Posted by: Debrah Martin | September 29, 2015

The English Girl revisited – about the first incarnation of Chained Melodies

ChainedMelodies-3DFirst released in January 2013 as ‘Chained Melody’ in conjunction with a nationally touring exhibition of trans people, called Living my Life, compiled by Sheffield NHS trust, the book has been out of print for the last year. It is now being re-released on 5th October as ‘Chained Melodies’

But why write about a transitioning transgender when you aren’t?

Why indeed, when I had no experience or knowledge of what it entailed either – or even knew a trans person at the time! Blame it on my older daughter, if you like – then studying Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night for A level English, and trying to tease out of me what I could remember of it from my long-ago English literature degree.

The theme of gender confusion was the one that we kept coming back to. What would it be like to be in a different body? To be a man instead of a woman or vice versa.  I’ll admit to now often writing in a different gender so I can examine my opposite in the human psyche through writing fiction – but the reality of it is quite different – and even then, as a novice author, intriguing as an idea to write about. I voiced that to my daughter, and typically, her reply was,

‘Write it then!’

Write it then? But I didn’t know the first thing about it …

Synchronistically a friend suddenly announced that she worked with a trans woman. I was amazed at the coincidence of me toying with the idea for the book and the research opportunity to actually write it appearing right before my eyes! She agreed to meet me, and Christine and I had a long and curious conversation over lunch about everything from her background in the army, trying to pretend she felt the same as all the other blokes, to hiding her female wardrobe behind the bath panel until her wife went off to work, to the stages of transition. Some of these ideas found their way into the book so they’re real, and the people I wrote about are real too, even though I had to bring them to life as characters in my imagination.

Sadly I also learnt how families often reject trans people when they finally speak out, marriages break up, children are torn between their ‘normal’ parent and their trans parent, prejudice and abuse is rife – but so is courage and dignity and special kind of people offering unfailing support and reassurance if you are part of the trans community.

The Danish Girl

I also wrote about Lili Elbe, the first male to female SRS (sex reassignment surgery in the 1930s) and synchronistically now there is a film of her story – The Danish Girl, starting Eddie Redmayne is on release in the US from the end of November and in the UK from the 1st January 2016. Curious how things come around isn’t it? Maybe it is now the time for this issue to be seriously and finally addressed and accepted.

When my book was written, it was read by another Debbie – another trans woman – for credibility and factual accuracy. She was wonderfully supportive of me too, endorsing the content and even joining me in an interview on radio to do so. She also read from the book at the launch party – a moving plea to listen and support those struggling with their gender and acceptance of it. At the party – to also celebrate the arrival of a wonderful portrait collection of trans people* organised by Sheffield NHS trust – I also met other members of the local community supporting trans people of all ages, from five to seventy five and learned about the work being done with children and teenagers, to enable not only an easier transition for them, but more empathy and understanding too. Below are a couple of pictures from the book launch party, which was as wonderful, illuminating and inspiring as actually writing the book itself (glad I’ve changed my hairstyle now though!).

*Called Living my Life

Debbie and Chained Melody

book launch 1 Chained Melody

Since then a lot has happened – both for me, writing more books, of course, and in the trans world…

People like Caitlyn Jenner (*) and have been brave and bold leaders for others still afraid and unsure about themselves, their real gender and announcing it to the world. Bruce and Caitlynn JennerShe follows in the wake of – to name but a handful, apart from Lili Elbe – April Ashley in 1960, since awarded an MBE in 2012 for her services to transgender work.

Then Chaz Bono, the son of Cher Bono, is now a trans man. Balian Buschbaum, a former German Olympic pole vaulter born female, but now Yvonne Buschbaum, and Dr Marci Bowers is the first transgender woman doctor, who also performs SRS surgery. She has now performed over 1500 surgeries and  it was she who performed Isis King’s surgery. She is an inspiration all by herself! 

Janet Mock is a writer, a transgender rights advocate, and the former staff editor of People magazine’s website, now creating creates transgender-specific programs and education for teens in New York City.

And of course Paris Lees, the British journalist, presenter and transgender rights activist has become a world renowned ambassador and voice for the trans community.

There are now many, many people who have now famously and publicly become the gender they’ve always felt they were inside, regardless of how they presented outside. But what about those who aren’t famous – who live out their lives in the local community without fuss and fanfare? That’s really who I wrote Chained Melodies for and about. Their private, quiet and uncelebrated transitions – and their bravery and dignity.

I’m delighted to be re-releasing Chained Melodies now and hope that those reading it will understand – even if only a little – what it means to have the greatest self-belief of all; to be who you really are.


You can watch the book trailer here:

and buy  the book on pre-order here.

You can find out more about my books on my website:

Follow me on Twitter: @StorytellerDeb

And on Facebook here:  

*Images and references are from

Caitlynn Jenner – Variety Magazine

Marci Bowers –


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