Phone sex Tilly

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Your novel Nothing But My Body follows the life of an unnamed narrator, a young, queer sex worker in Sydney, over thirteen months. It also covers quite a lot of ground as she travels from Sydney, to Berlin, to different rural towns in Australia.

I first wanted to ask, where does she feel most at home? I think about the concept of home a lot, because I will refer to both Sydney and Bellingen as home. I think it's so funny because I can be overseas, and I can miss home and I'm referring to Sydney, but then when I get to Sydney, I'll cry that I'm missing Bellingen, you know. I think as a country kid who has moved to a city and made that city your home as an adult, you can really have multiple homes.

Is it a more beautiful thing to feel connected to multiple places? Or does it mean that wherever you are, you're missing something? So, in terms of the character, I hadn't actually thought about what she thought of as home, but a lot of me is instilled in her, and for me it's a difficult question to answer because home changes according to where I am at that moment. Is that why she doesn't have a name? Was that a conscious choice?

I didn't give her a name because I wanted the reader to be so immersed in her thoughts that they felt like they could be her and I thought by giving her a name, you're reminded that this is not you. But it was deliberate, because I didn't want a name to break your belief in the world that you were in.

It does remind you of that sort of anonymity in the sex industry where no one goes by their real name. Definitely, I think the sex worker world and the queer world have a lot of crossover, in that often you can know someone by multiple names and not know their real name. Because trans people often change their name, and they may have a dead name or something that you've never heard. And sex work is the same. So that was kind of the layers that I wanted to give it. Also, at the end of the day, what is a name? Recently, I've noticed several memoirs released by sex workers, but there aren't many contemporary novels with sex workers as the main character.

I really like this question, because it was a very deliberate choice not to write memoir. For a few reasons, but firstly because, as you pointed out, sex workers are constantly relegated to the genre of memoir. They want the focus of the book to be about how alien that person's life is. I didn't want to do that. And also, the other thing was that everyone always wanted me to write a memoir, and I was like, where do I even start?

How do I know what point of my life is a climactic point, when my life is still continuing right now? To be honest, I felt like I was too young to write a memoir. I also didn't want to, and I personally read mainly fiction. There were a few books I was inspired by in writing it, but in terms of sex work and memoir, there was a book written by a Mexican-American gay man, John Rechy his real name was Juan Rechy, but it was anglicised to make his book sell better in the s and he wrote this book called City of Night. It was semi-autobiographical, because he was a gay, male street hustler or sex worker, but sex work wasn't the focus of the book — it was just the atmosphere, in the same way that cities like San Francisco or New York and LA were part of the atmosphere as well.

The real focus of the book was the queer community and the connections within the queer community. I really liked the way he did that. That was very much the form I took, and I wanted sex work to not be the focal point of the book. The focal point of the book is friendship and rejection of romantic love and mental health, anti-respectability politics, those kinds of things. It was done very consciously. I also wanted to show that sex workers could enter other genres.

There was a movie Camthat was written by an online sex worker and it was a horror film about a cam girl - I was like, finally! It showed that sex workers can enter other genres. But I feel like we get that flexibility more in film; in writing, it still tends to just be memoir.

Phone sex Tilly

That's partly because that's what readers ask for. She is a very introspective character and the narrative voice is both conversational and lyrical, delivered as a stream of consciousness. What was the inspiration for that style of narration? Oh, that was Mrs. I really like that it was a woman going about her daily life, getting ready for a dinner party, and her mind is constantly flipping through her past.

So, that was the structure that I took, but I did it across eight days rather than across one day. I actually referenced some of her book in quotes. I was also playing to my strengths, because I'd realised online that what people responded to most were things that were really immediate and train of thought.

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In the past, I've tried writing novels and I haven't been able to do it, or they haven't ended up good. And I think that was always because I was going for a traditional structure. So, this time I was like, why don't I play to my strengths and write a novel based on what I'm actually good at? As you mentioned, the book is set over eight different days and also many different locations, including her workplaces. It was very easy. Which is not so much a testament to my ability to write but more just the exposure.

I feel like it's become second nature. To be honest, I couldn't have written about it in any other way. I know that in my writing, generally, everything tends to be grounded in little precise details. Like, when I write about the way a body feels or the way you walk through a stream and what the water feels like around your ankles. I think that it would have been impossible for me to write about sex work without that same filter of minute things. I feel like that tends to be how I process the world around me into writing.

The narrator is often reflecting on sex work, revealing its complexity as both physical and emotional labour. Your own activism focuses on breaking down stigma and raising awareness for sex workers rights; do you see this creative work and your activism as linked or feeding into each other? Definitely, and actually, this ties back to your earlier question about fiction and memoir. I've stepped away from activism, in that I found I was held to impossible expectations of being a perfect person.

I really didn't feel comfortable with the way my voice was dominating this discourse as a white woman. And also, I was getting asked the same questions again and again in interviews. So, I took a step back from it consciously about two years ago. I didn't want to make that my life. And then, I thought about the fact that often people's opinions can be changed when they don't feel like they're being lectured to and when things are a little bit more subtle.

Phone sex Tilly

I just see it as adjacent or tied to my activism. To be honest, I wanted to stop being seen as an activist and start being seen as an artist, because I think when you're an artist, you're allowed to be flawed.

Phone sex Tilly

I want people to interpret my work through a creative lens rather than through a political lens. The title, Nothing But My Body, has a lot of resonance both in the way that sex workers bodies are seen by mainstream society, and the way that the character sees her own body. What is her relationship like with her body throughout the book? Do you think it changes over time? No, I think her body is a vessel in life, and it's something that is both joyous and can also be confronting. To be honest, the title was also a bit tongue in cheek.

I couldn't think of a title. A friend suggested it to me. My agent loved it. The publisher loved it. I was like, cool, but for me, it's also a bit of a joke, right? There's obviously so much more than the body. It makes sense because she's always done work with her body, but I also interpreted it as kind of a joke, like a personal joke between me and the book.

There are many contemporary events in the book like the recent bushfires as well as the pandemic. One of the last chapters follows her hour shift in a brothel the night before the first COVID lockdown which captures the tension, fear and uncertainty of that time. Do you think it will affect the reception of the book? For me personally, writing about it as things were happening is really cathartic. It gives an immediacy to it that I think is really appealing.

I don't think I could have written this book — that was so about being in the flow of thoughts and in the present — five years after these events happened, because I would have been reflecting. I think it needed to be in the midst of it for it to work.

It's going to be really interesting to see what people think of that because it's coming out when Sydney's in another lockdown and I do wonder if that will change the reception in a good or bad way, compared to how it would be received if it had come out when we were all happy and partying.

I think drawing on these events was necessary for the kind of book I wanted to write.

Phone sex Tilly

So, the more traditional structure meant that it suited the story, being set more than a decade ago, whereas this story is about being in the moment, so it also needed to be written in the moment. You just finished your second book, what are you working on now? I'm writing a book in a different format again, about two friends who were best friends in childhood, from different class backgrounds who ended up in the same career and start to get together in their twenties.

It's about their friendship in their twenties told from both points of view. The dialogue is the same on each side but the thought patterns are completely different, because I wanted to show the ways in which your insecurities affect how you interpret dialogue. I find it quite difficult to get into the flow, because I can't just write it all in one go. Finally, you mentioned earlier that what drives your book is friendship.

It's essentially a love letter to friendship and the queer community. Why are friendships and community so important to this character? What do they give her?

Phone sex Tilly

I think they just give her a sense of purpose in life — or meaning, I should say, rather than purpose. Like when there's so many awful things happening in the world like climate change and you think, what's even the point of being alive? Friendship is, I think, probably the only real meaning we can get out of life. I feel like the context of when I wrote it also has to be taken intowhich is I wrote it in six months through lockdown last year from March to September. I was missing my friends so hugely, as many of us were at that time.

And that really bled into the book. I feel like it was very much through the character that I mourned what I was missing in my own life. So, it became about friendship, because that was what I was appreciating and missing. Read an exclusive extract here and buy your copy here.

Phone sex Tilly

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Beyond exploitative or empowering: Tilly Lawless on sex work and feminism