We are  very proud to say that our own staff writer Melissa Allen got the chance to send some questions to her favourite author, Mr. Craven. His books are brilliant, and we are always hooked the second we pick one up!

Here, he talks about his travels, his army days, and how he became to be such a well-established author.

Mike Craven himself / Picture credit: Julie Winspear

Mike Craven himself / Picture credit: Julie Winspear

First, some background questions about Mike Craven...

In the bio on your website, you say that you are always on the lookout for ways to keep you laughing – what are some of these ways to laugh and stay positive?

I’ve always been like this I suppose. Not so much the class clown, but always there at the back, laughing at something no else thought funny. My favourite authors are those who write dark books with an injection of humour (Carl Hiaasen, Chris Brookmyre, Mick Herron, Terry Pratchett) and I think I’ve been influenced by them all to a certain degree.

Advice on ways to laugh and stay positive? I think it’s always about seeing the bigger picture. This thing called life is a bit mad when you think about it – 30 million years ago, a prehistoric fish crawled out of the water, developed lungs, and started the evolutionary lineage we sit on top of right now.

And all while something called gravity sticks us to a spinning ball of rock and metal flying through space. I find it’s hard to obsess over the little things if you have this mindset.

You also say that you joined the Army at 16, but “by accident” – how does someone join the Army accidentally?

My best friend at school, Nick Anstey, had wanted to join the army for as long as I could remember so I followed him into the Newcastle recruiting office the moment he was old enough to apply.

The wily recruiting sergeant said there was no point me sitting twiddling my thumbs while Nick went through the initial aptitude and intelligence tests (the intelligence test wasn’t onerous. I remember this one – spot the odd one out: steamboat, powerboat, paddleboat, sailing boat, train) and that I should sit it as well. I did, and I did OK (although I didn’t get 100 %, which is a bit concerning).

I ended up joining the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as an armourer (sort of like a gunsmith, but you got to work on machineguns and mortars and anti-tank weapons). Nick didn't join in the end . . . Pretty sure it was all a practical joke on me.

When you spent 10 years travelling, where was it you went? Was there any particular place that you enjoyed the most?

I travelled all over with the army and it was all exciting and fun. I guess my two favourite places were Belize (I love snakes and lizards so this was like a busman’s holiday – for seven months I would go out with my net and a couple of Mayan Indians and see what we could find) and Canada.

I still love Canada and if I were forced to emigrate (say if Nigel Farage became prime minister) that’s where I’d move. Although, I assume the moment I landed I’d be eaten by a grizzly bear.

After becoming Assistant Chief Exec, following your probation officer job – what made you make such a big change from that to a (very well established) author?

Two words: Chris Grayling. When he was Minister for Justice he thought it would be a great idea to split the internationally acclaimed probation service into two. Half would remain in the public sector and the other half would be privatized.

By this time, I a) already had a publishing contract (for the first DI Avison Fluke book) and b) was a senior manager so knew there was a chance of redundancy if I played my cards right. As soon as I’d made the mental leap from probation manager to budding author, I wanted to go as soon as possible and thankfully my boss was able to facilitate this.

I enjoyed my time in probation, but being a full-time author is everything I hoped it would be. 

Now onto the books…

Could you explain to the readers briefly the plot of The Curator, please?

A heavily pregnant, and spectacularly grumpy, Detective Inspector Stephanie Flynn tries to steer Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw through their darkest case yet. When a series of fingers are left in public places all around Cumbria (inside a secret Santa present, a church font and the deli counter at a butchers) the Serious Crime Analysis Section (SCAS) are called in to help.

Things aren’t making any sense at all, and even when they have a suspect, all it does is raise more questions. But then an out of favour FBI agent calls Poe and tells him of the shadowy existence of the Curator, and the Curator always has a reason for doing the things he does. And if you think you’ve figured what that reason is, you haven’t been paying attention.

Poe and Tilly are such a perfect and unique pair of characters, and as a reader, I felt very close to them. What made you decide to pair an older, cynical gent like Poe with a smart, shy, and very abrupt woman like Tilly?

The first draft of The Puppet Show was very different to the one that was published in 2018. In the early version, Poe wasn't as misanthropic and Tilly wasn't as innocent and naive. At this point I didn't actually have a name for Poe, but when my wife misheard me say Washington Post, and asked ‘What’s the Washington Poe?’ I knew I had a name that could carry a series. But Poe is a Cumbrian and calling him Washington without providing an explanation for the name’s provenance wasn't going to fly.

So I worked out a backstory (revealed in the climax of The Puppet Show – Poe hadn’t known himself until then) and he became a far darker character than I first imagined. And that meant I had to rewrite Tilly to provide the balance. In theory they shouldn't be friends, they shouldn't really even be able to communicate with each other, but when I found a way to put them together, the result was surprisingly sweet. It was also very funny.

Tilly has grown as a character, and so has Poe, but they are still essentially the same people. In Dead Ground, the novel after The Curator, there’s even a scene where Tilly tries to explain the rules of Muggle Quidditch to Poe . . .

What makes Poe and Tilly the perfect pair for solving The Curator’s case?

Poe is stubborn to the point of insubordinate and Tilly is insanely intelligent. Together they form the almost perfect investigative team. But, because of Poe’s grumpiness and intentional rudeness, and Tilly’s guileless honesty and unintentional rudeness, nothing is ever straightforward.

They get into trouble, they follow the evidence even when they’re warned off something or someone, and they will never ever stop. They are also incredibly loyal to each other and their friends, and in this case it maybe the only thing that can save the day . . .

When you finished The Puppet Show, what made you decide to enter it for a CWA (Gold Dagger) award?

I didn't enter it, my publisher did (the Little, Brown imprint Constable). It was weird actually. I was at a crime fiction festival in Bristol called Crimefest in May 2019. The Daggers’ longlists are always announced there, but because I didn't know I’d been entered I wasn't planning to go to the ceremony… but the secretary of the Crime Writers’ Association asked me if was attending. I said I wasn't so she asked the question again. Again, I said I wasn't. Eventually it got through my thick head…

The other dagger longlists are always read out before the gold, and as I wasn't on the Steel Dagger or the New Blood Dagger, I thought the CWA secretary had made a mistake. When my name was read out for the gold it was a complete shock. To say I was surprised when my name was read out was an understatement.

When your books won these awards (CWA), how proud were you?

I was in shock. My phone exploded with messages and tweets and emails and texts, from authors all over the world. But, that was nothing to the shock my editor was in. The paperback of Black Summer was due to be printed the next day and they had to scramble about in the morning to get the award on the front cover.

But now it’s sunk in, now I’m not the current holder, I can get more philosophical about it. It’s a huge achievement and arguably one that can only be equaled, never bettered. Some giants of the genre have won the gold dagger, but there are also giants who haven’t won it too. Stephen King is a name that springs to mind. He was shortlisted for Mr Mercedes, but he didn't win.

Another question derived from your bio; you say that many ideas for plot points or stories for your books come from personal experience or are loosely based off them. Would you care to share?

Detective Inspector Avison Fluke’s experience with a life-threatening illness in the first book in the Fluke series, Born in a Burial Gown, was loosely based on the same illness I had back in 2003/2004. In fact the only thing I changed were Fluke’s side effects. He lies to his superiors about how his recovery was going so he can return to work, as did I, and the plot kind of took off from there.

Most of the locations in the books are real and they tend to be places I’ve already been to. The settings are therefore ‘pre-researched’. There have also been elements of cases I worked on as a probation officer that have made their way into the books.

Might be a crime, might just be a fragment of a conversation I had overheard (for example, when Poe and Tilly were tracking the killer via the ANPR cameras (the cameras on the roads that record number plates) in The Puppet Show, I used my experience of a joint probation and police investigation into the movements of a high risk sex offender), but ultimately most of what I write about comes from a place in my mind I had better not look too closely into.

Finally, how many Poe and Tilly books can readers and fans, like myself, expect in the coming years?

Given how well the series seems to be doing if it were up to my editor, hundreds I suspect. Dead Ground is out next June, and that’s the fourth novel in the series. The Botanist, the fifth novel, is written and is out June 2022 and The Mercy Chair, which I’ll start on December 1st is due in June 2023. And as readers seemed to enjoy the short story collection, Cut Short, I’ll probably bang out a few more of them over the next few years. Basically my publishing schedule is now full until December 2024 so there’s plenty more to come.

The Curator by M. W. Craven is published 10th December in Paperback (Constable, £7.99)

Written by Melissa, who you can follow on Twitter @melissajournal

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