Andrea Hanke talks to Kate Holden about her new memoir The Romantic, a follow-up to In My Skin.
I read that The Romantic originally started out as a novel. How did it evolve and how do you think this has influenced the style of the book—for example, the decision to write it in the third person?
The memoir was originally going to be the last third of a tripartite novella work, but soon took on the dimensions of a full-length book which put paid to that idea. Even after the first full draft I was considering how to fictionalise the protagonist, give ‘her’ a different character and borrow the real-life events for a narrative contrived on the themes of my real experience. But it wouldn’t work: skewing even one element threw the whole thing out of balance, particularly the emotional truth. However the third-person perspective remains and presents a critical distancing which is, I’m told, unusual in a memoir.
In The Romantic you travel to Europe to discover yourself—a rite of passage for many Australians. Do you think this experience—which can often be a lonely one, so far away from family and friends—is an effective way for people to gain a better understanding of themselves? Do you think you could have made the same discoveries about yourself living in Melbourne?
In In My Skin I was alone in Melbourne, and often fugitive—in Italy I was alone too, still looking for a safe place. I needed freedom from the humiliation I’d felt as an addict, and a chance to re-make myself. The amnesiac anonymity of overseas is attractive to many travelers.But it is frightening also. I do think solitude is clarifying, though it reminds us all the time of how much we need other people. Travel is a test as well as a solace, but one well worth taking.
Most of the sexual encounters you describe in In My Skin were in the context of your profession as a sex worker. Was it harder to write about personal encounters and relationships in The Romantic?
I was terribly, terribly conflicted about portraying my personal relationships, not for my own sake but for that of the privacy of my ex-partners. Fortunately they gave me permission—or at least forgiveness. I am a compulsive over-sharer and already used to having exposed my sexuality in writing but there were moments when I wondered if I should just skip over something truly intimate—and then realised that that instinct meant I should probably share it, because that’s where the good—and empathetic—material is. Everyone’s had relationships so I try to present mine as candidly as possible in the hope that others can relate.
Through your Age column and various public speaking events, you’ve developed a public profile—particularly in Melbourne. How does it feel to encounter strangers who know such intimate details about your life?
Just today I was recognised by my postman! I never know what to say when strangers say they’ve read my work, but I suspect I am more disconcerted than they are, and I try to remember why I chose to be revealing in the first place. Readers seem to be able to separate my writing persona from my real one. And I am always amazed how warmly people respond to my written character. Those who don’t like me don’t bother to say hello. But I am humbled by the sweetness of readers, and how my candour seems to invite their own.
What are you working on now?
I’ve got my Age column to write, and I’m prodding away at a draft of a novel, and making notes on a possible non-fiction book. I’d also like to do more short stories. But right now I’m preparing to do promotion for The Romantic, and I know I’ll have little concentration for writing while that’s on. I feel lucky, excited, and anxious all at the same time!
Andrea Hanke’s review of The Romantic appears in the current issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.