New York Times bestselling author Chris Whitaker joins Zibby to discuss ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, a haunting and unforgettable missing person mystery, serial killer thriller, and sweeping love story, all in one (and the Read With Jenna Book Club pick!). Chris explains the premise of his novel: two abducted teenagers fall in love in a pitch-black basement… and when the boy escapes, he spends the next 27 years looking for the girl. Chris delves into the personal traumas that shaped his life and inspired this story—including experiences with childhood abuse—and how important it has been for him to take control of his own narrative. Then, he hints at his next project!


Zibby: Welcome, Chris. Thanks so much for coming back on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss All The Colors of The Dark. Congratulations. 

Chris: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I can't believe it's been like three years.

Has it really? No. Yeah. Well, it came out in the UK four years ago, so I think like three years ago in the US, which is mad, isn't it? You were my first ever US event. 

Zibby: I Well, well, you've come so far. Look at what. I can't. 

Chris: I feel like I've aged like 10 years. 

Zibby: I actually can't believe that it's been that long. I don't, my sense of time these days is totally warped.

I look up and all these people I interviewed in the beginning have new books. It's crazy. It's just crazy. 

Chris: Yeah. That's because you're the, you're the busiest person I think I've ever met. How you do it. 

Zibby: I need to, like, slow it down because time is too fast. Time is going too fast. Um, okay. All The Colors of The Dark.

Tell listeners what it's about, please. 

Chris: I'll give you the, the kind of top line pitch, which was my like few line pitch that I gave to my publisher years ago before I wrote it, and it's, it's um, the book is about two abducted teenagers that fall in love in the pitch black basement they're being held in, having never seen each other.

Um, the boy escapes and then can't find his way back to the girl. And um, and the police don't believe that she's real. They think that because he was trapped down there for so long because of the trauma, that he kind of conjured this girl out of his mind. And, um, but he, um, he truly believes in his heart that she's real.

And, um, and what follows is this big epic 27 year search for, for the girl, for the missing girl, the love of his life and also for the, um, for the person that took them. Yeah. So it's a big like crime sweeping love story. 

It was a complete nightmare to write. 

Zibby: Yeah, tell me about the writing. Tell me about the whole thing.

Chris: It was really tough. So, I was um, so we begin at the end. It was my last book and I'd started writing this before that came out. So I was doing PR for that and, um, and COVID happened. So it was like a complete nightmare and we, um, at the time I had bought a house and taken the roof off the house and then COVID hit and then so we couldn't get builders or anything to finish.

So it was just raining into the house and I was trying to write this book and, um, yeah. Yeah, and I was working at the library at the time, so I was working three jobs. I wasn't a full time author back then. It's like my first two books didn't sell that well. And then, um, We Begin at the End changed everything, um, but I was still working three jobs.

I was at the library, I was doing research for this book, doing PR for We Begin at the End and because of the time difference, UK, US, I was doing like 2 a. m. events every night. I think I did like a hundred events and book clubs and things. So it was, um, it was like an endurance test, but I did love it.

You know, everyone was so nice, but, um, this time round, no COVID. So I get to come over for a tour, which is very exciting. 

Zibby: Very exciting. Yeah. I feel like when we talked last, you had never been to The places you've heard about, right? 

Chris: No, I've been to the U. S. twice. I went to Miami when I was 21 and Florida again when I was a kid.

Um, for Disney World. But coming to New York when I saw you, that was the first time I'd gone in like, 20 years or something. and that was to meet my, like, my new agent in the U. S. and to meet some of the team that I'd worked with for ages, but never met in the flesh. it was really cool and I love New York.

You know, I could really, I could live in New York. It's so cool. 

Zibby: Oh, we'd be happy to have you. 

Chris: Yeah. 

Zibby: I say on behalf of the city. 

Chris: I felt a bit like I was on like a movie set or something walking around, you know, everything feels giant and I was just looking up at everything. 

It's funny because I'm from London.

I'm from a city. 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Chris: It's not like New York. 

Zibby: Every time I go out of the city, I feel like I'm in a movie. I was just saying that to Kyle. We were in Dallas and we were like going through all these random, not random, that doesn't sound right. We were going through these small neighborhoods and I was like, look, this is like the Wonder Years or something.

It looks like a movie set. And he's like, this is actually how it looks. Most people live, and your life is like the movie for them, and I'm like, no. 

Chris: I love The Wonder Years. I re watched it. I tried to re watch it with my kids a few years ago, but they had no interest in it whatsoever. But for me, it was like, you know, this is my childhood watching that show.

Zibby: Me too. No, my kids need like, a YouTube short for like 30 seconds and even that's like too long. 

Chris: God, yeah. My, my 10 year old is just, he just doesn't stop looping things all the time. I'm sure it's not good for him. 

I'm really worried about it and I try and limit it, but then, but then I have to be a parent instead.

This is much harder. So. 

Zibby: I'm like, I wonder what he's watching today. I'm like, what is everything? I'm like, what is sad, so. 

Chris: I don't know. I'm scared of that search history. Oh, I refuse to look at it. I'm just, I don't want to know. 

Zibby: So bad. I think I have some limits on there, but I'm actually not really sure. 

Chris: Uh, yeah.

Zibby: Okay. Tell me about developing the characters. And where, first of all, where did this idea come from? Aside from just being deluged by rain and feeling in a dark place yourself. 

Chris: It's a strange one, actually, because I had, I had a bit of a crappy childhood and, um, and the character of Patch in the book was kind of based on some of that.

So when I was, my parents divorced when I was really young and, um, and like new people come into your life, don't they, when there's divorce and, um, and I was in, I was probably about 10 years old and, um, I was in bed one night and, um, this guy just pulled me out of bed, um, as my mum's partner and, um, and we both had my arm break.

And, um, it was, yeah, it was really terrible. And, um, and then I didn't say anything. I told everyone it was an accident. And, um, cause I was worried about. I was a bit scared of him and it was, it was a really difficult time and um, and so for that night when it happened, I just lay in bed like with a broken arm waiting for the morning so that I could get some help.

And um, and it was probably the longest night I've ever had, like ever, and I still remember it now and I still have trouble sleeping now and, and have done since that night, but I've had a lifetime of sleep problems. I've tried everything and um, and I think my, like my subconscious doesn't let me relax.

When it's dark, and like, when I lie down, like, even though I know I'm not in any trouble now, or danger, or anything. And, um, and so I look at that moment in my life as kind of like a sliding doors moment. You know, like when my life kind of diverged, because I wasn't really the same after that. And some other stuff happened, and he was quite violent.

And, um, and I wanted to look at that in the book. I wanted to look at what happens when you're, when you're a kid, and something, something terrible happens in your life, kind of, just takes a completely different turn. And, And, um, and I talked to you last time about when I was 19, I got stabbed. I was mugged and stabbed.

And I think that that happened because of what happened when I was 10. I think because I didn't want to feel like a victim, I think I refused to give my phone, my cell phone to this guy. And I ended up getting stabbed because I had this kind of, this problem with, um, With, that stems from my childhood, and um, and so I wanted to look at that in the book, and um, at the beginning of the book, um, Hatch, who is the lead character, is 13, and he's walking to school, and um, and he hears a girl scream, and um, and she's being abducted, and he, without thinking, he steps in.

And, um, he gets stabbed and then taken in her place. And so his life just from then on, you know, he's, he's held captive, um, meets, meets the girl, Grace, who may or may not be real. And then, um, and then sets out like bases the rest of his life trying to find her, but everything is different for him, for everyone around him.

And, um, and I used to find it quite fascinating, you know, this idea that there might, like, if you think back over your life, There's, there might be an alternate versions, mightn't there, you know, if you hadn't done something, if you hadn't got up on time for a job interview or something, you could be living a different life.

And it's something so like, seemingly insignificant, or for me, it was significant. But, um, I think that I possibly might have done better at school and might've gone to university and, you know, just everything changes and it's out of your hands. It's something that happens out of your control. And, um, and so that, that, that was the basis for this book.

And it was really difficult to, um, to kind of go back there, but, um Yeah, but worth it, I think. I think it's, I've been really nervous about this book coming in, for the first time, like properly been nervous about a book coming out, and I think it's because it's the best that I can do, certainly at the moment, you know, like, and when you can't do any better if people don't like it, it's, um, it's nerve wracking, isn't it?

You kind of put yourself out there. 

Zibby: I think it's going to be fine. I think people are going to love it. I think people are going to love it. I would not worry at all. Um, Can you tell me more about this relationship? When did this partner come into your life, with your mom? 

Chris: Um, I think it was completely not her fault.

Um, and, like, they were together for maybe a year, or something like that. And, um, but I just remember not being able to tell anyone. You know, because he told me not to tell anyone. Like, I kind of threatened it. Like, don't say anything about it. And, um, and I remember being, um, really worried about it afterwards, you know, and, um,... 

Zibby: Just the arm thing or all of it, like how many... 

Chris: The arm thing and then like about a couple of months later, he like burnt my leg with a cigarette in the, we were in the garden and he said that I bumped into him, but I know that I hadn't, I remember it clearly. I've still got a scar on my leg. And, um, and that was, and then I remember, keeping that quiet, you know, keeping myself covered, being worried that someone would find out about it and then, didn't talk to anyone about it until fairly recently. But, like, the sleep problem has been probably the biggest hangover from that. Like, um, just, it's just dictated, like, 30 years of my life just not being able to sleep properly and I've tried everything, and um, sleeping pills work, but they're not great long term.

And you don't kind of, you don't get the same quality of sleep, and I've tried sleep therapy, and um, it's just, yeah, it's just like the thing that I struggle with. 

Zibby: Have you tried, like actual therapy? Cognitive behavioral therapy? 

Chris: Off and on. Over my life. Um, I've never kind of stuck with it long term, and um, I just find it really unpleasant.

Like going back into it in detail. And I know that CBT probably would help. And, um, I just. 

Zibby: They have something for trauma called EMDR, something with your eyes. 

Chris: Yes. I know of it. Yeah. The eye movement thing. Yeah. That's next on my list. 

Zibby: I'm like, I haven't done that. Like, I wonder what that is like. 

Chris: Exactly.

It's supposed to be really good. I know someone who did that and she was like terrified of flying and then she did EMDR and now it's going on around the world. You know, flying everywhere. So clearly there's something in it. 

Zibby: Who is the first person you told about this man? And when? 

Chris: Um, my dad fairly recently.

Zibby: Really? 

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. It's mad, isn't it? 

Zibby: Oh. I'm. 

Chris: Yeah. 

Zibby: That's so hard. It's so hard. 

Chris: Yeah, it is. But I kind of went into this book and, um, and had to make the decision, like I sat down with the team, like, do I really want to do it? Do I want to talk about this stuff? But it's really hard not to. And then, cause you kind of have to make something up.

You have to kind of lie about it. Like, where did the book come from? I would have to fabricate something. And I think that's even harder in some ways. 

Zibby: Is it hard? That I'm, that you have to just pull that out and talk about it. Like that, that just over the course of a podcast with me, now you're like delving back into the worst days of your life.

And you're like, wait, I thought it was just a nice Thursday afternoon or whatever. 

Chris: I think this is cheaper than therapy. So you're now my therapist, you know, I think I'm, I'm okay with it. You know, I think that the more you talk about something, the less power it has, you know, instead of being this thing that I'm kind of worried about and.

And have been worried about for years. Um, as soon as you put it out there, it, it's not such a big deal. And, and people go through way worse things. Um, so, I, I take, I take some comfort in talking about it, I think. And um, and not having to lie about it. And as well, because this terrible thing happened, and it never healed properly.

Like, I had problems a few years ago, went back to the hospital, and um, they said that it, you know, it just hadn't healed properly, so I still have pain in my left wrist, and it's, it's really annoying but I don't like, have any hatred towards, towards, um, Him or anything like that. I just...

Zibby: I mean I have hatred towards him now.

Who is this guy? Let's let's get it, you know 

Chris: Yeah, no, I don't I don't even like the person that stabbed me. I don't I barely ever think about them I kind of separate the two things. It's really weird I remember the trauma of it, but I don't kind of remember it being personal if that makes sense. 

Zibby: That's very generous of you.

Chris: Well, I think, I think it's just for me. I think it's harder to hold on to like a kind of hatred. I think it does you more damage in the long term. You know, I don't really, I don't, haven't hated anyone that I can recall. I imagine it's exhausting falling out with someone and hating them or, or holding a grudge like long term.

It probably eats you up, I would imagine. 

Zibby: Kind of like holding a secret for this long? 

Chris: Yeah. Uh, yeah, I think so. Yeah. Um, especially with sleep, because. Like, people have always asked me, like, why can't you sleep, you know, what's the problem? And, and I've never been able to say why, but, um, I, I specifically know why.

And, um, and it makes sense, doesn't it? If something happens like that when you're asleep, you kind of associate, even subconsciously, sleep with being something that isn't safe. Today because something bad might happen 

Zibby: Gosh now. I don't think I'm gonna be able to sleep tonight You're gonna give sleep problems to everybody else.

Chris: I think everyone's got sleep problem. 

Zibby: No, I know I already have sleep problems. Can you fall asleep and you just can't stand me or can you...

Chris: I tend to I, so I do two different things. I do a really annoying thing, which is where, as I'm falling asleep, I start to awake repeatedly until I get so tired. I fall asleep.

And then it will be maybe two hours later, three hours later, at best, four hours later, I'm wide awake. But, um, I tend to do loads of writing and plotting and things in the middle of the night. Hmm. So. Every cloud. And I'm really useful, you know, when there's a newborn. I've got three kids, so. I'm just awake.

So I'm up anyway. I'll take the night shift. 

Zibby: How did it go telling your wife all of this stuff? 

Chris: Um, 

Zibby: Not that this is any of my business and I'm completely prying, so you can tell me just stop.

Chris: That's okay. Um, tough. Yeah. It was, um, but I think there's a, there's a kind of relief, isn't there? You know, if you know something's bothering someone and then they finally open up about it, I think it brings peace to the other person as well.


Zibby: My gosh. 

Chris: But, um, yeah, I feel like I'm like completely fine and I've written a book off the back of it. Um, and so. 

Zibby: Yes. 

Chris: And I probably wouldn't have been able to do that. 

Zibby: Well, in the sliding doors, where do you think, I mean, what do you think? I think you would have been a writer no matter what. This is who you are.

Chris: I don't know. Yeah. I don't know. I dwell on that all the time. I only started writing because of trauma after being stabbed. You know, I did writing as therapy. I wasn't academic at all, which I did terribly at school. Um, I sometimes can't, I can't quite believe that I write books. It's a weird thing because it's quite creative, isn't it?

You know, and it's like quite arty and it just doesn't feel like me. And people always say to me, like, there's a disconnect, which I think is an insult. They say there's a disconnect between the books I write and me in person. 

Zibby: That's not, that's not true. 

Chris: I've had that so many times. Really? I just can't believe how many times.

Yeah. Yeah. People say they just can't marry the two up. So I don't know how to take it really. Probably not well. 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Chris: Yeah. 

Zibby: Um, so when you were writing this, did you, like, what was that like emotionally, right? You're going into these scenes, you're, but of course, fictitious characters and putting yourself in a very dark place, which is emblematic of how you felt anyway, right?

So what are those, um, Where you physically, like I feel like sometimes when I go back to things that were upsetting to me I'm it's like I sweat sometimes or like something like physically I feel it when I'm writing 

Do you feel it? What does it feel like? 

Chris: I do. Yeah, especially the um, So the basement scenes in the book because it was it was very much like going back to that time You know like lying awake at night being in pain Not being able to ask anyone for help and it just feels like time stops still and so that's what it's like for Patch in the book but he's held down there for a long time and so, you know, it's, time does stop still for him but it's just, I don't know, I feel like we need the light, you know, to like, in the morning, you know, to wake us up and to, to remind us that the new day has begun and to let the old day go back and if you don't have that it's um, It really messes with you, but emotionally I, I found those parts difficult, but then there's a whole other strand of the book, which is a love story.

And, um, you know, there's characters that bring, that bring, um, kind of humor to the book. And so whenever, whenever it got too hard, I don't write in order. So I'll switch around and then put everything together at the end. But if ever it got too hard, I would switch and write something else, a different part of the book, different scene.

Wow. Um, yeah. So that worked. That got me through it. 

Zibby: And what do you want readers to take away from the book at the end? 

Chris: Um, I think the overriding message is that, um, you know, your kind of, your own story is yours to write. You know, it doesn't matter if something terrible has happened in the past or something, you're still in control.

And I think that, you know, when someone goes through trauma or something bad happens, particularly when, when you're a kid, you feel like you have no control. And it's a horrible feeling and um, and so this book was, was partly about taking back control and just reminding myself, I think, and readers that, you know, it doesn't matter where you've, where you've come from, you know, where you're going is completely up to you to decide.

Zibby: I bet you're going to help so many people. I bet you don't even know how many people you're going to help because they're not even all going to tell you. And you're just going to have this big, no, I'm serious. Not to, you know, overplay it, but I'm hoping, I mean, it's, it's, I think it's really going to be life changing for people.

I think. 

Chris: Well, that's very nice to hear. I hope so. 

Zibby: I hope so. I hope the right people will find it, discover it. 

Chris: Yeah, I hope so. I never have like a bigger, um, bigger dream for it than just entertaining people and enjoy the story. Because there's a lot of books to choose from, isn't there? And um, and so I think it's kind of a privilege when someone picks up yours and you want them to um, to not regret it, basically.

So that's what I'm aiming for. 

Zibby: Don't try to get your money back, please. Do not return me to the store and say, this is terrible. You wasted my time. Oh my gosh. Are you working on another book now? 

Chris: I'm working on a book called The Timekeeper, which is a complete, it's an outright love story and um, I can't give the pitch of it yet, but it's, um, there's no crime in it for the first time ever.

So I'm moving out of kind of crime and mystery, um, for the next book. 

Zibby: And what inspired that? 

Chris: Um, just an idea I had for it. Yeah. Yeah. Um, I think. I had, I had this idea for it, and it, um, it was just looking at the concept of time and, um, we all feel like we don't have enough of it, don't we? And, um, so it was just, it was looking at that, and it's, um, it's a bit, um, kind of Time Traveller's Wife meets The Fault in Our Stars kind of mix, if I was to pitch it.

At the moment, but, um, it'll probably be with you in about 10 years, at the very least. So, yeah. 

Zibby: I mean, the idea that I'm still going to be sitting at this desk in 10 years, having a Like, maybe I need to at least...

Chris: There's something comforting in that, for me at least, I mean... 

Zibby: maybe I could at least, like, move over to that side of the room, or, I don't know, something.

I'm like, are we making progress if we don't move? If we stay in the same place? Is there?

Chris: I really love them. The book that you're publishing that you sent me, um, The Undercurrent. 

Zibby: Oh, good. Yay. You did? Awesome. 

Chris: It's so good. She's so talented. The writing in it. Oh, really brilliant book. Really. 

Zibby: Yay. Thank you for saying that.

Yeah. She's an English teacher named Sarah Sawyer and this is her first. 

Chris: Yeah. She's, um, she's a real talent. 

So well done. Well done for snapping her up. 

Zibby: Oh, thank you. She'll love to hear that. Wonderful. Um, what advice do you have for aspiring authors? 

Chris: Um, I always feel fraudulent giving advice because, because I think it's, I still haven't got to grips with how to do it properly, you know, the whole writing thing.

I think it takes twice as long as it should, it's twice as hard as it should be, but, um, I would say be fearless, you know, like, it's, um, just be fearless. Yeah, just really tell the story that you want to tell, and don't worry about who it's for, don't worry about trends or, or how it's going to be published or anything.

Like, those are the last things I ever think about. I just think about, um, you know, character is king. If people relate, if you relate to your characters, if you enjoy writing them and spending time with them, then, um, I think other people will too. 

Zibby: That's great. Character is king. Oh my gosh. Well, I'm so excited for you.

Congratulations. So just so excited and thank you for sharing on such a personal level some of the darkest days of your life. And, you know, I think the world sounds so hokey, but I do think the world would be a better place if we all could do that. Like, imagine if we just knew If we knew the darkest things about each other, you could write this novel next, right?

If there was some way that we all knew and we could see, wouldn't people be nicer to each other, don't you think? 

Chris: Yeah, I think so. I think so. Certainly more compassionate. You know, there would be less judgment and less people are very quick to judge, aren't they? 

Zibby: Yes. 

Chris: And I think there would be slightly more understanding.

Which would be nice. 

Zibby: That would be nice. Well, thank you. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for taking the time, and I hope that the roof is now solidly over your house and that at the end of this, perhaps you will find a way to get a good night's sleep. 

Chris: Fingers crossed. Thank you very much. 

Zibby: Fingers crossed.

Bye, Chris. 

Chris: See ya.


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