About Matthew G. Rees
'In turns elusive, eerie, delicately unsettling and quietly devastating . . . his story arcs cast their strange net over the reader.'
Prize-winning writer CARLY HOLMES on Keyhole
'Rees is fully in control of that particular gift of authors of fantastic stories, which consists of placing banal objects, or characters, in situations where they are at the same time innocent and threatening.'
GUIDO EEKHAUT, award-winning author of the novel Absinthe
Matthew G. Rees (right) grew up in a Welsh family in the border country between England and Wales known as the Marches. His early career was in journalism. Later he entered teaching, living and working for a period in Moscow (which has been a setting for some of his fiction). In a varied life, other employment has included time as a night-shift cab driver.
His writing has appeared in anthologies, chapbooks and magazines (digital and print). He has acquired a reputation for vivid and striking literary fiction that leans to the supernatural (see reviews). Keyhole, his first collection of short stories, was published to acclaim by Three Impostors press in 2019 (also featuring photographs by him) and has been read internationally, with copies going to readers in Austria, Australia, Finland, France, Spain, Norway, Poland, Japan, Puerto Rico and other parts of the United States, to name just some of the countries.
Additionally, Rees is a writer of theatre drama. Two plays by him have been performed professionally. (See 'Theatre' tab for more about his writing for the stage.) He has a PhD from the University of Swansea, and currently lives in Wales.
He suspects that the Marches - that distinctive and beautiful (but pressured) borderland between England and Wales, associated with such figures as Walter Map, William Langland, Thomas Traherne (memorialised in stained glass at Hereford Cathedral, right), Francis Kilvert, A.E. Housman, John Masefield, Bruce Chatwin and so many others - has, in particular, left its mark on him. He has come to think of it as a gateway not to the nations either side of it but to a hinterland that is hidden deeper and is more mysterious. He sees parallels with the partitions that Arthur Machen, who grew up in the southern Marches, spoke of as being the veils between the known and unknown worlds.
'It's a place where you constantly find yourself stumbling across strange stories, that aren't always myths,' says Rees. 'Arthur Conan Doyle, for example, who was very much "into" spiritualism, has a number of connections with the Marches. He attended a seance in a house in the rural village where I once lived.'
Rees's family goes back centuries in Wales. His surname has roots in the still largely rural county of Carmarthenshire on the Welsh coast, once the seat of Lord Rhys, powerful Welsh prince (though Rees doesn't claim any direct lineage!). Capel Pen-rhiw, a Carmarthenshire chapel where his great-grandfather was a congregant, today stands preserved at the National Museum of History at St Fagans, Cardiff (right), having been moved there stone by stone, beam by beam.
In a migration typical of many Welsh people and others seeking work from across the British Isles, Rees's forebears moved to the populous and industrial valleys of South Wales in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In an era of great social deprivation in which coal was king, a number of Rees's ancestors became involved in unionism and radical politics. His great-uncle Sydney James, a miner blacklisted by colliery bosses for his political convictions, volunteered for the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, being fatally wounded at the Battle of the Ebro. Another great-uncle, Trevor Jones, a young South Wales schoolmaster, was killed in action serving as a junior infantry officer with the Welsh Regiment in France, shortly before the Armistice of 1918.
Meanwhile, Trevor's mother Margaret Jones, Rees's great-grandmother, ran for and held public office at a time when such things were rare among women.
Another branch of Rees's family kept the Coach and Horses inn, in the canal-side village of Llangynidr, in the Brecon Beacons, for more than a century (pictured right in 1954; copyright, the author's father).
In addition to his associations with Wales and the Marches, Rees believes that travel has influenced him significantly. Either as a journalist, teacher, 'traveller', or holiday-maker on his own or as a child with his parents, Rees has spent time in more than twenty countries.
He has also journeyed to some of the more remote islands of the British Isles, including the Scottish holy island of Iona, ancient Sark and beautiful Herm in the Channel Islands, Lundy - famous for its population of puffins - in the Bristol Channel (travelling there on the world's last sea-going paddle-steamer), the Isles of Scilly (off Cornwall in the English South-West) and the lonely islet of Bishop Rock, known for its lighthouse and seals.
Although his writing is not exclusively concerned with the supernatural, he describes himself as being interested in fiction that explores 'the liminal' - what he thinks of as that intriguing borderland of possibility between what is and what might be. Some of his stories are notable for their dark humour.
Arthur Machen, M.R. James, Roald Dahl, Patrick McGrath and Thomas Ligotti are writers who've been referenced in discussions of his work. Rees has expressed interest in diverse writers including Glyn Jones, Walter de la Mare, Daphne Du Maurier and Flannery O'Connor.
Machen (right), Welsh writer of the supernatural (1863-1947), spoke of his certainty of our co-existence with another world – one that we are close to in our daily lives and from which we are separated by the finest partition: ". . . the unknown world is , in truth, about us everywhere, everywhere near to our feet; the thinnest veil separates us from it, the door in the wall of the next street communicates with it" (from The London Adventure).
One of the hallmarks of Matthew G. Rees's story collection, Keyhole, is its occupation of that territory where the known and the unknown meet and interact. His eighteen tales, set in Wales and its borderlands with England, manage to take us through Machen's veil, while at the same time retaining roots in our own recognisable contemporary world.
A quality of his writing in this collection is the way in which it concerns itself with lesser-known, overlooked communities - the 'submerged' populations that the critic and writer Frank O'Connor felt the short story was best disposed to give voice to. Rees's exploration of the strange and supernatural is also consistent with the history of the short story, going back to the likes of 'The Widow of Ephesus' by Petronius and the 12th century fragments of Walter Map and William of Newburgh (right) about folklore, mysteries and vampires.
And so Rees leads us to the likes of a hospital for war wounded soldiers high in the Welsh hills. . . a harbour town marooned by the strange retreat of the sea . . . a country hotel whose river has been exhausted of fish . . . an extraordinary flying pub locked in its own time-capsule world . . . a barren farm cloaked by woods where an old flower press seems the only distraction of its isolated bachelor owner . . . a deserted slate town and the mysterious house that stands there with a flaking front door . . . and, truly submerged, a submarine of German sailors buried beneath a Welsh beach, and a man bizarrely trapped at the bottom of his town's swimming pool.
These and other settings witness supernatural events: the rising from the sea of a family made from shells . . . a girl brought up in the company of birds closeted in a darkened manor . . . an old man who takes to a town's storm-lashed streets on a toy horse . . . a cave with a secret spring that mysteriously reaches out to a young brother and sister on a farm besieged by drought.
We also ride underground on a horse with a young boy after the collapse of a coal mine, visit a sinister 'fort' that shows itself on the flats of a beach at low tide, follow extraordinary midnight races run in a remote rest home for the elderly, witness the transformation of a lock on a lonely canal into a terrifying dungeon, hear of the strange decline of a London antiques dealer after his visit to a farm in the Welsh mountains, and, finally, enter the weird inner world of a village that hosts a little-known book festival and worships a mystical, all-powerful cheese.
Fellow writers have hailed Keyhole 'a tour de force' (Sally Spedding), 'a great collection' (Jane Fraser), 'shot through with the shudder of the unexpected and magical transformations' (Jon Gower), 'mysterious and ambiguous' (Catherine Fisher), with, at times, stories that manage to be 'wonderfully weird and funny at the same time' (Guido Eekhaut, right, author of Absinthe).
Writer and blogger Peter Kenny has summarised the book as ''Lushly imaginative, lyrical, full of intriguingly funny interludes . . . Keyhole is a wonderful collection I’m busy recommending to friends.’
While Keyhole represents his first collection, Matthew G. Rees has been described as an unusually talented and inventive writer. The word ‘masterpiece’ has been applied to one of his previous tales, The Tip. Another story, The Snow Leopard of Moscow, has been called 'an instant classic'.
As well as writing short stories, Rees has explored the form, holding a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Swansea. Although having his own ‘voice’ and employing modern settings, readers of Keyhole might detect a lineage with such writers as Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Glyn Jones and Roald Dahl (though Rees stresses that the book is not necessarily representative of the whole of his writing). Some may feel that the British literary and cinematic tradition of ‘folk horror’ can also be seen in his work.
Rees agrees that his creative pre-occupations thus far have been 'with matters outside the mainstream'. He says it's unlikely that he'll ever consciously enter 'kitchen sink' or 'Aga saga' territory, albeit, as his fiction to date perhaps suggests, he is interested in the secret lives of the outwardly ordinary and he thinks this may be a theme of future work.
A factor that he feels drives some of his fiction - particularly some of his short stories - into the realms of the extraordinary is his interest in imagery.
Mentally-held images have triggered the writing of many of his stories, the narrative coalescing around a picture in his mind's eye - rather than those stories arising as the result of, say, conscious plotting, or research, or the wish to promote or punish some cause.
This is something that perhaps places Rees with writers such as Stephen King, Graham Greene and Flannery O'Connor (right), Vladimir Nabokov, Mavis Gallant and others, who've stressed the importance of imagery, dreams and the unconscious in their writing process.
Something Rees always hopes to achieve with his fiction is an image that will live on in the mind of the reader long after the story has been finished or the actors have left the stage. For Rees, this is one of the hallmarks of a truly successful story or play.
In recent times, he has come to connect this interest in imagery with the regular Saturday morning visits he made in his boyhood to his local cinema. As schoolkids, he and his sister were regulars at their local Odeon for the 'Saturday Morning Pictures'. There they would watch ancient Abbott and Costello comedies and productions by the Children's Film Foundation. Rees has come to think that this exposure to the big screen, at a formative age, was highly influential.
He says, 'A picture I remember from that time was Whistle Down The Wind starring Hayley Mills and Alan Bates (who later appeared in The Go-Between, from L.P Hartley's book - both the novel and film resonate with me for some reason). I love good cinema. We were fortunate - at a time when so many of them were being turned into bingo halls or wrestling venues - that our town had two. We were mainly loyal to our Odeon, a lovely old Art Deco building, with a grand staircase and a fabulous high 'circle'. Tragically, the place was demolished. Later, as a student, I loved the old Globe cinema in Cardiff.
'Back then, directors didn't have today's incredible technological tricks at their disposal. I wonder if that caused stories to be more engaging and cinematography stronger (think of John Ford's footage of Monument Valley) . . .
Possibly - though there was plenty of ham and wooden acting about, and some seriously clunky writing.
'Either way, like fine fiction, there has always been something spellbinding for me about great cinema, and I shall always be thankful for the way my parents packed me off to the pictures on Saturday mornings with some pocket money and my big sister.'
More on Matthew G. Rees -
Writers who he thinks (for a variety of reasons and in different ways and to differing degrees), have influenced him include Ray Bradbury (stories), Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice), Italo Calvino (If On A Winter's Night A Traveller), Truman Capote (In Cold Blood), Raymond Carver, Bruce Chatwin (On the Black Hill, In Patagonia), John Cheever, Anton Chekhov, Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness, 'The Secret Sharer'), Walter de la Mare (stories), Daphne du Maurier (stories), Lawrence Durrell (Prospero's Cell), F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), John Fowles (The Collector), Robert Frost, Nikolai Gogol ('The Overcoat'), William Golding (Lord of the Flies), Graham Greene (Brighton Rock and 'The Destructors' particularly), L.P. Hartley (The Go-Between).
And some more: Ernest Hemingway (stories), Ted Hughes (poetry and stories such as 'The Rain Horse'), Henry James (stories), Ken Kesey (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), Rudyard Kipling (stories, including 'They'), Francis Kilvert (Kilvert's Diary), Laurie Lee, Mario Vargas Llosa (Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter), Ross Macdonald, Ian McEwan (The Cement Garden), Guy de Maupassant (The Horla'), Alice Munro (stories), Vladimir Nabokov, Flannery O'Connor (stories), George Orwell (Animal Farm and essays), W.G. Sebald (Austerlitz), John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row), L.A.G. Strong ('The Rook'), Dylan Thomas, William Trevor (stories), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Henry Williamson (Tarka the Otter), Mikhail Zoshchenko, right (stories).
Some writers and specific work he has found rewarding but perhaps not influential in terms of his own life and writing: Martin Amis (Money, London Fields), Jane Austen (Mansfield Park), John Berendt (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), Ron Berry (So Long, Hector Bebb), Alan Brownjohn (poem 'To See the Rabbit'), Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights), Mikhail Bulgakov (Heart of a Dog), Geoffrey Chaucer (Canterbury Tales), Roald Dahl (Boy and some stories) Rhys Davies (stories), Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment), Geoff Dyer (But Beautiful), Mavis Gallant (stories), Edmund Gosse (Father and Son), Thomas Hardy (Mayor of Casterbridge and Wessex Tales), P. D. James (short stories), Andrey Kurkov (Death and the Penguin), Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), Katherine Mansfield (stories), Edith Nesbit, right (stories), Annie Proulx (stories), J.D. Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Tolstoy (Anna Karenina).
Influential cinema (the year is that of first release) : The Fallen Idol (Carol Reed, 1948), Whistle Down The Wind (Bryan Forbes, 1951), Shane (George Stevens, 1953) The Night of The Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum, right (Charles Laughton, 1955), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Henry Levin, 1959), The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961), Seance on a Wet Afternoon (Forbes, 1964), In the Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison, 1967), if .... (Lindsay Anderson, 1968), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Ken Hughes, 1968), Ring of Bright Water (Jack Couffer, 1969), Scrooge (Ronald Neame, 1970), The Go-Between (Joseph Losey, 1971), Walkabout (Nicholas Roeg, 1971), Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971), Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972), Don't Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1973), High Plains Drifter (Clint Eastwood, 1973), Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975), Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975), Rollerball (Norman Jewison, 1975), The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978), The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980), The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980), The Long Good Friday (John Mackenzie, 1981), Man of Flowers (Paul Cox, 1983), Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983), Blood Simple (Coen brothers, 1985), The Field (Jim Sheridan, 1990), The Others (Alejandro Amenadar, 2001), About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2003).
Influential theatre: The Winslow Boy (Terence Rattigan), Kes (Barry Hines), Equus (Peter Shaffer), Macbeth, Othello.
Influential television (the year is that of first broadcast): Dr Who (BBC, Jon Pertwee era), Survivors (BBC, 1975), Nuts in May (Mike Leigh, BBC, 1975), Dracula (BBC, 1977), Salem's Lot (BBC, 1979), Edge of Darkness (BBC, 1985)
Musical likes: Thomas Tallis (Miserere), Elin Manahan Thomas singing Handel's Eternal Source of Light Divine, Edward Elgar (Nimrod), Ralph Vaughan Williams (Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, The Lark Ascending), Gustav Holst (The Planets - Mars, the Bringer of War), Erik Satie (Gymnopides), Samuel Barber (Adagio for Strings), Aaron Copland (Fanfare for the Common Man), Karl Jenkins (Palladio), Ennio Morricone, Mary Hopkin, Welsh choral, Russian choral (various), harp (Catrin Finch, performing live), The Rolling Stones (Sympathy For The Devil, Paint it Black), Spencer Davis Group (I'm a Man), Jimi Hendrix (All Along the Watchtower), Cream (I Feel Free), The Who (I Can See For Miles), The Kinks (Waterloo Sunset), The Zombies / Santana (She's Not There) Nick Drake, U2 (Where The Streets Have No Name), R.E.M. (Night Swimming), David Gray, The Cardigans, Blondie (Dreaming), Kate Bush and - requiring a category of its own, but here, anyway - Richard Burton, right (speaking).
Other influences: shorelines, woodland, parks, cemeteries, life - conversations overheard, encounters with people / places, travel . . . and a mother, Joan, a teacher of English and drama, who in many respects was ahead of her time.
About his writing
Stained glass at Hereford Cathedral. Photo by Pam Fray (Stained glass in the cathedral / CC BY-SA 2.0)