Stronger Than Skin was published by Sandstone Press on 16th March 2017. My thanks to them for sending me a copy and for having me on the blog tour.
Mark Chadwick is cycling home from work, eager to get back to his pregnant wife Katy and two children, when he sees the police calling at his house. He knows exactly why they are there and he knows that the world he has carefully constructed over twenty very deliberately uneventful years is about to fall apart. He could lose everything. A story of a toxic love gone wrong, with a setting that moves easily between present day London and 1990s Cambridge, Stronger Than Skin is compulsively readable, combining a gripping narrative with a keen eye for the absurdities of the way we live now.
I am delighted to be able to host the blog tour today, I have an extract for you below, do let me know if it encourages you to read the book.
Katy has told me not to go back home tonight but I can’t stay in that room either. I have to go somewhere. I have to do something.
I have a shower. I use up an entire bottle of kelp body wash and head off out of the Castle into the night, smelling like the sea.
I seem to cycle around most of North London, music loud, still trying hard not to think.
There’s a breeze spiteful enough to keep people off the streets, but even so London seems freakishly quiet. Whatever the weather a London night should be raucous, should be mixed martial arts meets burlesque. It should be theatre. London at night should be all pissed up street-poets bobbing restlessly through the streets like discarded plastic bottles down the Thames. But not tonight. Tonight London is pensive, aloof and grown up. Things on her mind.
I stop once at an all-night cafe and the cabbies and the call girls and the foreign students chat together in a way that seems strangely small-talky. The weather, the football, the economy – how since the internet no one wants to pay the proper rate for anything. How we’re all working harder for less, running to stand still. It reminds me of the staffroom. When did London get as banal as this?
Every half hour or so I make a stealthy return through the chill drizzle to the end of Haverstock Road but there is always that bloody police Astra outside the house.
I wonder what they think, the police. Sitting for hours in the sweaty cubicle of the car, waiting to nick a guy who hasn’t had so much as a parking ticket in twenty-odd years. Do they really believe this is a good use of police resources? They should be angry, they should be wanting to chase real criminals: muggers, burglars, rapists, terrorists. If they joined the force because of the hope of making a real difference to how things are, then they’ve been cheated.
Five times I come back, and the last time – at gone midnight – hanging back in the dark, I see our master bedroom light go off. I wait around another twenty minutes to see if the team in the panda car give up, but they seem pretty dug in. Not going anywhere. No getting past them.
I’m going to text Katy a last goodnight, only I realise I’ve left my phone back in the Castle. But at least I’m maybe tired enough now to sleep. Time to go back.
When I get back to the King George Suite I’m going to make the most of the facilities, I’m going to drink the minibar dry. I’m going to dive into the poshcorn. I’m going to warm up with a long bath. If I find myself crying, then a bath is the place to do it.
I wonder how safe it would be to email Katy from the hotel. Best not. It’s not just mobiles they monitor these days. Funny, if a postie tampers with the snail mail then he goes to prison – but the electronic postmen, they seem immune. They get rewarded, even. These days you never know who is reading your stuff. Some googlenaut in Motherfuck Nebraska, some minimum wage Amazon drone hunched over his algorithms in Idaho, some spook in Murmansk, all of them getting a bonus for each piece of intel they extract. People forget: an email is not a private letter. It is a publication. It is the magazine of you carelessly discarded in the waiting room of the world.
I am just outside the Castle about to swipe my key card when the door opens and Jake Skellow hurries out, takes me by the arm in a strong-fingered grip and hustles me into the shadows whispering urgently as he does so.
‘None of my business Mr Chadwick, but the old bill. They’re waiting for you. In your room.’
‘Yeah, they came about twenty minutes ago. I’ve been looking out for you.’
‘I wonder what that’s all about?’ I say. I’m trying to move my features into a frowning picture of professorial puzzlement. I’m cursing myself for not switching that bloody phone off, or for not throwing it away even. Jake straightens himself to his full height. This pretence has irritated him. He’s lost a bit of respect for me maybe. He’s come out from behind his desk into the cold night to give his old teacher a heads-up. I should be a little more honest. There’s a pause. What do I do now?
‘You know, Jake, I’m really not up to facing questioning by the police. Not tonight.’
Jake smiles. Another quick happy flash of those big white teeth. I have seen this before with kids at school, how they love to turn the tables, love to become the teacher themselves. The way they like to educate you about how the modern world works. About phones and computers. About pop or fashion. About how to escape from justice too it seems, because he has an idea.
‘You could go to my place. Kip the night there. If you wanted.’
Now I remember some staffroom talk about the troubled background Jake comes from. Some gossip about how his family were at war with the authorities, of the Skellows being involved in all sorts of dubious businesses – believable rumours of loan sharking, cigarette smuggling, buying and selling of knock-off goods, the breeding of banned dogs. It’s fair to assume that Jake has not been brought up to respect the forces of law and order.
About the Author:
Stephen May’s first novel TAG was longlisted for Wales Book of The Year and won the Media Wales Reader’s Prize. His second, Life! Death! Prizes! was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Novel Award and The Guardian Not The Booker Prize. He also collaborates on performance pieces with theatre-makers, artists, film-makers, musicians and dancers.
You can find him on Twitter: @Stephen_May1
Please do have a look at the other stops on the blog tour: