Boy have I got a treat for you this fine weekend! I caught up with former probation worker turned full time writer Mike Craven, who talked me through his work, favourite authors, where he takes his inspiration from, and, most importantly of all, what kind of dog he has. Enjoy!
How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards crime fiction?
I suppose like many writers, I have an eclectic reading taste. When I was younger I was very much into the thriller genre – Alistair MacLean being my favourite author – and the fantasy genre. But at the heart of everything I loved about reading was the mystery… The thrill of trying to figure out what was going on, and there are no better examples of mysteries than the crime fiction genre.
On a more commercial note, crime fiction is the biggest genre in fiction, and as I’d worked in probation since 1999 it seemed a natural marriage.
Tell me about how your background in the army and in social work. How do you draw on these experiences in your writing?
My probation background (I’ve left now – I’m a full time writer) has had a large influence on my work but you’re right: my army background still influences my writing today. DI Avison Fluke – perhaps the police officer I’m best known for – is an ex-Royal Marine, and his best friend, Sergeant Matt Towler, is an ex-Para. Another character I’ve written for a different crime series – Washington Poe – is ex-Black Watch. Body Breaker, the sequel to Born in a Burial Gown, is out in 2017 and goes into some of what Fluke and Towler experienced when they were serving. Why I write characters who’ve been in the military though is anyone’s guess. I suspect it’s because if they have a similar background to me, it’s a bit easier to get inside their heads.
My social work background has been subliminally useful. One of the things I’m known for is giving my ‘villains’ complex emotions and motivations, and as understanding why people do the things they do is half of what social work (and probation) is about, it’s probably been more influential than I realise. What you’ll never get in a Mike Craven book is a criminal who’s doing things with no obvious motivation. Everyone has a reason to do the things they do…
Your books have received wide critical acclaim and won/ been shortlisted awards. What do you believe is the secret behind your success?
I think I’ve had success because I tread that tricky line between dark and gritty, and humorous. Without the light, you can’t appreciate the dark. In all my books – and some are incredibly graphic (I’ve just written a scene for a new book in which a man sucks another man’s eye out in a fight) – there will always be the lighter moments to balance it out.
I also think my characters are rounded and believable. They might have foibles, they might have faults and sometimes they can be infuriating, but they are real. They mess up their personal life just as much as you or I do. They get in bad moods and say things they shouldn’t. In short, they’re relatable.
What aspect of your books do you feel attracts your readers and makes your work so hard to put down?
That’s the golden question isn’t it? If we can answer that we can all go home. Write one book then retire on the never-ending royalties. When I start to write a book, I try to write one that I’d like to read. And, as I said earlier, for me, it’s all about the mystery. Ask a series of questions at the start – don’t answer them until the end. Add some plausible characters and some realistic (and humorous) dialogue to a good plot and you have something that people should enjoy.
Where do you find the inspiration for your work? Are there any specific exercises or tricks you use to get your creative juices flowing?
Inspiration has never been a problem for me. I’ve had writer’s block and seem to be blessed with the one thing you can’t learn: a vivid (and sometimes very strange) imagination. When I’m writing a novel – in whichever series – I usually have the next three or four plotted out.
As I’m a full time writer, Mon–Fri are the days I write. I get up fairly early (earlier than I did when I worked for probation anyway), take the dog out (I have a crackers springer spaniel), have some breakfast and a shower then sit at my desk. Sometimes I’ll print off emails I’ve sent to myself from the evening before (lines of dialogue or narrative I’ve thought of or links to articles I want to keep), but usually I’ll turn on my laptop and get to work.
If you could collaborate with any writer, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
The hugely influential American crime writer, Michael Connelly. For me, he’s the best crime writer writing today, and his main character (although I love them all), Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch is a superb creation. I think any collaboration where Bosch and Fluke or Bosch and Poe get to work together would be fascinating.
What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me?
I’ve mentioned Washington Poe a few times. This is a new series and Washington Poe is a detective sergeant who works for the Serious Crime Analysis Section, the National Crime Agency’s serial killer unit. He and a young – and extremely naïve – analyst called Tilly get dragged into a serial killer investigation when his name is found carved into the chest of one of his victims. It needs a little more editing but my agent should be submitting it later this year. The working title is Welcome to the Puppet Show.
I’ve also finished – this week as it happens – the first in an American action thriller series. A Different Kind of Animal features an ex-U.S. Marshal called Ben Koenig who suffers from a condition called Urbach-Wiethe which results in him having a much reduced capacity to experience fear.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?
Quiet a few actually. There are some debut authors who we should all look out for: Jackie Baldwin, a writer from Dumfries, has Dead Man’s Prayer out soon, Lucy Cameron (also from Dumfries) has Night is Watching, and Tess Makovesky has Raise the Blade.
A good friend of mine, and extremely talented author, releases a book this year Graham Smith’s I Know Your Secret is the sequel to the hugely successful Snatched From Home and it’s a cracking reads.
Some of my favourite, more established authors, all have books out in the next few weeks. Michael J. Malone with A Suitable Lie, Matt Hilton with Painted Skins, Lee Child with Night School, Michael Connelly with the Wrong Side of Goodbye and Carl Hiaasen with Razor Girl.
Thanks ever so much to Mike for taking the time to answer my questions- it’s been a blast. Check out Mike’s website HERE to find out more about his work and upcoming projects.