Sarah Hilary’s debut novel, SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN, just came out, and she stopped by to answer a few questions about it, and more! Please give her a warm welcome!
Congrats on the new book! Will you tell us about Someone Else’s Skin and what inspired you to write it?
Thanks! Someone Else’s Skin is a story about secrets, and survival. The secrets that put us in danger and the ones that keep us safe. It’s about who we pretend to be in order to survive or simply to get by, and who we really are, under the skin.
My heroine, Detective Inspector Marnie Rome is an expert at uncovering secrets, and at keeping them. Five years ago, her family home was a shocking and bloody crime scene. Not even her partner, Detective Sergeant Noah Jake, knows much about Marnie’s past or the battle she’s fighting to make sense of it. Together, Marnie and Noah are investigating a stabbing at a women’s shelter. It looks like a cut-and-dried case of self-defence, but the violence spirals and everyone’s caught up it in, including Noah.
I hope it’s a novel that upsets the traditional ideas about domestic violence – and makes us look afresh at why people commit crimes of this kind, and how society chooses to punish them. I’m also fascinated by the psychology of seeing, the emotional lens that colours everything we witness, and by the role of the witness. This role is vital to solving and prosecuting crimes, but what does it mean to be the witness to a brutal crime? How does it change that person? Is there a sense in which he or she becomes responsible for the “truth” of what was seen?
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I’ve been hooked on books since I was about six years old. I grew up reading Conan Doyle, and PG Wodehouse, and Edgar Allen Poe – anything I could get my hands on, really. I started writing stories for my little sister when we were both kids, and never really stopped. I’m a great believer in the alchemy of stories: how they can whisk you away, and stay with you. My family history played a big part in my respect for the power of story-telling. My mother was a child prisoner of the Japanese and I grew up hearing stories of her survival. I always want to move my readers, make them feel for the characters.
What do you like most about your protagonist, DI Marnie Rome, and why do you think readers will root for her?
Marnie can be a prickly customer, but I hope that makes her more believable. I like her honesty, and her courage. She’s always questioning the truth of what she sees, and she wants to make sense of the world as it is. Of course she would like to change it for the better, but she understands that mess is part of the human condition. She has a huge capacity for compassion, which I think is essential for the hero/heroine of any mystery novel. I wanted to write a detective who was much more than ‘a woman in a man’s world’. Marnie has a woman’s empathy and intuition, and the intelligence and honesty to know these gifts sometimes lead her astray.
What kind of research did you do for the book, and what was one of the most interesting things you learned?
I read lots of first person accounts of domestic violence, which was gruelling but essential to get under the skin of my characters. When I researched the psychology of seeing, I learnt how injured soldiers can be taught to ‘see’ using the nerves ending in their tongues or their skin. How amazing is that?
Why crime/mystery? What do you love most about writing, and reading, in the genre?
I love how it takes readers into all the darkest corners of the human condition. It shows us what we’re capable of at our worst, and our best. It’s given us some of our greatest literary heroes and anti-heroes: Sherlock Holmes, Tom Ripley, Hannibal Lecter, Dexter Morgan…
What are a few of your favorite authors or books? Have there been any that have particularly influenced you in your writing?
I love The Collector by John Fowles, which is a tremendously creepy kidnap story. And all the Patricia Highsmith books. Oh and Thomas Harris, and Stephen King, and Chelsea Cain. There’s a book by a US author called Jenefer Shute which hardly anyone in the UK has heard of but I hope she’s better known in the US because Sex Crimes is a brilliant psychological thriller.
What’s one of the first things you can remember writing, and how did you celebrate when you found out Someone Else’s Skin would be published?
I wrote a Sherlock Holmes story when I was about ten years old. Nowadays, it would be called fan fiction. Holmes got shot in the arm and bled all over Watson. I got an A+ from my English teacher for that. I think he was a fan boy…
When I found out that Someone Else’s Skin would be published, I phoned up my friend Anna (to whom the book is dedicated) and we screamed like schoolgirls. It was so exciting, and surreal.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
Dreaming up stories. Reading. Watching TV. I’m currently transfixed by the Soul Eater anime series which I’m watching with my teenage daughter. We’re huge Professor Stein fans.
What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up the edits on Marnie Rome book two, and then I’m starting on a third book. There’s also some exciting plans afoot for a TV series, so watch this space..!
About SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN:
No two victims are alike.
DI Marnie Rome knows this better than most. Five years ago, her family home was the scene of a shocking and bloody crime that left her parents dead and her foster brother in prison. Marnie doesn’t talk much about her personal life, preferring to focus on work. Not even her partner, DS Noah Jake, knows much about Marnie’s past. Though as one of the few gay officers on the force and half Jamaican to boot, Noah’s not one to overshare about his private life either. Now Marnie and Noah are tackling a case of domestic violence, and a different brand of victim.
Hope Proctor stabbed her husband in desperate self-defense. A crowd of witnesses in the domestic violence shelter where she’s staying saw it happen, but none of them are telling quite the same story, and the simple question remains: how did Leo Proctor get in to the secure shelter? Marnie and Noah shouldn’t even have been there when it happened but they were interviewing another resident, Ayana Mirza. They’re trying to get Ayana to testify against her brothers for pouring bleach on her face for bringing dishonor the family, and blinding her in one eye. But Ayana knows that her brothers are looking for her, and she has no doubt that they’ll kill her this time.
As the violence spirals, engulfing the residents of the women’s shelter, Marnie finds herself drawn into familiar territory: A place where the past casts long shadows and she must tread carefully to survive.