You spoke to thousands of people from all over the world for your book.  Do you have any favorite conversations that didn’t make it in?

 

I have many, but here are two that stand out. These calls came after my book went to press.

 

1)   I met an attractive, intelligent Canadian prostitute. Sera saw my “Lonely Jeff” flyer online. She was working at her brothel and called the number on my flyer to see if it really worked. We had a great first conversation. We’ve talked regularly since. Our conversations are candid and go everywhere.

Sera’s not the stereotypical prostitute. She doesn’t drink. Rarely uses drugs (mushrooms every few months at a heavy metal concert). She’s well-read (loves Poe and Dostoyevsky), educated, comes from a close-knit family. As a child, each Saturday, Sera would go to garage sales with her mother and “auntie”. Sera would drive them crazy by buying irrational items such as dried-up soap, socks with holes, skateboards with three wheels.

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?

Yes.


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.



I was a block of ore until I was poured
into the mold of my mother. I am iron cast and cold.
I inhale and the oxygen makes me rust.

I am seventeen years old.  I tell unimportant lies
about myself because it makes me feel guilty,
and guilt makes the days last longer.
I am afraid of dying.  I am seventeen and my girlfriend used to be
a prostitute, but I am seventeen and I don’t care,
I love her and how she is a cup that holds me.
She has hair that fills my hands like a fountain
of root beer and laughs
when I tell her I love her.

I am eighteen and the surface of my mother cracks.
The flood of beer that pours from her shattered mouth washes me
into the street, and it makes me rust more.
I am homeless and a prostitute wears me around her neck
like a knife on a chain;  I shelter between her breasts.
It is all i know of warmth.

Nineteen and she has eyes made of honey.
They stick to me.  Our apartment is an anthill.
I am nineteen and my muscles march under my skin.
I pour kerosene into my hollow guts.
I tell myself that I will be a candle,
or a lamp, but I keep starting fires
when my cup overflows.

I am twenty years old.
I am only full of rust and when the flood in me moves
it is not breathing, it is my sewerpipe bones
telling lies to make the day longer.  I am twenty years old.
I love her and we carry the same secret home at night.
I know she still fucks for money.
I am leaving her because she looks at me
with my mother’s eyes.  The guilt sticks to my pipes.
I wash it down with gasoline, I am slick with gasoline,
I am burning down our house with my mouth.