I’m a journalist. Lies are not a valued commodity in my world. Unless, like Skin Deep’s Harry Hendrick, you’re uncovering other people’s, lies are a good way to get fired.
(In Harry’s case, uncovering other people’s lies is a good way to get killed).
So if I’m a journalist, what am I doing telling lies in my spare time? Well, as it happens, truth and fiction aren’t as far apart as you might think.
Jerry Jenkins, author of the best-selling Left Behind series, says the definitions of nonfiction and fiction have flip-flopped.
‘Nonfiction has to be unbelievable, and fiction has to be believable,’ he says.
Everything in Skin Deep has happened.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a lie.
But at each stage of fleshing out Skin Deep’s plot I asked, ‘Has this ever happened in real life?’ If I could find a real-world precedent, I would mould those true events into the lie I needed.
Have Australian Defence Force personnel ever been implicated in drug smuggling? Yes.
Have outlaw motorcycle gangs ever been used to traffic drugs? Absolutely.
Did a Black Hawk carrying SAS troopers crash during an exercise off the coast of Fiji? Yes. (The true version of that incident is detailed in Rob Maylor’s excellent SAS Sniper).
Are there symbols created by Afghan Mullah Sensees designed to protect people from harm? Yes.
Of course, at some point as a writer you need to go off the beaten track and just make shit up.
As far as I know, no-one has ever had tattoos spontaneously manifest on their body.
Dreadnorts MC and Dead Ringers MC are fictional outlaw motorcycle gangs. I didn’t want any Hells Angels or Bandidos knocking on my door, accusing me of giving their club a bad write-up. (And it was actually quite difficult finding ominous-sounding names that aren’t real OMGs).
The protective sigil on Harry’s neck was originally going to be African in origin. The Australian SAS has deployed to various parts of Africa over the years, but it suited Skin Deep better to shift Rob’s story to Afghanistan.
So what’s the secret to telling convincing lies? Let’s hear from a guy who’s made a career out of it: Stephen King.
As King suggests, you should wrap your lie around a truth. Whether it’s characters, locations, or plot developments, thorough research can make the reader care.
‘Or a broken billboard. Or weeds growing in the cracks of a library’s steps.
‘Of course, none of this means a lot without characters the reader cares about (and sometimes characters—“bad guys”—the reader is rooting against), but the details are always the starting place in speculative or fantasy fiction. They must be clear and textured.
‘The writer must have a good imagination to begin with, but the imagination has to be muscular, which means it must be exercised in a disciplined way, day in and day out, by writing, failing, succeeding and revising.’
So what are you waiting for? Go to it!
When more tattoos appear — accompanied by visions of war-torn Afghanistan, bikies, boat people, murder, bar fights and a mysterious woman — he begins to dig a little deeper.
Harry’s search leads him to Jess McGrath. She’s successful, married; they are drawn to each other though they have nothing in common but unwanted tattoos and high definition nightmares. Together, they edge closer to unearthing the truth behind the sinister disappearance of an SAS hero and his girlfriend Kyla.
There’s a federal election looming, with pundits tipping a landslide win for opposition leader Andrew Cardinal. Harry knows there’s a link between these disturbing visions and Cardinal’s shadowy past, and is compelled to right wrongs, one way or another.
Skin Deep is the thrilling, layered, genre-bending debut novel of Brisbane author and journalist Gary Kemble.
About the Author
Gary Kemble has spent his life telling stories. He wrote, illustrated and self-published his first story (Back from the Grave) aged eight.
His award-winning short fiction has been published in magazines and anthologies in Australia and abroad, and his non-fiction has appeared in newspapers, magazines and online.
Born in England and raised in Brisbane, Gary lives on a farm in Scotland with his wife, kids, and a camera-shy weasel.
You can follow his adventures on Twitter (@garykemble).