Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Dancing With Myself: MATH BIRD (no relation) interviews MATH BIRD (no relation)

I’d like to welcome Math Bird, great penname by the way . . . Why are you looking at me like that? It’s not your real name, right?

Unfortunately, yes. My name is Matthew, but in parts of Wales, it’s shortened to Math, and that’s what I’ve always been called (I’m sure I’ve been called other things, but you know what I mean).

And you like that name?

Yes. It has grown on me. Granted, having the surname BIRD and growing up on a large Welsh council estate in the 70s had its challenges. But it has stood me in good stead.

Hmm, interesting, and there’s me thinking you were just trying to give yourself a weird name to stand out from other writers and be pretentious.

Look, any more comments like that and I’m walking out.

Ok, sorry, so you mentioned you grew up in Wales, which part?

In northeast Wales, by the Dee estuary, it’s near the English border.

Yes, that’s right. It features a lot in your stories.

Yes, a beautiful, ugly place, part Welsh, part English, neither fish nor fowl so to speak. I write about it a lot. Culturally, it’s a hybrid. When people think of Wales, they tend to think of Dylan Thomas, Welsh Male voice choirs and How Green Was My Valley. Northeast Wales is nothing like that. Don’t get me wrong it’s picturesque and has plenty of sheep. But it has never sat comfortably with common notions of Welsh identity.

And you try to address that?

In my own little way, yes.

Through crime and noir fiction?

Yes. For me, story is the most important thing. But through that, I try to blend in some of the cultural and social themes that interest me.

So why crime and noir fiction, has the genre been a big influence on you?

Yes and No. TV-wise, I grew up watching Frank Marker’s Public Eye, and Callan, and loved films such as Get Carter, and The Long Good Friday. But when it came to reading, I loved and tried to copy (very badly may I add) classic Welsh writers, such as Gwyn Jones, Rhys Davies and Caradoc Evans. Especially Gwyn Jones, some of his darker stories such as The Pit, The Green Island and the brilliant Brute Creation are noir without the title. So I started writing noir without actually realising it and as I discovered Jim Thompson and James M Cain added more crime elements into it. Then, when I started reading brilliant magazines such as All Due Respect, Pulp Modern, Shotgun Honey, ThugLit, Plots with Guns, Plan B Magazine etc., I thought this reads like the stuff I write.

And you’ve placed stories in some of these magazines?

Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to do that. My story Histories of the Dead was written especially for All Due Respect and my story the Devilfish was written especially for Pulp Modern, and luckily, they were both picked. I love the fact that among stories set in Texas, Chicago, Seattle, there are crime stories set in Northeast Wales, and I love and respect magazines such as ADR, Pulp Modern and PWG etc., for taking that chance.

But your latest novella, the psychological noir thriller The Whistling Sands (US), isn’t set in northeast Wales; it is set in West Wales, right?

Yes, but the main character, Ned Flynn is from northeast Wales, and he has all the baggage that comes with that.

Sounds interesting, tell us more.

Well, without giving too much away. The story is in the tradition of Jim Thompson and James M Cain, with a modern take. Fundamentally, it’s about obsessions, greed, lust and the stories we tell ourselves, and what we want to believe. It has a lot of noir elements, losers, femme fatales, murder, and good intentions gone wrong and spiralling out of control. And the ending, in my opinion, pulls no punches.

Sounds great, so what’s next?

A new Ned Flynn novella at some point, but I’m currently working on a new novel called Welcome to Holy Hell. It’s set in the 70s, a cross between Barry Hines’s KES and Thompson’s The Getaway . . .  That’s about it really, unless there are any more questions.

Yes, a little bird told me (pardon the pun), that your PhD thesis was on The Regional Welsh Thriller.


That’s a bit useless isn’t it?

How do you mean?

Well, if you were on an airplane and someone asked is there a doctor on board and you stood up and said, “Well, yes, but I can’t offer any medical assistance, all I can do is tell them about a few obscure Welsh writers.”

Right, that was your last chance. I’m stopping this interview now. There’s a dark side to you. I’d have been better off interviewing myself.

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