Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Ankh-Morpork City Watch and Iron Maiden gigs: an interview with MW Craven

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the 234th instalment of our long-running author interview series, 9mm - but only the third in the past two or three years. After more than 230 author interviews between 2010-2021, this series largely went into hiatus, for a variety of personal reasons. And Crime Watch itself became far more sporadic.

Looking ahead, I plan to regularly post on Crime Watch once more, at least in terms of reviews and author interviews and awards news etc. Despite all the great content here, I confess Crime Watch needs a revamp and reorganisation, but regardless of 'look', it will continue to shine a light on cool crime and thriller authors and books from all over the world, including back home 'Down Under'. 

Thanks for reading and sharing the 9mm series, and Crime Watch in general (and my work elsewhere) over the years. I've had a lot of fun talking to some amazing crime writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. You can check out the full list of of past 9mm interviewees here. What a line-up. 

With lots more fun to come. Thanks everyone. 

If you've got a fave author who hasn't yet been part of the 9mm series, please let me know, and now I'm back on deck more fully, I'll look to make that happen for you.

Following the recent Capital Crime festival, we've got several interviews with cool writers 'already in the can' that will be published soon, so lots to look forward to in the coming weeks and months.

Probation officer turned award-winning author MW Craven

Today I'm very pleased to welcome to 9mm an author who's taken British crime writing by storm in recent years, MW Craven, a welcome working class and 'northern' voice adding fresh perspective and exciting storylines to the local crime scene. I had the pleasure of catching up with Mike offstage at the recent Capital Crime festival, where we had a great chat about his new novel THE MERCY CHAIR for Australian magazine Good Reading, as well as sorting a 9mm author interview for Crime Watch

After decades in the Army and Probation Service, punk rock and heavy metal loving storyteller MW Craven scooped the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger in 2019 with his debut, The Puppet Show, which introduced the offbeat crime fighting duo of Cumbrian police detective Washington Poe and mathematical genius, socially awkward civilian analyst Tilly Bradshaw. The fourth novel in that series, Dead Ground, won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and the fifth, The Botanist, scooped last year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Craven will need quite the mantelpiece! 

His new novel, The Mercy Chair, continues the (mis)adventures of Poe and Tilly, and as Mike told me at Capital Crime, it marks a key turning point in the overall series, and perhaps his darkest book yet. 

But for now, MW Craven becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm. 


Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Commander Sam Vimes, Ankh-Morpork City Watch. I’ve been obsessed with Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld for as long as I can remember, and the City Watch books are my very favourites. Most people have Guards! Guards! as their favourite, but I prefer the later Night Watch, as the cast of characters is wide and fully developed. There’s a touch of Vimes in Poe – how could there not be? – and a touch of Captain Carrot in Tilly...

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Watership Down by Richard Adams. I was given this book by my parents – who encouraged me to read from a very young age – as they’d mistakenly thought that a book about rabbits was suitable reading for an eight-year-old . . . Wrong. It’s barely suitable for an adult. I read it at least once a year.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Nothing. Born in a Burial Gown, first published by Caffeine Nights in 2015 (under the name Mike Craven), was the first real thing I had written. And on the back of that I got my agent. I sometimes feel a fraud when I’m talking to fellow authors and they discuss rejection letters etc, as I never had any...

Outside of writing and writing-related activities (book events, publicity), what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I collect books – first edition Ed McBains, unusual editions of Watership Down, first edition Stephen Kings, and I’m still trying to complete my first edition hardback collection of the Discworld novels. I’m getting there, but it’s a slow process. Other than that, I read, I socialise with my friends, and I go to gigs. The next two big ones are Stiff Little Fingers in Belfast and Iron Maiden in New York.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
They should go to Poe’s local – the Kings Head on Fisher Street (and if they’re lucky, Spun Gold will be on) – and then they should visit my local independent bookshop, Bookends. It’s a smart shop with friendly, knowledgeable staff, but the real gem is the second-hand part of the business, Book Case. I think I’m right in saying that there are 39 rooms in that part of the building.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Sean Bean. He’s unashamedly northern and this shines through in whatever role he plays. He’s also gruff, no nonsense, sarcastic and craggy. 

Of your writings, which is your favourite or a bit special to you for some particular reason, and why?
I have a soft spot for the second Poe book, Black Summer, as it’s kind of the forgotten novel. It didn’t receive the marketing that The Puppet Show did (which was the debut) and the series didn’t really take off until book three, The Curator. But I like the simplicity of the central concept – a woman Poe knows is dead walks into a police station and proves beyond scientific doubt that she is who she claims to be. How someone can be both dead and alive was such a fun thing to do. It also has that opening chapter...

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I celebrated with extra chicken when I found out about my first publishing deal (my wife and I were having a Nando’s in Gateshead). I had been hopeful, as Caffeine Nights had been making all the right noises about Born in a Burial Gown, but looking back, we celebrated getting that start-the-ball-rolling email quite stoically. A kind of ‘right, let’s do this’. Little did I know that the email would go on to change my life. I met my future agent the following year and gave him a just printed, not-yet-out, copy of the book, and, after reading it overnight, he asked me to send him the very next book I wrote as an exclusive submission.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
There are two that stand out – being onstage at Newcastle Noir when a woman collapsed to the floor (she lived, thankfully) and the (won’t name him unless you feed me beer) author who had the mic just carried on talking as if nothing was happening. 

And at Bradford Literary festival in 2018, a woman in the audience repeatedly heckled me, Imran Mahmood and Rebecca Fleet. First, she wanted to know if we had all written the same book. Then, when it came to readings, she heckled again and asked why she, as a respectable woman of impeccable character, should have to listen to extracts from crime books. And finally, she asked why we all couldn’t just talk about Harry Potter instead. Imran and I still laugh about this.

Thanks, Mike, we appreciate you having a chat with us. 

Have you read MW Craven's Poe and Tilly books? Which is your favourite?

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