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Meet Winner of Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, M.W. Craven

Meet M.W. Craven as His Book is Shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year
July 2023
Reading time 3 Minutes

Mike Craven, a Sunday Times bestselling, multi award-winning author who grew up in Newcastle, has won the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award 2023

He tell us more about his writing.

Tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in Newcastle, leaving for colder climes (Cumbria) in 1999. I joined the army by accident when I was 16 years old (I had wandered into the recruiting office in Haymarket) and left 12 years later to study social work at the University of Northumbria. I qualified in 1999 and took a probation officer job in Whitehaven on the west coast of Cumbria.

What was it like growing up in Newcastle?
I absolutely loved growing up in Newcastle. (I still love Newcastle and get back at least once a month – usually for gigs or for a meal). I went to Hazlerigg First School, Gosforth East Middle then Gosforth High. I was the school centre forward at the same time Alan Shearer was there (he’s two years younger than me), which has been my claim to fame for years now. I was an ardent Toon fan, travelling to home and away matches. My watering hole was the Cooperage. 

What do you enjoy reading?
Unsurprisingly, I enjoy reading crime fiction. Perhaps surprisingly, I don’t really read UK-set crime fiction (surprisingly because that’s what I write) – I almost exclusively read stuff set in the US (Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Carl Hiaasen, Don Winslow, Robert Crais, Joe Ide etc). I also read fantasy and science fiction, the occasional bit of historical.

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What led you to writing crime fiction?
Partly because it is what I enjoy reading, partly because of an illness I had in 2003/4. I wanted to write about my experience of being an in-patient in the RVI for six months, but found I was too close to it. Instead, I gave my illness to DI Avison Fluke, my first fictional detective, and got it off my chest through him. Also, I was a probation officer by then which gave me credibility when it came to submitting to agents.

Why do you think crime fiction is so popular?
I think crime fiction is a very different animal to other genres. In the vast majority of novels, there’s a central puzzle and the reader goes on a voyage of discovery alongside the detective or PI etc. There are red herrings and misdirection to avoid, clues (however small) to uncover, and a (usually) colourful villain. And unlike in the real world, the villain pays for his crimes.

Where does your inspiration come from?
Everything and anything. It can be something I overhear, an article in the paper or a feature on the news. It can come straight from my weird little brain, or from the vastly bigger brains of others. I’m blessed (although it sometimes feels like a curse) with an overactive imagination and the thing I ask myself most often is ‘what if?’. What if there was a body in that dumpster? What if my neighbour has built that extension so he could bury someone underneath? What if our friendly postman is actually a serial killer…?

Did you ever think your books would be as successful as they have been?
I didn’t. And when the Poe series first started, they weren’t really. I think it was probably the third Poe book, The Curator, that word of mouth started to have a positive impact on sales. Now, the Poe books (although I should really say the Poe and Tilly books as that’s what everyone else calls them) have become a bit of a juggernaut. The last two were Sunday Times bestsellers. They’ve been translated into 27 languages. They’ve been optioned for TV. Every single book in the series has been at least longlisted for a Crime Writers’ Association dagger – two of them, The Puppet Show and Dead Ground, went on to win daggers. The Botanist has been shortlisted this year for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and the Theakston Crime Novel of the Year award – so fingers crossed!

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What can you tell us about the latest DS Washington Poe thriller The Botanist?
The Botanist is a poisoner who is targeting the nation’s most reviled celebrities. He sends them a poem and a pressed flower, telling them they’re going to die, and regardless of the precautions taken, he still manages to get to them. Poe is reluctantly thrust into this investigation. And he’s reluctant because his close friend, Estelle Doyle, has been arrested for the murder of her father and he thinks that’s where his attention should be. In a single sentence, The Botanist is a series of locked room mysteries with added sarcasm.

Any advice you’d give budding writers?
Ignore the ‘write what you know’ advice and instead write ‘what you enjoy reading’. It’ll shine through in your work. Also, every budding writer should read Stephen King’s On Writing.

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A crime fiction writer who inspires you.
Michael Connelly is the gold standard for crime fiction, and he’s one of my favourite authors. His Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch books are simply wonderful. I’m also inspired by Carl Hiaasen as he, more than any other author, showed me that it was okay for dark crime novels to also have humour.

What’s next for you?
My most recent book, and the first in a new series, Fearless, has only just been published in the UK, so we’re doing a lot of publicity events to support that. The second book in that series, Nobody’s Hero, has been written, as has the sixth Poe and Tilly novel – The Mercy Chair. I’m currently writing the seventh Poe and Tilly, which as yet remains untitled. I should be finished by the end of the year with a fair wind.

The Botanist by M.W. Craven (Constable, £9.99) has won the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. The winner was announced in an award ceremony at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate on Thursday 20th July 2023. 

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