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Authors: Kate Holden

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In My Skin

BOOK: In My Skin
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PRAISE FOR KATE HOLDEN AND
I
N
M
Y
S
KIN

Shortlisted, 2005 Nita B. Kibble Awards—The Dobbie Literary Award for
a first published book

Shortlisted, Australian Newcomer of the Year (debut writer), 2006
Australian Book Industry Awards

‘A new talent in Australian writing…Holden’s memoir is distinguished by her ability to write—and very well…confronting …compelling in its candour…The study in male sexuality is breathtaking.’
Sunday Telegraph

‘Contains occasionally lurid moments, but not at the cost of genuine fidelity to the finer points of her experience…Holden’s deft writing is most resonant when she traces her move from hustling on the streets to working in brothels…The vulnerable camaraderie among the prostitutes makes for compelling reading.’
The Monthly

‘Her story resists the obvious clichés. It confounds and surprises and challenges preconceived ideas.’
Courier-Mail

‘Ever wondered how ordinary, educated people drift into the underworld of drugs and prostitution?…Kate Holden takes us there with brutal candour and occasional whimsy…for more than just the voyeuristic factor, it’s a hard book to put down.’
Advertiser

‘Holden makes you care what happens to her, even as all the other people in her memoir take their place as bit players in her drama…You come away from it feeling respect, and a wish to see her next book.’
Age

‘Brave, explicit and extremely well written…I did not want to stop reading.’
ABR

‘She wrings poetry out of the sensations of heroin use…In this sunlit world of beautiful dreamers, she allows you to understand the allure.…A compelling story of love and squalor that retains humanity and sympathy.’
Observer

‘In an over-subscribed genre, this is a hooker book to put all others in the shade. A story of middle-class drug addiction and prostitution, it’s exceptionally beautifully written and emotionally honest.’
Independent
(‘Books of the year 2006’)

‘Holden’s beautifully written account of her descent into hell is uncomfortably honest…Her talents as a prostitute won her a large clientele. So should her talents as a writer.’
Independent

‘Hard-hitting, gripping…not for the faint-hearted.’
Heat

‘Unsentimental yet kindly, spare, frank and translucent.’
Guardian
Saturday Review

‘Searing intellectual and emotional honesty sets
In My Skin
apart from most other my-substance-abuse-in-hell memoirs.’
Independent
on Sunday

‘Holden’s prose is subtle and elegant. She has a knack for unusual, revealing phrases…Beautiful and discomfiting: the words sing.’
Kirkus Reviews

‘Vivid and riveting…Throughout, she tells it like it is. Her depictions of the stark realities she lived through are at times graphic…but always clear-eyed. She lets the readers see—and judge—the situation for themselves.’
Publishers Weekly

‘The elevated, poetic language of Aussie writer Holden’s debut memoir vibrates with passion as she tells the story…Her acutely vivid prose is a revelation, even if the subject matter is not.’
Library Journal

‘Refusal to fit the formula is what makes Kate Holden’s memoir of debauchery so much more intriguing than the wastrel norm.’
Globe & Mail

‘Breathtakingly candid…Achingly honest.’
Booklist

Kate Holden was born in Melbourne in 1972. She completed an honours degree in classics and literature at the University of Melbourne and a graduate diploma in professional writing and editing, in which she won the Judy Duffy Award for literary excellence.
In My Skin
is her first book.

in
my
skin
a memoir

kate holden

Text Publishing Melbourne Australia

The Text Publishing Company
Swann House
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Australia
www.textpublishing.com

Copyright © Kate Holden 2005

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

First published in 2005 by The Text Publishing Company
This edition 2007

Designed by Chong
Typeset in Baskerville MT by J&M Typesetting
Printed by Griffin Press

National Library of Australia Cataloguing in Publication data:

Holden, Kate.

In my skin : a memoir.
ISBN 978 1 921351 07 5.
1. Holden, Kate. 2. Heroin abuse – Australia – Biography. 3. Drug addicts – Australia – Biography. 4. Prostitutes – Australia – Biography. I. Title.

362.2909

This project has been assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

This memoir is dedicated to my brave and beautiful family.
For everything.

Facilis descensus Averno…sed revocare…hoc opus, hic labor est.

To descend into hell is easy.
But to return—what work, what a labour it is!
VIRGIL

CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

PROLOGUE

EPILOGUE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This book would not have been possible without the support of my wonderful parents and my sister, my relatives, my patient and precious friends, and all those who lived this life with me. I thank you and treasure you all.

I would like to thank also the staff and students in the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT for their comments, encouragement and generosity. And everyone at Text Publishing, especially Michael Heyward, who helped make this book better.

To everyone who knew me then, and knows me now, who put up with my excitement and despair and who talked things through while I wrote this book, I extend my endless appreciation.

These are my own memories. To protect the privacy of others, names have been changed, characters conflated and some incidents condensed.

PROLOGUE

WHAT DO I REMEMBER of being a prostitute?

I remember tenderness, boredom, the ice-creams we would eat at 3 a.m. in front of the television; the smell of cocks, shy men with silky skin, laughter; dark streets gleaming; boys in baseball caps slouching in the introduction lounge, heavy bellies pressing on me; conversations, sneaking cigarettes while fixing my make-up.

I remember the other girls being like sisters, and knowing that to tell them my real name was dangerous. I remember opening my heart to strange men and stroking their faces, smiling. I remember being pounded so hard my face was white with pain. I remember being a prostitute, and being proud of it, liking it.

But what I did is not normal. No? I was naked, I touched people’s bodies, they touched mine, we were alone in a room. Like a masseur, like a dentist, like a beauty therapist. Yes, but I opened my body, they touched me there. Like a doctor. Yes, but inside.

Yes.

I sometimes wondered, with my legs spread over the face of some eager man, if I felt regret for the invasion of my most secret places. A man whom I’ve never met before is staring at my vagina. But what does this mean? It is just skin. Am I ashamed to have the crook of my knee examined? My ear? The inside of my mouth? Eyes leave no scar, I am not reduced by someone’s gaze. My body is beautiful, and desired; I feel beautiful and desirable. Someone is looking at me. At the outside, at the membrane of flesh that veils me. I am still mine.

I do not like to judge others. I know now that everyone has their secrets. I write mine down. I carry them lightly inside me. They are almost invisible.

I walked dark and dirty footpaths in the middle of the night. I got into strangers’ cars and got out swearing or smiling. I drove with men to grotty alleys and put stained tissues in my bag afterwards. I took their money and wiped my mouth and went to a small flat and pumped chemical relief into my vein, and returned to the rainy street. I slept on a dirty mattress in an empty room and shivered and woke every grey twilight wishing I could sleep forever. I lived on chocolate bars and bought a single cup of coffee for an afternoon, sheltering in warm cafés for comfort. I watched people in supermarkets and couldn’t remember what it felt like to take ordinary things from the shelves. I stood in the dark on the footpath and gazed in on bright living rooms. I held down so much sorrow I couldn’t feel anything anymore. The sadness and anger corroded all my feelings. The only thing I knew I wanted was heroin, and rest.

I made money I’d never imagined and I wore velvet dresses and shone in lamplight. I walked tall in crowds, knowing myself to be desired. I received luxurious gifts. I was a princess in my realm and men couldn’t get enough of me. They waited hours for my company and I couldn’t even remember their names. I had a house with a spa and hardwood floors; I lost track of fifty dollar notes, and found them adrift in pockets, inside books. I was everyone’s favourite. I told people I was a prostitute, and smiled as I said it, and dared them to turn their gaze.

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