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In This Skin (2004)


Robert Hale cover 2004

Robert Hale, UK, 2004, ISBN 9780709076551 hardback

Leisure Books, USA, 2004, ISBN 9780843951578 paperback

The Luxor Dance Hall has seen a lot over the past hundred years. From Vaudeville, through the big bands and up to the hottest rock acts, the Luxor had them all. It’s closed now, a boarded-up relic, standing alone in a run down industrial part of town. But the old dance hall isn’t empty. A hideous presence lives there, a monstrous evil that has the ability to invade people’s fantasies and nightmares … and bring them to life. Three strangers will soon learn the extent of the dance hall’s power. As their lives become more and more entangled in its inescapable web, they will come to see that what haunts the Luxor is far worse than any ghost.


Simon writes:

Before writing In This Skin Simon took a closer look at the body beautiful. There’s more to us than meets the eye. Much, much more…

You. YES, YOU! I know something about you… a something you might not even know yourself. You have at least thirty – count them! – thirty identifiable mutations. To be candid, I’ve got at least thirty mutant variations within my anatomy too. Everyone has. Some of us can boast more.

Of course, most are invisible to the human eye. Only specialists using the latest imaging equipment can identify these biological oddities. What’s even more reassuring is that we go through life unaware of them, they are completely harmless, and they only register as that statistic of thirty mutations per person. Though there can be more spectacular variations in the human form. I went to school with a boy who had five fingers. Five fingers, you might point out, isn’t unusual. It’s only when we examine our hands that we tend to remember we possess four fingers and one thumb. This boy had five fingers, that’s five digits with two joints per digit. He’d also show off the oval scars near his wrists where surgeons removed his thumbs in infancy. The boy was thrilled with his mutation. We were thrilled to marvel over that bonus fifth finger where a single-jointed thumb should be.

Nature incessantly fiddles with life. We know we have the remnants of gills in our necks. That hair is the mutant survivor of reptile hide; put a hair under a microscope, you see scales. Mutation is evolution. On the whole, a good thing.

However, before writing In This Skin certain thoughts had been playing on my imagination. This notion of mutation. Sometimes it seems hit and miss to me. You only have to check out the old Ripley books for pictures of nature’s gaffs, such as four-legged chickens, men covered in fur, two-headed fish. I’d also being reading HP Lovecraft’s stories of cosmic horror. Where people were transported to fabulous worlds, or weird creatures from some other realm come slithering into our neighborhoods. An just to throw in a wild card, I’d come across a nightmarish-cum-visionary work of the nineteenth century philosopher John Henry Newman entitled The Dream of Gerontius. It describes an imaginary descent into Purgatory, that limbo state between this world and heaven. Perhaps this is one of the best descriptions of being marooned in some primal void you’ll find:

And I drop out the universal frame,
Into that shapeless, scopeless, blank abyss
That utter nothingness of which I came…

These unrelated ideas fused, and like most writers I had that ‘What if’ moment. As I walked the dog (he probably packs thirty hidden mutations, too) I thought: ‘What if there was a parallel world to this one that had the power to trigger spontaneous mutations on our bodies? What might we look like? What affect would it have on our minds? Rather than a supernatural event could this be yet another natural process? Is Purgatory a race memory of some hidden place adjacent to our own? By chance we could find ourselves in this strange world where spectacular changes are wrought on our anatomy, then we’re returned home where the mutation will – perhaps – benefit our species.’ After all, nature does this with her thirty-mutations per person technique. Many of those mutations are triggered by radiation falling from distant stars, so that adds the cosmic link.

Those ‘what if’ questions fired my imagination. So I hurried home, switched on the computer, then typed these words: ‘Robyn first met Ellery before they were born. It’s not possible to know how or why… or in what kind of world it was, this place where nascent minds originate. They were there, just as we are here now.’ That became the opening of In This Skin, a novel that would have me in its grip for months to come. It took me to places inside my head I’ve never been before. Now I hope you will join me on that journey, too.