Interview with Matt Baylis
Can you sum yourself up as a writer in a ‘review-style’ caption?
With typical modesty…founder of two new genres of crime writing – the ethno-crime thriller and the urban cosy.
What is the book’s plot?
A family of Hasidic Jews suddenly dies whilst picnicking in Finsbury Park, and a gang of Islamist-style troublemakers seem obvious culprits. On the same day, a friend of the book’s hero – Haringey-loving local journalist, Rex Tracey – is charged with a crime he had ample motive, means and opportunity to commit. Rex discovers the crimes are fatally intertwined, both to each other and to the infamous Tottenham Outrage of 1909.
What inspired you to write about the Tottenham Outrage?
The facts of this true story – a botched robbery by a pair of foreign terrorists, a double murder, a massive manhunt over the marshes – leave a lot of loose ends. No-one knows much about the true identity of the robbers, or what happened to the money they stole. And of course, the more uncertainties the better the yarn you can spin. I also think fears over terrorism and paranoia about immigration are still prevalent today, so it’s interesting to ponder what, if anything, has changed.
How did you research the events?
My first stop was ‘Outrage! – an Edwardian Tragedy’ by Janet Dorothy Harris. Also, the writings of the marvellous Emanuel Litvinoff, who recreates the world of the now-vanished Jewish ghettoes of East London in a way that makes my jaw drop every time I read it.
How much of the book is fictional?
No point pretending – the main character contains a lot of me. Describing the area he and I live in and love, I try to convey a sense of the uniqueness of a specific place using real local landmarks; this is what draws me into books so is important to my writing. Like all the best journalists, I take liberties, never letting the facts get in the way of a good story!
How long did it take to write?
A first draft takes about 10 weeks but the whole process is more like 9 months, punctuated by writing (Cambodian rom-coms and TV reviews) and larking about with my son.
Had you always intended for Rex Tracey to return for another novel?
I planned for Rex and his ensemble to be involved in lots of mysteries. The number of interesting tales to be told about the people of Haringey is, of course, limitless! I’m currently writing the third novel involving three, very prominent ethnic groups in the borough.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
Mark Twain said all you need is a flat surface, a chair and some sealing wax to stick yourself to the chair. That really is the wisest advice: you just have to do it, day in day out, no excuses. Forget the perfect office, scented candles (I work in a grotty cellar) or feeling ‘inspired’, just sit down and write, the rest will come.
Tell us the last book you read and what you’ll be reading next?
It’s a secret – research for book number 3! However I enjoyed the latest from local author Louise Millar, ‘The Hidden Girl’, and look forward to reading Anya Lipska’s new London-Polish crime thriller, ‘Death Can’t Take A Joke’.
The Tottenham Outrage by M.H. Baylis. Available in Amazon