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Liam Hogan's tattoo story: Chiaroscuro

photo by Paul Clarke

My name is Liam Hogan and I don't have any tattoos. Despite this, and despite the fact I'll most likely never get any, I've always been kind of fascinated by them. The permanence. The choice. This combination may be why I don't have any — what image, reproducible in the tattooist's pen and ink, is something that would stay meaningful my entire life?

I have a few friends who have had quite extensive tattoos, and I suppose rather more with more modest ones. Not too many with lots of different tattoos. And, purely anecdotally, the smaller, individual ones tend to be deeply meaningful to the owner. The bigger ones meaningful and beautiful. Brambles, all the way along an arm and shoulder. Koi carp, covering most of a back. Stunning, even as I tend to wince at the thought of extended periods in the tattooist's chair, and the cost!

My fascination — mostly idle — means I've written a few different stories that feature tattoos. The most autobiographical is someone who gets one (small, with hidden meanings) after their fiftieth, and probably last, blood donation. Getting a tattoo means you can't give for a while — though not that much longer than the interval between donations. At the time of writing it, (around my own 50th donation) I was playing with the idea of needles for different purposes, that of the tattoo artist, and that of the phlebotomist.

Another story is from the POV of a tattooist at Christmas, fed up with the glut of tattoos that he doesn't think mean anything. He's all flaming skulls and memento mori. Be careful what you ask for, as ever, especially when the story might take a dark turn.

Memento mori also feature in one of my two more speculative tattoo short stories, about an exclusive and highly selective tattoo artist who also happens to be a vampire. As you do...

But in "Chiaroscuro", my flash length short story in Guts' The Transformative Power of Tattoo, I'm very much inspired by a much simpler design, that of the symbol for yin and yang. Sometimes it feels as though in this day and age not having a tattoo is almost as remarkable as having extensive ones. Uninked, or totally inked, both can seem like extremes. Balance may be needed, especially when you find yourself a very long way from home...

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Liam Hogan is an award-winning short story writer, with stories in Best of British Science Fiction and in Best of British Fantasy (NewCon Press). He’s been published by Analog, Daily Science Fiction, and Flame Tree Press, and this is his fourth story in Guts Publishing anthologies. He helps host live literary event Liars’ League, volunteers at the creative writing charity Ministry of Stories, and lives and avoids work in London. More details at

The Transformative Power of Tattoo will be released by Guts in September 2023 (or sooner if we can swing it!) and you can pre-order a copy here:

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Jun 26, 2023

Nice, thank you Liam. Now onto me, obviously. Several therapists have suggested I remove some of my less ‘positive’ tattoos, that I accumulated over a lifetime of temporary relief. I scoffed at the idea every time, but recently discovered the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery using real gold adhesives, it’s known as ‘Kintsugi’. Now I just need to find a tattooist who can work with real gold, to adapt - or update - my tattoos with ‘gold-seams’ - Kintsugi. Oh, and the money to pay for it.

Best wishes


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