Interview: Sally Lewis

Sally Lewis is the writer of 'How is Uncle John', which follows the story of a mother's journey to bring her daughter home, after she has been trafficked in to the sex market, and will premiere at The Edinburgh Fringe this summer. Sally spent a lot of time working closely with charities such as Stop the Traffic and Unseen to inform her writing, as well as speaking with women who have experienced sex trafficking. This week Female Arts' Amie Taylor ran a Q and A with Sally to find out more about the creation of this piece.

AT: Hi Sally, thanks for talking to Female Arts today. Firstly, please could you tell us a little about how you came to be a writer?

SL: I’ve been writing stories since I was a child but it wasn’t until I was much older that I came to playwriting, after a successful career writing non fiction books and articles. I had been attending a creative writing group when I realised just how much I liked writing dialogue and playwriting allowed me to talk directly to an audience.

AT: What inspired you to write 'How is Uncle John'?

SL: I’ve always been interested in women’s voices, how we are seen, the role we play in society, the value given to women. Human trafficking is such a heinous crime, robbing people of their lives, trading them for money, sex, control, slave labour. I was compelled to write this play to show how simple it is for anyone to be deceived, how circumstances can have life shattering effects and how a mother’s love can endure beyond comprehension.

AT: A lot of the piece was informed by interviews with women, how did you find the process of that?

SL: It’s difficult to talk to women who have suffered so much without feeling angry, sad and also very lucky. You get a sense of the fear they must face daily when talking to a stranger: what are your real intentions? can they trust you? Yet after all they had been through, their very strength shines through. These women feel their voices are in the main unheard. They feel invisible, surviving trafficking means having the courage to find their way again. Talking to them was harrowing but inspirational. They are so strong. To have endured at the hands of others, to have had their lives destroyed, and yet find the inner strength to survive and learn to value themselves again, takes enormous courage. I admire them, it makes you reassess the values of your own life.

AT: What do you hope people will take away from watching this piece?

SL: Questions, hope and humanity. I’d like them to be a little less judgmental and a lot more compassionate and aware. It is up to us as a society and in our communities to look out and help the more vulnerable, after all, they are all someone’s daughter.

AT: Do you think enough is being done to raise awareness of sex trafficking?

SL: No, not by any means. There is a lot more awareness around younger children and sex trafficking but once you reach the golden age of 18 it’s over, you’re on your own. Most people have a preconceived idea that if you're an adult working in the sex trade you’ve agreed to it. If only they knew!

AT: You've obviously done a lot of research through your process and have worked with numerous charities, what do you perceive to be the most misunderstood elements of sex trafficking or perhaps the least heard about / talked about elements?

SL: The most misunderstood elements are that the victims of sex trafficking are considered adults and therefore have made a personal choice to enter the sex trade. There’s a lot of ‘well she’s that type of girl’ comments because of the way they dress. What people don’t realise is that a lot of these girls are injected with drugs by the traffickers or are told their families will be harmed even killed if they don’t comply. Fitting them out in sexual outfits is only part of the ordeal.

AT: You've also spoken about the invisibility of older woman and their stories in theatre, which we're aware is a problem at Female Arts, do you think it's getting any better / ever will get any better?

SL: The Edinburgh Festival Fringe offers all women the opportunity to be seen and heard on a larger scale than mainstream theatre. Is it getting better? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean we must give in. Instead we must continue to pursue our dreams and hopes and demand more roles for women in theatre, but most of all we must stay hopeful and strong.

Thanks so much Sally. Sally's show is on at The Assembly Hall 4-29th August. Book here: https://www.assemblyfestival.com/event/324/

© Amie Taylor (@AmieAmieTay) 2016

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