- Contemporary Fiction
Rona Leonard walks out of her sister Fiona’s flat and disappears.
Six years on, worn down by work, child care and the aching absence in her life, Fiona’s existence is blown apart by the revelation that, before she disappeared, Rona had been working as a prostitute.
Bittersweet, sensual and rich, Fishnet is a story of love and grief, interwoven with an empathetic, controversial take on the sex industry and its workers. An outstanding novel, it challenges assumptions about power, vulnerability and choice.
| Author Info |
Kirstin Innes is an award-winning writer, journalist and arts worker living in the west of Scotland. She founded the Glasgow literary salon Words Per Minute, and has had short stories published in a number of anthologies and commissioned by BBC Radio 4.
| Character Spotlight|
My Character’s Under the Microscope
- How do your characters begin in your writing process? Do you have an incline for a name or you know how you want them to look?
It can be a number of different things that start me off. Sometimes I begin with a situation; sometimes an idea or a feeling, and by extrapolating as I go I discover an idea for a character who makes the most sense to me in that context. Sometimes I start off by writing a
- How do you choose your names?
I try and keep my characters’ names as true to their age, background and demographic as possible. I’m not a huge fan of overly remarkable names – I tend to write quite realist stuff and always feel that grabbier, wilder names pull the readers out of that a bit. Sometimes I’ll look up the most popular names in the period the character is supposed to have been born in. Old-fashioned names like Arthur and Elsie might be making a comeback for children now, but it would be a jarring anachronism to write a novel about a couple of Millienial characters with those names.
(I also received a good tip from a more established writer a long time ago – try and make sure that all your characters’ names start with different letters. That way readers won’t get them confused if they’re reading quickly.)
So yes, I prefer names that feel realistic and don’t joggle you out of the world too much. That said, Fishnet features two sisters called Rona and Fiona. Earlier drafts of the book had Fiona, the narrator, making a bit of a self-conscious joke about it, but I phased that out. Nobody else seems to notice that they rhyme, or has been that bothered by it.
- Which character is your favourite to write?
Camilla, a very posh sex worker who plays a small role in the book. I really enjoy the cadences of other people’s language, and in her couple of appearances she’s simply having a bit more fun than anyone else, at other people’s expense – it was quite enjoyable to draw that out as I wrote down her speech. I used to be a journalist and found typing up the transcriptions of interviews – writing down people’s exact sentence structure, all the cadences, ums and ers and strange little pauses for thought – was a really good training ground for creating characters who, hopefully, the reader can hear ‘speaking’ in their heads as they read.
- Which character is the hardest to write?
Fiona, my narrator. She’s a difficult soul, bless her – life hasn’t been easy for her and she’s very isolated, prone to paranoia and suspicion. Unfortunately for me, I’d also decided to make her the conduit to the whole story, so I spent quite a number of years inside her head.
- Are any of your characters based on a real-life person?
Yes, although it took me quite a while to realise it. Fishnet is set against the world of sex work, specifically online independent escorting, and the politics and activism around it, and I spent about three years researching this world as I wrote the book. Fiona is compelled to start exploring it after she finds out her missing sister had been working as a sex worker before she disappeared; at first, she keeps her distance, and just interacts with sex workers’ blogs and websites passively, from the safety of her house behind her computer screen. But then she plucks up the courage to approach one of them, Anya (she uses the pseudonym ‘Swedish Sonja’ even though she’s actually a Polish student funding her PhD through sex work), take her out to lunch and ask her questions.
My ‘Anya’, my entry-point into understand the world of sex worker’s rights and activism, was a woman who called herself Laura Lee. Laura was a very different person from Anya – she was a single mother, originally from Ireland, older than Anya, had dark hair and was quite a classic, conventional Irish beauty where Anya is blonde, spiky and a bit more of a pierced, tattooed punk girl. Laura was the first sex worker to answer my very naïve emails as I researched the book. I took her out to lunch and she let me ask her questions, and over the years, as I wrote the book and she continued to be ever more committed to activism, a ferocious, strong powerhouse of a woman, we became friends. Laura read the book before it was published and told me in no uncertain terms when I was “talking sh*te, love” about issues to do with the business of sex work; she came to the party when I launched Fishnet in its original edition and, over our fourth or fifth glass of wine she asked me straight out: ‘I’m Anya, aren’t I? She’s me.’
I made a bit of a fuss – my characters were all entirely fictional, I said. Anya’s very different to you in lots of ways – why, you’ve got black hair and she’s blonde…! She was right of course, though. Without realising it, I’d been so inspired by Laura’s passion, by the force of her intellect, her sense of humour, her resilience, I had to create a character who reflected those traits.
Laura died suddenly earlier this year. She left behind her a teenage daughter and an incredible body of campaigning work; an international network of people who had been inspired by her. I’m really glad that the new edition Black & White are publishing means I’ve been able to re-dedicate Fishnet to her memory, and that they’ve let me add on an Afterword paying her a proper tribute.
- Lastly, if you could have dinner with one of your characters, who would you pick and why?
That’s easy. Anya. It would be (a little bit) like having my friend back again.
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