Interview: Sarah Hilary, author of Someone Else's Skin

'I wanted to write about a crime with many witnesses, but unreliable ones'

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Interview: Sarah Hilary, author of Someone Else's Skin

Photo: Matthew Andrews

What inspired Someone Else’s Skin?
I wanted to write about a crime with many witnesses, but unreliable ones; the idea that we don’t always know what we’re seeing. For years I’ve been haunted by a wartime propaganda photograph of my family, in which they look happy when in fact they were prisoners. I wanted to write about the cost of keeping secrets.

What makes a good story?
Lots of layers. I like thinking that I’m reading one thing only to find it’s something else, then something else again. I think this started when my grandmother told me stories about my mother’s childhood. The first stories, when I was about five or six, seemed great fun; my mother running around barefoot and sleeping under mosquito nets. When I was a little older, my grandmother told me how my mother learnt to write with a stick in the sand, and ate raw potatoes, which seemed odd, but interesting. Each time she told the story, it had an extra layer; because I was getting older and could hear more of the truth. I was hooked on the story long before I realised that it was about three years of captivity: my mother was a child internee of the Japanese. The story, in one sense, is a terribly brutal one. But my grandmother knew how to tell it, with all its incredible layers intact. I’ve never forgotten that.

What do you love and hate about the crime genre?
I love its anarchism, the way it breaks rules and pushes boundaries. I love its courage, the light it shines into murky corners. I’m not keen on crime novels that numb me, but the best books know how to balance horror with catharsis.

Someone Else's Skin is out on Thu 27 Feb from Headline
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