Festival Reader-in-Residence David Mark has been longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year for his debut novel Dark Winter. Here he discusses the origins of his follow-up, Original Skin.
“Morbidly obese albino hermaphrodite seeks similar. Non-smoker preferred.”
It’s a funny old business, the dating game. And when I say ‘dating’, I mean something a little less romantic than flowers, chocolates and picking up the tab at Nando’s. The internet has changed things for ever. You want to find somebody who loves getting freaky while wearing welly-boots full of custard? Google’s up to the task. Want to watch while a trio of sumo wrestlers crush grapes with their buttocks? Shouldn’t take more than a couple of key-words, though you should probably consider searching for a shrink or a carpet-cleaner while you’re at it.
Want to invite a stranger into your home? Want to be tied up and blindfolded by somebody who you only know by a nickname? Sure, it’s scary. But that’s the thrill, isn’t it? That’s the turn-on …
My second novel, ORIGINAL SKIN, is set in this shady, sexually-charged and seedy world. It’s set in a world of swingers, hook-ups and wife-swapping. It has a murder at its heart, and it has DS Aector McAvoy blushing to his toes as he tries to save one swinger and find justice for another. It’s a story that blurs moral codes and examines the motives and personalities of people who get their kicks in car parks, toilets and sex parties. Your gran will love it.
People have asked me where the idea came from. There have been a few raised eyebrows and little smirks, and subtle enquiries as to whether I’m writing from personal experience. Well, yes and no. I was a journalist for 15 years and interviewed exponents of just about every kind of lifestyle under the sun. I’ve visited sex clubs and swinger parties and discovered that even the most liberal and loose of people can blush when propositioned by a naked pensioner with an artificial hip and a blue rinse. I’ve had conversations with naked men about the best parking spots nearby and seen a woman slap a stranger for trying to kiss her while they were having sex because “that’s just for my ‘usband”.
In essence, Original Skin is a work of imagination. I’m fascinated by the way desire overcomes caution. We presume that the people we meet in the course of our lives are basically, just like us. They’re okay. They’re enthusiastic and grouchy and they don’t really know what it’s all about. They’re just human beings, really. But in the arena of hook-ups, all bets are off. Every day, thousands of people who leave their details on dating sites and beg strangers to fulfil their fantasies. There’s a mobile phone app that allows you to find the nearest person to your GPS location who fancies a quick bunk-up. Everybody has got rather good at deleting their internet search history and touching somebody’s mobile phone is akin to reading their diary. It’s a secretive world and a lot of the people within it have a lot to lose. So what if a murder threatened to blow the lid off and expose the people at its core? Would they happily proclaim they are swingers and proud? Or would they go to any lengths to keep their double lives in the darkness?
It was a hard book to get right. I think I’ve done an okay job. Some of the characters you will meet are interpretations of people who are very real. This is a real world. People really do this in their spare time.
Dogging may never be the new jogging but it’s a damn sight easier to find a playmate than it used to be. Just don’t go emailing the hermaphrodite. We’ve got a date Thursday and I’m the jealous sort.
David Mark has been a journalist for fifteen years, including seven years as crime reporter with Yorkshire Post in their Hull office. His first novel, the Hull-based The Dark Winter, was published to much acclaim last year. The second in the series, Original Skin, was published in the spring.