Interview by Lara Lillibridge
Lotte Latham is a smart, charming writer located in the United Kingdom, and I could have spoken with her all afternoon. Our conversation meandered down many paths, so it is condensed here for both length and clarity.
Her book, Dear Mr. Andrews, is a memoir about sugar dating and sex work, just out with Guts Publishing, a feisty independent publisher in London, England, quickly gaining a reputation for bold, edgy books. The back cover reads:
A millennial’s journey through the precarious landscape of sugar dating in the 21st century. Latham embodies the modern-day hedonist, a frank and daring narrator guiding us through sugar dates, from kinky dinners to hotel rooms, while embarking on her personal journey of self-discovery and the unwavering realisation of “how much loneliness is in the world”.
The book has no headshot, so I shall use art from her book instead of photos. For those who need a visual, suffice it to say she looks like a fresh-faced unmade up Marilyn Monroe.
Lara Lillibridge: So first of all, I loved your book.
Lotte Latham: Really?
Lara: Yes, absolutely.
Lotte: Thank you.
Lara: I read it in two days—I couldn’t put it down. I am writing about sexuality myself, and trying to find courage to publish. So when I saw when Guts publishing sent me the pitch, I thought this is exactly what I want to read right now.
Lotte: I know that this interview isn’t meant to go this way, but how do you write about sexuality? Is it fiction or fact?
Lara: Memoir, essays and nonfiction, which is terrifying, right?
Lara: Hippocampus Magazine is a literary magazine, and it’s read by a lot of writers. So a lot of my questions are going to be more on your process and your decisions and writing than your life decisions, because your life is your business.
Lotte: It’s refreshing to hear you say that, because most of the interviews I’ve done so far have been on the subject matter, or the politics behind sex work. And when I see the interview going in that direction, I kind of want to be like, no, no, no, I’m not your spokesperson for sex workers. So this is great.
Lara: I want to start with that idea of selection, what we reveal and what we choose to keep in the shadows. So the book is called Dear Mr. Andrews, and yet Mr. Andrews is more in the shadows than a lot of other characters.
And it starts sort of at a particular moment in the not too distant past, because the pandemics in there, but it you don’t go into your childhood, you don’t go into like how you wound up here.
So I was just curious, how you came upon this particular focus?
Lotte: It was a situation of catharsis for me. I was journaling, but for me free journaling doesn’t work, I have to keep on editing it because that is how I get to the bottom of my thoughts. I was writing during a time that I felt a bit estranged or slightly detached and kind of stressed out with various situations. So I guess, at those points, I wasn’t delving back into my childhood, as it were. They were just things coming out in the moment.
And although Mr. Andrews is in the shadows, I’ve wrote to him every day for like, four or five years. Sometimes really structured essays, and sometimes it’d be a poem, or a haiku. Sometimes it would be like, just like, I want to fuck, you know, whatever.
I export it every now and then and read through the chats, and there’s like, 500 pages of just us talking, well, me talking like a soliloquy. But it was a reference point when I was trying to formulate things and condense them together, I could go back and use it like a journal. And so I didn’t ever try and really explain my childhood to him. So it’s not in the book.
Lara: That makes sense. I know, with my partner, when I go back to our early dating, we have like 1,000s of pages of text messages and instant messages—it’s more real-time reactions than anything I would write in a journal, you know?
Lotte: Yeah, and maybe subconsciously, or not subconsciously, maybe there was an element of self-protection. I find, personally, that people like to tell me that I’m damaged or that I am acting out, or that that my behavior is a symptom of some kind of childhood abuse or something.
And I don’t want to say anything that would then confirm some kind of theory that people already have. I delve into family stuff a bit, but it was more circumstantial.
Lara: I am bisexual, and my mom is a lesbian, and I work with a lot of queer writers. And that’s a conversation that we often have—if you talk about this thing in your past, people are going say, that’s why you’re lesbian, and then you don’t want to feed into people’s stereotypes.
Lotte: There’s a podcast I really love called Drunk Church. They explore amazing queer BDSM topics–all that kind of stuff. And they go really in-depth, but they last episode, they’re talking about memoir being really problematic for any marginalized community in some ways, because you ended up just being labeled—you will only ever be a trans writer, or a survivor, and you lose and any identity of being something creative outside that –you are never just a writer.
Maybe it’s old fashioned, but I still feel like women have this otherness. You’re not just an artist you’re a female artist.
Lara: Yeah. Do you know Jon Ronson?
Lara: He wrote a book called, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. And he talks about the best way to overcome a sex scandal is to be male.
I highlighted a quote from your book that goes along with that:
“Whore is one of those terms that once used is irreversible. Murderer being another. They are state changing labels. If you’ve done it once, that’s what you are forever, by Daily Mail logic at least.”
And I think that with women, it’s much harder than for men—you are labeled like, this is who you are. This is your entire being. Whereas a man I feel like it’s more accepted that oh, this is his behavior, not his person.
Lotte: Yeah, yeah. That’s another motive for me wanting to publish. There’s a chapter towards the end where I go on a date with a writer. And this was a guy with a massive platform, who had ostensibly one of the best jobs in the world, and he’d written this dating memoir, and I was just like, you’re a piece of shit, and how is your opinion getting projected? The things you’re saying are heinous, like, but it somehow falls on deaf ears because you’re funny.
Lara: You know, I said, we’re not going to talk about the political aspect, but someone said “all writing is political.” But I always thought you know, if women could separate sex from emotion, they could rule the world.
Lotte: One thing I hate about female sexuality the most is that people tell women that their sexual power is in what they don’t concede, and in playing hard to get. In that same logic, how can you expect a woman to go into a board room and ask for a job when you’re telling her that her greatest power is in not doing? It’s just to me, it’s bullshit.
Lara: Absolutely. Another thing that I had wanted to talk to you about—you wrote about the “whorearchy” and this realization that your accent, the fact that you’re white, means you are in a different position than other people, and that it’s not the same for everyone.
Lotte: Yeah, I think it’s a really uncomfortable area, and an area that I’m most concerned about being touched upon when I talk to the press, because that’s why I don’t want to be a spokesperson per se, because it tends to be the when you look at like writers, they are all white, fairly affluent, very educated at the postgrad level.
I think that the people that have a very different story probably don’t have the time of day to be able to sit down and write and publish, because they’re too busy working, working, working, and then doing all the emotional labor that comes with it.
And I mean the emotional labor I get from doing it three days a week, like sometimes when I’ve had a bad date I just come home and stare at the ceiling. So I don’t really know what it’s like, if you’re getting, you know, 50 quid for a blow job. The problem with the term sex work and sex worker is that they’re all put into the same category. I guess there’s some solidarity to keep everyone together, but it’s not the same experience and that term over arches people making like millions of pounds to people who are working in really unsafe situations.
I was on a writing residency in 2019, which is a lovely thing to get awarded. And I got to go to this beautiful place—it was a farmhouse at the bottom of a mountain in Catalonia. But I was there under the pretense that I was doing research. Catalonia is considered the brothel of Europe, and it has these macro brothels on the border. So I was going to different brothels. But they wouldn’t let me in anywhere but the VIP area. So what I saw was just this like, kind of tiny, thin end of the wedge. Also like am I a sex tourist? What’s that? I guess I’m saying, ‘Oh, it’s okay. Because I do it too.’ But my experience is not working in a mega brothel at a truck stop.
That place was scary to be at night. And then there were people working outside the mega brothels that weren’t even working in the brothels. And it’s reported that they are victims of sex trafficking, and I’m sure that that is correct. I haven’t answered your question at all.
Lara: But it’s all sort of the same thing about being a poster child for a movement and recognizing privilege and, you know, just recognizing that it’s a very different experience, just like with any marginalized or underrepresented group—people tend to see one person as a representation for everyone, when every experience is different, and multifaceted.
Lotte: This year I started to work with an activist group called Hookers against Hardship, who actually have a meeting today, which is exciting. Part of that was so that I could kind of get a litmus test for what the party line is, or what are we saying right now? Because it feels like you’re in a bubble, and the work is very isolating.
And so by getting involved with a bit of activism around sex work, I’ve met other sex workers and been put in my place a few times about what is not okay to say, and that, to me has been really educational. It’s a community that, although I’m part of, I’m particularly conscious of not representing in a light they don’t want.
I spoke to the BBC earlier in the week. And I asked them if they wanted me to shout out a campaign we were doing? And they gave me a line to say, and I just kept on fluffing it up.
I just feel this responsibility—I don’t want to misrepresent something. I guess the only thing I can talk about with any sort of certainty is my own experience. And yeah, I think that kind of self-effacement—not that I’m going to say that I’m so very self-effacing—but that is exactly what’s missing when you read a dating memoir like that twat I went on a date with who was a writer. That is the kind of thing that makes his opinion available at you every book shop, and yet would stop me from publishing. Because I’d be like, Oh, who wants to hear about another white girl?
Lara: Yeah, yeah. You know, when you talk about publishing, you wrote,
I wasn’t planning to publish this book. I was going to let it sit in a box forever. But I happened upon Guts Publishing and I felt aligned with their books. They make space for conflicted topics like sex and bodies in a way I saw as refreshingly honest.
That for me as an interviewer and a reader, is why I go to Guts to find books, because, I think they are sledgehammering a way into the conversation, and opening it up for more complicated, more nuanced stories.
Lotte: Yeah, definitely. I found them from their anthologies. Just a few of the stories that were in Sending Nudes were by very vulnerable women. But sometimes, I find female writing that solely writes from a victim perspective and doesn’t mix in nasty feelings, uncomfortable feelings, has a moral agenda in there somewhere.
And there were several stories like the one that was mentioned at the beginning of the anthology as the reason that Julianne put the anthology together—was by this girl called Ellie Nova. And she has her units of alcohol that she’s drinking at the bottom of the page on each story, and she does some bad shit as well as some good shit. And she doesn’t leave the situation scot-free. She’s hurting but she’s also hurting other people. And I find that relatable because conflicting narratives feel much more human to me.
Lara: I love that. It’s really easy to make everyone either good or evil and to always be the hero of your story, but it’s not honest. And it’s too simple.
Lotte: Yeah, and also taking agency of your actions is kind of freeing in some way. And I am very conscious of it now with the press—my book is not a sob story. And it’s not like I’ve exited sex work because it still allows me more creative room to flourish within the world that we live in, that is still deeply oppressive and capitalist.
Because I haven’t exited the industry I can’t wrap the book up in any way that’s tidy. Like, I have stopped sugar babying. And originally we were going to stop the book there, but I was like, “there’s something else to say here.” I find that the more things I find uncomfortable, the more of a pervert I get. And I wanted to say that I wanted these things, and enjoyed them.
You know it’s not just the individuals that do these things. It’s the systems that we live under that make it seem okay. And like, there’s so many nuanced feelings that to me always turn into some kind of perverse masochism, that that drive in me is super strong.
Lara: You have a line that I highlighted, it says “Maybe to take pleasure in corruption is a human instinct.” I feel like that fits in with what you’re saying—subversion is rebellion, right?
Lotte: Yeah. And I think the appetite for ruination is kind of quite self-reflexive, but it’s the same kind of consumption, it’s just done to yourself. And within the world of BDSM dynamics, I think it’s unfair, if you’re a masochist, or submissive to be like, ‘Oh, they did a bad thing to me,’ when you spend the whole time fantasizing about people that can responsibly do ostensibly bad things to you. And there needs to be a conversation where both sides of the coin get acknowledged.
Lara: Yeah, that actually makes a lot of sense to me personally. I feel like the things that I’ve done, where I felt the most liberated are often the things that I feel most ashamed of later, because of how other people would view them, not how I personally view them.
I think you have something in there about agency, like when you are truest to yourself, when you are in your power, when you are saying, This is my desire and I’m going to follow it. That’s the thing that to me later, I’m like, oh, my God, what have I done.
Lotte: Yeah, that’s where I’m oscillating with the book being out in the world—between being like, fuck you, this is how I am and then also being like, oh, my God, what is everyone going to think? It’s so deeply ingrained, isn’t it?
Lara: Yeah. And this is another quote, you wrote,
“I still worry it’s going to ruin my life if everyone finds out but I’m glad to be part of opening up this discussion.”
And that, to me is like so powerful—that’s what sharing our stories does, right? Like your writing gives someone—someone you don’t know, maybe across the ocean—permission to write their story.
Lotte: I also think that about sex work—hopefully there’s going to be more stories. And the fact that the press are now much more comfortable talking about sex work than they used to be—it’s having a bit of a moment, at least here in the UK. Times are changing, and hopefully there’s going to be more stories circulating, maybe there’ll be more honest portrayals of different structures of work.
Lara: Yes, exactly. The way to not be seen as representative of a whole group is if there’s more stories out there—the only way that you can really be seen as an individual is if you’re not the only voice.
Lotte: Yeah. And it’s actually weird if other journalists have written about the political subject of what I’ve written, because there’s been a couple of articles to hear their interpretation of it, because in some ways, the book is summarizing what my voice is on this particular thing. And I’m like, ‘no, no, no, no, not like that.’ But then it’s in the world to be interpreted whatever the way they want. I guess that’s part of letting go, isn’t it?
Lara: Once you let it out into the world, people will see what they want to in it. And there’s nothing you can do. I don’t believe in arguing on the internet about something I’ve written. Because if they didn’t understand it the first time, there’s nothing I can say that’s going to change their mind.
Lotte: And it is super subjective. It’s a good but I guess things are a bit muddled right now, because the book went through so many iterations, the writing itself. At some point, I did think that I kind of wanted to follow a story arc that was a bit like a rake’s progress.
And one of the chapters is called “A Rake’s Progress” which is an opera by Stravinsky that’s based on a series of eight paintings by William Hogarth in the 1700s. I’ve got this poster of a “A Rake’s Progress” up on my bedroom wall. I love it! … Sounds weird but I was really obsessed with the one-dimensionality of it as a story. Why anyone would bother making something so literal into an opera is beyond me. Absolutely no plot twists. It’s almost biblical in a fetishistic way; like “Story of O” is, or de Sade’s “Justine and Juliette”. As a woman you’re made aware that this “slippery slope,” this “fall from grace,” that starts from losing your virginity and the decline of your “virtue” henceforth—I wanted to take that to its nth degree—My sex/death drive is similarly monotonous. “Race you to the bottom!”
I just liked that the story arc—there’s no redemption and it’s just like it maybe there’s some kind of masochist desire that that would be the ultimate end to any story. And the ending of Dear Mr. Andrews feels a bit like that to me. Like, isn’t the ultimate sexual desire some kind of oblivion? Not like death wish or death fantasy, but I guess the most ultimate indulgence is the opposite of life.
Lara: I don’t know, I feel like the ending had, agency or self-acceptance like, ‘This is who I am. I’m going with this. This is fine.’ I didn’t see it as obliteration.
But tell me about the drawings—the sketches are all your work, right?
Lotte: Yeah. I’m always sort of doodling on things, like when I have a day job. When I was window dressing, I was always drawing and the department store that I was working at got me to do all the sketches for the windows in the coming seasons ahead. Dear Mr. Andrews is a memoir and in it I of just want to convey something, and if the drawings are conveying some things and the writing conveying others, I can’t separate the two things.
We’re actually having a party next week for the launch and we’re projecting the images on the wall like in negative, so they’ve a black background with white lines. And I really excited to see how they look up.
Lara: A lot of people talk about how doing things by hand—whether it was writing by hand or doodling or painting opens their creativity and helps them see the work in a different way.
Lotte: I kind of feel that doodling is like that, for me. I’ve never considered myself an illustrator.
Lara: What was it like to work with Guts Publishing?
Lotte: It’s just so nice to work with an indie publisher because there’s no sort of agenda. It’s kind of lovely to be part of a family that is more about art. Julianne, who is it is lady of Guts, does so many amazing things, but it’s like a family.
Lara: I think that that would make the publishing experience feel a little safer—to feel like you’re not out there all alone.
Lotte: Yeah, definitely. I only sent the manuscript to a couple of places and they were definitely places that resonated with me and I really liked their books. I wasn’t spamming different publishers because I was a bit protectionist over the content.
Lara: One last question, what’s next in the writing life for you?
Lotte: I really haven’t had time to do anything else at the moment, but I’m really missing writing. So for a while, I just need to journal to get stuff out of my system, but I would like to go into some kind of fiction realm. I think it’s always going to be based on my life experiences to a certain extent, but I kind of want to see whether I can take it further. I love Kathy Acker, and I’m going to try being truly aggressive, and really deep diving into the darkest depths of my mind over the next year at some point.
Dear Mr. Andrews is out now with Guts Publishing.