Young, tattooed and black

Here in the Oh Comely office, we have been devouring Candice Carty-Williams’ debut novel, Queenie, darkly comic, we were with Queenie every step of the way. Here author Candice tells us about her first tattoo…

Photo by Lily Richards

Photo by Lily Richards

At 22, I suddenly decided that my life would be better if I got a tattoo. I knew absolutely nothing about them, so popped into the dodgy parlour round the corner from the my house that still exists and, to this day, has never had another customer but me. I walked in, was hit by the smell of weed, neither of the men who ran it looked at me and, after asking if I could have the outline of a heart on my stomach, one of them printed out one of those literal old school Microsoft Word heart templates and buzzed that onto my stomach. Now that I think about it, that parlour was potentially a front for drug dealing but I’m no snitch so refuse to comment further or give away the location.

I had to hide this tattoo from my nan, head matriarch, because I’m the first person in my family to get any tattoos. When she eventually saw it, she kissed her teeth and said, “if you were going to ruin your skin you should have gone bigger than that.” Challenge accepted. Not put off by my terrible first experience but ever-so-slightly wiser, my second tattoo was properly researched, thought about – I had a consultation and everything – and went to a legit parlour on Frith Street.

Two day later I stayed at my nan’s, hiding tattoo number two because I wanted to present it when it was fully healed, but the jig was up. I found this out when I was trying to eat my toast. “Can?” She called from upstairs. “Yes?” I answered, expecting to be asked to do one of a hundred chores she had lined up for me. “What’s this in the bed?” she shouted down. “What?” I asked as I walked up the stairs. “Show me,” she said, not looking at me, but instead looking at the black and red tattoo scabs that had peeled off in the night. “It’s nice, isn’t it?” I asked, holding out an arm. And that’s how we both almost fell down the stairs and broke our necks, as she chased me round the house – an exciting and legendary day in the Williams household.

To celebrate a break-up and my freedom, having heard about an amazing tattoo artist in Shoreditch, I went for a consultation with a picture of a castle that was maybe the size of your average post-it note and, two weeks later, left with one covering my entire thigh. The tattoo artist mentioned that most castles have names, and wondered what I’d call mine – we had a lot of time to talk, as this one took four hours. “What’s your middle name?” I asked her. “Elizabeth,” she said. “And my surname is Taylor.” Thus, all are welcome to visit Elizabeth Taylor Castle on my right thigh.

When I went to LA a few years ago, there was a tattoo parlour near the place I was staying that looked exactly like an LA tattoo parlour should look, so I basically ran inside, lifted up my shirt to show my first tattoo and said, “I think it’s time to cover this up” and, never one to go small (at my nan’s loose suggestion), had a four-hour session with a tattoo artist who also happened to be the lead singer of a rock band. It was the most American experience of my life to date. He would keep saying “tell me when it’s, like, feeling gnarly?” and said “right on” and high-fived me when he asked whose name I’d like in the new sailor banner he’d just inked on my stomach and I said “Candice”.

My current favourite tattoo is my latest one, SOUTH on my left arm. Again, probably too big. So much research went into this one; I asked a friend who knows loads about fonts what the best one to use for this tattoo would be, and he said, instantly, “Uh, how about the one designed specifically for south London street signs?” It doesn’t really get better than that, does it? Especially as I get to explain that fact to every single person who asks what it means, or to every family member who trolls me by hilariously saying “Is that in case you forget where you’re from?” as though they haven’t all heard each other say it before.

I’m planning my next tattoos as I write this. I have no idea what they’ll be yet but I can guarantee they’ll be big, they’ll be meticulously planned, and they’ll either get me chased around a house or targeted for bants in the family group chat.


Queenie is published by Trapeze and is out now.