I’ve been asked by a few people what on earth the title ‘Black Chalk’ means. I’m nervous about ascribing only one meaning to the title or telling people definitively what they MUST think its significance is. But here are a few of the thoughts I had when picking ‘Black Chalk’.
Firstly, and most obviously, the novel is set half in Oxford University, so the reference to a chalkboard felt appropriate. And the theme of the novel is somewhat dark, so ‘Black’ was also apt.
Secondly, the novel contains a poem entitled ‘Black Chalk’ but I don’t want to say too much about that as I don’t want to create a spoiler for my own book.
But personally, and most importantly, the title ‘Black Chalk’ refers to the idea that, were you to write with black chalk on a blackboard, the words would be there, up on the board, but you wouldn’t be able to read them. And for me, this is a metaphor for human emotion, the way in which sometimes we might feel something – anger, tension, contentment – but we don’t necessarily know why. It’s as if a set of instructions have been written, telling us how to feel, but we can’t see the words of those instructions. And if we try to work out them out, we might have no idea what they say or mean.
For example, I’m a very competitive person. I think almost certainly TOO competitive. Why is this? Well, I have a few theories (upbringing, ego, gender) but mainly I think my competitiveness is simply an ineluctable part of my nature. As if somewhere there exists within me a set of instructions telling me how to feel and behave. And I find it very hard to resist these invisible forces that drive me on.
The six main characters in my book – who play a game, a competitive game, a psychological game, a game of human nature – are all driven on by parts of their own character they don’t exactly understand. Itches, tensions, loves, fears, hatreds…
And this is what leads, unfortunately, to the dark consequences that run throughout the story.