M.W. CRAVEN on his new thriller FEARLESS

Written by M.W. CRAVEN

The question I’m frequently asked right now, when the Poe and Tilly series is riding high (Sunday Times bestsellers, every book in the series being longlisted for, or winning, major awards, TV series in development), is why I have chosen to abandon it to write a new series. Some assume it was a commercial decision, an attempt to crack the elusive US market with Ben Koenig, the man without fear. The truth is far simpler – I didn’t abandon Poe and Tilly. Because technically, I abandoned Ben Koenig. 

But first, let’s spin back a bit. 

I share a trait, probably more than one, with Poe – I’m terrible at admin. Which is why, a couple of months ago, I got an email from Google telling me that my inbox was almost full. I mean, how bad do you have to be at deleting old emails to get an inbox full warning from Google? Pretty bad. So off I sulked, filtering my inbox by size so I could delete the bigger files. Lots of photos and videos and abandoned plans and lost dreams. And in amongst the mid-sized files, there was one from 2014 called A Different Kind of Animal (Fearless had myriad names: Nobody’s HeroA Man ApartInflammable Material, but first it was called A Different Kind of Animal).  A completed file. From 2014. And I didn’t start writing The Puppet Show (book one in the Poe series) until 2016. Therefore Koenig predated Poe by at least three years.

I suppose I should spin back a bit further. 

In 1995, I left the army after twelve years to do a degree in social work. After qualifying, I successfully applied for a probation officer position in Cumbria, a job I would do for the next sixteen years. One of the men on my caseload had uncontrollable (literally) anger management issues. He hadn’t been born that way – it stemmed from an intentional overdose of paracetamol. It didn’t kill him, obviously, but it did leave him with an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), one symptom being his anger. Another was an inability to regulate his sweat. Because a probation officer’s core role is to protect the public, I wanted to understand what the ABI meant, and what, if anything, could be done to help him manage his anger. This led me down a rabbit hole that ended with me reading about a degeneration of the amygdala called Urbach-Wiethe syndrome. This is a non-fatal condition that changes a person’s fight or flight response. In the vast majority of UW cases, the person becomes hypersensitised to fear. In other words, they find everything terrifying. Everything. It’s debilitating and most often results in the person becoming a shut in. However, in very rare cases (there have only been 400 recorded cases) it goes the other way – the person’s response to fear is subdued. And in incredibly rare cases the fear emotion is completely eliminated. 

By this time I was already writing. In fact, I already had the first novel in the DI Avison Fluke series, Born in a Burial Gown, in the bag and been shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger. But I was still unpublished, and like many authors in that position, I wanted to try out different styles. See what I enjoyed, which POV and tense felt right. That kind of thing. With the Fluke series being set in my native Cumbria, and with me having just met Lee Child at the 2013 Dagger Awards (where he received the Diamond Dagger), I thought why not use Urbach-Wiethe as the basis for a first-person POV thriller series, using sparse language, set in the US. So that’s what I did. And after a few months, Ben Koenig, the man who literally cannot feel fear came into existence. I wrote it in my lunch breaks, although by then I was an assistant chief officer in charge of the entire county so my lunch breaks were as long as they needed to be. I think I finished it in about six months. And then I put it in a figurative drawer and forgot about it. I then signed with my agent and started writing about a detective called Washington Poe and his unlikely friendship with Tilly Bradshaw. 

Time to spin forward now.  

It’s 2020 and I’ve been a full-time author for 5 years. COVID-19 is wreaking havoc across the world. We’re locked down. Parts of publishing is in hiatus. Books releases are being postponed. People are working from home. And for some reason, agents had stopped sending my editor manuscripts. She emailed one day and asked if I’d written anything, anything at all, that she hadn’t yet read (she had recently acquired, and published, the Fluke series from Caffeine Nights). I sent her Fearless. Didn’t even tell my agent I had. 

She liked it enough to tack it on the end of the new Poe contract (she originally envisioned publishing it under a pseudonym to avoid any confusion with the Poe series). And then Flatiron Books in the US bought it (on the understanding it was edited to make it the first in a series, rather than the standalone it was originally written – and let me tell you, editing my younger self was an interesting experience). A bunch of foreign publishers acquired it. And then Hollywood got involved (twenty-six studios requested it, nine went on to bid, we met with six – the summer of 2022 was surreal . . .) and what was originally intended to be little more than a never-read-by-anyone writing exercise, became a whole new thing.  

No pressure then. I wish I was fearless . . . 



Fearless (Hardback) £16.99

Publisher: Constable, 29 June 2023


photos © Mike Stotter 2023


M W Craven

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