New novel Ink, by Lancashire writer Alice Broadway is set in an alternate reality where tattoos are the beating heart of every-day life. Told through the eyes of a young girl, I simply wasn’t able to put this book down.
Ink doesn’t just speak to us about tattoos, but so much more. That being said, if you have experienced or contemplated the process of getting a tattoo (as many of our followers will have!), you simply have to read this extraordinary and imaginative story.
In the imaginary city of Saintstone, tattoos stand for more than just self-expression.
From the young age of two, individuals are given their first “birth mark” and this sets the tone for the rest of their lives. Documented stories state that every person must go on to “mark” their bodies forever. From falling leaves to represent your family tree, to coloured lines to signify achievements, failures and crimes, getting tattooed is a necessary part of existence and every single image represents something specific. There is no room for artistic subjectivity.
In this surreal world, the process of getting tattooed is clinical and regulated: “my skin tells the tale the government has chosen for me.” Tattooed people are the norm and the “blanks” aren’t just a minority, but seen as a threat. For us today, tattoos can be a form of creative rebellion. In Sainstone’s Hunger Games-esque society which has been blinded by rules and order, they stand for the very opposite: “as long as I stick to the rules, everything is neat and good and safe.”
For some civilians, their marks are artistic and thoughtful, for but those in power, tattoos have become a mechanism to control society. Tattoos eliminate the possibility for secrets. This thoughtful story asks – if everything we experienced was permanently etched on our bodies for all to see, would crime realistically become a thing of the past?
As tattoo-wearers of today we thrive on the concept that our ink can reflect our personalities and interests. In this absorbing story, everything a person is and has done is publicly readable, forever. With 1 in 3 people now being tattooed in the 21st century, as we become a more heavily-inked society – I wonder, are we becoming more transparent?
Ink also allows us to really contemplate – how would we feel if our tattoos were constantly judged, not just through our lives, but after our death too? The citizens of Sainstone believe that life is worth nothing if its stories are taken to the grave. After death, skin is removed from the deceased and the “skin books” of ancestors are kept in the homes of the present generation. Alice explores our desperations to hold on to loved ones once they’ve gone.
As a frequent contemplator of death and the afterlife myself, this talented writer’s bringing together of these two themes made this story something truly reflective and beautiful for me. Ink explores, not just how we deal with mortality, but how tattoos can affect our relationship to it: “we are not afraid of death. When your marks are safe in your book, you live on after you die.”
These “skin book” rituals are a reminder of humanity’s obsession with holding on to the past. Saintstone’s traditions prevent it from ever looking to the future with an open mind. In today’s political climate, Ink is a harsh reminder – we will never truly move forward if we keep looking backwards. Although we should embrace tradition and culture, perhaps there are some rulebooks that we should be re-writing.
This novel also encouraged me to think about tattoo studios – their atmospheres and consultation processes, and what happens when an artistic industry becomes too regulated. I don’t want to reveal too much about what happens and the amazing characters we meet – you’ll have to read for yourselves to find out more
Ink is a story of rebellion, religion and war, judgement, family and love, but most of all… faith. What happens when you begin to doubt regulated faith and search for it within yourself?
True, this is a novel about tattoos, but it reminds us of how powerless they can be. Even in an imagined world of complete ink regulation, tattoos can never be an entirely accurate representation of who we are – some of that is found within.
We are more than just our marks.
Ink is out now and available to buy on Amazon.
- Guardian: Alice Broadway: ‘I guess it’s inevitable that I became a bit death-obsessed’
- Thanks Alice for your kind words about Inkluded on The Tattooed Book and The Queen of Teen Fiction
Words: Beccy Rimmer