Don’t Hold My Head Down: Interview with Lucy-Anne Holmes

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Lucy-Anne Holmes is a writer and campaigner. Her last novel Just a Girl Standing In Front of a Boy won the Romantic Novelists Association ‘Rom Com of the Year 2015’ and she founded the successful No More Page 3 campaign. She is currently raising funds for her book Don’t Hold My Head Down with Unbound here.

Lucy previously published traditionally. Here, Norah interviews Lucy about why she decided to publish her book with Unbound. 

1) What appealed to you the most about working with Unbound?

Ooo where to start?… Well, this book is quite particular and I knew fairly early on that it wasn’t going to handily fit into a traditional publishing genre, unless ‘explicit comedy memoir with a bit of how to and self help and feminist natter thrown in’ became a genre.

I had a moment early on when I met with an editor to discuss it and she looked at me baffled and said ‘why would you want to write about this?’ as though I was mad to want to share all this stuff about sex. And another editor who I felt was trying to steer the thrust of the book away from what I had in mind. But, I had been campaigning for two and a half years at the time, going around the country talking about porn, sex, body image and some of my own experiences that are in the book, and the response was generally a group of people afterwards wanting to talk about it more, or saying how inspiring it was to hear someone talk so frankly about sex and porn.

I remember saying ‘if I find a publisher who gets it’ then I will go with them. And Unbound just totally got it. I met John Mithcinson and had a really long chat and he seemed to think it was a funny, exciting and necessary book, as did I. I definitely feel I am in the right place. When I told my agent, Rowan Lawton, that I was going with Unbound, she said she was pleased, as she feared that going the traditional route would have meant me having to make compromises I didn’t want to make over the content, title and cover.

2) How has the experience compared to publishing traditionally?

Ha! Well, so far, it is totally different. But I am still at the crowd funding stage, I think that when I get to 100% I will get an editor (whoop) and a deadline (gah!!) and the experience from then on won’t be so different. With a traditional publisher at this point I would be writing away finishing the manuscript, with a nice little advance in the bank, knowing that someone had deemed the book potentially brilliant enough to publish. At the moment, my experience with Unbound is the complete opposite! There is no money, I am not writing but crowdfunding and I am the one who really has to give myself the belief in the project.

Now, I may be making potential Unbounders run a mile here but actually, I think the experience this is giving me is absolutely brilliant. I remember after my fourth novel I felt I couldn’t write another straight away, I wanted to be ‘in the world’ again. Writing is a solitary pursuit and you can just get lost in your own head and the screen. This crowd funding model of publishing forces you to be out there talking about your book, and I’m enjoying the connections I’m making and gaining confidence from doing this.

Nearly 400 people have already preordered a copy of Don’t Hold My head Down and that is pretty darn awesome, people are busy and very often don’t have much available cash, so the fact that they have taken time out to support my project, well, I’m just really grateful to them. I’ve started to feel that there is this gang with me who believe in the book and are rooting for it and me. I can do things like share this interview with them and say ‘Look! Someone interviewed me! The project is spreading! Whoop!’ There’s a sense of doing it together which I’ve not felt this much before. I really want to make this book as good as possible and not let them down.

3) What advice would you give authors who have published traditionally and would like to switch to publishers like Unbound?

Listen to your instincts. If you are pulled away from a traditional publishing route to the crowd funding model for a book (or two or three) then do it. I would definitely recommend Unbound.

4) Your book is very personal and will spark much-needed conversation. Do you think other writers should take more risks with topics we all think about but are hesitant to discuss?

Oo interesting question! I actually wonder whether it’s the publishers who aren’t taking the risks rather than the writers. I think we write about the conversations we are pulled to and for me that seems to be sex and relationships. But yes, I would love for there to be more honest conversations about sex, I do think there is a need for them. I actually feel really privileged that because I am writing and talking about sexuality people will often open up to me about their experiences, it seems to me that people want to talk/think/engage about this issue but often don’t see how or where they can do this.

5) What have you learned about yourself in writing your new book?

Well, when it comes to the actual writing I think/hope I’ve now got my head around writing non fiction, it took me a while to work out how to tell the story, and I am still having ‘penny drops’ about how to do this effectively. It’s reminded me that I work best when I ask for help, so some people have already read a large part of the manuscript and given feedback, and I hope to enlist a fairly large gaggle of readers for the first draft when it’s done.

But in terms of actually going on the sex adventure I learnt so much about myself that it’s hard to know where to start. The main thing I suppose and the thing I guess on which everything else hangs is that I learnt to love myself; to get on with me, to get to know me, and get to quite like me. It was funny, I set off on my mission looking for some great sex, and I got that, I did the things on my list, I explored and unearthed all this pleasure I was capable of. But on the journey I learnt bloomin loads about myself.

I remember before I started the campaign against Page 3, some people close to me said ‘don’t do it, The Sun will destroy you’. The Sun had a reputation for pulling people apart. Clare Short had stood up in the 80s and The Sun’s response was pretty gobsmacking, they said she looked like the back end of a bus, was jealous, fat etc. But this whole sex journey had taught me so much that actually I realised I had felt a bit destroyed as a woman beforehand. I had called myself ugly thousands of times, I had cried over how looked, I had held myself back because I didn’t think I was attractive enough. I had been desperately passive. I had believed that being desired was more important than what I desired. I had hated my body. I couldn’t really say no or ask for what I wanted. So I suppose you could say that going on a sex adventure led me to find my own power. Pretty cool, eh. I definitely feel braver and happier since.

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