Thursday, 28 February 2019

Brian Montgomery, Author of the Degsy Hay Trilogy, on Writing for Social Change

The Degsy Hay trilogy is a heartfelt, hard-hitting series following the many rises and falls of a young man let down by the system. But although Degsy Hay, the eponymous hero, is as hard as nails and condemned to a life on the streets or behind bars, he refuses to stay down and devotes himself to helping others find a better life. Oh, and he finds time to bring down the corrupt, fight injustice, battle his rivals and fall in love. These are explosive, emotional, sometimes funny, always human books, and I caught up with author and Whoosh! client Brian Montgomery to find out more.

I know this book is close to your heart, Brian. Can you give us a bit of background on your inspiration for Degsy?

Degsy is based on my teen years growing in a gang environment in South London. Although the book is fictional, real events did occur. Sleeping rough on the streets of London, having to protect myself from prowlers, taking solvents, drugs and alcohol to forget about the freezing cold temperatures and about life for a while, but also having to dip the bins for food. Fortunately, I never went to prison but spent time in a lock-up government children’s home.

So you must relate to Degsy quite closely?

Very close. He’s also my hero. Every good thing he does, he reminds me of me as a teen, wanting to get out of the gang trend and become a different person.

Did the writing flow easily or did your closeness to the subject matter present problems?

There were a lot of problems, some emotional. With every sentence I wrote I was confronted with my past. But it got easier as I went along.

It’s quite hard-hitting in places, covering violence and abuse; was it harrowing to write?

It was, because my past was harrowing. But those same experiences helped me to become a hardnut and I’d win most of my fights as a teen, which went a long away in keeping me safe while roughing the streets.

Did you need to do a lot of research?

No not really. I knew what type of era I was brought up in. Listening to and reading the media daily about youth knife crime and gangs, it was important for me to write about this. And I wanted to try taking would-be gang members into new, positive situations and a new kind of gang where they can help those in the community where they live.

You have worked with young people to take them away from gangs and street life, do you see the book as a continuation of that work?

Very much so, despite the barriers I'm facing from local government and police. I have now promised myself that I'll make a movie out of the books. I feel young people would pay more attention, watching a movie rather than reading books. This, of course, will need sponsoring.

Gangs and knife crime are such serious problems in the UK and globally; what do you see as being the solution?

The ideas in the book mirror those that I would like to implement in real life. The Hay Patrollers is a youth program, getting young people out of gang life, encouraging them to find a place in the community. This not only reduces crime by creating positive activities for those who participate, but also it creates employment and respect. I haven’t heard of many communities with similar ideas, creating employment and housing.

Book three in the series, Degsy Hay: Unit 16-21 (currently being written), not only explores the idea of providing apprenticeships, but also subsidising one-bed housing for each participant. This could become a huge, positive programme, but funding and sponsors will be needed.

What are you hoping to achieve with the book?

As many sales as possible so I can put 50% of the royalties back into the Hay Patrollers programme and realise my dream of making a movie.

What’s the next step for you as a writer?

Complete book three, keep the Degsy franchise open and perhaps write some thrillers or mysteries.

The first two books in the trilogy are available now and receiving positive reviews
Degsy Hay: A Juvenile Redeemed
Degsy Hay: The Hay Patrollers
Want to help? Support Brian's crucial community projects here.

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