Beneath The Skin #BlogTour – Why Taxidermy Both Horrifies and Fascinates

I’m delighted to be taking part in a blog tour today to celebrate the release of Sandra Ireland’s gothic thriller Beneath The Skin. Set in Edinburgh, the novel centres on damaged ex-soldier Walt whose life becomes unexpectedly tangled with a cruel, calculating taxidermist named Alys. Today, Sandra shares her thoughts on why taxidermy still horrifies and fascinates us…

Why Taxidermy Both Horrifies and Fascinates by Sandra Ireland, author of Beneath the Skin

beneath-the-skinTaxidermy is all a bit marmite. The mere mention of it provokes some very strong reactions! People are either fascinated by it, and keen to relate examples of ‘bad taxidermy’ they may have spotted, or even ‘bad taxidermists’ they may have met. Others will regard you with suspicion, as if you’ve just confessed to regularly dining on dormice. Even the dictionary definition of the word- ‘an arrangement of skin’- conjures up images of nightmarish Frankenstein-esque creations.

The truth is that this ancient art is enjoying something of an renaissance, thanks to the work of a new generation of young, predominantly female, artists. They are possibly the most unlikely candidates to fill the  role of  the traditional taxidermist.

Leading the field is Polly Morgan, the inspiration behind the character of Alys in my debut novel Beneath the Skin. Polly has a freezer full of birds and small mammals in her kitchen, When she shakes your hand, she is imagining the structures beneath the skin. She also sells bizarre and beautiful taxidermied creations for six-figure sums.

Emma Willats is an Aberdeen-based entrepreneur. With her background in anatomy, it was a small step into the world of taxidermy. Emma recently launched her business The Dapper Dead. She makes and sells sporrans and other accessories created from roadkill foxes , badgers and so on. Even the odd guinea pig has found its way into her products. In a recent interview she reveals, “ You don’t want them [the animals] to die, but if they’re dead, you want them.”

It is this passion, this desire to resurrect the dead that I personally find so intriguing. It has opened up a whole new layer of meaning in Beneath the Skin, with Alys’s ‘undead’ animals inhabiting the twilight world of Walt, her assistant, who is suffering from PTSD. We may be repelled by the notion of keeping these creatures alive, but our human nature means we are fascinated by it too.

This is borne out by the Victorian obsession with taxidermy. It fed into the preoccupation with death and mourning which prevailed in this era. Walter Potter, a hero of my character Alys, was a renowned taxidermist who created anthropomorphic dioramas to astound the viewing public. Think kittens dressed up for a wedding, or toads playing cricket. These arrangements are decidedly creepy to out tastes, but were hugely popular in their day, and not that far removed from Polly Morgan’s white rat in a wine glass. ( Title: ‘Rest a Little on the Lap of Life’, 2006).

Although our views on what is ‘good taste’ and ‘bad taste’ are constantly changing, I predict that taxidermy will remain an endless source of fascination for us. There’s something raw and primitive about it that calls to us. We like to act all squeamish; we love to be repulsed. It is a horror film we just cannot look away from…

As Alys would say, taxidermy isn’t for wimps!

About the Author

Sandra Ireland, author of Beneath the Skin

Sandra Ireland is an award-winning writer, poet and artist. Born in Yorkshire, she was brought up in the North East and lived for many years in Éire. Her work has appeared in various women’s magazines and publications such as New Writing Dundee, Dundee Writes and ‘Furies’, an anthology of women’s poetry. Beneath the Skin is her first novel and was inspired by a love of all things curious and unseen.

Web: www.sandrairelandauthor.com
Twitter: @22_ireland

 

About the Book

Beneath the Skin

Taking a job in the studio of an Edinburgh taxidermist probably isn’t Walt’s wisest decision. Suffering from combat stress and struggling to outrun the demons from his past, he now finds himself confronted by the undead on a daily basis. His enigmatic boss, Alys, and her sister, Mouse, have their own uneasy relationship with the past. Someone doesn’t want to let them go. Can Walt save Mouse’s eight-year-old son, William, from becoming the next victim? And can he save himself?

Deliciously disturbing, this psychological thriller peels back the skin of one modern family to reveal the wounds no one wants to see. It deals with the effects of trauma and how facing up to vulnerability is sometimes the only way to let go of the past.

 

 

Praise for Beneath the Skin…

“The debut novel from Sandra Ireland is an exceptional calling card.” The Courier

“Sandra Ireland shows an impressive skill at locating her reader’s empathy and drawing it out to make you both emotionally invested and totally hooked on the action.” Becky Hinshelwood, Books etc.

Powerful, unsettling, captivating.” Liz Robinson, Love Reading UK

Sandra’s debut novel, Beneath the Skin is available in both paperback and ebook. You can order a copy online here: Beneath The Skin

 

The Secret Letters Blog Tour – Five favourite novels by Catherine Law

the-secret-lettersI’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for the ebook launch of Catherine Law’s beautiful, heart breaking novel The Secret Letters. Today, Catherine shares her five favourite novels with us…

My five favourite novels By Catherine Law

Possession by A S Byatt (1990)

I read this book when it was first published and it has remained in my imagination ever since. A literary detective story moving between modern day and Victorian England, it is one of my favourite time-switch novels. I was entranced by the parallel lives of the two scholars investigating the secret love affair between two 19th century poets through discovered letters and poems, which conjured exquisitely the Gothic romance of the past. A S Byatt created such a complete world that I expect, today, readers may try to search for the fictitious poets online.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (1993)

This modern-classic First World War novel is equally beautiful and harrowing, contrasting an illicit love affair with the murderous horrors of war. I remember reading the Battle of the Somme scenes on the tube and, such was the power of the writing and so transported was I into the world of the main character Wraysford, I felt actual physical shock at what he was witnessing. I had to hide my tears from fellow commuters. This was a book that I longed to get back to between reading sessions but had to brace myself for the emotional shredding and unbearable tension created by this brilliant author.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (1995)

From the very first sentence – ‘I exist!’ – I was drawn straight into Ruby Lennox’s story and didn’t want to leave. This is a clever, original and real family saga, which is at times brutally honest and traumatic, but also incredibly compassionate and funny. The lives of the previous generations mingle with Ruby’s, encapsulating perfectly the invisible and unbreakable links between grandparents, parents and children. I recognised Ruby and her very ordinary but bewitching world; she is one of my favourite characters to appear in print.

Part of the Furniture by Mary Wesley (1997)

I must have read this book at least four times. It is the warm and unconventional depiction of a spirited lonely girl struggling through the pain of unrequited love amid the air-raids and trauma of war-time England, and her escape to isolated, beautiful Cornwall. Mary Wesley had a deft, almost spare way of writing which convinces me utterly that I am right there in the world she created. She tapped honestly into her own experiences to create her nine witty novels – I love each one and always return to them. Mary Wesley’s biography, Wild Mary, could easily be a fabulous novel, too.

The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard (1956)

This is one of the subtlest, most thought-provoking novel I have ever read. We first see Antonia Fleming in 1950 when a window is opened onto her disastrous marriage to her enigmatic, arrogant and rather cruel husband. And then each section takes us a little bit further back into her past, through the war, and finally to 1926, depicting each time a younger Antonia. Her story unravels to reveal the girl whose unsettling experiences at an early age points to the future we already know. Despite the story going back in time, this clever novel gave me a real and pleasing sense of the continuation and acceptance of life.

law-catherine-credit-david-bergerAbout the author

Catherine Law was born in Harrow, Middlesex in 1965 and has been a journalist for twenty-two years, having trained first as a secretary at the BBC and then attending the London College of Printing. She now works on a glossy interiors magazine and lives in Buckinghamshire. You can find out more about Catherine and her novels on her website: http://www.catherinelaw.co.uk/

About The Secret Letters…

Rose Pepper has kept her wartime past a secret for decades. Forty years ago, she fled communist Prague and left behind the love of her life.
Now in her sixties and with two daughters, Rose discovers a bundle of unopened letters sent to her by her lost love, hidden beneath her home.
Confronted with the possibility of facing up to her past, she decided it’s finally time to go back to where her story began and uncover the truth buried for so long in Prague…
From the author of Map of Stars comes a heart breaking story of love, hope, secrets and lies. The novel is perfect for fans of Kathryn Hughes and Leah Fleming
                                                                                                                   A truth buried over forty years.   A love that lasted a lifetime.


The Secret Letters
by Catherine Law is available now on Amazon.