Then I started thinking, what if it was someone I knew? And then my mind tumbled down the darkest rabbit hole: what if it was my own child, being driven away in a strange car when she should be tucked up in bed at home?
I’m always interested in normal people caught in extraordinary situations — what would we do, how far would we go if really pushed? My own darkest fear would be losing my little girl. I think it’s the same for every parent. We know that terrible tragedies happen and yet we cling on to this belief that somehow our family is special and protected, it will never happen to us. Bad things only ever happen to other people. But all it takes is one twist of fate and any of us could be the other people.
The Other People has been called a thriller. Is that how you see it?
Someone described my books as “chillers” and I think that’s a really good description. Primarily, The Other People is a thriller. It’s fast-paced with lots of twists and turns. It’s about love and loss and people. But yes, there is also an “other” aspect. I like to throw in something a bit creepier, a bit different in all of my books. I think readers expect that now and I am more than happy to deliver.
In writing The Other People, did you look at any real-world child abduction cases to see how people and the police behave?
Well, for the sake of avoiding spoilers, let’s just say that The Other People isn’t really about child abduction in the traditional sense. So no, I didn’t study any real-life cases. I’m very lucky because one of my neighbors is a former Met Detective. He read the book and gave advice on all the procedural stuff and basically told me how far I could push it plot-wise. I think if you make the small details, the environment and the characters believable then people are more likely to suspend disbelief in a story.
The Other People is your third novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on The Other People but not on either of your other novels, The Chalk Man and The Hiding Place?
Well, The Chalk Man was basically my homage to Stephen King and all the movies and books I loved as a teen in the ’80s. If I had to pick influences for this book, I’d probably Harlan Coben and Dean Koontz. I’m a big fan of both.
How about non-literary influence; did any movies, TV shows, or games have a big influence on The Other People?
No, not really. I don’t actually watch an awful lot of TV or films. Much of the time my six-year-old has control of the remote. However, I am a massive J.J. Abrams fan. I binge-watched both seasons of Westworld and I can’t wait for season three. Most of my books are inspired by things that happen in real life or something I see, or even a turn of phrase.
As I just mentioned, The Other People is your third novel after The Chalk Man and The Hiding Place. But while these three books don’t form a trilogy or the first installments of an ongoing series, I’m curious if there are any small connections between them, like how some writers will always use the same made-up names for products in their novels or movies.
I always say that all my books exist in the same universe, but they are not all linked in some big story arc. However, there is a little reference to The Chalk Man in The Hiding Place and also a reference to The Hiding Place in Book 4. I think that’s quite fun.
Speaking of your other novels, your second, The Hiding Place, was recently put out in paperback. What is that book about?
Okay, so The Hiding Place is set in a small mining village in the North of England.
Our protagonist, Joe Thorne, grew up in the village. When he was fifteen, his little sister, Annie, disappeared. At the time, Joe thought it was the worst thing in the world that could ever happen. And then she came back.
Twenty-five years later, in the same Nottinghamshire village, ten-year-old Benjamin Morton is bludgeoned to death by his own mother. On the wall above his body, just three words scrawled in blood: NOT MY SON.
Now Joe has returned to the village where he grew up, to work as a teacher at the failing Arnhill Academy. Not an act of altruism, but desperation. Joe has bad debts — and bad people — he needs to escape. He also has an anonymous email: I know what happened to your sister. It’s happening again.
But coming back to the place he grew up, means facing the people he grew up with, the things they did and what they found in the old abandoned mine…
Now, as I understand it, The Chalk Man, The Hiding Place, and The Other People have all been optioned as potential TV shows. Are they all going to be part of the same show? Is someone doing The Wide World Of C.J. Tudor? The Tudor Zone? American Tudor Story?
Ha! No, definitely not. That would be awful! They’re all stand-alone stories so, if they ever eventually hit the screen, they won’t be connected.
And where do things stand with these three adaptations?
Well, one thing I have learned about TV is that it is slooooow. And let’s be realistic, a lot of books get optioned and nothing ever happens. I’m currently waiting to see a script for The Chalk Man, while both The Hiding Place and The Other People are still at contract stage. However, I am very excited about the production company who have optioned The Other People, as I’m a huge fan of their work.
Given that you’re three for three with being optioned, have you considered cutting out the middle man and just making a TV show yourself?
Oh no, I don’t think so. I do think my books are quite visual, but I don’t think I know enough about script-writing to write a good TV script It’s a very different medium. I like the freedom books give you in expressing a character’s inner thoughts. I always wanted to be an author, not a scriptwriter, and I’m good with that.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Other People, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one as opposed to the other one?
Hmm. Probably The Chalk Man. I think it’s always good to start at the beginning. However, if you want something really creepy and more “supernatural” then maybe go straight to The Hiding Place.