01.05.19 / Science Fiction / Legend Press / Paperback / 272pp / 978-1789550405
About Liam Brown
Author of REAL MONSTERS (2015), WILD LIFE (2016) and BROADCAST (2017)
Liam Brown is a writer, filmmaker and former-life model. His debut novel Real Monsters was published in 2015 and long-listed for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize. He lives in Birmingham with his wife and two children.
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A strange virus is sweeping the globe. Humans have become allergic to one another. Simply standing next to somebody could be a death sentence. A kiss could be fatal.
Angela is a woman trying to get by in this bewildering new world. Though she still lives with her husband and children, they lead separate lives. Confined to their rooms, they communicate via their computers and phones. In some ways, very little has changed.
That is, until she spots a mysterious stranger walking through town without even a face mask for protection. A man, it seems, immune to this disease. A man unlike anyone else she knows. A man it might just be safe to touch…
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Q&A with Liam Brown
Thank you Liam for taking some time to answer a few questions about your latest novel, SKIN. Could you give us your own personal overview of what readers should expect in within the book?
SKIN is set in the near future, where a mysterious virus has swept through the world, causing humans to become fatally allergic to one another. For the survivors, the virus spells a life of isolation, leaving them confined to their rooms and only able to communicate through their phones or computers – a life lived on screen. The novel explores the effects of this isolation one family, and what happens when one of them decides to break the rules that are keeping them alive…
You write such refreshing, challenging and dynamic takes on modern culture and technology. Where does your inspiration come from?
I suppose my last two novels could broadly be described as ‘speculative fiction.’ But if I’m honest, it doesn’t take very much speculation. A world where every thought is streamed live online with no filter (BROADCAST) or a world where we only ever speak to our loved ones via our phones (SKIN)? It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination for the reader to see themselves ending up there. I read recently that the average adult in the West spends more than 11 hours per day staring at a screen. And if you want to experience only ever communicating via a screen, just try living with a teenager! So I guess my inspiration is less a case of looking into a crystal ball and more just a reflection of the way we’re already living now.
What sets SKIN apart from your other novels?
I think because SKIN is set in the near future rather than the present, it allows me takes some of the ideas I’ve explored in my previous novels and push them further than I ever have before. Certainly, I had a lot of fun allowing my imagination to run rampant when describing an outside world abandoned by human for example, or writing about the VR worlds people now inhabit. Having said that, SKIN is very much set in the same world as BROADCAST – it’s not a sequel exactly, but it feels like a natural evolution of the ideas that novel contains. I guess I had unfinished business!
Can you give us a few more insights into what Angela faces and the path she has to take in SKIN?
Angela’s biggest issue is how untroubled the rest of the world seem to be by their isolation. Whereas she aches to be to be touched, her husband and son actually seem to prefer life without all that pesky human interaction. Later of course, when she meets someone who’s living outside of the system, she is forced to reckon with the messy reality of physical intimacy.
How do you expect readers to react to a thought-provoking novel like SKIN?
I’m always wary about finger wagging in books. Technology has unlocked incredible opportunities and possibilities that we never dreamt of only a few decades ago. Every day I communicate with friends and readers around the world with a tap and a swipe of my mobile phone. Yet, for all of our interconnectivity, loneliness is both pervasive and increasing in society. So I guess I’m hoping that if readers take anything from my novel, it’s that I’m not describing some distant dystopia, but the world we live in today.
How long did it take you to write SKIN and did you have to do much research for the infection side of the narrative?
SKIN took almost two full years to write and edit from start to finish. And yes, the infection side of the narrative was far and away the trickiest aspect of the book. But then again, I guess that’s another positive to chalk up to the Internet – that rather than thumbing through dusty medical journals all the information is readily available at the click of a mouse. What I found especially interesting was the research on skin itself. Like the fact it’s our largest organ, with the average adult covered in something like 22 square feet of the stuff. Yet we so often take it for granted, along with our sense of touch. Until, of course, it’s taken away from us…
Is there a part of the book that you are particularly proud of? Do you have a favourite quote you can share with us?
There was no real sense of panic. Not yet. Rather, there was a strange sense of unreality about the whole thing. After all, we’d spent decades at the cinema watching this stuff. We’d flicked through it at the local bookshops a thousand times before. We knew the narrative arc by heart. The apocalypse was hackneyed. Old hat. Besides, as bad as things were, they still weren’t happening to us. It might have been creeping closer by the day, but it still wasn’t here. No, this was something that was happening to foreign people in exotic countries. It was a mudslide in Bangladesh. A famine in South Sudan. A terror attack in Lebanon. Just another pan-global atrocity playing out in montage on our mobile devices. Something to scroll and share while we rode the train to work.
Did you always have your eye set on being a writer/author and what sort of books did you grow up reading?
I was a pathological liar as a child. Always making up wild stories. Always telling far-fetched fibs. I’m just thankful that I found a way to turn that into a profitable career! As for books I used to read, I’m lucky that I have children myself now, so I get to re-read a lot of the books I haven’t looked at for decades. I especially loved returning to Roald Dahl. Such unforgettable characters. Such quiet (and not-so-quiet) subversion. It’s fantastic! It’s crazy to think that some of those stories are more than half a century old. They feel like they could have been written yesterday.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the writing?
Yes! When I’m not writing I’m a singer and guitarist in the band Absent Fathers. Actually, we wrote and recorded an album in parallel to writing SKIN, called Swimming Lessons. It’s not a soundtrack exactly, but I think the apocalyptic themes and imagery definitely seeped into the songs. You can take a listen on Spotify, or iTunes, or wherever else people steal music these days…
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
I’ve read so many great things this year, but I’m going to shout out James Smythe for his mind bending, and terrifyingly plausible I Still Dream – perfect for fans of The Circle (or Broadcast!)
Thank you to Liam Brown for all these amazing insights into SKIN and the writing process that brought it to life. I became a true fan of Liam after Broadcast which is a fascinating novel exploring the dependence on and exploitation of social media that has reached an alarming level. SKIN sounds just as ambitious, edgy and thrilling and I can’t wait to get stuck in to LB’s inspired science-fiction writing once again. Thank you to Lucy at Legend Press for including me in this impressive blog tour and make sure you visit all the other amazing blogs on this tour for reviews, guest posts and much more.