2022 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Winner Interview

And the winner of the 2022 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger is… M.W. Craven for Dead Ground. To celebrate, we are releasing this interview with the winning author.

How does it feel to be on the shortlist for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger?

It feels pretty amazing, to be honest. I asked for Dead Ground to be entered into the Steel Dagger this year because the book has spies and conspiracies, as well as crime and Poe and Tilly and sarcasm. I felt, for the first time, I had written a book that ticked the thriller box. I never dreamed it would make the longlist, never mind the shortlist. So yes, very excited. And Ian Fleming has been a huge influence on me, both as a writer and, more importantly, as a reader. That influence was why I chose James Bond masks for the bank robbers to wear in Dead Ground’s opening chapter.

How would you summarise Dead Ground and what inspired you to tell this story?

MI5, after much cajoling from the FBI, ask Poe and Tilly to investigate a murder in a pop-up brothel in Carlisle. The victim has links to an important trade summit, but also, strangely, a connection to a bank heist three years earlier, when men in James Bond masks stole nothing but left a ceramic rat in one of the safety deposit boxes.

I’d wanted to tell this story for a few years but couldn’t quite find a way to make it work as a Poe and Tilly story. When I found a way, by including the heist, I was able to include the parts I really wanted to include: how the ‘special relationship – a phrase coined by Churchill – is skewed in the US’s favour and the sacrifices made to protect the lie.

What is your writing process?

I’ve been a full-time author since 2015 and try to keep to a routine. I tend to write Monday-to-Friday, 10am to 6pm, in my office. I plan the next book while I’m writing the current one. As a result, I have a whole lever arch file of notes ready for me on December 1st, the day I start the new book. I go through the notes and put them into some kind of order, and this becomes a sort of blueprint for what’s to come. Sometimes this works beautifully – in Poe 6, The Mercy Chair, I didn’t deviate from my plan at all – and sometimes what worked in my head and what’s in the file don’t work at all and I’m scrabbling around from scratch.

What advice would you give to aspiring thriller writers?

Two bits of advice. One: if you haven’t already, read Stephen King’s On Writing. That book showed me how to be a writer. Until I understood some of the key ways books get written, I was floundering and making no progress at all. The second bit of advice is to ignore another bit of advice you might hear from time to time – to write what you know. I think more budding authors have been damaged by that than any other single thing. It’s absurd. I tell authors to write what they enjoy. Write in the genre you enjoy reading, write about topics you enjoy learning about, write about things you enjoy inventing. Just enjoy it. Enjoy your writing and it will shine through on the page.

What is your all-time favourite thriller and why?

My favourite thriller is Fatherland by Robert Harris. Such a fantastic book. Terribly sad, incredibly clever, but most of all an astonishing read. Harris’s world, where the Axis powers won the second world war, is utterly convincing and incredibly chilling. One of the best books I’ve ever read.