Conversations from older women in London

Through a series of online interviews, five older women who work in the arts in London spoke about their lives and careers. They are:

Sophia Blackwell is an author, poet, broadcaster/producer, podcaster, event organiser and blogger in her early forties, queer, cis, femme, married. Her parents come from working-class families, went to university and worked in public sector jobs, and Sophia is Oxbridge educated. Her roots are British/Italian/Celtic and she was raised in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. 

Louise Breckon-Richards was born and brought up in North Wales. She trained at the Guildhall school of Music and Drama and has appeared in numerous theatre, television and film productions. Louise has written five full-length plays and one screenplay.

Emily Drabble is head of children’s books promotion and prizes at the charity BookTrust and is the former editor of the Guardian children’s books website. She grew up in south London, where she still lives now.

Joy Francis is Executive Director of Words of Colour Productions, and co-founder of Synergi Collaborative Centre and Digital Women UK. She is a creative entrepreneur of Jamaican heritage who hails from London.

Sunny Singh is Professor of Creative Writing and Inclusion in the Arts at London Metropolitan University. Born in India, she has lived in many countries all over the world. She is a writer of fiction and non-fiction.

The online interviews had a focus on:

The advantages/disadvantages of being an older woman in the arts

Things they wished they had known when they had started out – and advice for young women just starting out now

The challenges of being an older woman living in 2022 and/or in particular communities

Adapting ways of working as they get older

Untold stories hidden within communities that should be more widely amplified

Older women artists and practitioners whose work should be more widely known

Click on a theme to jump to it, or scroll down to read all.

The advantages/disadvantages of being an older woman in the arts

Sunny Singh

I believe these aren’t so dissimilar from other fields. On hitting menopause, women are desexualised by contemporary cultures. This renders us simultaneously safer and more dangerous; the former because we’re deemed unattractive (shades of the old ideas of the crone here!), which means we’re less plagued by unwanted and unnecessary gendered and sexual attention and treatment, which can be freeing; the latter because we’re rendered invisible in some ways and yet also hyper-visible in others, which can make us targets for other forms of gendered treatment. 

Older women are seen as difficult, perhaps because we have run out of patience with oppressive and exclusionary structures and are less willing to play along. 

We’re more likely to be killjoys, even if not necessarily feminist ones. And that’s both an advantage and disadvantage!

Sophia Blackwell

First, the advantages. It’s true what people say about turning forty – you stop obsessing over the little things. 

I no longer set myself on fire to keep other people warm, absorb other people’s errors or cover for them. 

I’m more assertive. When doing a gig, event or publishing project, I often go above and beyond, but that’s my choice. I try not to let my creative work get in the way of my job, relationships or family. Also, it is quite liberating not being an object of desire anymore (though, like Samad in White Teeth, I’d like to point out that people ‘still look sometimes’).

The disadvantages: sometimes I feel like I’ve gone from being perceived as young and naïve to old and irrelevant. This intersects with being a lesbian, though my sexuality is also not that visible as I present femininely. 

Having a slower metabolism and larger body is difficult to navigate. I once saw an episode of The Weakest Link where the bigger woman got voted off first, for no reason apart from her size. 

With every pound I gain, I can feel a point of my IQ dropping off in how people perceive me. 

But I don’t want to wear constricting clothes or deny myself food to be taken seriously. I feel lucky enough that I don’t have dysphoria, and that my outside matches my insides. Unfortunately, both are female, fluffy, still youngish and queer, so they aren’t seen as high value.

Joy Francis

For me, some of the advantages include owning and knowing that I’m experienced and knowledgeable in my fields.

I feel more confident, with a deepening trust of myself as a black woman who has walked this earth for over half a century. That feels incredibly powerful and grounding.

Being part of creative and entrepreneurial ecosystems and communities of practice that I’ve collaborated with, helped develop or contributed to as a mentor reinforce a strong sense of leaving a positive activist legacy. I’m also accepting that I’m an elder and re-envisioning what that means; I feel my value is being cemented and that I am building on the foundations laid by my predecessors – and ancestors. 

I now know that I can and do create what I feel inspired to and believe in without worrying about what people think. 

There’s this misconception that all women lose their confidence as they get older. I don’t feel that way. I know myself better and feel that my best work is on its way. I enjoy the benefits of being from both an analogue and digital generation while transitioning from one century to another. You can’t put a price on that lived experience.

I’m also becoming more visible as I get older, as all the seeds I’ve planted are taking root, flourishing and are now being recognised, which is unexpected and wonderful. I’m stepping into the limelight more willingly after being selective about doing that in the past as a form of self-preservation. But I now accept that everyone needs to know I exist – especially black women – and not after I’m gone. Role models are essential; I’m surrounded by peers who are doing great things such as Valerie Brandes, Margaret Busby and Bernardine Evaristo.

The disadvantages include being around long enough to know what has and hasn’t ‘really’ changed, particularly in relation to institutional, structural and interpersonal racism, misogyny, sexism and classism.

I hear the same pitiful excuses from publishers, theatres and other cultural institutions around why racial inequalities still exist and about the slow pace of change. If I hear the ‘it takes time’ excuse one more time when they’ve had more than enough…

It’s also hard knowing I won’t be around long enough to make more of a difference for the next generation of colour, to have sustainable careers in the arts because this government and our broken system continue to limit their opportunities, backed by an increasingly unethical press.

Emily Drabble

I think the advantage is that you’re in good company. 

I’ve always been surrounded by women and had great female role models in the media (1993-2016) and also later in publishing/arts charity (2016 to present). Specifically as an older woman I don’t feel invalidated by my age, there’s usually a woman even older than me making waves, being my boss etc. I know in other areas such as performance you can start to lose work, lose backing, lose respect and be invalidated as you get older. I don’t feel that happens in publishing or the media (at least not the Guardian which is my experience). 

Inevitably as you grow even older, it can be hard to stay up there, to stay with 100% energy and inevitably there will be a slowing down, which is scary. Your children grow up, so there’s a sweet spot for working harder/socializing in the arts/publishing from about the age of forty until possible ‘decline’. So as an older person there are real challenges, but as an older woman specifically I don’t feel it’s a problem and there is no disadvantage in a female-dominated world of publishing. 

Of course, as a woman you inevitably have less time than a man of the same family due to looking after everyone and doing everything. I’ve got a whole list of books I want to write, but I definitely prioritise cleaning up and cooking after work, kind of my choice … but still.

Louise Breckon-Richards

I think some of the advantages are that you may have been in the arts longer and therefore have a wider network of contacts you can draw from; people you’ve worked with before who are willing to offer help. You perhaps have experience of both success and disappointment with projects and so have a realistic outlook without the first feelings of failure or wanting to throw in the towel too early. 

You might know that, in most arts careers, success can come and go and it’s most definitely an ever-changing landscape; more of a marathon and feat of endurance than a sprint. 

I also think that when you’re creating work, you have a clearer idea of topics you want to explore, and that your voice in the room, as an artist of experience and a certain age, is one that some people often respect and look up to.

Some of the disadvantages are that, when you get into your forties, you’re no longer considered ‘emerging’, even though you may have taken up acting, writing, painting much later on as family commitments have made it difficult to before. 

There still seem to be fewer opportunities for older artists within the playwriting community, for example. Often opportunities seem to stop at the age of thirty, as if somehow we’re not allowed to re-invent ourselves after that age or we should have already made it in whatever profession we’re in. But older age is often the very time that women have more time freed up or fewer responsibilities and they discover what they want to explore artistically – and they also have the mental space to truly commit to new pursuits. Many people still also seem to presume that at that age you’re financially stable and therefore don’t need free opportunities or support. This is so often not the case, because expensive childcare has made it impossible to earn the money you need to have the freedom to pursue other creative interests in a serious way.

On a creative level, I also think it takes a lot more hammering home to put older women characters and actresses at the centre of stories. Often I get sent scripts where the female older characters are just standing on the periphery of the action. They are the mum waving the younger daughter off on her adventure or the receptionist, the two-line nurse or the caring looking counsellor nodding who hasn’t even been given a name. 

We need to name our female characters, breathe life into them and get them leading the action, not gently helping everyone else be seen. 

I think a lack of visibility becomes acutely apparent, where this age bracket are not served as well as they should be.

Things they wished they had known when they had started out – and advice for young women just starting out now

Sophia Blackwell

I took myself very seriously when I was younger. In some ways, I had to so I could progress. For a while, I was quite on my own – there weren’t many queer femme women or non-binary people on the performance poetry scene (now they all are, which I’m delighted about). It was a lonely life sometimes and there were some gigs that were clearly never going to lead to anything. I wish that I had enjoyed those more for what they were, been more in the moment. I have happy memories of them, though.

I’m also only just starting to develop a healthy approach to competition. 

I’ve discovered that the best thing for me is not to compete with other artists, but with myself, who I was a few days or weeks ago. I might have made more progress if I’d adopted this approach earlier, but I’m glad I’ve learned it at all. It means I can always be improving and not feeling like I am trying to control people or want what they have. 

As a teenager, I came across two Ani DiFranco lyrics which I think about often: ‘I want you to pay me for my beauty, I think it’s only right/ cause I have been paying for it all of my life’ (from ‘Letter to a John’) and ‘Squint your eyes and look closer, I’m not between you and your ambition’ (from ‘32 Flavors’). I’ve had partners and friends who saw me as standing between them and their ambitions, even if they didn’t want the same things as me or weren’t prepared to make the sacrifices. I’m guilty of that too – I wanted other people’s success, even if they were in a completely different field, but I’m coming out of that now. I just want to be the best I can be in my chosen areas of expertise, which are enough to keep me busy.

I also haven’t quite let go of the idea that an arts career should be linear and involve moving from success to success, accumulating prestige and money along the way. Yes, some parts of our creative industries are broken, particularly the financials, but arts careers have always been ‘squiggly,’ and I should have also accepted that when I was younger. 

I would tell younger people to trust your gut feelings. 

To quote Maya Angelou, ‘When people show you who they are, believe them the first time’. You may hope people will change, and sometimes they do, but they’re more likely to double down and become more intractable with age. If someone raises a red flag, sit with the discomfort for a while and decide whether they are worth working with (spoiler: no). 

Remember to have fun. 

Start collaborating early and don’t stop. Relish the connections you make and the journeys and late nights you still have stamina for. When you’re older you may have less energy or want different things from your evenings, but before you get to that point it’s up to you and no one else to differentiate between the specific thrill of an event that goes well but may not lead to anything, and the less instantly rewarding grind of creating something bigger and longer lasting. Enjoy being young. I certainly did!

If someone does something good for you, remember that and try to return the favour when you have more power. 

Joy Francis

It would have been good to know more about the arts and creative industries – publishing, film, academia and entrepreneurship, – that I now work in. 

Such as: how to be a journalist, getting into film or being published, career pathways, knowing how to find a good agent, negotiating contracts, the best courses etc. Also, how to run your own enterprise and be a creative entrepreneur or leader. I figured this all out myself from watching and listening to those ahead of me, by badgering people, asking loads of questions, going to the library to do research on courses and placements and saying yes to things outside of my comfort zone and/or experience and making it work. I’m outgoing in nature and a former practising journalist used to interviewing people, so it worked for me – but not everyone has my temperament and approach, nor should they have to. These knowledge and experiential gaps led me to do what I’m doing now – creating alternative opportunities and building a digital archive to make it easier for artists and creatives of colour to excel at all ages and stages of life and to make an informed choice. 

My advice to young women starting out is take time to know who you are – and be very careful not to burn yourselves out. 

Discover what makes you thrive and what makes you shrink – and why. Enter your career with some clear intentions and know what your non-negotiables are, including how you wish to be treated. It isn’t just about you being grateful to get that step up on the career ladder, make sure it’s a ladder you want to climb. 

Know that you need to establish if the role/company/institution is right for you as well. Be clear about what you want to learn and know when you’ve outstayed your welcome or outgrown the role. Don’t let anyone define you or position you by having a clear sense of yourself – warts and all. Don’t fall into the strong (black) woman trope. Find your centre and trust it. Being vulnerable isn’t a problem. Being around people who lack compassion is, so don’t put up with toxic behaviour to get on. Make sure you build up your knowledge base and relationships with like-minded souls who have skills you can learn from, so that if you choose to establish your own enterprise or project, you know what you’re doing.

Emily Drabble

I think I would tell young women to have more confidence in yourself and your abilities. 

Don’t presume everyone is cleverer than you and be over-awed, don’t take shit from blokes who are being sexist or worse (complain, make a fuss, take it higher) take opportunities – you can do this! Other people may be more knowledgeable, due to being older and having more experience, so respect that, but also know you have a right to be there with your voice too. It’s okay to have gone to state school, in fact it means you’re actually even cleverer to have done so well to get here, so respect yourself. 

Nobody said anything like that to me, it was more ‘know your place’. But it’s a different world now. For me, being a bit out of my social comfort zone when I started work in the early 1990s, I presumed everyone else was a genius and I was a vagrant commoner who had somehow winged it. I changed my accent, because I was surrounded by an Oxbridge-educated elite – seriously clever people, real experts. I guess people may still feel the same – I still hear people talking about imposter syndrome. It feels like there has been a cultural shift lately re sexism and racism, but not so much classism (and all the intersections).

Louise Breckon-Richards

Not everyone’s opinions are right. They are allowed opinions, but they shouldn’t rule as manifestos for how you view yourself as an artist

I once got told a very critical comment about my acting in a workshop many years ago, just at a time when actually I’d been very successful, and that haunted me for a long time. Shortly after, I got stage-fright for the first time because of this comment and I’ve never forgotten how it lowered my confidence. I’m sure they never meant to hurt me personally, but they should have thought about the impact this would have of me.

Don’t compare yourself to others. 

Whatever’s happening to you right now as an artist, just know that in another twenty or thirty years things may look very different. The people you wish you could be like, the careers you want, all that will change. 

Don’t put yourself in one category. 

It’s much easier now to be recognised for diversifying your artistic talents, but when I was younger, it felt like you had to be just one thing: writer or actor or director or producer. Know that as you create work, you might see yourself taking on lots of different roles and stay open to that, as they all feed each other. I sometimes think my playwriting has made me a better actor, and having to be a producer/runner on my own film has given me more understanding of everyone behind the camera. My art feeds my writing and my writing feeds my art. No experience is a waste of time. Try to find peace in what you are doing, even when you can’t be an artist and financial needs don’t allow it. Know that the time will come again when you can pursue it.

Sunny Singh

Again, not specific to my industry, but the first thing I tell young people: we do not live in a meritocracy so please stop believing that working harder or longer or better is all that’s needed. 

I tell them that the greater number of intersections of identity that place you outside the power structures, the better you have to be. This means working smarter: the structure is intended to isolate us, to ensure we have no support networks. I would say, build your own, now just in your workplace (which may well be hostile) but across your life. And do not disregard what older women – especially of colour – tell you.

Are there challenges being an older woman living in 2022
and/or in particular communities?

Joy Francis

For me personally, no, as I run my own company so the risks I’m taking are mine, and my team are people who I want to work with and who want to work with me. Having that choice and following your own rules while still being accountable is both daunting and empowering. 

I’m actually embracing getting older despite its challenges, such as menopause and getting less sleep as a result. I’m looking after myself better – from fitness and diet to my mental and spiritual wellbeing. One thing about living in London is that the noise pollution, aggressive energy, relentless pace, all fuelled by a focus on ‘work, work, work’ doesn’t appeal as I get older. 

I want more space to think and respect my personal energy. 

The over-priced and over-crowded trains, people physically attached to their mobiles and living a bystander lifestyle doesn’t sit well with me, because I come from a time that was more present and personal in how we engaged with each other. I grew up knowing people on my north London street in the 1970s and that mindset is still with me. I know my neighbours; we look out for each other. 

You get out what you put in. I invest in people personally and professionally and, as I get older, I’m investing in myself more and putting myself first more as well, which will benefit everyone. I’m also having more fun and enjoying people from a place of appreciating how blessed I am.

Emily Drabble

I like the anonymity of age and not being chatted up in the street, cat-called etc. It was awful, bloody awful. 

I would have thought with the Me Too Movement that this was better now, and in the safe world of liberal industries – media/arts/publishing – I can’t imagine many men getting away with this crap. But on the streets of Peckham this behaviour is still the norm, with men harassing really young girls. It drives me mad, it’s terrifying and so wrong. I’m literally furious that my seventeen-year-old daughter can’t walk around on her own at 9pm. But me, I can wander about where I please and do what the hell I like. So I think the challenge is being a younger woman. You have everything to deal with and you can’t afford your rent or to buy a house. You’ll have to put off having kids or maybe not have them at all because of the cost. That’s not right. My mortgage is almost paid off. So I don’t find any problems specifically in being an older woman. Of course, there’s always the personal challenge of time-consuming health problems and the problem of women doing ‘everything’ (and I think lockdown has heightened that).

Louise Breckon-Richards

My main challenge of being an older woman living in 2022 is that, as an artist and being self-employed, my career path and trajectory has not necessarily followed a straight line or progression as some of my peers in different industries have. 

There were never any distinct promotions, raising of salaries or ways in which you’ve ‘arrived’. It feels more like a life-long commitment to a way of life where there will almost definitely be hardship, but also great rewards along the way. There will no cut-off date or age, however, where you can feel like you’ve got to any sort of destination.

My journey has been one of highs and lows. Materially, because I’ve still had to care for my children I wasn’t always able to fully lean into my artistic life, though I’ve certainly maintained it. I think women of my generation, born in the late 1960s or early 70s, were encouraged to think that the world was their oyster. That’s fine if you’re in a career that eventually gives you a stable financial position, buys you a home, offers secure childcare and keeps you in one place. But being an artist, my work might take me anywhere and every week looks different, so I can’t create a routine which has consistency and security. Also, now that my children are older I can to do longer hours in my creative work, whilst some friends are winding down their working life. 

My challenge is that, since the arrival of the menopause, my energy, focus and attack is not as powered up. Physically, I can be strong and exercise, but something hormonally and emotionally needs to move forward before I can begin again. I need time to process my eldest leaving home and, of course, as I’ve aged so have elderly relatives. There are more losses to contend with and the pause in momentum that the pandemic brought. So, my biggest challenge at the moment is not that I can’t write or run or act, but that my mindset needs to change and confidence needs to be built again. 

I need to re-identify who I am as a woman over fifty making myself visible again. 

I never went away as an actor writer or artist, but many of the women I speak to say they just need to know that people still want to hear us and our stories.

Sunny Singh

The challenges I face are the same: will I end my life in penury given the precarious state of our pensions? How will I afford healthcare once the NHS is fully gutted? Will I have a home to live in after I retire given that our politico-economic conditions are rendering the idea of home ownership an ever-receding goal. I think it’s important to note that all of these are feminist issues. All of these are also issues facing older women. And yet I fear we aren’t really talking about them enough in public.

Sophia Blackwell

One thing about my age, sexuality and gender is that sometimes promoters assume my politics are trans-exclusive.

They aren’t. I don’t want to be ‘protected’ or told I can’t use certain words like ‘queer’ (I understand if some people don’t like it, and why, but I do) or to be put on panels debating with trans people about their right to exist. The people who try to book me for these events have no regard for my career or reputation and insist I perform my own struggles. No one seems interested in our joy. Well, I am – I’m very interested in it.

How have you adapted your ways of working as you’ve got older?

Emily Drabble

I worked fulltime until I had kids. Then I worked three days a week until 2016 when my daughter was ten. Then went fulltime for bit but couldn’t quite handle it and changed to 4.5 days, to give me half a day for chores so I could enjoy the weekend. My husband would NEVER take half day off work for chores so I think that has to be a major difference. Now I work four days a week to give me a bit more time to focus on my health.

When I was young I used to go out to work and play every single night. Now I have to limit myself to one or at the most two things a week, mainly book launches. 

I want to be as involved but fatigue sets in, so it’s hard to be quite so buzzy! However I do a lot of reading instead.

Louise Breckon-Richards

I don’t have an office or any special work space at home.

But I’ve come to accept that I have to do my writing in different places most of the time. As lots of my work is generated from my home space, mainly my painting and writing, I make everything portable so that it can be put away at the end of the day as space is limited. I chose not to go on tour as an actor with two children, but have recently opened myself up to those possibilities again. Over the years I often would seek out local part-time work, but again, now I am agreeing to more travel and day jobs further afield.

Sunny Singh

The biggest change has been my focus on health.

I am no longer willing – and yes for the moment, I have the privilege – to take on every task. My ability to work smarter rather than harder or longer has grown. I can prioritise what I need to do but I also recognise when I am being asked to spend enormous time and energy on what is essentially irrelevant eyewash. I no longer have patience for those. I am also learning to not only recognise but care for the damage that living as a multiply migrant woman of colour has inflicted and continues to inflict on me. The body keeps score and, as I age, the scorekeeping is getting louder. Focussing on protecting and healing myself has taken much greater priority.

Sophia Blackwell

Though the pandemic has robbed us of so much in terms of community, venues, respect, coherence and money, it has given me some flexibility I previously lacked. 

This is well timed for me entering my forties, as I have less truck with meetings that should be emails, performative work and complaining about work. I am quite literal, and that can be difficult in a workplace when you just want a straight answer to something or to be left alone to perform tasks. I love knowledge transfer and event facilitation, so I am moving more into those domains with in-person and online workshops and chairing employee networks.

I used to jump around from one task to another quickly, thinking it kept me engaged. Then I realised I was burning up energy moving from task to task, particularly because of the way my mind works. I now work in ninety-minute bursts which means that cumulatively I get more done. I can do minor tasks like writing newsletters or data entry while watching TV, but prefer not to, though I do flit between my two mind tracks when working with audio, as the format literally allows you do that, and when I’m immersed in an audio project I can literally be in two places at once, which is a bit weird.

Joy Francis

I’ve always been tech-minded and that has been a strong feature in my organisation and how we work, so being adaptable and digitally confident has been an asset. The pandemic confirmed that I can work from anywhere in the world. Using digital platforms and communicating virtually for two and a half years has transformed me. I will not travel across London or the country to take face-to-face meetings for anything speculative or that could be discussed via Zoom, Teams or over the phone. 

I value my personal and professional time more and that of others – and I am more discerning. 

I’m using WhatsApp more for work and connecting with people in a more immediate way; leaving voice notes feels more personal than an email. I’m building new contacts through social media platforms such as Instagram and LinkedIn, which I had no prior interest in. After being very selective, I’m now on more platforms yet spending less time online. I’m much more focused and intentional. I’m also more considered about my availability and with whom I work and I work hard to keep space free in my diary for the unexpected – or for rest and spontaneity. I’m working hard at not working late. I’d rather go to bed and start afresh in the morning. In short, I’m working smarter.

Untold stories hidden within communities that should be more widely amplified

Louise Breckon-Richards

In some of my writing I’ve already explored and amplified certain community issues, such as about age and invisibility. 

Sunny Singh

Aren’t there in every community? 

More seriously, as a woman of colour with a professorial chair, I am literally part of the one per cent (actually less than) in UK higher education. My professorial title has never existed before. Why? Because we’re making paths in an industry that has historically not even been able to imagine us as equal or fully human. This means every single one of my colleagues who is a woman of colour or queer, migrant or on various/any intersections of identity that have been historically excluded has stories. And none of those stories have ever really been told in any degree of detail.

Sophia Blackwell

People don’t talk enough about domestic violence, emotional abuse or coercive control in the LGBTQ+ community. 

I’m grateful to see books like In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. As queer people we are often made to cheerlead and to say everything is OK when it’s not – homophobic violence is on the rise, our venues are closing, our online spaces have become toxic. I’m grateful for writers like Paul Burston who have always been ready to celebrate LGBTQ+ people (including older women, again – cheers Paul)! but have never pretended that everything in our community is fine, even when under pressure to do so from the media. Being queer doesn’t make us saints. We have our own internalised homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and racism to deal with.

My second untold story is that I can’t find a decent book about being child-free by a mix of circumstance and choice. 

I’m delighted that my friends have families, but it’s not for me and my wife. Why is it so hard to see us reflected in society or literature or to have a resource pointing out how positive our lives can be and what kind of impact we can have when not looking after a small person or two? All I see are stories about how awful children are and stories about IVF, pregnancy or baby loss and adoption which are very important, but not my journey. I want someone to acknowledge that there is grief as well as happiness in my choice to be child-free and that the situation is nuanced and complicated, but I don’t see that anywhere.

I worry about the impact of capitalism on the queer community. 

Some of us have become distracted by corporate shiny things and living what my wife calls the ‘white picket fence’ life. (My wife loves this sort of life and is very traditional, so it takes all sorts). I worry about ‘no kink at Pride’ movements and crackdowns on protest. Gay people aren’t just like straight ones, not as far as I’m concerned.

Joy Francis

I’m a black woman, born to an immigrant mother whose grandmother was enslaved. 

There are so many stories yet to be told because black people and people of colour, especially my parents’ generation, still don’t feel safe or confident enough to share their stories and/or are living with shame and trauma. 

So new stories and lived experiences are quietly piling up on top of the untold ones.

We need more diverse platforms and different and innovative ways of collecting the information and sharing them with the world. There are so many women of colour who have achieved great things for us and our society that have gone unrecognised and/or were stolen or plagiarised. For example, my mum was a shop steward and union rep for workers’ rights at her factory; she was the first black area manager for Avon Cosmetics UK, she is a survivor. She was an amazing cook, kept a garden allotment (and still does) and has won or been runner up for Enfield in Bloom, with my stepfather, for years. 

How we love, grieve, communicate and are intersectional isn’t visible in the arts enough. 

Take the Black British trans experience. Who is profiling that? If we do see anything – from the stage to the screen, it’s American. That’s a huge issue for me. The conflation of our experience with the African American experience is a problem.

Watching The Woman King with Viola Davis, loosely based on history, is still a rarity on the big screen. How often do we see that many black women on the big screen, being directed by a black woman? The fact that it took seven years to make with Viola’s clout, speaks volumes. When will that happen here?

Emily Drabble

I think the stories of working-class life have in general been rather hidden. 

I never saw myself in a book, which is probably why I changed myself and ‘poshed’ up. I dropped my south London accent, subconsciously rather than consciously really, because no one sounded like me and I wanted to do interesting things with interesting people and thought they’d think I was thick if I spoke like that. I really admire Janet Street Porter for saying to hell with it. 

Also obviously stories of people of colour and I’m so proud to be part of the movement and activity to right this wrong. It’s been shockingly white and that must end and diversity must NOT be a trend! I’m worried about social mobility being on the downlow. It’s harder now to class hop, very possible in the 1980s and 90s, I know loads of class-hoppers my age.

Older women artists and practitioners whose work should be more widely known

Sunny Singh

Suniti Namjoshi, the poet. 

Heidi Mirza, the scholar. 

Verna Wilkins, publisher and children’s author.

Sophia Blackwell

Salena Godden and Joelle Taylor are finally getting the recognition they deserve, so for people queer and around my age, I’d vote for the poet Dr Fran Lock, the singer MIRI and the author Kirsty Logan – these are queer voices I always love to hear and profile, but they are a bit younger, late thirties to early forties. 

For women in their fifties and sixties, I’d like to see more attention go to Joolz Denby (performance poet and crime writer) and Pippa Little (poet) – these aren’t queer voices, but they are out of the ordinary. And while they are by no means ignored and have mainstream publishers, won prizes etc. honourable mention to Rosie Garland, Charlotte Mendelson and Amy Bloom, who are queer and have been in the writing trenches for decades with less recognition than their male counterparts, I would say.

Joy Francis

Patsy Isles, who worked at HarperCollins and Random House as an editor and commissioning editor when she took over Verna Wilkins’ acclaimed Tamarind Books and established some of the still-present writer development programmes at Spread the Word and is now one of the few black women yogis who is a creative well-being practitioner who develops writers and creatives holistically and is writing her novel after decades of developing others. A common theme among black women in the arts.

Desrie Thompson-George is a Guyana born UK based sculptor with a background in publishing. She co-founded the seminal publishing house Black Ink. In 1999 she was the recipient of the Candace Magazine International Black Woman Achievement Award for Race Relations and runner up for the Surrey Society Sculpture Prize in 2017.

Philomena Francis is an artist, art psychotherapist and psychoanalyst. Passionate about art and working with people, she came to art late after an initial career in social work. She secured a first-class degree in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art and Design and was snapped up to be in the inaugural artist for the new Iniva building’s window project (2007) and was the only British artist commissioned to showcase her work in Lisbon by the Gulbenkian Foundation (2008). Her work explores the fluidity of identity and the complexity of the inner experience with a particular focus on black women. 

Emily Drabble

Angeline Morrison, a folk singer of colour who has been working tirelessly on re storifying the folk pantheon with amazing folk songs about British people of colour through the ages that were never written at the time. This work is just stunning and only NOW getting attention. Angeline is based in Cornwall. See

Catherine Johnson – author of colour. We know her in the literature bubble but outside I don’t think she is well known enough- and she is a brilliant writer, especially her historical fiction. I would love her to be a household name, she should be. 

Natasha Carthew is a brilliant working-class writer and poet from rural Cornwall who is a passionate advocate for working-class representation – and she set up the Working Class Writers Festival . I’m really looking forward to reading her memoir Under Current which is published in April 2023.

Louise Breckon-Richards

Sally Vanderpump, who is an actor and podcaster of Creative twist’.

Liz Farahadi – actor, producer, founder of Soho film festival.

Lucy Whitehead creates community projects, markets, art sales, runs animation groups for kids locally.