Written On The Skin : Context For Vellum

“Written on the skin
Tattooed with a pin
In ink as black as sin
The future flows.”

You can’t have read much genre fiction in recent months and not heard of Hal Duncan’s “Vellum”. It was published just a smirch over a year ago on a wave of strong publisher backing and word of mouth industry hype, and it’s fair to say that anyone who reads it has had an opinion on it. For good or ill. Some critics have loved its ambition and the verve of the prose, while other reviewers have been disappointed by its unconventional structure. Opinion has been split.

When I read Vellum I didn’t know quite how to respond to it either. I knew that I genuinely loved it, and that I was genuinely confused by it. Hal had created something that broke my rules of reading. When I reported back my feelings about the book I mentioned my misgivings (would people get it – publishers and readers alike?) but since it was clear, also, that this fractured, layered, faceted delivery method was his intention, I wished him good luck and left it at that.

And it’s paid off. The book has made a splash, and has been nominated for the Crawford, British Fantasy and World Fantasy Awards.

Still though, in my head I’ve found it difficult to tell my friends whether they would like the book or not. I didn’t have a describable context for it. And I think what’s been interesting is watching a critical context grow over the last year as reviewers and critics and plain old normal readers have discussed their reaction to the book. Watching them get closer to a way of describing it. And finally, this morning (via a link from Hal’s own blog), I read something that pinned the tail right on the fucking monkey.

It’s by a chap called Matthias Davies, and it’s nothing more than an honest reader reaction.

So, if you want to know whether you’ll like Vellum – and the soon-coming Ink – lookie here.

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