Kevin Martin’s debut work, Double Cream, Memsahib?, a novel-in-verse was launched in Chennai recently

When Kevin Martin speaks, there are no hurried sentences rushing into each other. He is calm and relaxed, and weighs each question carefully before answering it. “My mind is a strange place. It’s very volatile, but I use it to my advantage while writing,” says the Anglo-Indian author from Sydney.

Kevin was born and raised in Podanur, Tamil Nadu. The eldest of four children, he says he inherited the writing bug from his mother who was a teacher. In Chennai to launch his début fiction novel-in-verse Double Cream, Memsahib? Kevin says that he is highly influenced by Vikram Seth (whose Golden Gate is also a novel in verse). “I admire the man and his style of writing. I began writing with his work as the standard to reach,” he says with a smile.

The story revolves around Darius Rembrandt, a young, shy, poetry-writing Anglo-Indian boy who witnesses two English soldiers raping a woman on the banks of the Hooghly on the day India is granted independence. What follows is a roller-coaster ride of emotions: horror and wonderment vie with each other as the narrative follows the characters whose lives get intertwined by fate. “We Anglo-Indians might be happy with our lives, but we are always in search of an identity. My book reflects that search,” says Kevin.

“Fate is something I strongly believe in even in real life,” he adds. “That’s what has brought me here. Like Frederick Forsyth when he was trying to find a publisher for Day of the Jackal, I too had a file full of rejection letters. You know, the type which lavishly compliments your work and follows it up with a ‘but’,” he says.

Fate pointed Kevin to a Morrissey concert in Brisbane; the concert in Sydney had sold out. “I didn’t want to miss it as he’s my favourite singer. While I was in Brisbane, I stayed at my aunt’s house. She handed me some copies of Anglos In The Wind (AITW) and also told me about Anglo Ink,” says Kevin.

“I must confess that I hadn’t heard of AITW till then,” says Kevin, giving its editor, Harry MacLure, an apologetic look.

When Harry, who is also the publisher of Anglo Ink, wrote back to Kevin, the latter kept looking for a ‘but’ in the mail.

“Harry had also given the manuscript to someone else, and they too gave the go ahead. For so long, I had only heard ‘No’ to my book. All of a sudden, there were two people saying yes!” he says, recalling the excitement and exhilaration that came with his book being accepted.

But why verse? “I began writing in prose, but it fell flat. I then tried blank verse, but it didn’t reflect our community — we are anything but blank. The richness and vibrancy of sonnets capture the vibe of Anglo-Indians, and despite my apprehensions, I stuck with it and I’m quite happy with the result,” says Kevin. With a grin, he adds, “When I started off, the going was quite slow: I wrote at the rate of 85 words a day. Stephen King recommends 1,000 words a day.”

To young writers, Kevin says, “Remember that writing is a lonely, lonely task. You will be confronted by the tyranny of the blank page: it masters you until you fill it with your words and master it.”

The book was released by S. Muthiah, editor of Madras Musings and received by author, playwright and poet Shreekumar Varma.Theatre personality N.S. Yamuna and Superintendent of Customs, Chennai, Richard O’Connor read excerpts from the novel. The launch was co-hosted by Madras Book Club at Vivanta By Taj Connemara.

Double Cream, Memsahib?(Rs. 350)is available online at www.angloink.com.