The Skin by J. E. Hannaford
Series: Black Hind’s Wake (#1)
Published: October 18, 2021
You cannot fix this world alone, Selkie.’
‘I know. But, when we die, all that is left are shadows of our lives preserved in the memories of those who remain. I plan on leaving an exceptionally long shadow, filled with ripples of moonlight for those I helped, and darker than the worst of nightmares for those who wronged us.’
How far would you go to save your skin?
I’m a selkie, trapped above the waves until I can recover my skin. Humans used to call us seal-wives many years ago – before they broke the planet. Up here, the magic is fading and Old Ones like me are traded as trophies for rich and powerful humans to display in collections.
Without the Old Ones, the magic fades, without magic, the planet dies.
Humankind has gone too far and someone has to put a stop to it. I just wasn’t expecting it to be me.
CW: Violence; Gun, Gore, Poisons, Venom, Abuse/imprisonment, Human (selkie) trafficking, Animal cruelty, Fat phobia, Eating disorder, Substance abuse
Purchase Link: http://getbook.at/TheSkin
Writer of words, builder of worlds. J E Hannaford is powered by coffee, dragons and whisky. She teaches Biology in the real world and invents fantasy beasts to populate her own.
‘I have always loved books. I was the kind of child who thought they were reading sneakily, while my parents tiptoed past the cracks of light from under my bedroom door. Nights passed in a blur of words as I vanished willingly into their pages, lost for days, only coming up for air to deal with the real world when it called.
My imagination has always been sparked by my cultural mythology. From the creatures of The Mabinogion to modern folk stories, I devoured them all. I have a natural affinity for dragons too, after all, every sunset is merely the Welsh Dragon calling me home.
I fell in love with biology too. Marine biology to be specific. The weird and wonderful animals on this world and the legacy and hints of its previous occupants are endlessly fascinating.
All these things – these dreams and fascinations – were bound to merge one day, finding their blending in the Black Hind’s Wake series. I invite you to submerge yourself in a world filled with characters I’d both want to meet, and be afraid to, with deep, dark places, hidden secrets and wondrous creatures.
May my worlds and characters find a home in your heart, the way so many others live in mine.’
How did you get the idea for The Skin?
It crept up on me quietly, then grabbed me in a strangle-hold until I wrote it. The characters Georgie and Sirena appeared in a short story written for a monthly contest a few years ago. I knew as soon as I had written it, that I would be returning to that world, and those characters. Then, there was the Bristol Con panel who decried selkies as useless. That was rate turning point, when Selkie herself started to shout louder. Eventually I caved in to them and The Skin was born.
How has your book changed throughout the writing process?
From the initial idea, a lot. The three main voices arrived at different times. Lady Gina being the last to make herself known. Once I has started drafting though, the story itself changed very little. I had some brilliant insights from early readers who inspired several tweaks. Writing it was difficult at times requiring judicious placing of red herrings and careful timeline management between the POV threads.
I tend to draft with too many words, cut the extra before my very first reader sees it, then flesh it out in final rounds of edits. In fact, an entire new chapter was added in part two just before the last edit, as well as numerous small threads pulled tighter as I realised that something needed to be planted in Black Hind’s Wake 1 in order to be ready for book 2.
How would you describe your main character Selkie?
Determined and sceptical of mankind. She cares deeply about her world and grows to care for those who become her world.
What are some of the themes explored in The Skin?
The Skin explores Selkie finding her place in a world both strange and dangerous, a story of those who helped her and those she helped. It is a tale of selkies and sirens, of poisons and found family, but most of all it is a story about choosing the difficult path – for the good of the world.
What are some things you had to research for your novel?
I spent weeks reading up on oceanic currents and their possible changes due to global warming. I studied projected flood maps of Europe at various heights and the land masses and outlines that would be swallowed by the water. I then had to discard some of the assessments so that I actually had land masses I needed, and swallow some rather larger areas of land for narrative requirements. But the basis of my map is ‘mostly’ projections.
One of the research rabbit-holes I did not anticipate falling down was finding out where seals sweat from, and do they have ‘hackles’? (They don’t)
I read the majority of the rather enormous tome The Arctic Grail by Pierre Berton. I wanted to bring the Arctic to life when they visited it, and I do plan to return there in a future book. I read books on folklore, from the classic 70’s Readers Digest book, to far more recent works.
I even took a boat trip out to a real location I used in The Skin so that I could correctly describe the environment there, knowing that the series would return there in book two. (We broke the family car on a similar research trip for the second book in the series… It was a little more challenging road-wise than our vehicle could handle.)
The hardest part of all the research was trying to dig back down below the heavily christian folklore of Portugal and Spain to find the creatures and lore below it. Much of it may be a passing note, or a single word… but it all had to be right.
I’ve sat down with my mother who is a round-the-world yacht woman, and talked about the mechanisms of toilets during a storm and how big a boat could be and still suitable for singlehanded sailing, I’ve had friends who worked on cruise ships scour my notes on Barge.
If I’m honest with myself, I probably spent as many hours researching for The Skin as I have writing it.
Who are some of the authors who influenced you as a writer?
Mary Gentle’s book, Ash a Secret History was hugely influential. It is one of very few books I have re-read multiple times. That feeling when you get to the end and everything falls into place, wow.
Professor Trevor Norton’s non-fiction books about the worlds beneath the waves and the pioneers of diving made the undersea world come alive to me.
More recently I’d say Graham Austin-King. I recall reading his Fae series in about two days, then messaging him about it. It was the first time I had ever messaged an author to say how much I enjoyed their work. He has also done some things in his writing that gave me confidence, that one of the things I hoped to achieve with The Skin was possible to do. I’d say the same about Devin Madson. Her multiple first person POV gave me belief that it could work. Not forgetting RJ Barker, who’s strange worlds and beasts fire the imagination as well as his frequently spoken insistence that you should write the book you love, and want to read.
What books would you recommend to fans of The Skin?
I could recommend books all day to you, particularly indie books at the moment, there are so many incredible writers out there. (Look at SPFBO to get started!)
But, I’ll try to stick to those more closely linked in one way or another to the setting, themes or style of the book. I’ll admit, there are some tenuous links here.
The Fae trilogy, and Faithless by Graham Austin-King.
Dark Oak and Age of the Dryad by Jacob Sannox.
Book of the Ancestor by Mark Lawrence
The Poison War duology by Sam Hawke.
The Tide Child trilogy by RJ Barker.
The Blue Salt Road by Joanne Harris.
The Stars Beneath the Sea, and Underwater to Get Out of the Rain by Trevor Norton.