Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Debrah Martin

Debrah Martin -BRAG

Debrah Martin writes under three different pen names and in three very different genres. She plots fast-paced and compelling thrillers as D.B. Martin, with the first in the Patchwork trilogy, Patchwork Man, having been recently awarded a coveted B.R.A.G. Medallion. The explosive conclusion to the series, Patchwork Pieces, is to be released on 13th April 2015. As Debrah Martin she writes literary fiction, where often the truth IS stranger than fiction, and two new titles are due to be released in 2015/16. And not to be overlooked is her YA teen detective series, penned as Lily Stuart – THE teen detective. Irreverent, blunt, funny and vulnerable. Webs is the first in the series and Magpies will follow in 2015.

So why not stick to just one name and one genre?

‘Variety is the spice of life,’ she says. ‘And I continually have all these new ideas – they have to come out somehow!’

Debrah’s past careers have spanned two businesses, teaching, running business networking for the University of Winchester (UK) and social event management. She chaired the Wantage (not just Betjeman) Literary Festival in 2014 and also mentors new writers.

Hello, Debrah! Thank you for chatting with me today and your B.R.A.G. Medallion book, Patchwork Man. I must say, what a fantastic title! It catches the reader’s eyes and leaves them wanting to find out more about the story. Before you tell me how your title pertains to the story, tell me about your book.

Patchwork Man

Lawrence Juste QC finds himself tricked into taking a case defending a juvenile against a charge of manslaughter by his clever – but dead – wife. Normally he wouldn’t even have opened the folder without her around to persuade him, but she’s left something else to do that for her; a list of all the unsavoury people and events from his past. The ones he’s carefully hidden until now and didn’t even know she was aware of.

Disconcertingly, the boy reminds him of himself – not only as a person but in the crime he’s supposed to have committed. Taking the case catapults Juste into a world that touches his own past with alarming regularity until it throws up the brother he betrayed as a teenager, the bully he’s done his best to avoid ever since and a disturbingly attractive female liaison. It also leads him on a journey in which he rediscovers the family he rejected, has to answer for the murder he should have ensured was fairly tried, but didn’t, and himself – or the principles the man who styled himself Lawrence Juste once wanted to observe. By the time the book closes, the links to his forgotten family have drawn significantly closer and so has the childhood bully. And the one person who still seems to be the linchpin for all of it is Juste’s dead wife whose influence oddly still seems to be very much alive and active…

Your story is set in two specific times – Lawrence/Kenny’s childhood is based in the 1950’s in Croydon, England. Run-down, poverty-stricken and dismal. The ‘present-day’ story is 1999, with Lawrence (born 1950) and now middle-aged, well-to-do, respected and living in London. How did you decide to write about these periods, topic and what was challenging about the themes? Also, please share a bit of research you might have done.

It all started with my mother’s description of how the rag and bone man used to tour the streets years ago. My mother is now eighty. It was such a vivid piece of living history I wrote it up straight away and then started looking around at what else was happening at the time. Next I hit on some information about what it was like being in a children’s home in the fifties and how some of the children desperately wanted to leave that past behind them when they left. I started to think about what it might be like for someone with an experience so bad they wanted to entirely forget it and turn their back on the whole of their past life, even the times before they were unhappy. That obviously provided the possibility of wanting past misdeeds to be hidden too, and for them to later come back and haunt the protagonist. He, or she, therefore had to be a ‘fallen hero’ and I particularly liked the idea of one who was ultra-respectable but intrinsically damaged – or dramatically failing to adhere to the principles they once aspired too. Lawrence Juste was ‘born’, and after having seen an adaptation for the theatre of To Kill a Mocking Bird, my long-time admiration of the book found its target in the principles of justice and fairness Juste aspires to, but lost sight of a long time beforehand.

The research was easy in some ways as some of my family had lived in Croydon in both the 1950’s and 1990’s. I, myself, lived in London in the 1980’s. The more difficult area to research was the state of children’s homes in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I was both disturbed and pleased to be told by someone who’d actually worked in a children’s home round about that time that my description was very accurate – of both the kind of buildings and arrangements in place as well as the incidents that occurred. Research for me is usually a mix of research using the internet, and interviewing people with recall of appropriate places and times. Personal remembrances are much more ‘alive’ than research conducted through books or the internet, but both are be necessary because the memory is fallible, whereas recorded facts tend not to be! I’m not a legal eagle, but I had a massive stroke of luck in coming across someone who introduced me to a British High Court Judge and he checked the legal and procedural sections for credibility and accuracy. He asked to remain nameless of course, but I’m indebted to him for his kindness in helping with Patchwork Man.

What is an example of a choice or a path Lawrence takes that affects his life and how does he deal with it?

Laurence made a major life path choice in his teens when he decided he was going to cut himself off from his past. It derived from self-preservation, firstly after an incident at the children’s home he spent his teenage years in,

“… it was the determination to never be falling backwards with a knife in my gut that kept me safe until Jaggers arrived.”

And subsequently that determination to survive taught him how to subdivide his life and his emotions so he could operate almost robotically, and not be truly touched emotionally:

“… Keep everything separate; separate lives. That way the trouble of one life wouldn’t spill over into the other. The two versions. Fragmented…”

But this is only possible until he’s forced to become involved with people who operate quite differently to him; Danny – who might be his son, and Kat, who disturbs all kinds of hitherto stifled emotions. He’s never dealt in emotion or loyalty before. Facing his past as it collides with his present requires him to also face himself, and the man he’s become.

“… Advice can be good at the time, but time moves situations on and everything is changed. And to be a whole person the fragments have to be assembled …”

What is a Patchwork Man? And this must be how you came up with your title.

My patchwork man is Laurence,

“…Maybe we’re all patchworks, slowly adding to the pattern, piece by piece – some frayed, some neatly sewn, some brightly coloured and some dull and faded from over-use…”

But I think we are all patchworks, created out of our experiences and past choices. They inform our behavior, create our instinctive responses, and sometimes come unraveled if there’s a loose thread that someone or something tugs hard enough on. I’m also fascinated with how life can change dramatically from one moment to the next and what we thought was the pattern of our world can tangle or even become undone. That was what I wanted to portray in Laurence – the man who thought he’d got everything sewn up tight, only to find that single loose thread pulled, and with it everything else coming unstitched too.

How much time did you spend writing your story?

The whole trilogy took me just over a year to write. I worked on it more or less continuously during that year and the story took over and told itself after a while. I find that quite often happens when I get to know the characters well because what they choose to do is almost inevitable once I’ve understood them and their motivations and fears. Of course there is always – as with real life – the chance that they will act out of character because of a revelation, and Laurence does have one of those moments in the final book of the trilogy; Patchwork Pieces, out on the 13th April, but I’ll keep what a secret …

Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?

I have a writing room which used to be my daughters ballet studio – until she gave it up. I could, if I wished, admire myself in two walls of mirrors whilst hanging off the ballet barre, but of course I’d rather sit at my desk and write! My day starts with a mug of tea and a review of what I did the day before. If I’m on a roll I might get a whole chapter down in first draft, but often it’s much more slow-moving. I tend to write a whole first draft before doing any editing, and once a first draft is completed I like to put it away for a while before going back for the first round of editing. It enables me to see it with fresh eyes. I don’t use Scrivener or any of the other tools some writers use. I have a spreadsheet detailing the chapters, the main plot points occurring in them, Sometimes there are quite detailed descriptions if I’ve already imagined some elements of the chapter in my head, like a conversation between characters or a specific turning point in the plot, or sometimes just a sentence I particularly like. The spreadsheet gradually gets scrawled all over as I think of things I’d like to change or add to, or the characters themselves dictate that something different should happen. I try to break the day up with a walk with my dog unless our English weather puts a stop to that. Otherwise, Rosie, my retriever lays just behind where I sit at my desk and reminds me from time to time that she’d like some attention too! My writing day usually ends round about 4.30pm when my younger daughter arrives home from school, demanding food – why are teenagers always starving? If, by then, I’m most of the way through a chapter, it’s been a good day, but often the progress will have been more in determining plot points, character development and collating research material in the early days of the book.

Who designed your book cover?

The cover design is mainly mine, but brought to life by a cover designer. After looking at a number of book covers in the genre, I decided I needed a theme for all of the books in the trilogy and chose the images with that in mind. The basic white background of the front cover was a natural choice because of the first image I chose and it also perfectly complimented the theme of something coming out of nothing. Laurence Juste starts out as a ‘nothing’ person – hidden secrets, hidden past, hidden emotions, and on the front of Patchwork Man he’s just about to break cover. The images progress through the spying eye of Patchwork People – and there’s a distinctly spying eye at the heart of the second book in the trilogy – to the handprint on the cover of the final book in the trilogy, Patchwork Pieces, where Laurence’s identity is sealed.

In your bio it say you write under three pen name. How do you keep up with that? *smiling* That is impressive!

With difficulty! I often have more than one book in progress, is really how. At the moment I’m working on Magpies, my next YA fiction, but I’m also plagued with all sorts of ideas for The Definition of Iniquity, which is to be my next suspense thriller. I also have Thirty times Thirty, another literary fiction underway. In progress too are a re-release of a novel now out of print from 2013, and waiting in the wings with my agent is Falling Awake – also a literary fiction. I chose to write under three pennames mainly on my agent’s advice. She felt that it would be confusing for readers to pick up a book written in one genre anticipating it to be a particular kind of story, only to find it was something completely different. I can see the sense in this and as long as the ideas and stories keep flowing and readers keep reading, I’m happy to be read under any name.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I first found indieBRAG via another author agented by my literary agent, A for Authors; Alison Morton. Alison also writes suspense thrillers and I was interested in the award she referred to having won for one of them as she is also an indie. I had a look around the B.R.A.G. website and was impressed by both its authenticity and its professional approach. I decided to submit Patchwork Man, although hardly daring think I would be awarded a BRAG medallion so you can imagine how delighted I was when I did. Being an indie author is tough at times. So many doors are closed to you by the traditional publishing world, yet I know from other indie authors that I have read that there are some extremely talented writers out there – more talented, dare I say, than some authors published by mainstream and major publishers. To receive an award based on a thorough and professional review is not only an honour – and an accolade very much worth having – it’s a validation of all the work that goes into writing a book and garnering the self-belief to self-publish it. What more can I say than that I am delighted to be able to BRAG about mine.

Where can readers buy your book?

Patchwork Man is available on Amazon

As is the sequel, Patchwork People

And the conclusion to the trilogy, Patchwork Pieces, is available for pre-order

For YA fiction readers, my first YA fiction, Webs, is available here

You can also find Debrah’s website here

Her blog is here

Her Facebook Page

And she’s on Twitter as @Storytellerdeb

Thank you, Debrah! It was a pleasure chatting with you. Please visit Layered Pages again soon.

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Debrah Martin, who is the author of, Patchwork Man, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Patchwork Man, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

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