The skeleton of John Howison, The Cramond Murderer. From the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum.
I worked in the University of Edinburgh‘s medical quad a few years ago, before it had its makeover. And, remembering the feeling of walking through the abandoned labs and the anatomy section, I thought it would be the perfect place to set an Edinburgh-based selkie thriller. 

I no longer live in Edinburgh, but I wandered online to see if the Anatomical Museum had an internet presence and, whirrooo!, it does. It also has Facebook and Twitter accounts.  

It was here that I discovered the skeleton of John Howison (c.1788-1832), a broken man who committed violent murder with a shovel in Cramond, Edinburgh in the 1830s.  You can read an account of him here.

According to the museum website:

‘It seems clear that Howison was showing serious signs of mental illness before his crime. According to Simpson, he was a “solitary, silent, wandering individual”, frequenting only the company of a cat and child. He had become miserably superstitious, fearing supernatural enemies, and had resorted to ceremonies to protect himself such as salting his bed and head, wearing a bible around his neck or wrist and habitually wounded himself by pricking both his hands and feet. He was afflicted by hallucinations, often sitting brushing away flies off his hands for hours where no such could be found. It would seem that Howison had undergone a rapid and profound change of personality.  

Source: Anatomical Museum website, University of Edinburgh

And so, my antagonist, John-Jack, came to life in ‘Skin’: a short story about the descendants of Eric Linklater‘s selkies in Sealskin Trousers.