M.W. Craven Q&A and Capital Crime

It was great to see Mike Craven at the new London book festival, Capital Crime at the De Vere Connaught. There were a plethora of authors in attendance over the two day event including: Robert Harris, Martina Cole, Lynda La Plante, Mike Craven, Dreda Say Mitchell, Elly Griffiths, Simon Kernick, Steve Cavanagh, Denise Mina and Ann Cleeves to name but a small handful of authors who came along to talk to the hundreds of people who were there over the two days which were so packed it all went by in the blink of an eye.

The surroundings of the Connaught were auspicious and grand and the staff were always so polite and helpful. Capital Crime organised by David Headley of the infamous Goldsboro Books in Cecil Court, London and Adam Hamdy brought together with their amazing team an event that was memorable... and I am excited to say that plans are already afoot to bring Capital Crime back in 2020. So, keep your eyes peeled for information in the near future and I implore you to get yourself there as Capital Crime was truly a spectacular event - and I am sure that next year they will try to be even better... if that is at all possible!

While at the event, I had the opportunity to ask M.W. Craven a few questions...

1) Where did you get the name Washington Poe from?

A third of the way through The Puppet Show and Poe was called ‘Name TBC’. Tilly had a name (although her surname then was Dowbakin, not Bradshaw) but she was different to how she ended up, far more streetwise than she is now. And then Donald Trump happened… I was reading about something he’d said during the primary race prior to the 2016 election and I burst out laughing. Someone said ‘What you laughing at?’ and I replied, ‘An article in ‘The Washington Post’.’ They misheard and said, ‘What’s the Washington Poe?’ And I had my name. A quick Google search showed there was only one person with name – a politician in Georgia, long dead.

But… you can't call a Cumbrian ‘Washington’ without explaining why. When I worked out the name’s provenance – explained towards the end of ‘The Puppet Show’ – his character became far darker than I’d envisaged. To counter that I had to rewrite Tilly so she could balance it out. She became the light – via her naivety, innocence and guileless honesty – to his darkness and the results work well I think.

2) Poe lives in a remote cottage and is also a renegade at work. It seems the last thing he should be doing is mixing with the general public let alone serving them as a police officer. What is it about Poe that you think makes him such a worthy copper?

I think this goes back to his name. I say early on in ‘The Puppet Show’ that having a weird name, an even weirder dad (he’s a beatnik) and a mother who abandoned him was the toxic trio that made him a bully magnet. The bullies soon learned though that if you started a fight with Poe you had to be prepared to keep going until someone was unconscious because he wouldn’t back down. Ever. To this day he has a hatred of bullies and to him unresolved justice is just another a form of bullying. Someone has invariably imposed themselves on an unwilling victim and to Poe that’s unacceptable. It’s what drives him to keep going, no matter who he upsets in the process. He’s relentless when he’s on a case and he drags others along with him. Sometimes willingly, sometimes against their better judgement . . .

3) I didn’t realise the Lake District was so dark. Many crime writers currently appear to be leaving their victims around this idyllic area in the most gruesome ways. What is it about the Lake District that brings out the worse in people?

The Lake District is a national treasure and I feel it collectively belongs to everyone. With 20 million visitors a year most people in the UK will have been there at least once so it’s a place we can all identify with. It also has a bit of everything for a crime writer. Isolated villages, vast swathes of unpopulated moors and mountains, stately homes and picture-perfect villages. It has ancient history – there are more stone circles in Cumbria than anywhere else in the UK and Hadrian’s Wall covers most of the top of the county. There’s large industry with BAE systems and Sellafield and there are large, deprived estates. Pretty much the only thing we don’t have is a large city. But Carlisle, in my version of Cumbria at least, has organised crime so it’s not a huge problem.

4) You were shortlisted for the Goldsboro Glass Bell Award 2019 with the first Poe novel. Have you been pleasantly surprised with how ‘The Puppet Show’ has been such a success?

I have. To date ‘The Puppet Show’ has been shortlisted for the Lakeland Book of the Year, A Dead Good Readers Award, the Glass Bell Award for Contemporary Fiction, an Amazon Publishers Reader Award for Best Crime Novel and of course the CWA Gold Dagger. Pleasantly surprised is a bit of an understatement really – blown away is probably more accurate . . . And I’m absolutely delighted, more so because it repays the faith shown in me by my agent and by my editor. And I’m only getting started. I’ve finished book 4 and 5 & 6 are, in my head at least, plotted to the point I can start writing them. And what is lovely is that the newer characters, ones introduced in ‘Black Summer’, particularly the pathologist Estelle Doyle and the ex-paratrooper Jefferson Black have resonated with readers and they’re
already written in as recurring characters.

5) You appeared at Capital Crime, the first major crime event in London which runs from the 26th – 28th September 2019. Can you tell us anything more about Capital Crime, what panel you appeared on and who you are most excited to see?

Where do I start with this? Capital Crime is a new festival but somehow it already seems established. David and Adam (the organisers) have taken elements of other festivals like Comic Con and incorporated them into theirs. I think the result will be that Capital Crime looks and feels very different to other crime and literary festivals. It seems to be celebrating the genre rather than books. So there’s TV and film in there as well and that makes it very exciting. And it’s about time London had one of its own.

I’m really excited to see – and hopefully meet – Don Winslow. I’m relatively new to him but everything he’s written seems to be a step above most of his contemporaries. Robert Harris is another author I’m looking forward to seeing – Fatherland is one of my all-time favourite books. But really, I’m just looking forward to the whole thing – we’re there for it all so it’ll be fun catching up with old friends and making new ones.

The panel I’m on is called ‘Britain’s Toughest Streets’ and I appeared alongside Amer Anwar, Steph Marland and Dreda Say Mitchell. The imitable David Mark moderated us. Some serious talent on display. And me.

6) You are very popular as you are also appeared at Bloody Scotland 2019 with Mari Hannah and the wonderful Peter Robinson. How does it feel mixing with such authors? Are you a bit of a fanboy still?

I’m a reader first. Always will be. So appearing alongside Mari Hannah and Peter Robinson was surreal. Not only that, in the bar afterwards Peter asked if he could join my wife and me. We sat and chatted and drank wine until midnight. I think I was tongue-tied for at least an hour.

I’ve met most of my heroes now and I like to think I can hold my own when talking to them. The exception to this is Lee Child. Every time I talk to him it’s like English is my second language . . .

7) With your experience as a writer, what advice would you give to anyone attempting their first novel?

Just get that first draft written. Doesn’t matter how bad you think it is. Almost every writer will tell you that the real work is done during editing. That’s where the ideas are properly shaped, where the narrative and dialogue is sharpened and tidied. I don’t know who said, ‘Don’t get it right, get it written’ but it’s about the most important advice you can have.

Oh, and read a lot. Can't write if you don’t read.


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