‘Skins’ is a story that’s been washing around my hindbrain for several years, accumulating layers until it was ready to be written. A lot of my fiction develops that way – slowly over time, in tiny increments. Maybe there is a Eureka! moment right at the beginning, but a cool idea is a long way from being a story that you can write down.
In this case the initial flash of idea was… well, to be honest I don’t remember what it was. I know that there was one, and I can vaguely remember the familiar excitement of being ‘on to something’, but whether it happened while I was in Scotland or since I came to India… I just can’t say. When I read interviews with other authors, they often demonstrate remarkable recall about the inspiration behind each and every tale they pen. I wonder, often, how much they’re inventing new stories just for the sake of having anecdotes to hand. Fictions about fictions. Sounds like the sort of chicanery an author would get up to.
For posterity’s sake, here’s what I can tell you about ‘Skins’.
I’d wanted to make better use of Scotland in my stories for years.
At some point I heard about and read up on selkies, which are a sort of Scottish mermaid, except for not being quite that at all. It was an interesting bit of mythology that I wanted to use, but ‘a story about a selkie’ is no more useful a thought than ‘a story about a zombie’. It’s less than an idea, really. Just a thing that you might be able to hang ideas off later.
Possibly months afterwards, I realised that there was also a brothel in the story. I don’t know why it suddenly occurred to me that selkies and brothels were a perfect fit, but it did, and they are. That doesn’t feel like it was a proper Eureka! moment either, to be honest. Perhaps I thought “aha!”, and may even have nodded and said it aloud. Yet I didn’t take things any further. The story was a bit closer to being written, but it wasn’t quite done yet.
Later still, I realised that with the story already being about selkies and brothels, it was crying out to also be about human trafficking. I suppose that was the Eureka! moment, if we really must have one – though to be honest I suspect I rolled my eyes and said ‘duh’ at the obviousness of it all.
Once the story was also about human trafficking, the tipping point was reached and it was just a case of finding time to write it. I sat down one Sunday last year and wrote it longhand from start to finish that same day. In the course of writing it down, the story also became a little bit about childhood and lost innocence, which took me by surprise but which also now feels like a ‘duh’ sort of a thing. Of course it was about childhood and innocence lost. Rereading the story now, it seems as though that was the point the whole time, despite it being the very last layer to be introduced.
Not long after the story was written, I was offered a chance to submit to a new anthology by editors Robert and Jen Wilson. They liked it a great deal, which is how it ended up being the final story in the just released Nightscapes. As of yesterday, you can buy a copy for the Kindle from Amazon. The paperback will be along shortly.
So there you go. The vague and fumbling true story of a story, in which a thing that might have happened once may have led to another thing that ended up being a piece of fiction.
I hope you enjoy it.