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Editor's Note - Tattoo anthology

Great news - we've released the long-awaited tattoo anthology! I've been posting on social media but this is the first time on this blog. I wanted to share with you the Editors' Note as it gives a clear idea of the tone of the anthology and also how it came to be.

I hope you enjoy it.

xx Julianne

Director at Guts Publishing

Editor’s Note

I always seem to be looking for an answer, or answers, in our anthologies. I don’t really think I would put one together unless there was some compelling reason.

But in this one I didn’t exactly know what I was looking for. The idea of a tattoo anthology started to percolate in 2022 when I had a client who was a tattooist. As you might suspect she’s well-tattooed, and when I first met her I immediately noticed the vines and leaves on her upper chest and neck that climbed all the way up to her chin. When we first started having our Zoom meetings I was fascinated by her look. It seemed to make her other-worldly.

At one point I posted a photo of her on social media, which got a lot of attention. And that’s when Liam Hogan – our 4x anthology contributor and off-the-charts short story writer – sent a message to me to say: Why don’t you do a tattoo anthology?

Shortly after that I posted an open call for short story and poetry submissions and they started pouring in. Liam’s was first, of course, and it did land in this anthology. A short story called ‘Chiaroscuro’ that is somewhere in the scifi-ish genre.

My assistant Amandine did the first round of reading. Then Pina, a friend who runs the GLITS events at Goldsmiths, joined in. It was a long process. Anthologies always are because you are dealing with so many different genres and I never want to be limited by my own personal tastes. So, first of all, I am immensely grateful to Amandine and Pina for their input and expertise. Thank you both. It literally took us months.

In the end we selected 6 essays, 6 short stories and 7 poems. And although that was really a challenge, it wasn’t nearly as challenging as trying to figure out the common thread. I started wishing I’d been more specific in the call for submissions, like My First Tattoo, or Tattooist Tattoo Stories, or anything other than just tattoos.

But when I got into reading really carefully and intuitively, I started to see the thread was transformation. Even with all of the different genres and tones and personalities, that was the primary theme. When someone got a tattoo, something happened. Small or large. A shift occurred psychologically when their physical appearance was altered.

I should also mention that my client who inspired the anthology, Erin Hosfield, also landed in this anthology with an essay titled: ‘What’s the weirdest thing you ever tattooed?’ She is the only contributor who, to the best of my knowledge, is actually a tattooist. And it is also the one exception where the transformation theme doesn’t entirely apply. Her essay is more about how she is sometimes viewed as a magical entity with special powers, which I guess does fit in with transformation to an extent, and also a number of interesting observations about people’s ideas about what kind of images to tattoo and on what part of their body. It is a fascinating look at the psychology of tattooing, which in time became my primary question: Why do people do it?

I say that because I have no real experience with tattoos aside from looking at them. When I first moved to London in 2010 I noticed how common they were and I suspect the likes of Amy Winehouse propelled the tattooing trend even further into the stratosphere. By 2023, I think it’s safe enough to say that tattooing is fairly mainstream, or at the very least, a somewhat acceptable practice which in the recent past (in the West) was considered class-related and taboo with loads of stereotypes attached.

In May of 2023, I went to the Great British Tattoo Show in London. It was the most bizarre and wonderful experience. I went mostly to do field research and I know that may sound funny, but it’s true. I walked into an auditorium-sized room, which is the grand ballroom at Alexandra Palace with vaulted ceilings and polished marble floors, to be met by the buzz of tattoo guns and kiosk after kiosk of tattooists with clients on tattooing tables (not too different from a dental chair), definitely having some kind of experience. It seemed somewhat sacred. I watched as the guns pushed ink under the skin, and as the tattooist wiped away blood and leaking ink, and then I got brave and started to talk to people and say: Do you mind if I ask why you’re getting a tattoo?

The answers were fascinating. Most people said because they liked the way it looked. Period. And I was like, really? And they were like, yes. But I felt that I needed to go deeper so I started asking about transformation, and if their tattoo was symbolic or somehow meaningful. Almost all said, yes, it was about that on the first one but after that it became a way to enhance their body or the way they perceived their body, which was eye-opening for me: Tattoos made them feel better about themselves. I then decided that this did actually fit with my idea of the theme of transformation. Although it’s important to mention that some of them also said that it became something like an addiction – the buzz and high of getting a new tattoo and looking at it and feeling their body had been transformed (not to mention the actual painful process itself) only lasted a certain amount of time. Then they had to get another one.

So, I think it’s safe enough to say there are many different reasons people get tattoos, but in the end they are somewhat magical or transformational. I say ‘or’ because magical implies something positive, and transformational not as much, and I don’t want to imply this collection is all warm and fuzzy. There are a few that tackle the darker side of tattooing which I feel is important in terms of balance.

I would like to thank all of our contributors. I am delighted and honoured that your work is part of this collection. It represents years, and lifetimes, of honing your craft and constantly improving your skills. And you all make it look so effortless. Thank you.

Dear reader, I hope you enjoy this collection. Although each piece feels wildly different from the next, I have done my best to create flow in the way they are sequenced and also with my own comments interspersed to guide you through in a meaningful way.

As always, thank you for your support of Guts Publishing.

Julianne Ingles

27 August 2023

Director at Guts

You can buy a copy of The Transformative Power of Tattoo and find out more about our contributors here:

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