Kate Holden: The TNB Self-InterviewBy Kate Holden
November 21, 2010
Your first book, In My Skin, was about you becoming a heroin addict and then a sex worker before getting clean. The second, The Romantic, is about what happened next, when you moved to Italy to get your shit together. How embarrassed are you to have written a second memoir?
Embarrassed and horrified enough that, in order to prove I am correct in thinking that you should do things that terrify you in order to mature and progress as a human being, I forced myself to publish yet another book all about myself and my insistence on this maxim and the various ways I ill-advisedly dated several men in succession in pursuit of this very path. Like the relationships, I may yet regret the book. But then, I don’t believe in regret, so what I am I on about? Onwards and upwards, that’s my motto.
Is it true that you were celebrated in the media for having been a prostitute (and thus, having had lots of sex) but for writing in the new book about having had consensual sex as a non-prostitute, as a regular woman living her life, you were mocked, insulted and pruriently interrogated about your promiscuity?
Does this give you the shits?
Don’t. Start. Me.
Not meaning to dwell on the sex issue, but is it true that you had better sex as a prostitute than you did in the several relationships described in your new memoir?
Hell yes. Er, I mean…
Moving on. What are you readers like?
I get all sorts, from 14 year old boys in Germany to dear old ladies in country Australia. They send me presents: a dictionary, a stuffed toy, a pair of stockings, and a book of homely epithets (though later the person who sent me that, when he unexpectedly got my number from the phone book and rang me at home at 7.30 one morning to ask advice about his niece who had started taking ecstasy, responded to my polite request that he not stalk me, wrote a letter saying he’d now burnt my book and thought I would be happy to hear he’d realised he had been stupid to think I was a nice person: his fault, he said). Many of my readers manage to meet me and not blink at the fact that they’ve read about my vagina. The majority of them are not psychotic but they like to give me hugs. One elderly man always encloses a couple of stamps wrapped carefully in tissue paper so I can write back without inconvenience.
What is the weirdest thing about being a memoirist?
The feeling, whenever someone gives me a compliment on my writing, or more particularly, on the life I’ve lead, that they’re actually talking to someone over my shoulder. I feel like I’m the friend of someone called Kate Holden, the only person who’s ever heard her stories, and as the sole custodian of her secrets, I am her representative in public. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m doing her a favour or not. I keep forgetting the punchline to her best jokes.
You said you don’t believe in regret. Brave words. Surely there’s something you regret?
Ah I’m not so big on wishing the past were different: that’s a great way to waste your time. But I regret that, as someone who writes of lot of personal pieces, it’s not more widely appreciated that I know just how narcissistic such writing is, and that I’m constantly trying to mock myself for it. People have such a way of taking the publication of a book all about yourself as an example of ego. They don’t notice that my books are all about what a fallible, sometimes-irritating nit I am. This interview, perhaps, might be an exhibit for the prosecution.
Heroin, or writing?
Heroin was nice enough but it costs too much, in everything. Writing is the best buzz, and it’s free.
It’s nice to have another Melbournian on the pages of TNB, Kate. Slowly, slowly, our numbers grow.
I haven’t read The Romantic; it was interesting to read the excerpt after having read In My Skin. At first it made me wonder where the tough Kate Holden I’d read about had gone, and then, when the dialogue with Guido about your past came around, I thought: Oh, there she is, as if they were two different people.
I think the core of what I’ve found in your writing is honesty – exposure to In My Skin made me think of you as one person, and then The Romantic another; whereas now, what I think comes across to me is one person, honest, who has had experiences of wild variety, truth is the thread that continues.
I second Simon – It’s great to be able to showcase some more Southern Hemisphere talent!
I too, find your honesty remarkable. Coupled with your gift for prose – it is an inspiration to me and I know that reading your work has helped me to become a braver writer.
Fantastic self-interview! Interesting what you say about feeling like you represent someone named Kate Holden. That’s got to be a strange feeling. At any rate, it’s nice to get free stamps. ( :
I haven’t read either of your books but I am gonna have to look into it. I remember when I was writing my memoir being very careful to not mock myself (which is an effective tactic) but trying very hard to come off as not narcissistic, or do too much navel-gazing (thank you Joe Daly). I even write the opening chapters in second person, because besides not being aware of jack shit at that point (it was the end of my using) I didn’t want to use “I” to open the book. From all accounts I was successful, in that it is my story but also a story of every junkie as much as that’s possible. However, unlike you I have no desire to write another, even though people have been asking me if there is gonna be a sequel. Dunno. Just started writing fiction and fell in love with it. I would like to read your books to see how the first transitions into the second, or what you did differently, tone and voice wise. Congrats