Interview with Debrah Martin

How and when did you start writing?
My first foray into writing was a – terrible – children’s book I started writing in my twenties and abandoned almost immediately, apart from some of the illustrations I made at the time. (I also studied Fine Art). The next was many years later, just after my husband died and when I was looking for something to do which was still close to home. My daughters were still young and shell-shocked by the whole horrible experience of cancer – we all were. I joined a local adult education programme and wrote my first short story. It, too, was terrible, but I persevered and the next few were better. My older daughter – by then sixteen – introduced me to NaNoWriMo and I found I could break the 50,000 word barrier – if shakily. Then the writing bug bit properly. I wrote a somewhat controversial first novel about a transitioning transgender, published in 2013, and which I am now planning on re-releasing next year and settled down to write in earnest.
I realise now I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had such wide-ranging life experiences, even though it may not have felt that way at the time, and it’s these I draw on to write. Writing is therapeutic and also fascinating. I wouldn’t ever dwell on the bad experiences – such as cancer – but they do open doors to explain the human character and the things about it that inspire bravery and cowardice, good and bad, love and hate.
What other writers have influenced you?
As a child I steadily worked my way through the local library’s book shelves, starting with Enid Blyton, then onto Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Patricia Cornwell via Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers and so on, until I reached Dan Brown – as everyone does. I also read thousands of other psychological and crime suspense novels in between. I love a good thriller, especially if it’s a brain teaser. Gone Girl was good too, but I worked the plot out about five chapters in, and that showed me how much the psychological thriller format eventually worms its way into your psyche. All that reading taught me how to write thriller plots, but my reading background is far wider.
I studied English Literature at university (a long time ago) and also developed a love of all kinds of genres – Shakespearean and Jacobean Revenge tragedy amongst them. If I took an overview, I can even see little traits of them in Patchwork Man, as well as the kind of moral twist there is in books such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird, which will always be one of my all-time favourites. It’s maybe also why I write in more than one genre. There is too much I love to read to stick to just one, and also too much to say in a lot of different ways!
What else do you do when you’re not writing?
I absolutely love writing so for me it’s no chore but when I’m not writing I tend to get roped into things, which probably makes me too much of a ‘yes’ woman. The most recent ‘rope-in’ is to be chair of the Wantage (not just Betjeman) Literary Festival – so named because Betjeman lived in my current home town. It’s a week-long feast of all things literary and literary related at the end of October each year, with a bit of fun involved too.
I moved to Oxfordshire only last year – a fresh start for myself and my daughters after a fairly unpleasant few years before and after their father’s death. So far I would rate Wantage one of the friendliest places I’ve lived, and am delighted I made the move. I love walking my dog in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside, playing badminton (badly), making stained glass art, dancing – any style – and already have a hectic social life spread between friends, local writing groups and the demands of my two daughters. Long may it remains so!
What was the inspiration behind Patchwork Man?
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 even 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 of To Kill a Mocking Bird for the theatre, 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.
I actually wrote the book quite quickly – the character of Juste rather took me over once I’d started but I had to slow a little to check on facts towards the end. I’m not a legal eagle, but I had a massive stroke of luck in coming across someone who introduced me to a High Court judge and he checked the procedural sections for credibility and accuracy. He would like to remain nameless of course, but I’m indebted to him for his kindness with Patchwork Man.
What is the plot – without spoilers?
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...
Who is your favourite character in the book?
Obviously I have to say Juste – and I enjoyed causing him to have to face himself as the patchwork man unravelled. However, I have a secret favourite too; Heather Trinder. She’s one of Juste’s business partners and shares Chambers with him. She’s an intriguing blend of maternal concern, business bitch and avid shoe fetishist. I can never think of the sassy retort at the right time, but Heather can!
What’s next for D.B. Martin?
The second part of the Patchwork series, Patchwork People, will be released on Smashwords In January 2015 and the third and final part, Patchwork Pieces in Spring 2015.
I also have two other thriller novels in progress and more to add to my teenage detective, Lily Stuart. Webs will be on release in December 2014 and Magpies will follow in 2015. If smart and sharp's your thing, then come and meet Lily.
I shall also be releasing some literary fiction in 2015 under the pen name Debrah Martin.
Published 2014-11-17.
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