Back when I was writing the pre-submission draft of The Alchemist of Souls, I rashly promised myself that if I ever sold the book, as a memento I’d get a copy done of the tattoo Mal is given during the course of the story. It felt particularly appropriate since Ambassador Kiiren says that it’s “for remembering”…
The manuscript did indeed sell, and a lot quicker than I expected! However it also happened just before one of the big SFF conventions of the year, so I put off getting the tattoo until I had time between events for it to heal. Weeks turned into months, and logical delays into procrastination (a bit like writing!). I found myself making excuses: I needed someone to design it for me…not true (I’ve worked as an illustrator, I can design a simple tattoo, for heaven’s sake!); this was a serious decision…well yes, but when did that ever stop me from doing rash things before?
A couple of months ago I realised that if I didn’t get it done ASAP, there wouldn’t be time for it to heal before WorldCon, and then I’d have to put it off—again!—until the end of the 2012 convention season. So, I sat down with sketchpad and pencil and drew a design. Here’s the description from The Alchemist of Souls: “…a knot of thorns surrounded by five-petalled flowers”. At the time of writing I wasn’t exactly sure what it looked like, only that it was meant to represent white hawthorn, a North American species similar to our native English hawthorns. On reflection I decided it was probably a stylised, symmetrical image similar to a Japanese mon (a type of heraldic emblem). I really wasn’t happy with the first attempt and I nearly gave up, but I knew I’d kick myself if I did. Instead I did some research online, looking at real tattoo designs similar to what I had in mind, and tried again.
The second sketch (right) was 1000% better, so I went ahead and drew up a final version in black ink. The hardest part was summoning the courage to phone a local tattoo parlour (recommended to me by a friend) and enquire about appointments. As it happened they were all booked up, but they do drop-in sessions on Saturdays. I duly turned up as soon as they opened on Saturday morning, and thankfully they were able to do it there and then, since it was a small straightforward design. Having made my decision, signed the consent form and handed over payment, I felt a lot calmer—the only way to get out of it now meant making an utter fool of myself!
Thankfully tattoo parlours have come a long way from the grubby backstreet establishments of my youth. The basement of Tattoo Crazy is spotlessly clean and looks like a cross between an art supplies shop and a physiotherapy clinic, with big adjustable reclining chairs down one side of the room and boxes of marker pens and layout paper on the other. In the window, watching over proceedings, is a two-foot-tall wooden statue of the Teaching Buddha with, appropriately enough, earlobes stretched from wearing plugs.
The procedure took a little over an hour. To begin with it was a lot less painful than I expected—it felt a lot like being drawn on with a very fine fibre tip pen—but towards the end it did get rather uncomfortable, as my arm and neck were stiff and Thomas (my tattoo artist) was going over areas that had already been done, filling in gaps and generally tidying up the design. I was thus very glad when it was over, but also thrilled with the finished tattoo. In tracing the design for transfer, Thomas had tidied up my rather wobbly flowers but left the more meticulously drawn thorns as-is; as a result, the design is superficially symmetrical but not so rigidly so as to look like it was drawn by a computer. Which is fortunate, since it’s supposed to have been drawn freehand by a skrayling!
I’m told that tattoos are addictive and it’s rare for people to have just one, but this one is so personal that a second tattoo would have to be something pretty special to merit a place alongside Mal’s hawthorn.