CWA Diamond Dagger Winner Michael Connelly Interview
Michael Connelly – winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger 2018
Michael Connelly is to receive this year’s CWA Diamond Dagger, the highest honour in British crime writing. The Dagger award recognises authors whose crime writing careers have been marked by sustained excellence, and who have made a significant contribution to the genre.
Connelly’s first novel, The Black Echo, published in 1992, introduced Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch and won an Edgar for the best first novel. Connelly has penned over 30 novels in total, and Blood Work was made into a film in 2002, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood as Terry McCaleb. The Lincoln Lawyer also made it to celluloid in 2011, starring Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller. In 2016 Connelly produced his own TV series, Bosch, for Amazon – the show is now in its fourth season. CWA Chair Martin Edwards interviewed him.
Martin: Michael, first of all, many congratulations on your achievement in earning the highest honour in UK crime writing. What originally prompted you to start writing crime fiction?
Michael: I think I can trace it all back to a night I spent in a police station when I was sixteen. I was a partial witness to a crime – a man was shot during a robbery. I didn’t see the shooting but I saw the suspect running and I saw where he hid the gun. When I pointed all of this out to the police I was rewarded with a night in the police station being interviewed by detectives and looking at photos and line ups of suspects. The detectives intrigued me and I started reading crime novels. And here I am.
Martin: How has the crime writing business changed since your first novel was published?
Michael: I think the biggest change has been the advent of online social media. It used to be that there hundreds of little book stores that you would go into to find an author or a novel and to find out what was happening in the genre. There are still some great bookstores left but for the most part that process of finding out takes place on line. Along with it, authors need to be able to connect with readers, whether personally or through websites or other online feeds.
Martin: Writers often wonder how best to strike the balance between writing and promotional activities, such as taking part in events and devoting time to social media. Have you any tips for them?
Michael: I think it depends on where you are on the spectrum. I think starting out you have to find ways of getting your name and books out there in the discussion. You do that by showing up online or at events. Book tours can be tough but they help build a base.
Martin: You served as President of the Mystery Writers of America in 2003-4. How did you find that experience?
Michael: It was mostly ceremonial. I can’t think of anything I did as far as policy goes, but I was present and I was the spokesperson for the organization in those two years so I hope I drew some attention to our genre and the great writers working in it.
Martin: What in your opinion is the value of a writers’ membership organisation such as the MWA or CWA?
Michael: It is a lonely pursuit writing books. I think anything that brings you together with other writers facing the same daunting task has got to be a good thing. Otherwise, you are in a room alone all the time. These organizations also help mentor newer writers and help educate them about how to go about sustaining a career in this world. Largely, I have found in 25 years of being a published author that there is very little sense of other writers being competitive. I think this is fostered by these organizations where writers come together as friends. There is no need to be competitive and I think that feeling starts in these meetings when writers meet other writers.
Martin: What’s your feeling about the value of literary awards?
Michael: That’s a tough one and I’m of mixed feelings. I have to admit I don’t like the idea of picking bests. Every book is unique and writing it was a unique challenge. How can you say one is better than another? But then on the other hand, awards draw attention – not only to the writer who gets the award but the genre that gives it. Readers don’t read only one book. Readers read and if an award draws them to read in a particular genre then they enter the fold and the genre benefits. Overall I think awards that reflect on a body of work and are not given in a competition are more to my liking. It’s tough to sustain excellence or anything close to it over time and several books. It’s tough to keep a character fresh and evolving over time and books. I think when somebody like Ian Rankin or Sue Grafton accomplish that, it’s worth pointing out.
Martin: Has your success with TV and film adaptations of your books changed your views about crime writing?
Michael: I think it has only hardened my resolve in the belief that there is more to this than simply providing puzzles and entertainment. Both of those things are key components of this particular kind of story telling but viewers and readers are looking for more. They are looking for characters to identify with and social cues. I think I get more feedback on my show than I do my books and I know that people who ride along with you on series become very attached and you have to pay attention to that.
Martin: And finally, what advice would you give to CWA members who may be struggling to find, or keep, a career going as a published crime writer?
Michael: They always save the toughest question for last! This is such a difficult question because there are so many parameters that go into finding or keeping a long term career. If creative talent was all you needed then it would be a beautiful world. But it doesn’t work that way. I can only look at my own career in terms of finding an answer. I am confident enough in my abilities to say I have talent, but I am also smart enough to know that was only a part of the reason I have been able to do this for 25 years. The other things that have served me so well are work ethic, the people I have surrounded myself with, and, I hate this part; pure luck. I think you need all of these ingredients over the long run. Some you can’t control but some you can. I also believe in the saying that the harder you work the luckier you get. So what I have done over the last three decades is try to foster my talent by keeping my head down and working very hard. I didn’t say I want to be a writer, I didn’t think about being a writer, I was writing every day – and that’s long before I was published. I was driven. I wrote every day and got better at it every day. And I was my toughest critic. Every day I marked up my pages and said I had to get better. Sure, like most writers, I had other jobs that took me away from it but when I wasn’t at those jobs I was writing. And then, when I finally felt that I had something the world should read I got lucky. I got the right agent at the right time. Through him I got the right publisher and the right editor and things advanced from there. I certainly put in the work but it was other people who got it out to the world and that is why this is such a difficult question. How do you find champions like that? I only know how I did more than a quarter century ago. I am not sure how to do it today and don’t want to trot out a bunch of clichés and false bromides of encouragement. I think I will just leave it at this: You need talent, hard work and luck in equal measure, and the harder you work the luckier you will get.
Martin: Thank you, Michael. We look forward to awarding you the CWA Diamond Dagger on 25 October at the Dagger Awards.
Michael Connelly photo credit: Getty Images.