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Interview: Pip Coen on “Second Skin”

Tell us a bit about “Second Skin.”

Second Skin is a story about Saskia, a mute daughter of a wealthy family, and her evolving relationship with a local farmer. We follow Saskia via the patchworked memories of our narrator, the farmer, as she tries to cling onto her world, even though it doesn’t seem to want her.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

Over one of our typically eclectic lab coffee hours, a colleague told me about the trick to encourage a ewe to bond with a different lamb after her own lamb died. It was a gorgeous little factoid and went straight into my steadily expanding list of story ideas. I don’t know how my colleague feels about being the inspiration for Saskia’s final act…


Pip CoenWas “Second Skin” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Thankfully, most aspects of this story came from my imagination rather than personal experience. I’m lucky enough to come from a family where arguments never escalated to the point of skin removal (although they came close once or twice). However, this is the second story I have published in F&SF that centres on a character who doesn’t fit into the world that was built around them. Although the resolutions are very different, it’s a theme that’s close to my heart and one I revisit often in my fiction.


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

Shamefully little! I probably should have researched more about farms and farming, but I tend not to worry about that those details too much. Or to put it another way, if a reader is worried about those details, then maybe I didn’t make the core story interesting enough. On the other hand, I did research the tanning of leather for probably too long, trying to make sure the relative timings worked out. It led me onto some rather strange websites…


What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

The most difficult aspect was trying to develop the central characters and their relationship using the narrative lens of an introverted farmer interacting with a girl who can’t speak to him. Thanks to some great feedback from my writing group, I’m happy with the way it works in the final version. The most fun aspect was definitely the ending. I knew how the story would end before I started it—I usually do—and the imagery in this piece was particularly fun to play with.


What are you working on now?

I have several short stories in the works that I’m passionate about, so I’ll be trying to finish those and send them out later this year. The ideas piled up while I was writing a novella last year, and I’m enjoying returning to a shorter medium for now.


“Second Skin” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

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Click on Pip Coen’s photo to visit his website.


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