The English crime novelist comes back with her second thriller “Her Last Breath”. And this time the serial killer is a sort of cruel “tattoo artist”…

Alison Balsham, ph by Dona-Lisa Healy
Alison Balsham, ph by Dona-Lisa Healy

Alison,The Tattoo Thiefwas focused on a serial killer that ripped away tattoos from the bodies of the victims. Now in “Her Last Breath” the serial killer has become a tattoo artist making tattoos and letterings on dead bodies. I guess this time you studied a lot the tattoo artists way of work, isn’t so?
In book two, we have a new killer who has a new method of killing his victims, and as you rightly say, tattooing is involved.

This is a reflection of my interest in tattoos, tattoo artists and the way they work.

Beyond the extraordinary artistry of some tattoos, nearly all tattoos carry a meaning to the tattoo artist and the wearer. In this story, the killer is using his victims as a form of blank canvas on which he can inscribe his own message. The police, led by Francis Sullivan, realise that they’ll have to decipher his meaning if they want to crack the case and stop the killings. Of course, Marni is drawn into the action and in this episode, her son Alex plays an important role as well.

Alison Balsham, ph by Dona-Lisa Healy
Alison Balsham, ph by Dona-Lisa Healy

On “Her Last Breath” artwork there are some references to an octopus tattoo. This reminds me something. Perhaps a tattoo seen on a famous novelist right arm…
As you know, I have a fabulous octopus tattoo on my right arm. (smiles) I love octopus tattoos, as the tentacles twisted around an arm or a leg can be used to create such a stunning image. Naturally, when it came to thinking about a tattoo for a certain character (!) this was what sprang to mind. And from that image, we came up with the idea of using the octopus tattoo on the cover of the book. I love the look of the first two book covers together, and I’m really intrigued to see what the designer will choose as an image for the third book in the series.

Do you add other ink to your body after that octopus tattoo made by Matthew Gordon? Have you attended and met some other tattoo artists between the first book and this new one?
Although I’m often tempted to have another tattoo, so far I’ve resisted! I like the impact of having just one large tattoo. The work Matthew did on my arm is amazing, and if I had another tattoo, I would probably go back to Matthew for it. However, I follow a lot of tattoo accounts on Instagram and every day see pictures of beautiful tattoos that I think I would like – so who knows what will happen in the future? I’ve been to a few tattoo conventions, in Brighton, Edinburgh and London, and always love chatting with members of the tattooing community. At some point in the future, I’d love to visit tattoo conventions in other countries – when I see posters for them and pictures taken at them, I’m always intrigued.

Alison Balsham, ph by Dona-Lisa Healy
Alison Balsham, ph by Dona-Lisa Healy

Do you think have you inaugurated a new literary trend according to “The Tattoo Thief” and “Her Last Breath”? The tattoo crime story maybe?
Well, I don’t think I’m the first writer to have written a crime story featuring tattoos. I know that Roald Dahl wrote a short story about someone taking people’s tattoos, and of course they featured heavily in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. However, I think where mine is different is that…

…some of the central characters are tattoo artists – and I hope that I’m opening up the world of tattooing to readers who knew little about it before.

And although the crimes I write about feature tattooing, the stories also show tattoo artists in a more favourable light – Marni and her ex-husband Thierry are complex characters that lend a great deal of humanity to the stories.

Last year you told me that this had to be a trilogy. Are you still sure of that? Perhaps detective Francis Sullivan could run other police investigations in the future, outside Brighton and the local tattoo scene…
You’re right – the story of Francis and Marni is a trilogy, and in all three books the murder cases involve the tattooing fraternity. But, as I mentioned earlier, I think Francis Sullivan and his team could work on other cases, and in fact I still think Brighton has a lot more to offer. It’s such a fascinating and colourful city, with plenty of scope for other sorts of grizzly crimes! I have a few ideas up my sleeve for more Francis Sullivan stories, but at the same time, I have a couple of new projects that I’m thinking about – that are not set in Brighton and don’t feature tattoos and tattooists! Which one will come next? As yet, I don’t know – it’s a question we’ll have to return to when the third part of the trilogy comes out.

What do Brighton tattoo artists think about your books? Have you received some feedbacks by them? Are more bothered or enthusiasts?
I’m not sure that I’ve had any feedback from tattoo artists specifically from Brighton, but I have had good comments and feedback from tattoo artists around the world. I was especially thrilled as a tattoo convention in the Czech Republic gave away copies of “The Tattoo Thief” with their prizes earlier this year – and so I think for me, this was the ultimate seal of approval.

Last question: do you listen music while you write down your books? Is there a particular soundtrack behind “Her Last Breath”?
Of course, I would love to give you a really cool playlist to go with the book, but in fact I write without music playing! Just the clicks and whirring of my brain at work. Early in the story, though, two of the characters go to a real Brighton nightclub, the Haunt, where they’re playing a 90s Hip Hop Sweatshop set, so perhaps this is the soundtrack for the book (see playlist below. Ed)…

Read HERE the Alison Belsham interview discussing her first book, “The Tattoos Thief”.