Unless you’ve experienced it firsthand, examining any other way of life is always difficult when you’re on the outside looking in. Last week, I toured west Belfast in the area where ‘The Troubles’ were rife and although our guide was excellent in giving us an insight into the violent and turbulent times, there’s no way that I could claim to have a true understanding of the reality of being a resident on the Falls or Shankill Road.
I’ve also visited the ‘red light’ areas of London, Hamburg and Amsterdam as a tourist. Again, I was interested in the issues associated with these areas but I can’t begin to appreciate what it’s like to be a woman (or man) working in the sex industry just by walking down streets and gawping in windows.
That’s why I was intrigued by Kirstin Innes’s debut novel, Fishnet, and me and my pal Jill headed into Glasgow for the launch to hear more about it. The novel is “about sex work, sisterhood and everyday economics, and is the result of three years’ worth of research.”
During the Q and A, Kirstin admitted that she’s still not convinced that she has the right to write about such controversial subject matter with authenticity. But she did extensive research which challenged her notion of feminism and her preconceived ideas about prostitutes, or sex workers as she prefers to call them. Words such as “empowered” and “choice” were used in the discussion but neither of these words sprang to my mind when I read The Herald newspaper report today of the brutal murder of Romanian-born Luciana Maurer and rape of two others by Steven Mathieson.
I haven’t read Fishnet so I can’t comment on whether it’s a true reflection of the world I read about in newspapers, like Kirstin, I wouldn’t know. But to say that Kirstin doesn’t have the right to write about the complexities of being involved in sex work would mean that writers would have to stick to ‘write what you know’. If this was the case, the world of fictional novels would be a very dull place indeed.
The event was thought-provoking, it prompted Jill and I to reflect on labels such as ‘sex worker’ as opposed to‘prostitute’ and also our feminist stance on the way women and sex are depicted in fiction. But our evening wasn’t all about deep and meaningful discussions; we don’t see each other often as Jill moved to Michigan 12 years ago so we made sure there was time for lots of laughs over dinner and drinks.
Do you feel there are any subjects that are ‘off limits’ in your writing?