The discussion was led by Alice Langley, who kindly stepped in at the eleventh-hour to chair this wonderful event with Kirstin Innes. Alice, a writer and theatre maker, is currently doing a PhD at the University of Glasgow in Creative Writing and Fantasy Literature where she is researching women who turn to stone.
The discussion began with Kirstin’s forthcoming novel, Semi-Precious. Kirstin asked the audience to imagine a poly-voiced spirit of the Renfrewshire landscape as she treated us to the very first public reading. Alice asked her about the book’s form and Kirstin replied “I’m trying to write a book with three narratives: the land’s own narrative, a 20th century narrative and a 21st century narrative.” This led to a fascinating discussion around voice narration and Kirstin said that she has become increasingly attracted to multiple voice narration. Her preference of writing short sections from multiple voices has both literary and practical foundations.
The title of the talk is Pram in the Hallway, but Kirstin was quick to point out that her intense desire to have both a literary career and a family was not without challenges. There followed a very honest account of the author’s life as she talked, tenderly, of the difficulties as well as the joys of juggling both.
Alice Langley asked her how she towed the line between fiction writing and writing about reality, and what ensued was the bravest and most honest disclosure that, for reasons that will become apparent, Kirstin was, and is, very keen for people to hear about. In discussing her previous novel Scabby Queen, Kirstin drew out two themes around the issue of pregnancy and miscarriage.
One of the characters in Scabby Queen had a child to an uncover cover police officer who infiltrated their activist group. As the ongoing Inquiry into Undercover Policing has exposed, since the 1960s, the Spycop ‘play book’ was to assume the name of a deceased baby as a cover name. The second practice was to trick activist women into sexual relations, with a number of these women having children with the undercover officer before he disappeared from their lives for ever. Being pregnant with her second child as she wrote a section of the book, Kirstin wanted to explore how it would feel to be carrying a second child in the full knowledge that your first child was the product of state-sponsored rape.
The other important matter Kirstin wanted to explore was the silence surrounding the issue of miscarriage. Having miscarried in the past, Kirstin had herself turned to popular cultural forms to find anything on the issue that would reflect her own circumstances. “Pop culture covers everything else: first kiss, first sex, first job, first house, but absolutely nothing about miscarriage” she said.
“The one bit about me in the book are the bits about the miscarriages. I went through a lot of IVF and a couple of miscarriages – so I tried to bust that silence through the experiences of the character of Clio. When you lose a baby, there is an absolute silence. This is the one point in the Venn diagram where I dip into Cleo.” Kirstin talked about the importance of speaking up, so that other women who had suffered a miscarriage could do the same.
Alice asked, as a ‘future parent’, what expectations she should have about balancing parenting and writing. Kirstin talked about the challenges of juggling both, before apologising “I’m making it all sound so grim”, she said, “which it’s not. Writing little patchworks is a way to make progress when bringing up children. I spent five years writing my first book – without children, just juggling work, now I don’t have time to second guess myself, I go with it, so if its shite, then, tough, that’s what you’re getting”.
Alice asked if Kirsten had has any tips for young and aspiring writers. “Switch the internet off”, she said, “there are internet blockers that work with all devices, install them because you won’t get a novel written while doom scrolling and being distracted”.
An audience member took the opportunity to thank Kirstin for being such an inspiration to someone like herself, who had just become a new mother. For the audience, who were visibly enraptured by Kirstin’s honesty, bravery and compassion, the hour passed all too quickly.
The session ended with another reading from Semi-Precious. The audience absorbed it enthusiastically. ‘When is it out?’, someone asked. When it’s finished Kirstin replied.