Math Bird, author of the recently released Hidden Grace and a lot more besides, answers a few questions on his reading and writing. The Whistling Sands, his first Ned Flynn book was recently read and enjoyed.
Is the book writing full time? If not, what’s the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself? (Any relation to Nigel?)
Sadly not, although all my spare time and weekends are spent writing and editing. Jobwise, I currently work in technical communications and knowledge management. Widely travelled, I’ve had a host of jobs over the years, from labourer, carpet cleaner, consultant, university lecturer – it’s quite a mix. No relation to Nigel except for the All Due Respect Connection.
I’m about to read your latest offering – Hidden Grace. Can you pitch it to a potential reader in 50 words or less?
To find those who double-crossed him, Flynn asks retired small-time fence, Eddie Roscoe for help. Eddie has a price. In exchange for information, Flynn must find Eddie’s missing son. The lad’s disappearance is more sinister than they imagined, and soon become embroiled in a world beyond their worst nightmares.
Yes, definitely, there’s a third book coming out at the end of 2022 or early 2023, which concludes the Whistling Sands trilogy, and there’ll be other Ned Flynn stories after that.
It’s your fourth book (to my knowledge). See also - Welcome to HolyHell and your story collection, Histories of the Dead – do you have a favourite of the bunch?
I guess at the time of answering, although I’ll probably change my mind. Welcome to HolyHell is closest to my heart for lots of reasons. Plus, it’s a story I’ve wanted to write for a while and is part one of the forthcoming HolyHell trilogy (GoodBye HolyHell (set in the 80s) and Return to HolyHell (set in the 90s).
Which one are you most proud of?
I’m proud of them all. Although, I guess it’s the short story collection Histories of the Dead and Other Stories, as it’s a collection of short stories written and published between 2012 to 2016 and reflects a cross-section of my work.
Which would you press into the hands of a new reader first?
Again, it would be Histories of the Dead and Other
Stories, as it’s a good introduction to the stories, genre, themes and
areas I like to explore and write about, plus the eponymous story ‘Histories
of the Dead’ is one of my favourites.
Do you have a favourite format to work in? Novel, novella, short story?
No particular favourites. I like them all really, as the mood takes me. They all have their own challenges and, of course, their own rewards.
Can you remember what your first published piece was and when?
Yes, it was a story called Poetry, Poetry and was broadcast in the late 80s on local BBC Radio across their local stations as part of a program called Write Now! I got paid £7 for it, which bought a round of drinks in those days.
Do you have a typical writing schedule?
Not really. I write when time allows. However, at weekends I approach it as I do the rest of my work. I sit at my desk at around 8.30 am and stay there until 6pm or later until I’ve written as much as I can.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
Yes and no. Not in an explicit way. Subconsciously, I’ve no doubt they’re in the forefront. But my intention is always to create characters from an amalgamation of sources, known and imagined, and of course, the many facets of my own personality and experience.
When you have an idea, and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like?
Typically, yes. I don’t write unless I have the complete story in my head, and endings are so important that they can often shape the whole narrative, regardless of which direction you want to work. Admittedly, there are a few diversions along that way, writing often has an organic nature, but for me, it usually needs a preconceived destination.
Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
Both. I like to have the structure in my head, a map if you like. However, as there are many routes to a given destination, I often let it take its preferred course, providing we arrive at the same end.
How long from conception to completion did Hidden Grace take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?
It took about a year and a half. It started off well, but Covid 2020 threw it off course a bit, especially in the early days of lock-down. However, it soon got back on track, and once the initial version was complete and some ADR’s sent out, the last few months up until now focused on edits.
Did the end result mirror both your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?
It followed the same pattern as the majority of my books, and this is more to do with my approach. It became the story I wanted to tell; however, it followed an organic route and made its own way to the intended destination.
Was there one spark or germ of imagination that started the story off in your mind?
The story was in my mind before finishing Whistling Sands. However, the main spark for the story’s theme was how modern-day slavery, in its many forms, is frighteningly so abundant and often can be hidden behind the mundane; those dark secrets in the everyday settings of houses and towns, and rural areas, hidden yet out in the open.
Are there any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
Yes, loads. Lots of unpublished stories, a few novels and novellas.
What’s the current project in progress?
· Witches Copse (a crime, supernatural noir, occult mash-up) published in June 2022
· Goodbye HolyHell (Welcome to HolyHell sequel set in 80’s London)
· Bordersands – a police crime thriller set in northeast Wales in the 80s
· A few short stories and a novel that is a homage to the portmanteau horror/ghost stories films/books of the 1970s
What’s the best thing about writing?
I enjoy all of it. But I guess, for me, the best bit is crafting a new story, novel, novella and watching it take shape until completion.
Rejection, I guess, from publishers, magazines, and sometimes readers. But it’s all part and parcel of writing. I’ve formed a thick skin over the years, and no one’s forcing you to put stuff out there, so you need to take any setbacks on the chin.
· Rivers by Michael Farris Smith
· That Line that Held Us by David Joy
· Scrublands by Chris Hammer
· The Big Con by David Maurer
· Underworld by Reginald Hill
· Best American Mystery Stories 2016
Who do you read and enjoy?
Loads, I enjoy every writer I read and respect the effort and work put into every piece. It’s no mean feat, and the best of luck to everyone who gives it a go.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Glass Shot by Duncan Bush – really, really recommend this – the father of Welsh noir.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
Walking along the Dee Estuary with family, reading, thinking about writing 😉
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Bird household?
Tend not to watch too much, my wife controls the telly 😉, but I do enjoy when allowed: Inside Number 9, and the Public Eye reruns.
What are the last three pieces of music you’ve listened to?
It’s Christmas while I write this, so there have been lots of carols being played in the Bird household, so the three that stick out in my mind are: I saw three ships, Good King Wenceslas, and the Holly and the Ivy. Not a cool list I know and they don’t reflect my musical tastes. I’d love to name some cooler tracks, but I’d be lying as those were the last pieces I listened to 😊
RANDOM TRIVIA FUN QUESTIONS
What’s your favourite vegetable?
Beetroot (is it a vegetable?)
When did you last have a fist fight?
Late 20s, years ago, thankfully.
Have you ever been thrown out of a bar or a club?
Yes, quite a few times in my youth, but not individually, more so as part of a group.
Do you have any tattoos?
What was your first pet’s name?
Freddie the budgie
What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?
I’ve never been a fussy eater.
What’s your favourite vacation destination?
Wales and Italy
When did you last tell a lie?
I try not to, but I guess thinking about it, fiction by its very nature is kind of a lie??----------