Next up in The Interrogation Room… Tom Leins catches up with Math Bird to discuss his new book, Welcome to HolyHell (All Due Respect).
Congratulations on the publication of your new book! How would you pitch Welcome to HolyHell to potential readers?
If I only had one sentence, I’d describe it as ‘Kes meets The Getaway.’ However, if I had a few more sentences I’d go onto say that Welcome to HolyHell, set in the borderlands of northeast Wales, is a crime, noir coming-of-age story about loneliness, hope, the past that haunts us, and the fear of growing older – packing an emotionally-charged punch to every hard-boiled reader’s heart.
The book is set in the 1970s – what was your thinking behind using that era, and was it tough to iron out the period details?
Well, I love all things ‘70s: music, films, books, art, history etc. I spent my pre-teen and early-post teen years in the ‘70s. So, creatively, the decade has been a huge influence on me. The novel is set during the drought of 1976, which I remember quite vividly. Also, in an historical sense, it’s an era I’m able to reference quite easily, although I have researched the ‘70s quite extensively for many years and stored that information alongside my own memories and experience. Plus, it’s a fantastic decade to set a crime novel. ‘70s UK and noir are an ideal match. What more could you want? Also, Welcome to HolyHell is the first novel in a series of three with the subsequent books set in the mid-80s, followed by the late ‘90s. So, the ‘70s was a perfect place to start.
What do you hope that readers take away from the book?
The main thing I hope is that they enjoy the story. I hope it’s a solid, entertaining read. That’s always my main objective. I hope they enjoy the novel’s humour, tenderness, and of course its darkness (well, enough not to ask for a refund). And other than that, I hope they get a better understanding of northeast wales especially the borderlands between Wales and England – which for anyone who has read any stuff of mine will know is a central theme, in some form or other, throughout all my fiction.
Is there a rich tradition of Welsh crime novels that you are tapping into, or are you mapping uncharted territory – crime fiction-wise?
There’s certainly a rich tradition of Welsh fiction and short stories, which crime and some noir are a part of. I researched Welsh crime fiction quite extensively for my PhD, as it was the main part of my thesis. So, I could reel off a host of great writers who are worth exploring for so many reasons. But I won’t, mainly because I’d hate to leave anyone out. But what I would say in relation to mapping new territory is that most Welsh fiction be it crime or literary tends be set in the south, Cardiff (the Welsh Capital), or the north West. And northeast Wales as the eminent scholar and biographer M. Wynn Thomas once wrote remains ‘an unexplored territory and has yet to find a place in the popular imagination.’ That’s still kind of rings true today, although it’s not entirely an undiscovered country. So, in my own way, I’m trying to remedy that. Hoping that my fiction can play a small part in pushing northeast Wales a tiny step further into the popular imagination, using a genre I love.
This book was published by All Due Respect; do you read mainstream crime fiction, or are your tastes firmly rooted in the independent scene?
I guess, like most folk, I read a mixture of both. I buy and read anything that catches my eye. I read a lot of indie crime and noir novels; however, a lot of mainstream novels that I’ve really enjoyed I’ve later discovered that the writer was once part of the indie scene, writers such as Scott Wolven, and Sean Dootlittle for example, whom I later learned had early stories published in the brilliant ‘Plots With Guns’, where I’ve placed some of my stories too. Incidentally, I must say I love ‘Plots With Guns’, currently on hiatus, but my favourite online crime and noir literary journal.
Which contemporary writers do you consider to be your peers?
There are lots of contemporary writers I read and admire. Although, I’d never dare to say they were my peers. That’s not for me to judge. Although, I do love the current indie crime scene of All Due Respect, Down & Out Books, etc. – a family of which I’m a very proud to be a small part of. I love all the stuff those guys do and produce, and long may they continue.
If your career trajectory could follow that of any well-known writer, who would you choose, and why?
Any writer who can churn out entertaining, quality crime fiction on a regular basis and make a living out of it has my utmost admiration and respect, because, as we all know, it’s no mean feat.
Finally, what are your future publishing plans?
Well, I’m writing Goodbye HolyHell (Book 2) and Return to HolyHell (Book 3), so I’d love to place those at some point. I’m also rewriting an early novel entitled Bordersands and again would love to place that.
Bio: Welsh writer Math Bird, has had stories broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Radio Wales, Radio 4 Extra. His work has also appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. A collection of Math Bird’s stories, including his Pushcart Prize-nominated story ‘The Devilfish’ can be found in: Histories of the Dead and Other Stories published by All Due Respect.
His novel Welcome to HolyHell published by All Due Respect books is available from October 19th 2018 at all the usual places.