Crime and horror, what happens when they collide?

            The genres of crime fiction and horror have always been close stablemates. I hesitate to say comfortable as that’s the last thing you feel when reading the dark scrawlings of an author who occupies one or other of these niches. However, you often find a reader of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books will also be a fan of Stephen King. Speaking of which, I am delighted this week to feature an interview with up and coming author, Mike Craven. Mike is a fellow Cumbrian and recently turned full time author after publication of his first novel, ‘Born in a burial gown.’ He was a natural first choice for my author interview slots as, not only is he a gifted author, but is an entertaining character. If you want to meet him or hear his work, he’ll be at the Noir at the bar event on Thursday 10th March in Carlisle’s Moo Bar.

Crime Book knife

            The format of my interview gives either/or choices to the author, with the option of expanding if they wish to. Here is what Mike had to say:

  • Outliner or pantser?

I used to be a pantser but then everything I wrote would end up being far too long. Born in a Burial Gown’s first draft was 160,000 words long. The draft that went to print was 103,000…  Now I’m a full time writer, I can’t really afford to write 50,000+ words (which is a couple of month’s work) only to cut them later so I’ve started plotting a bit more carefully. The last three books I finished all came in at a much better word count. Body Breaker (the sequel to BIABG) is around the 113,000 mark although my agent is going to reduce this, The Cutting Season (a police procedural series I’m writing, came in at 90,000) and A Man Apart (an American thriller) came in at 95,000. So planning controls my tendency to waffle on. That said, my next project, Buckle Jones and the Sarcastic Shrunken Head, will be a pantser as it’s the most fun way to write…

  • Self publish or traditionally publish?

Traditional, although I’d like to have a go at self-publishing at some point. I like the idea of being in total control

  • Police procedural or cosy crime?

I’m reading an author called Vaseem Khan at the moment and he writes cosy crime set in India. I read his first, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (the inheritance being a baby elephant…) and really enjoyed it. I don’t actually read that much crime fiction, but when I do it tends to be realistic police procedurals.

  • Will Self purple prose or Mark Twain simplicity?

Simplicity every time. I think being a probation officer for 16 years drummed into me the importance of brevity and simple language. Then again, if you don’t have a story to tell it doesn’t matter how you write.

  • Literary rule breaking or stylistic conformity?

Bit of both. If you want to get a publishing deal, then the publisher has to have a clear idea of how to market it (hence the girl on a (insert your favourite title here) phenomena). On the other hand, I’ve just been long-listing the CWA’s Debut Dagger competition and the two submissions that really stood out for me both broke rules. One killed a dog in the first chapter (usually considered a huge no no…) and the other had a child being sexually aroused when he sees the corpse of a dead girl.

  • DC comics or Marvel?

I feel like taking the fifth here. Spider-man is my favourite superhero but I tend to prefer the edgier DC characters (they have the best villains). I’m enjoying the mass release of Marvel films over the last few years though and look forward to DC catching up this year. Suicide Squad anyone?…

  • James Bond or Jason Bourne?

Bond. No such thing as a bad Bond film. Bourne is good but Bond has the gravitas.

  • First or third person pov?

I prefer reading and writing 3rd person POV although A Man Apart is written in 1st.

  • Lee Child or Jeffrey Deaver?

Lee Child. I’ve met both authors and they’re both lovely approachable men. But Jack Reacher is one of the great literary characters.

  • Physical books or e-books?

I don’t buy into this snobby “I love the feel of a book” bullshit. I read both and my Kindle allows me to read with keeping Mrs C awake.

  • Self publicist or literary recluse?

I would love to be a recluse (my wife would say I am already) but as an author with an independent publisher, a lot of the publishing will fall on the author.

  • Michael Connelly or John Connolly?

An easy one as Michael Connelly is my favourite crime author by a long mile. I’ve read all his books several times and he’s heavily influenced how I write (when you see how much of a pain in the arse DI Fluke is going to be to his bosses in Body Breaker, you’ll recognize elements of Harry Bosch).

  • Writing group or online critiques?

I’m a member of Moffat Crime Writers and Crime and Publishment also acts an active critiquing and advisory group. I tend to stay away from online groups.

  • Facebook or Twitter?

Twitter. I have over 10,000 followers on Twitter.

  • Anything else you’d like to say?

No, I’m a recluse in training remember…

Mike’s bio

Horror Mike Craven

Although he was born in Cumbria in 1968, Mike Craven grew up in the North East, going to the same school as Newcastle and England centre-forward, Alan Shearer, before running away to join the army. He believes, but has no proof, that his little sister moved into his bedroom before the train had even left the station. He trained for two years as an armourer (that’s gunsmith to you and I) before spending the next ten being paid to travel the world and drink ridiculous amounts of alcohol.

In 1995, sick of writing postcards and having fun, he decided it might be time to do something a bit more sensible. And it doesn’t get more sensible than doing a law degree. So he did Social Work instead. Two years later, as pimply-faced, naive social worker he started working in Cumbria as a probation officer. Sixteen years later, he took the plunge and accepted redundancy to become a full time writer. He now has different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals.

Mike’s first DI Avison Fluke novel, Born in a Burial Gown, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award and was published on 11th June 2015 by Caffeine Nights. Also available is his award winning collection of short stories featuring Fluke and his colleagues from the Cumbrian Force Major Incident Team, Assume Nothing, Believe Nobody, Challenge Everything.

In between joining the army and securing a publishing deal, Mike found time to have a pet crocodile, survive cancer, get married, and buy a springer spaniel named Bracken. He wanted to call him Gimli but was told to grow up. He lives in Carlisle where he tries to leave the house as little as possible and gets annoyed by people who say “it’s too cold to snow” and “watch that swan, its wings can break your arm”. He also wonders if anyone, anywhere, at anytime has ever actually said “boo” to a goose.

Mike is a member of both the Crime Writers’ Association and the International Thriller Writers’ Association. He is represented by David Headley at DHH Literary Agency.

You can purchase Mike’s books at Caffeine Nights publishing and his website is www.mikecraven.co.uk/

Part two of this week’s post is my long awaited review of Stephen King’s Bazaar of bad dreams. Here it is:

Horror King

            I picked up my first SK novel back in the early eighties – it was ‘Salem’s Lot’ , so you could say I’m a die-hard constant reader of his. BOBD is a collection of short stories, which King is quite famous for. If you’ve never been into short stories then this volume is the perfect introduction as King is a master of the craft.

            An added bonus is the inclusion of short introductions, where King gives insights into his influences for each story. These are quality vignettes in themselves and help the reader form an attachment to each story and characters. I’m not going to give a synopsis of every story, but I’ll highlight a few favourites (it was interesting to note that in the Goodreads horror group I joined, this book was the January read and different members all had different high points.)

            Batman and Robin have an altercation is a poignant story for me, as it touches on the complex emotions present in the care of an elderly relative. With my parent’s being both in their mid-eighties, I felt a special affinity with these characters; something that made the end of the story all the more unexpected and entertaining. This is King at his best, where he takes a common enough relationship and describes it in a way that makes you think so I’m not the only one going through this.

            Bad little kid avoids the stereotypical ‘possessed by the devil’ trope and creates a believable suspense without ever explaining the origins of the youthful antagonist. The story revisits ground covered in The Dead Zone and, more recently, 11.22.63, but this is another of King’s strengths – taking a theme and casting it in a new mould so that it’s fresh and alive.

            Morality has a wife as its central character, presented with a moral dilemma. If I was to describe the plot here, then most readers would think what an absurd premise. Yet King makes it work and puts you in the character’s shoes. The underlying theme is Everyone has their price.

            Afterlife is a story that you can hear SK read himself on YouTube – what a treat. Again, he avoids well-trodden ground and presents a scenario that is horrifying despite its banality. Nuff said.

            I shouldn’t really have liked Blockade Billy as it has baseball at its core. I don’t even know the rules of the game and yet found myself hooked on the suspense. This isn’t a supernatural tale but King uses all the literary devices at his disposal to tie a knot in your stomach nonetheless.

            The little green God of agony is my final choice, and is out and out horror. It’s nice to see old SK fire up the old engine again and show that he hasn’t lost his touch. From one page to the next, I couldn’t tell where the tale was going while inexorably felt the suspense build, step by terrifying step. The conclusion is satisfying and I suspect that this was very much the author following where the characters led, which is his wont.

            Needless to say, I heartily recommend this book. In SK’s own words ‘I made these tales especially for you. Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.’

Horror Bazaar

As always, tell me what you think, Connoisseurs of chaos. Have you ever read books that mix a murder mystery with the horror genre? If so, let us know in the comments.

Next week I’ll be interviewing American horror author, Michael Brent-Collins. Now that promises to be a treat.

Until then,

Excelsior,

Tom

1 Comment

  1. Chad Clark says:

    Good choices from a great book! Summer Thunder was my favorite.

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