Christopher J Yates is the author of Black Chalk. His latest novel, Grist Mill Road, was published by Headline on 9 August 2018.
Christopher answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Grist Mill Road.
Everyone touts “Grist Mill Road” as a thriller, but for me it’s a tragedy with a happy ending (a description that makes sense to no one but me, admittedly). However, my novel certainly opens with a very thriller-y scene. A teenage boy, Matthew, has tied a teenage girl to a tree—and he has a gun. A third boy, Patrick, is standing by, impotently watching (which will make him feel guilty for years to come). What follows is fairly gruesome, but really the point of the scene is that the reader sees it one way and then gradually finds out more and more information about what led up to this horrific incident, which may lead to a good deal of reevaluation on the reader’s part.
2. What inspired the book?
There’s an incident recounted early in the novel in which Matthew and Patrick, young boys at the time, go into the woods and lovingly build a spear together. When the spear is ready, Matthew turns to Patrick and says, “Run!” This incident really did happen to me when I was ten years old, and I’ve written it word for word, just the way it took place in my young life. So that was my starting point. And then I thought, “OK, but what if Matthew did something even worse than that?”
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I really don’t plan much at all. The reason why Matthew tied the girl to a tree was a complete mystery to me for more than a year, but I knew I wanted a better explanation than, “Well, he’s a psychopath, obviously!” I’d written half the book and was getting very worried that I still didn’t know why. And then it came to me in a blinding flash as I was heading to my kitchen to make a cup of tea, the complete backstory of Matthew, as if secret chambers in my brain had been working on this problem for more than a year, and the results were now being dramatically announced. I believe strongly in allowing the subconscious to do the work for me when it comes to plot lines. It’s a terrifying high wire act, but the results can feel somehow miraculous.
4. Having been through the publishing process is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
That no one has ever said to me, “How can you possibly presume that we might want to publish/read your novel? Don’t you realise we know what you did? You just made it all up!”
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I’ve been cooking since I was thirteen. It began as a necessity (parents divorced, mother had to get a full-time job, I hated microwave meals) and developed into a passion. I’ve been doing it for over thirty years now and therefore I know a few things. Unfortunately this has resulted in a problem—friends sometimes refuse to cook for me because they feel intimidated. However, this means they’ve missed the point of cooking for friends or family—it’s all about generosity and love, not about showing off the fact that you’ve mastered, say, the dark arts of the sous vide, or pressure cooker caramelisation.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
“Pale Fire” by Nabokov—not that it’s my number one favourite novel (although it’s certainly in the top ten), but because it’s like a Chinese puzzle box, mysterious pieces interlocking in arcane ways. You could read it a hundred different times and still see something magical and new with every rereading. It’s also the book that inspired my first novel, “Black Chalk” (the title of which somewhat echoes “Pale Fire”).
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Question: Is it true that the title “Grist Mill Road” came from a road sign on a bridge that you drove under one day, heading to Vermont for a holiday, and that you said to yourself, “Wow, I don’t have any idea what it’s going to be about, but that’s definitely the title for my next novel!”
Answer: Why yes, that really did happen, thanks for asking.
About the book
Matthew and Hannah were just playing in the woods, a little way from home.
But now he’s tying Hannah to a tree. And she has never been so terrified.
Patrick is there too, hidden, watching. He can’t move.
He can’t take his eyes off Matthew’s gun.
Years later, in New York City, leading adult lives they never would have imagined, the three will meet again. With even more devastating consequences.
Grist Mill Road is a chilling and heart-stopping thriller about friendship, family and revenge, perfect for fans of Odd Child Out, The Sinner and The Kind Worth Killing.
It all began on Grist Mill Road . . .
About the author
Christopher J. Yates was born and raised in Kent and studied law at Oxford University before working as a puzzle editor in London. He now lives in New York City with his wife and dog. You can read his blog on his website at: http://www.christopherjyates.com/