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Lucy-Anne Holmes On Don’t Hold My Head Down and Other Thoughts

Lucy-Anne Holmes is the author of several novels and founder of the No More Page 3 campaign; which stopped the British newspaper The Sun publishing topless and nude images of glamour models on its Page 3 in 2015.  Her most recent book Don’t Hold My Head Down was released through Unbound, a crowdfunded publishing house. 

Jakob Grant for The Book Slut
Jakob Grant for The Book Slut

A sexual memoir of sorts but also part handbook, part exploration of female sexuality, part social commentary, and part so much more. In her book, she tackles traditionally tricky topics while hilariously and honestly taking readers along on her journey to find some bloody brilliant fucking. 

Lucy is the personification of that quote from a Midsummer’s Night Dream. She is smaller than she describes herself and bursting with passion. Her eyes strike me as happy and full of wisdom, though her knowledge doesn’t feel cliché. When speaking, she often pauses to think her words over. Other times, she laughs at the mere thought of something. Sometimes it seems out of frustration for our society, but other times she laughs because it is funny. And Lucy is hilarious. She is blunt and insightful, witty and learned. Reading her book, you get an authentic taste of what she sounds like in person. Speaking with her, you can feel her excitement for the future and her belief that things will be better not just for women but for everyone. But her optimism isn’t blind. “There’s lots to do,” she says. 

Jakob Grant for The Book Slut
Jakob Grant for The Book Slut

Before getting her photos taken, she tells us how she’s switched to a bar version of shampoo to help reduce plastic waste. At a table, she signs books and chuckles after inscribing the front pages with words such as “fannytastic”. We all decide that would be a good genre of book club. Later, we traverse the streets of Soho, and she poses for photos in front of a book shop filled with neon lights and sex toys. For the camera, she emits bashful confidence. We are lucky to be graced by someone so willing to share her thoughts and her story. She has so much to offer–we only have to listen, or read, and get busy. 

(Note: this interview includes mentions of sexual assault and other topics that you or others might find difficult to read.)

On the title of the book, Don’t Hold My Head Down

It’s always been called that.

On how she drinks her tea: 

In the morning, normal tea, milk with one sugar. I love it.

On the moments in her book that she finds funny: 

There’re some bits when you revisit them and you chuckle. When I did go to the sex festival and locked myself in a car because I was like this is just ridiculous. I’m terrified. I remember sitting in the car reaching out on Facebook to people like, oh my god. That made me chuckle. The bit where I gave the handjob to the guy who then started talking about the diesel–that really made me laugh. It’s funny because as you write it through all these things come back. Especially when I was writing about my younger self. I found the clip I’d had an orgasm to as a child. Oh, that’s it–that’s the dancing. I was talking about playing with anuses and talking about prostate massage and I talk about wearing the fashion of the cold meat counter. I thought that was really funny.

On her writing style:

I think that’s just my voice. That conversational tone is how I approach things. Maybe one day I will write something quite literary. I felt that quite often this subject is tackled in either quite an academic way or quite a stiff tone. I wanted the feeling of someone telling me a story–like a mate telling you a story.

On her writing process:

I write from 6-8 every morning. I get up at 6 and write til 8. My partner does the get up with the little ones, so, I always have that which is really good. I do get some other time in the day, but child care is a bit bitty. [My son] goes to a preschool in the morning and nursery school in the afternoon, but you have to pick him up. I don’t normally get a long [writing] run. Sometimes I won’t get any depending on what else is going on.

But, I like having those hours which are definitely mine in the morning.I like the quiet time before emails start coming in and as it’s getting light. It’s a beautiful time. I battled with it for a long time, but now I just tend to wake up two minutes to six, and I can do it. I drink loads of cups of tea, and I really miss it if I don’t do it now. I get a bit touchy. 

On how long Don’t Hold My Head Down took:

I wanted to get it finished in 2015, [but] that’s when my parents got ill, and that’s when I was expecting a baby, and I just had to let it go. There was too much going on. 

The writing took three years. It was great that I ended up coming back to it and writing about the experience of having a baby. I think that worked out well. I feel glad that I was able to do that. 

If you’ve had kids and you read about somebody who hasn’t got kids going on a sex trip, you’re like, ‘Wow that’s so not relevant to me because my body’s just changed and I’m really tired now.’ So actually having had that experience–I was really glad to be able to share that.

On if she felt weird writing about the sex: 

I think, fuck it really. I don’t know how I feel so open about this. I was interviewed on Woman’s Hour and Jenni Murray at the end went, ‘Do you feel embarrassed?’ No, I don’t at all really. I don’t. If you’re going to do it. Do it. And it just felt like, let’s have an honest conversation about this. This is my contribution to the dialogue.

If you’re going to do it. Do it.

On used sex books:

Dogeared and stained? If some have a sticky page it’s like ‘oh, I bet that was a good page.’

I like reading sex books and manuals and stuff like that. There’s some great stuff out and more and more great stuff coming out all the time. It’s lovely. And I think it’s something to keep doing. Obviously, I’ve read a lot on journey, but I hope it’s something I keep doing because it keeps re-energizing your connection to yourself and your body. It’s a lovely way to do it really.

On her favourite slang for sex:

I’m fond of adult fun. It’s not really slang, but I quite like adult fun. I love the word pecker for a penis. I don’t know why. I quite like rutting–it’s quite fun. It’s like an animal.

or the British option…

How’s your father?

On comedy and self-deprecation: 

I mean it’s a really weird one, isn’t it? Because obviously everyone’s going to have a different comedy style. I definitely did that. My whole first novel is about this character [who] is funny but very self-deprecating all the time.

Once I realized what I was doing: I’m just feeding this, I’m not in any way part of the solution here, I’m just contributing to the problem. And it might be funny. I might be doing it in a funny way, but actually [it’s harmful].

Sometimes it's a bit sad because I've lost that really great way to be funny. The other way of being funny is you can be mean about or to someone else? Comedy is quite annoying.

For me it was just like I’m going to make a choice here. I was probably more funny before I had these realizations, to be honest. But I didn’t want to be horrible to other people, and I didn’t want to be horrible to myself.

On female sexuality and men:

I think that I had female sexuality presented to me. When I think about where it had come from, it had all come from men. Men still make most of the porn. Men are still making the money out of the glamour modelling and the Page 3 decisions and all this.

So I felt like my sexuality was being presented to me by men. That made a lot of sense when I wrote that out. Oh, that one doesn’t fit. That’s why [the presented female sexuality] doesn’t feel like it’s fitting me. It is very interesting when you see some female porn directors—how different that can feel to watch.

On the Page 3 campaign:

The Sun is a newspaper that’s the most popular newspaper in Britain, and it has been for years. Up until 2015, on the third page, [there was] a picture of a young woman in her pants. That had been going since 1970. And I started a campaign asking the editor to stop printing those pictures. Nothing against nudity. Nothing against glamour modelling. Just the context of having that in a paper, I think and I feel, isn’t respectful to the women. It messed me up in terms of my sexuality, and a lot of people agreed. So we campaigned for two and a half years and eventually The Sun dropped it [in 2015].

I think where [Page 3] affected me most was as a child developing. I think the damaging things is it’s such a big indicator of how we see women and what we value about them. The context being [that] you have all these men doing stuff. The men are in clothes being very active, and the women are just standing there passively in their pants. It’s all about how they look. Their availability, their desirability.

Where it damaged me is [that] I just grew up thinking I had to be desirable. That was the most important thing, as a woman, was I had to be desirable. I never had a thought ‘what do I desire?’ I know that lots of the people I campaigned with had similar stories. We’d grown up with it.

The picture’s there but then there’s a whole kind of dialogue sort of normalized around it. ‘Look at the tits on that. I’d bang that. I’d do that.’ Where ‘that’ came from was kind of objectification.

There’s a long way to go. So I have got rid of that picture, but what would be great now [would be] to see more images of women doing sport. We just don’t see that at all. It’s about seeing really positive and really active images of women.

On women undercutting their own professional success:

I notice in relationships, [that] I take the partner’s job more seriously than my own. I’ll give you time to work. I’ll give you time. And it’s like, I’ve got outstanding things to do.

For me, I think it’s that historically the men had the jobs and so [women] sort of facilitated that. I think there’s still the hangover of that. We don’t necessarily own our own stuff quite like we should.

I think more and more that’s changing–[it’s] just a matter of time. Relatively speaking, in the last hundred years, so much has changed in terms of women’s rights and what we are doing and the jobs that we can have. It’s going to keep changing that way but it’s still relatively new. It’s still clunky at times.

On equality for women:

I am excited about revisioning the world for men and women. [I think] we haven’t been equal for years and years and years. Everything in the world is designed for a male point of view and for men and not really respecting women as active and equal people.

In terms of our military, how we work, our monetary systems, all of it’s created by men. A lot of it, for me, doesn’t fit. I look at our political system, and that doesn’t really make sense. I look at the military and think, how have you got this? There are so many of these structures that we just take for granted in our lives that I feel were created for men when women didn’t have a voice or a say. So, I look forward to us revisioning our world affairs, a different kind of world together.

There’s lots to do to make life for women fairer and kinder. Obviously violence against women is a really big issue. There’s lots to do. It’s such an interesting time to live in. We definitely are seeing more and more women in power and how that’s shifting things. In my lifetime, it’s the most women we’ve had in the House of Commons.

The conversations that women are having in these traditionally male environments and how that is shifting life and legislation outside. All the things that have come to the top of the agenda in the last 10 years is really quite marvelous.

On writing about her own sexual assault: 

I like to write about things that surprise me when I uncover them. So this book was kind of like a surprising journey I went on.

With sexual assault, it was really interesting because when I started the [No More Page 3] campaign, I looked up sexual assault statistics because I was thinking, I’m not saying that Page 3 makes people sexually assault women. But I’m just saying if you have high sexual assault statistics, is it wise to be putting naked teenagers in the paper? Is that wise? I don’t know.

I was looking at sexual assault statistics and was like, god that’s high. I was like it can’t be that high. And then I thought, oh no, but I’ve been sexually assaulted. I didn’t even know.

I had this experience where I was woken in the night with a guy who’d pulled my top up, was in my pants, and was masturbating over me. And I’d just been asleep. I ran home throughout London, didn’t open the curtains for three days. I was so freaked out.

I kept thinking I’d done something wrong. You’re just kind of trying to work it out. I just stayed at some friend’s after a party. It wasn’t anything I had not done before. I remember telling one other friend, and she told me she’d been raped but she hadn’t told many people either.

When I started doing the campaign, I started asking people about their stories. And everyone was telling me really familiar stories about one two or three of them. Like, ‘I was locked in a bathroom, my head held down.’

I was talking about these stories and other women were sharing theirs.

I think there’s something empowering about knowing that other people have gone through that. It wasn’t your fault. There’s a lot of us here saying it. It feels like you’ve got your sisters behind you. And I think that’s what #MeToo has done really really powerfully. We’re able to share those stories.

But, I think it’s the start of a healing. There’s a lot of healing to be done.

On rape culture and what men can do: 

Just not that long ago, I was in a school and teenage boys were telling me it’s not rape if she’s drunk. It’s not rape if she’s wearing a short skirt. 

How do we shift this? It’s so dark and so ingrained and sort of everywhere. It’s everywhere. It’s like all the old stories and all the old, you know, plays and bloody opera’s it’s like everywhere there’s blaming women.

We’ve got a really long way to go. We just have to keep having these awful conversations again and again and it’s really tiring.

I feel #MeToo has been amazing really, but also awful

I feel #MeToo has been amazing really, but also awful because so many many stories came out. It’s started a lot of healing for a bunch of people to really face stuff.

I remember talking about my experience and somebody said did you kiss him. Like I was woken up in the night. And somebody asked, ‘Oh had you been drinking?’ And I was like, ‘I was asleep, I just woke up.’ It’s constantly feeling like you’re having to justify still.

I think men need take a collective [step to] empathize. I think we really need to draw an all out courage and patience and not just be like for fucks sake. With young men, we can teach young men a lot. But [this societal change] needs men. It needs men to stand up and go, that’s not how you do it, mate. Don’t do that. It needs men to kind of mentor and master younger men.

I think there’s some great women’s movements. The heart of my feminism is trying to do what I can to make life a bit easier for the women coming after me. It needs that from the boys, too. It needs that from the men. All of this is shit for men, really. It does need them to be really in on it. And I get it’s hard. It’s hard because there’s a lot of the lad culture and big groups and that’s their humour. They need to be brave and teach the youngers.

On the hardest part of the book to write:

When I got to anuses then I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I didn't realize that’s where all my shame was. It was really funny.

When I got to anuses then I was like, ‘Oh my god!’

When I started to write that it was like, ‘This is really really edgy. Oh my god I can’t believe it.’ But then in a way, it was quite good because it’s like, ‘Go there, Lucy. You need to go there.’ That was probably the hardest part in terms of sharing.

On publishing with Unbound: 

I love Unbound. I really like the people and I really like the fact that they got the book. So I did speak to some traditional publishers and they kept telling me that I would need to change the title. And this, that, and the other. I just kept thinking like, oh this is going to be a watered down book about female sexuality. I just thought if I meet, if I speak to a publisher that really gets it, then I’ll go with them. And Unbound was definitely that. They just got it. They were excited about it, and they were excited about me writing it.

I found the crowdfunding really hard. I found it [hard], as someone who doesn’t like asking people for help, and definitely doesn’t like asking for money. And I had to go and be like ‘I’m going to write this book about my sex life can you give me some money to do it?’

‘I’m going to write this book about my sex life can you give me some money to do it?’

It was like, oh my god. So, I found that hard. I didn’t want to keep asking on Twitter. And some days I’d be like, okay, you can do it. So I found that [to be a] struggle. But what I love is there are 400 people that really feel behind it. They feel so behind it that they kind of have been part of the whole process. It feels like it’s their book. They refer to it as our book. And I love that.

On having Don’t Hold My Head Down out:

It’s actually been amazing. I’ve had such a lovely launch period. I didn’t know whether it would get stocked in bookshops.

It’s got the word fucking on the front

It’s got the word fucking on the front. I didn’t know quite what would happen.

I’m getting lots of feedback from people having read it. I’ve had a lovely few weeks since it’s been out.

On family reading the book:

I’ve said that my parents can’t read it and my partner’s said that his parents can’t read it. But my mum’s told all her friends, lent it to the cleaner, and the gardener’s read it.

My mum’s told all her friends, lent it to the cleaner, and the gardener’s read it

On future projects:

I’m writing a thriller with my dad.

On tips for those who want to write: 

The book that changed my life and got me was The Artist’s Way. I’ll always recommend that. Because that really connects you with what you really want to say and what you really want to do creatively. 

Otherwise, if you really want to write, just write. You know. I know it’s a really boring thing but just write.

On what to read next: 

The Burning by Laura Bates 

Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams

Four Feet Under by Tamsen Courtenay

Don’t Hold My Head Down can be purchased online or from your local bookstores in the UK (if you too fancy finding a good fuck).


Lucy's reading list

The burning - BY Laura Bates

A rumour is like a fire. You might think you’ve extinguished it but one creeping, red tendril, one single wisp of smoke is enough to let it leap back into life again. Especially if someone is watching, waiting to fan the flames ...

New school. Tick. New town. Tick. New surname. Tick. Social media profiles? Erased. There’s nothing to trace Anna back to her old life. Nothing to link her to the ‘incident’. At least that’s what she thinks … until the whispers start up again. As time begins to run out on her secrets, Anna finds herself irresistibly drawn to the tale of Maggie, a local girl accused of witchcraft centuries earlier. A girl whose story has terrifying parallels to Anna’s own…

Buy it here

Queenie By Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie Jenkins can't cut a break. Well, apart from the one from her long term boyfriend, Tom. That's definitely just a break though. Definitely not a break up. Then there's her boss who doesn't seem to see her and her Caribbean family who don't seem to listen (if it's not Jesus or water rates, they're not interested).

She's trying to fit in two worlds that don't really understand her. It's no wonder she's struggling.

She was named to be queen of everything. So why is she finding it so hard to rule her own life?

A darkly comic and bitingly subversive take on life, love, race and family, QUEENIE will have you nodding in recognition, crying in solidarity, and rooting for this unforgettable character every step of the way. Perfect for fans of Dolly Alderton, Elizabeth Day, Sally Rooney and Diana Evans, and anyone who loved Fleabag.

Buy it here

FOUR FEET UNDER by Tamsen Courtenay

Tamsen Courtenay spent two months speaking to people who live on London’s streets, the homeless and the destitute – people who feel they are invisible. With a camera and a cheap audio recorder, she listened as they chronicled their extraordinary lives, now being lived four feet below most Londoners, and she set about documenting their stories, which are transcribed in this book along with intimate photographic portraits.

A builder, a soldier, a transgender woman, a child and an elderly couple are among those who describe the events that brought them to the lives they lead now. They speak of childhoods, careers and relationships; their strengths and weaknesses, dreams and regrets; all with humour and a startling honesty.

Tamsen’s observations and remarkable experiences are threaded throughout. The astonishing people she met changed her for ever, as they became her heroes, people she grew to respect. You don’t have to go far to find these homegrown exiles: they’re at the bottom of your road. Have you ever wondered how they got there?

Buy it here


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