Your Writing in Lockdown

Dear Writers,

Never again do I want to hear the arts being described as ‘luxuries’. Theatres, libraries, bookshops, sporting events, museums, festivals, concerts, art galleries etc etc – these are not ‘optional extras’ but integral to who we are. We miss them now, and as the weeks turn into months, we’ll miss them more.

Your writing matters.

Gwen John, The Brown Teapot

Lockdown during the Covid crisis is a terrible burden for us all. And it’s simply not the case that being home more = more opportunities to write. Life isn’t like that. The challenges of home schooling, home working, financial worries, caring for vulnerable people, keeping clean and healthy, cancelled plans, cabin fever etc etc all take their toll.

So I urge you now, more than ever, to use your time wisely.

  • Set aside Writing Time in your weekly schedule. Routine is key to coping in Lockdown, so make sure your Work in Progress gets the attention it deserves. Everyone at home needs to understand that this is a priority for you and should commit to supporting you during Writing Time.
  • Refresh your writing space. Declutter; wipe it clean; update your mood board; open a window; leave your phone in a separate room. Cleaning the rest of the house and DIY can wait.
  • Stay physically active. We’re allowed outside once per day for exercise, and I urge you to do so even in bad weather. If you’re out by yourself, I recommend podcasts, audio books, and comedy as your listening. If you can’t get out, I recommend trying Yoga with Adriene, which includes modifications for gentle yoga (e.g. in a chair) and mindful breathing.
  • Support authors of newly published books and bookshops now, not later. They’re going through a difficult time. You can help by ordering books locally, and exploring audio and e-books. Do you want to get on the radar of agents and publishers . . .? Then you should be using social media to enthuse about their new releases, post positive reviews and tagging them in. Network online now, while they most need your support, and it will be easier to approach them later.
  • BE BOLD. The trauma of the Covid crisis is going to change us as a society. Businesses, venues and services are going to suffer; our families may be touched by illness or bereavement; our mental health and wellbeing will be tested . . . However, we’re also going to reappraise what is important; we’re going to cultivate different habits; and we’re going to surprise ourselves. When social distancing is over, we will be eager to reconnect with other people – and this includes a renewed appetite for stories. Brilliant stories. Original stories. Hidden Stories. Funny stories. Mad, bad, moving, invigorating stories. Insightful stories that help us make sense of the world. Don’t play it safe. Be braver. Push further. Your Work in Progress needs you.

In addition to your WiP, consider reviving your creative energy by submitting to competitions or projects. There’s always a lot going on, but these are current at the time of posting and may be worth looking at? Check the deadlines and T&Cs . . .

  • Bridport Prize open for submissions now. Deadline 31 May 2020. Poetry, Short Story, Flash Fic, and First Novel (which doesn’t have to be finished). First prizes £1,000 – £5,000 depending on category. Posh and prestigious, this competition opens doors! *Entry fees £9 – £20. Use the online portal to submit.
  • Keywords – a new series for broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra – it will then be available as a podcast.  To encourage new writing and audio production and empower people to record from their own devices. Keywords invites new and established writers and sound artists, radio makers, and musicians to submit for broadcast. Week 1: Distance. Deadline: 11pm – Friday 12th April 2020. (For the next three keywords, the deadline is 11pm – 19th April 2020) *“The theme should reflect Irish heritage culture and experience. Global affairs that impact on Ireland are also relevant.”
  • The Aurora Prize for Writing 2020, deadline MONDAY 8TH JUNE AT MIDNIGHT. A national competition run by Writing East Midlands, in partnership with the Society of Authors. Seeks outstanding new writing in short fiction (of up to 2,000 words) and poetry (of up to 60 lines). The winners will receive £500, feedback from a leading literary agent and a year’s free membership to the Society of Authors + personalised support in their careers as professional authors. *Entry fee: £9 for first entries, £7 for each additional entry.

Thank you to the people who stayed in touch during my cancer treatment and recovery. I read your messages and was grateful, even if I couldn’t reply. I’m doing extremely well and probably better than most (as my experience of chemo was a lot like Lockdown, I know what to expect).

A good writing habit and making progress with your manuscript is going to help you through this. Stick with it. Be kind to it. Believe in it. And who knows, your novel / poem / script / story could be exactly what someone else needs?

Stay safe and well,


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In the Breast Cancer Survivors’ Club

In summer 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My active treatment included a full mastectomy; and a course of chemotherapy which I completed at Christmas. I’m proud to say that I’ve done everything I can as a patient to protect myself from future cancers, and I’m now a member of the Breast Cancer Survivors’ Club.

TY selfie

I owe the biggest thanks ever to the brilliant NHS staff at Ipswich Hospital for saving my life. I received world-class healthcare and they showed me nothing but kindness throughout. I’m extremely grateful to the experts on my doorstep who were there when I needed them most. I know how lucky I am.

Everyone’s cancer is different. In my case, it took almost a year from finding the lump, to being free of invasive treatments and gently working back towards physical fitness. My hair is thickening and I no longer cover my head to go out. I’m running again, slowly and for shorter distances. Yoga is helping greatly to improve my strength and range of motion (specifically Yoga with Adriene, I’m a huge fan). I continue to have wonderful support at home from family and close friends.

My non-essential commitments are still on hold. No creative writing workshops, media, or author talks for a while. I’m on an email diet. But I continue to write and chip away at the WiP. It is a fascinating and challenging project.

Of course the experience of breast cancer has changed me, hopefully in good ways too. I have many lovely things to look forward to this year.




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Red Umbrella Run interview on BBC Suffolk

Eng Col Pros  amnesty_international_logo

Laura Watson from English Collective of Prostitutes and I were interviewed on 10 April 2016 regarding sex workers’ human rights, decriminalisation and why I’m running the London Marathon with a red umbrella for Amnesty. Such a pleasure discussing these topics with Laura – she’s a brilliant advocate for sex workers’ safety and wellbeing. With thanks to Jon Wright from BBC Suffolk.

Two parts: 07.56 and 09.59.

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20 excellent articles about sex work every feminist should read

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  • On Sunday 24 April 2016 I’m running the London Marathon to fundraise for Amnesty International (UK) – the grassroots NGO standing up for human rights everywhere.
  • And if I can, I will do so carrying a red umbrella – the international awareness-raising symbol of violence and stigma faced by sex workers.

I’m an ally, not a sex worker myself, but I’ve had the privilege hearing sex workers explain why decriminalisation of what consenting adults do in private would make them safer, reduce stigma, and help to end abuse where it occurs. I’d love for other feminists to be more informed about sex work too.

There’s plenty of evidence-led research worth exploring in print and online; for the time-poor feminist, however, here are some of my favourite articles and points of view.

1. Amnesty Policy to Protect Human Rights of Sex Workers Q&A

Essential reading on why @AmnestyUK supports sex workers’ human rights through decriminalisation

2. Sex work and empowerment

A personal article by @kateiselin about how one sex worker found her feminism.

3. Want to know how to make sex work safe? Ask sex workers 

Niki Adams, spokeswoman for @ProstitutesColl, on the evidence presented to parliament by sex workers themselves. Listening is the crucial first step.

4. 17 Facts About Sexual Violence and Sex Work

Katherine Koster from @swopusa on the prevalence of violence experienced by sex workers and the barriers they face to accessing justice.

5. Another beautiful kind soul has been taken from this world

A heartfelt reaction by @xxxescortamber, a young, black woman, on how the media reported the murder of one of her peers.

6. Sex work is not trafficking: a summary

Conflating sex work with trafficking is contrary to the facts and helps nobody: @GlobalSexWork clarifies matters in this superb resource. They have lots of material on their website on numerous sex work topics.

7. Trans Day of Remembrance Fact Sheet

@swopusa resource focusing on the needs and rights of transgender people.

8. I’m a Sex Worker, and This is What I’ll tell my Child

@ElleStanger explains issues such as body autonomy to her toddler. A reminder, in case it were needed, that sex workers are real people with families.

9. “Junkie Whore”—What Life Is Really Like for Sex Workers on Heroin

A brave article by @marginalutilite about the extra stigma faced by drug-using sex workers and how are they are more vulnerable to violence because of it.

10. Price of Intimacy: The Time I Hired a Sex Worker

There could be any number of reasons why a client turns to a provider of sex services to experience physical intimacy they cannot achieve through dating. This article by @deliciouslydrew, a man living with cerebral palsy, is about hiring a male sex worker and is wonderfully honest.

11. ‘I have to remind people I can still be dirty’: the female porn directors calling the shots 

While female film directors continue to be overlooked by mainstream awards, when it comes to porn, @TheBreeMills, @tashareign and @JoannaAngel enjoy more recognition and autonomy than most.

12. The Price of Knowledge: Discrimination Against Sex Workers In Academia

@juniperfitz writes with wit and passion. It turns out brilliant scholars can also be sex workers, and vice versa, but their colleagues don’t always see it that way.

13. Sex Work Style Guide 

The vocabulary of sex work can be confusing for lay people, but if the mainstream media adopts @mistressmatisse‘s Style Guide, it will help clarify things enormously.


@ProstitutesColl debunk some common myths. My personal favourite:

“CLAIM #11 Prostitution is not about sex. It is about exploitation, violence and abuse. FACT #11:​ Prostitution is about ….. money!”

15. Facts about sex workers and the myths that help spread HIV

@TheLancet supports decriminalisation of sex work – can you get more serious and sciencey than that? They have great resources on their website, but this infographic is the best.

16. Sex worker and activist Laura Lee: ‘It’s now far more difficult to stay safe’ 

@GlasgaeLauraLee is an advocate for sex worker rights, taking the fight to the highest level in Northern Ireland. In this interview, she explains why. 

17. Swedish Abolitionism as Violence Against Women

Dr Jay Levy did his PhD research at University of Cambridge and it is widely regarded as the only proper research to explore real outcomes of the ‘Swedish Model’. This summary paper published by @SexWorkerOU explains how criminalisation of the buyer makes sex work more dangerous for the seller.

18. What is a reference? Why do some escorts request one?

From the abstract to the particular: a post by @MsCharlotteX to potential clients on her screening procedure. (This kind of safety precaution is what is undermined by imposing an ‘end demand’ or ‘Swedish Model’ approach.)

19. SEX WORK LAW REFORM: Bringing the New Zealand model to Scotland

Briefing materials on the work done by @JeanUrquhartHI and @ScotPep to make sex workers in Scotland safer.

20. Decriminalise sex work for safety’s sake

If you’re a feminist who is convinced by the evidence and lived experiences of sex workers – and want to help – you can do so by adding your signature to @ProstitutesColl’s #pledgedecrim petition. 

(And maybe, if you’re feeling generous, consider make a donation to Amnesty UK via my Red Umbrella Run fundraising page!)

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Wolsey Writers

Wolsey Writers workshop starts this Sat 19 Sep at New Wolsey Theatre, 10am, £13.50. More details here and a clue below about our first theme . . .

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Meditations on Art

I’m running a “Meditations on Art” course for Ipswich Institute members: Tuesdays, 22 Sep – 1 Dec, 6.30pm. Here’s a link for more details and a little preview slide of what we’re going to discuss in week 1.

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“She Rises” by Kate Worsley wins New Angle Prize 2015

The winner of the New Angle Prize is the fabulous Kate Worsley for “She Rises”; the runner-up is the splendid Ronald Blythe for “The Time By the Sea”. Here are the notes from the judges’ speeches last night because we really did love all six titles. An honour to have been part of this, thank you to the organisers and sponsors. K x

Katie Ward:

Being here with you all this evening is a real pleasure and I mean that.

As a writer of fiction, I’m usually to be found on my own, in my pyjamas, struggling with a paragraph I can’t make work; usually, I’m talking myself into carrying on or thinking of reasons to give up; usually, my existential crisis is interrupted by the cat pestering me to be fed again. So having dinner in the company of actual, breathing people, as opposed to imaginary ones, is a treat for me.

[To reiterate] I’m giving the first set of judges’ feedback; Carol will give the second set; it’s alphabetical by surname, so there are no clues as to the outcome.

But I cannot think of this as feedback, as such, when it’s simply doing one of my favourite things: talking about books I love. Furthermore, it’s a privilege being allowed to share my thoughts with other authors.

And it is to you, my writing brothers and sisters, that I now speak. We writers are solitary beings and yet we have a shared experience. And while I’d prefer to do this in a more intimate setting, I respect you too much to tell you anything other than the truth. In fact, this could work a whole lot better for me, if everybody else wasn’t here.

So if you’re one of the people who is not shortlisted for the New Angle Prize this evening, please feel free to tune out for the next 5 minutes; you can use this time to finish your bread rolls, check your phones, whatever you like . . .

Ronald, Mark, Esther, Jason, Alex and Kate . . . Let’s pretend it’s just us for now, okay? Good.

Ronald Blythe, your memoir, “The Time by the Sea.” Here we meet the likes of Benjamin Britten, E.M. Forster, Imogen Holst, musicians, painters, poets. You show us a familiar Aldeburgh, Aldeburgh as we know it now, but also an Aldeburgh lost to us – and that exists only as memory. And Ronald, you are qualified like no other person to write on this subject. It’s fair to say that of all the writers we read this year, you know Suffolk the best. You shared with us a moment from your history, took us to the heart of this artistic community. However, it is difficult for me personally to remark on your work without sounding glib, for you have done so much and I have done so little. If I tell you that you write beautiful prose, Ronald, I know you’ve heard it before. If I tell you that I aspire to a career like yours, that risks sounding ludicrous because the real world will never allow it. So let me tell you this instead: when I read your book, it made me feel that I should try harder to write well.

Mark Cocker, “Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet,” which are journals of your walks, mainly around a Norfolk village. This is a celebration of the natural world from the microscopic to the charismatic, but it isn’t an ordinary, sciencey book, is it? We readers feel that yours is an inclusive point of view. Your ears are better than ours, more attuned to birdsong, to the whispers of seasons as they come and go; your eyes see details in creepy-crawlies, and in the soil under our feet, we simply would not notice if you didn’t show them to us. For me personally, Mark, your writing is a mixture of the consolations of mindfulness – with an underscore of anxiety, because you make us aware how fragile the natural world is – without resorting to shrill clichés. On the contrary, you use precise description to inspire wonder in us. I could see the slickness of an otter as it dove beneath the surface, or the mumuration of starlings as it switched direction – I could see this movement exactly as you saw it and that’s an astonishing achievement.

Esther Freud, your novel, “Mr Mac and Me.” You tell your story through a boy called Thomas, about the arrival Charles Rennie Macintosh (the Scottish artist and architect) in a small village. Your novel explores what it means to be an artist living in harsh times and the paranoia of impending war. At its heart is this friendship between Thomas and Mac, two people who don’t fit in, which you never lose sight of. Well, Esther, we readers were gripped from the start. The way you evoke the voices of Suffolk, the landscape of Suffolk, is authentic. Stylistically, your writing has a sparse quality. And I have a personal attachment to your book, because I also wrote what might be called an ‘art history novel’. I wonder, if you’ve ever been asked how appropriate it is to fictionalise the life of a real artist, somebody who lived and left work to know them by? I find this an awkward question, but the next time somebody asks me, I have a good answer for them: your novel is how to do right.

I love all three of these books, and the three more Carol will comment on later.

And the books we love are strange creatures, aren’t they? For isn’t it the case that they appear to us, whole and fully-formed, as if out of thin air? This is fantasy, of course. A finished book is the outcome of hard work, of inordinate effort and failed attempts. Nothing kills the romance of being a professional writer, like being a professional writer – and nobody knows this better than we do.

To my brothers and sisters, I say . . . Your job is to make the writing look easy and this is how your readers love you best . . . But I know it isn’t. I know you’ve had difficult days, that you have doubts, that you spent hours on pages and chapters which have never made it to print. And you’ve heard the word ‘no’ on more occasions than you care to remember.

Let me take this moment to remind you that you survived the dark times. Out of these pains, you created magnificent work and you shall again.

Ronald, Mark, Esther, Jason, Alex and Kate, please accept this in the spirit it is intended: We praise your effort. We celebrate your achievement. We’re so lucky to have read your book and we feel as if you wrote it for us.

I’m not here to give you feedback, I simply wish to tell you something true: I believe in you. And even if you work in solitude, with the uncertainty, and the emails, and the social media, and the criticism, and the cat pestering you for cat food – whatever else gets in the way, you are not alone – there are others who understand.

So in the years to come, on good days and bad days, please, please keep writing. Keep writing. I’m looking forward to what you do next.

And, thank you.

Carol Bundock:

Jason Hewitt: The Dynamite Room

Fic: Debut novel.

Alternative history based on rumours of thwarted German landings on the Suffolk coast during WWII. 11-year-old Lydia is taken hostage by a Nazi soldier, Heiden. The narrative concerns the claustrophobic dynamic in this remote cottage: POV switches between hers and his. Both have reason to be afraid of one another, and dependent on each other for survival. Both try to probe the other for information: very psychological. It reminded Katie of Boy in the Striped Pyjamas; and The Separation by Christopher Priest. I thought it was a great idea of fictionalizing a real event. At times it was necessary to suspend my disbelief, but I did tha gladly because I was so caught up in the story. I also think it would make a cracking film!

Alex Monroe: Two Turtle Doves: A Memoir of Making Things

Alex Monroe is a jewellery designer and his most famous work is perhaps the bumblebee necklaces. My daughter has one, and I think I’ve seen Fiona Bruce reading the news in one too! Alex grew up in Suffolk in the 70s: and we join his memories of building go-carts and going boating with his brother. It’s quite a sensory experience of these places. Likewise he writes with real honesty about designing and making his designs, cutting the first bumblebee out of the metal, how it takes shape, how it can go wrong. We liked how the bee emerged from the natural material, it was somehow about bringing nature to life. A great sense of place naturally, and just having had a family holiday in Suffolk, I’m really rather taken with the county. Mention the wasp man!

Kate Worsley: She Rises

Another debut novel, this time beginning in Harwich.

Louise Fletcher is appointed as a ladies’ maid to Rebecca, the daughter of a wealthy sea captain. Rebecca is vain, spiteful, beautiful . . . How will Louise cope in this house, working for someone so impossible? While she’s there, Louise’s mother wants her to search for Luke – the brother who has been lost at sea.

We then have Luke’s point of view, this poor boy being press-ganged into His Majesty’s Navy. Luke is the one who is in peril. He might not survive the brutality of life on board a warship, with these violent sailors, storms, fist-fights and all that goes with such a hard life at sea.

There’s a twist in the tale – and all I’ll say is … actually I’m not going to say that. But Sarah Waters gives a jacket quote, “Immensely Enjoyable” and her endorsement is apt. I didn’t want to finish this book, and I very much liked the tone of the voices, which I found wholly authentic.

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London Road film, the Ipswich murders and sex workers: a personal view

Let me tell you that right now it is 10:14pm on Monday, 8 June 2015, and I’ve just walked home from Ipswich town centre on my own. What’s more I felt safe and was safe. I’m not advocating that women walking alone at night in urban areas is a good idea and depending on how late and dark it is I’m more likely to get a lift. But it’s important to state that I feel safe this evening in Ipswich, the town I’ve called home for 12 years.

London Road

Tonight I saw a special preview of London Road, the film adaptation of the stage musical and this technically is a review so here are a few details: the screenplay and lyrics are by Alecky Blythe and the composer is Adam Cork. The director is Rufus Norris. All the words in the theatre show – now immortalised – are ‘verbatim’ performances, speech taken from recorded interviews with real people, set to music and shaped into narrative. London Road offers a perspective on how the murders of five young women in the winter of 2006 numbed and horrified a community. Like a lot of Ipswich people, I have a vivid recollection of events unfolding at the time. Seeing this film brought back emotions and details I’ve forgotten. I didn’t want to see the show when it was on at the National Theatre in 2011, no matter how good it was, because it felt too soon for me and so I can only comment on the screen version.

Here are my thoughts. The work is sensitive and honest. The cinematography is stylised with a muted colour pallet like Nordic Noir and shot (thankfully) in another location. You can tell that it’s based on theatre and the transition isn’t seamless, but credit for staying true to a vision, plus, you have to admire anybody who succeeds with an original musical in this day and age. The performances, including those by Olivia Colman, Tom Hardy and Anita Dobson, are top-notch. The presentation of Ipswich people is slightly skewed towards ‘yokel’ and a little insulting. Of all the things the movie might’ve got wrong, the inclusion of a football supporter wearing a red scarf was the biggest clanger of all. (Red? Really? Unbelievable.) And yet some of the interpretations of real people were so brilliant we knew immediately who they were. Councillor Carole Jones, played by Claire Moore, is as fab-oo-luss as she is in life.

A personal aspect

Since being published in 2011 I have avoided at all costs mentioning that I was involved in local partnership work to address street prostitution before, during and after December 2006. My author biography in print and online mentions jobs in the public and charity sectors, working for a member of parliament and at a women’s refuge. However I didn’t want to draw attention to such a recent, dark episode in our town, nor in any way to be misconstrued as benefitting from it while I had a book to promote. The unfortunate truth is that for many people – outside of lovely Suffolk – Ipswich reminds them of the murder of those girls. While the memory was still fresh it’s all they wanted to talk about. When it was happening here it’s all we could talk about too. It was dreadful.

Is a decade is a long time? Long enough, I hope.

Sumac: the five murders

Just to be clear there are no inside scoops here. I was very junior, my job description was a mishmash of objectives set by different agencies temporarily funding my post and I don’t believe I made a tangible difference to anyone connected with Operation Sumac (the case name after the five victims were linked) nor to those at risk of street prostitution, the way Iceni, Suffolk Constabulary and local community leaders did for example. I didn’t have the skills or influence. I was on a steering group but arguably I was meat in the room.

Some things I recall distinctly.

The underwhelming response by local agencies to street prostitution before Sumac. The issue was entrenched and there weren’t many resources to address it. This was not from lack of sympathy, it was simply that other issues had higher priority and so harm reduction and enforcement stayed at low level.

I remember being told in the meeting that 19-year-old Tania Nicol was reported missing and how our colleague hunched over when he said this.

I remember hearing that Gemma Adams, aged 25, was missing and the feeling of creep. The national press hadn’t caught on yet, but they were about to.

CCTV footage of Anneli Alderton, 24, on the train from Colchester was released following her disappearance. You may remember it also, she was the girl checking her hair in the train window reflection.

I remember being in a room with police officers who keep their radios on at all times, even while their drinking their tea, a burr of signals and information in the background so constant you stop hearing it; I remember the chatter fell silent as news came through that another body had been found and then, moments later, another. Annette Nicholls, 29, and Paula Clennell, 24, had been discovered in close proximity to one another.

As a town we were used to being ignored because Ipswich isn’t sexy. Now the world’s media descended upon us and gave a view in every editorial. Residents were pestered. People who had gone to school with one of the victims, even if they hadn’t spoken to her for years, were tracked down by journalists. Ipswich is a smallish place and many felt a personal connection to what was happening. A condolence book was opened in the town hall. One newspaper criticised the decision to hold a minute’s silence at an Ipswich Town football match (I’ll leave you to guess which one).

This was Christmastime and streets were empty after dark. Workplaces paid taxi fares for their female employees and a local businessman offered a reward for information because the women working in his company were the same age as the victims. Thousands of personal attack alarms were given away, a detail shown in London Road. Suspicion, loss and uncertainty, also shown. Some of us regarded our male friends differently for a time (sorry guys, it was nothing personal). No one was feeling festive and the local economy suffered deeply.

Sex workers

Street prostitution went from minor nuisance – to top priority, along with the resources and wherewithal to back it up. This is what happens following a tragedy: it focuses attention on a problem which was invisible before. Other towns now looked to Ipswich for best practice, for leadership, believe it or not, and organisations worked at the highest level to devise and deliver an action plan that had at its centre helping women exit.

I was given an action which surprised me. I was asked to do a literature review, which means reading and summarising all relevant information for my colleagues. Here’s why such a project is worth doing. Health practitioners, police officers and local government officials are experts in their fields and, at times of uncertainty, tend to revert to what they know. But prostitution with a street drugs component is such a complex subject, you need for everyone to take a rounded view. Admitting what you don’t know can be difficult. Accepting that there is no silver bullet and the only possible solution in the real world is a holistic one can get on people’s nerves.

Here’s some of what I learned and here’s what I think.

  1. ‘Prostitute’ is an offensive word. Call them sex workers please.
  2. What happens between consenting adults who don’t harm anybody is none of our business. We shouldn’t interfere with what is safe, orderly, discreet and done by people acting of their free will.
  3. I do not support legalisation of prostitution-related activities (and this is not a contradiction with the above). However, decriminalisation in consensual contexts remains worth exploring.
  4. Prostitution is like a spectrum of activities, ranging from the lucrative, lawful and freely acting . . . all the way through to modern slavery which includes violence, rape and a frighteningly high proportion of disappearances and murders, virtually all of them young women. ‘Prostitution’ is a catch-all term for these categorically different activities bearing little resemblance to one another. Street prostitution is its own thing and needs a unique response. Other types of activities require a different approach.
  5. Street prostitution is often linked with problematic drug misuse. This is when the question of consent becomes iffy because we’re into the realms of serious, complex social problems of which selling sex is just a part. I am loath to use the word ‘chaotic’ although it’s difficult to think of a better one. The women involved are marginalised and the help available to them severely limited. It is not safe, orderly or discreet when drug addiction plays a massive role.
  6. Helping women exit street prostitution is possible when the difference between urgent, basic support needs (e.g. harm reduction, drugs treatment, homelessness) and other support needs (e.g. counselling, debt advice, training for employment) is understood. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a useful model. A support package has to be holistic and woman-centred which means taking into account the full range of issues she faces and allowing for the possibility of relapse.
  7. Society has a hissy fit when the rights of sex workers are mentioned. People panic and it’s weird. This isn’t helpful, we cannot have a proper discussion with raised voices.

As part of the literature review I read about a very sane policy proposal from the Home Office a few years ago which would’ve decriminalised a sex worker who is based indoors, say in her flat, working with a maid for safety. Needless to say such an incremental, practical and controversial improvement didn’t make it to the statute books.

With so much insight and expertise out there, why aren’t we capable of giving this subject the consideration it deserves?

Stigma is what comes up time and again. Being a sex worker invites condemnation like no other job. This is demanding, risky, physical work – as indeed is servicing city drains, coal mining, waste disposal, being a professional soldier, working in a prison, and caring for adults with serious mental health disorders. Because it is mainly women, however . . . Because it is sex, however . . .

One of the saddest aspects to recur when sex workers become victims of crime is the view (from a minority, I hope) that they somehow brought their fate upon themselves; also the idea that the lives of sex workers might be worth less than those of women whose sexual practices are more ordinary. I for one do not think the lives of Tania (19), Gemma (25), Anneli (24), Annette (29) and Paula (24) were worth less than mine. I do not think there was a single choice they made that could ever, ever justify what happened to them.

In Ipswich people donated money to a fund called Somebody’s Daughter and later this helped to build Talitha Koum, a residential centre for women with addictions. As a direct result of their deaths, other women were helped and are still being helped.

There will always be women whose choices are limited and who are vulnerable as a result. There will always be more we can do to act responsibly, show our strength and give support. There will always be the majority who are compassionate – if puzzled – and individuals who emerge as leaders to address complex social needs. There will always be uncertainty.

Shortly after Sumac my literature review was put on the steering group agenda. I remember coming into the meeting room at Grafton House to find perhaps 20 colleagues not talking to each other because they were reading my paper. It was circulated by email and online for a while. I can only remember one piece of feedback: ‘Before this I didn’t know a lot about prostitution and now I feel that I do.’ Strange, because I wasn’t much wiser myself; research tends to raise more questions than it answers.


Outside of lovely Suffolk, Ipswich is still associated in people’s minds with the five murders and that’s regrettable. A movie musical based on these events reinforces the connection and gives me mixed feelings. Nonetheless after the preview we clapped because the work is good. The screening took place at Ipswich Film Theatre, a small, artsy cinema that has had its funding cut and is being kept alive by a band of committed volunteers. Alecky Blythe remarked on this as fitting. I like that.

I like that we have the New Wolsey Theatre here, officially the country’s most welcoming theatre. I like parkrun. I like Pulse festival. I like music day and the craft and vintage fairs. I like our historical connections to Cardinal Wolsey, Constable and Thomas Gainsborough. I like our more recent connections to Ed Sheeran, Richard Ayoade and Jimmy’s Farm. I like the Willis Building which was one of the earliest designed by Norman Foster. I like Ipswich Institute, Christchurch Mansion and Suffolk Book League. I like that an author called Eric Blair took his pen name from our river and became George Orwell. I like the Waterfront which has several of my favourite places to eat and drink, University Campus Suffolk, and Dance East. I like how people support ITFC (although football has never been my thing). I like Sutton Hoo, Aldeburgh, and that Nazis and UFOs are supposed to have landed nearby. I like that Ipswich people are generally kind and tolerant, and they come out in force for community occasions. I like knowing my neighbours by name. This place makes the writing possible and I feel safe here.

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“Hello, I’m a voter living in your constituency. Are you a feminist?”

I tweeted the five Ipswich parliamentary candidates one question: Are you a feminist? Here’s what they said.


David Ellesmere (Labour, @davidellesmere)


I love the conviction of this one word reply with an exclamation mark – no messing around. David clearly understands the nuance of what’s being asked here and responds with assurance. If he was on Twitter enough to reply the same day, it would’ve been fab. Having said that when I resorted to email he came back to me within 1 minute. (Somebody get this man an app.)


Maria Vigneau (UKIP, @UKIPipswich)

“I am a woman and most definitely support the equal rights and status of women. I have spent a lot of time in African countries, working on projects to get girls in secondary education and beyond.”

I confess, this threw me! I love that Maria has real world experience of a complex feminist issue – there’s passion there. And yet I can’t help wondering if her response is incongruous with the party she represents? All in all, unexpected. Maria does not appear on Twitter, and the local UKIP ignored me, but her email reply was swift.


Ben Gummer (Conservative, @ben4ipswich)

“I’d like to think so – depends by what definition I suppose . . .”

Me: “The @OED definition ‘feminist n. An advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women’ Clarify?”

Ben: “in that case yes!”

Had I let his first tweet stand with those hesitant, lacklustre ellipses . . . As our MP since 2010, I hope Ben would already have established his feminist credentials. Has the question really never come up in the past 5 years? But respect for giving it thought, tweeting effectively and coming out on the right side. Feeling rather pleased that I appear to have converted a Tory MP, from an equivocal feminist, into a firm one.

FASTEST answer

Barry Broom (Green, @IpswichGreens)

“We certainly support feminist causes, but it is a huge issue. Are there any specific concerns u hav? [. . .] Let us know of any feminist campaigns or causes you deem urgent to back!”

Evidently someone at Ipswich Green Party is keeping an eye on their Twitter, but I don’t think it’s Barry. I was disappointed by the reduction of feminist from noun to adjective, as this dilutes the level of commitment. Although well-intentioned, I wasn’t keen on being asked to suggest issues. I’m persuaded on balance of a support of feminism here, however, he/they don’t strike me as leaders.

FITTING answer

Chika Akinwale (Lib Dem, @LibDems_Ipswich)

“As a female and a mother of 2 – a toddler and an infant – I’m keen on women to be given equal opportunities to flourish so I am definitely a feminist. This is also a strong view within my party and is also embedded in our party constitution . . . We reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, age, religion, sex, etc.”

Chika is absolutely right to consider feminism in the context of other types of discrimination and I like the way she brings this to the fore; I also like that she identifies both the personal and party aspects of the issue as important. Although the Ipswich Libs don’t seem to completely grasp Twitter, her email reply was same day which is great.

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New Angle Prize: shortlist

Ta-dah! The New Angle Prize for Literature shortlist. Got your recommended reading for the Easter break sorted:

‘The Time by the Sea’ by Ronald Blythe (Faber & Faber, Jun 2013)
‘Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet’ by Mark Cocker (Jonathan Cape, Oct 2014)
‘Mr Mac and Me’ by Esther Freud (Bloomsbury, May 2014)
‘The Dynamite Room’ by Jason Hewitt (Simon & Schuster, Mar 2014)
‘Two Turtle Doves: A Memoir of Making Things’ by Alex Monroe (Bloomsbury, Mar 2014)
‘She Rises’ by Kate Worsley (Bloomsbury, Mar 2014)

The shortlist was featured on BBC Suffolk today. You can listen again to Lesley Dolphin’s show (starts at 1hr 9mins, after ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles).

Congratulations to all the authors,


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