Review: Keyhole by Matthew G. Rees
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Matthew G. Rees' Keyhole was published by Three Impostors in 2019.
About Matthew G. Rees:
Matthew G. Rees 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, 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 in Creative Writing 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.
Click here to visit his official website.
Several writers, Arthur Machen among them, have spoken of their 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; a place of ancient forces and wisdom, and darker, more peculiar things.
In his collection of short stories, Keyhole, Matthew G. Rees takes us through that divide and acquaints us with the places and inhabitants of this other world. Yet his stories aren’t mere escapism for their roots remain in our own recognisable universe. And it is here that we keep a foothold, sometimes only a fingerhold, as we reach into and explore the other. So it is that Rees’s eighteen extraordinary stories take us from strange seashores, across ragged farms, along eerie waterways and over mist-shrouded mountains, to altered small towns and one-time heartlands of industry where the mining has stopped and the quarries stand still.
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. As well as writing short stories, he is a scholar of the form and has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Swansea. Although having his own ‘voice’ and employing modern settings, readers might detect a lineage with such writers as Arthur Machen, Glyn Jones and Roald Dahl. The British literary and cinematic tradition of ‘folk horror’ can also be seen in his work.
Matthew G. Rees 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, working for a while in Moscow. Diverse other employment has included time as a taxi driver where he found that the shift that he preferred was at night.
REVIEW: KEYHOLE BY MATTHEW G. REES