Writing What Needs To Be Written – Sibel Hodge Leads The Way

Back in 2007, Britain celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the UK.

At the time I was co-author of a theater play that did the London circuit, and upset a few people who like to think slavery is history.

After all, it is history, right?

It’s something we aren’t proud of, of course, but it happened. And not so long ago.

Look at the date on that poster. For someone collecting their pension today, it is entirely possible their grandparents were alive while slavery was still a way of life in the US. It’s possible those grandparents might actually have been one of those slaves described here.

But we can at least stand tall now and say it doesn’t happen anymore, right?

If only…

Sadly, slavery is alive and well in many parts of the world to this day, including on our own doorsteps, whether we are in the  modern-day United States, modern-day Europe or wherever we may be. People are still today being captured and imprisoned, transported to other countries and sold as chattels.

Today’s guest says below,

In 2007 the US Department of State carried out a Trafficking in Persons report. The statistics shocked me to the core: 700,000-800,000 men, women and children trafficked across international borders each year, approximately 80% of which are women and girls, and up to 50% are minors. The US Department of State estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States alone each year.

Our 2007 play was variously applauded or condemned for daring to suggest slavery still existed in the twenty-first century. One of the themes we touched upon was the trade in people-trafficking for sex that, as the above shows, is still rife across Europe, the US and much of the world as you read this.

So when I heard chicklit author Sibel Hodge had written a book on the subject I bought it immediately, and demanded Sibel come across to MWi and explain herself. How dare a best-selling chicklit author, purveyor of light and frothy humorous fiction, write about a dark subject like people-trafficking?! And based on real events!

What is the literary world coming to? This would never have happened in the old publishing world. Writers knew their place then.

* * *

If you’re coming here from WG2E you’ll know I’m on a revised schedule up-river in Africa. Ironically I’ll be not far from Juffereh, the village from where the young slave Kunte Kinte was abducted in the Roots story. The remnants of the slave fortress on james island is still there, a chilling reminder of  one of the darkest events in modern history.

If you’re reading this here on MWi first, be sure to pop across to WG2E and say hello. It will be worth it just for the opening photo!

But here at MWi, a departure from the usual text sprinkled with colourful images. Some subjects are best just told. The words need no extra illustration, and the images that would go with the text below are anyway best left to the imagination.

But don’t let that deter you from reading on. Some things need to be read.

Here’s Sibel:

About five years ago I watched a mini series about girls from Eastern Europe who’d been trafficked. It haunted me for a long time, and then gradually it faded from my mind and I got on with my life. Then a little while ago I was sitting in a doctor’s surgery waiting for an appointment and picked up a magazine. Inside, was the story of one women who’d been trafficked. It made a chill run through me, and I realized that in those five years, I’d never heard anything in the media about it.

That got me thinking, and I started researching other victim’s stories online. They were horrific, heart breaking, gut wrenching, and I knew this was a subject that, despite being such a global problem, a lot of people are unaware goes on. I really wanted to do something to raise awareness into the subject and Trafficked: The Diary of a Sex Slave was born.

Although the book is fictional, it’s inspired by these victim’s stories, and is a very sad global reality. In 2007 the US Department of State carried out a Trafficking in Persons report. The statistics shocked me to the core: 700,000-800,000 men, women and children trafficked across international borders each year, approximately 80% of which are women and girls, and up to 50% are minors. The figures will be a lot higher four years on.

And one of the truly scary things is, most people think it only affects third world countries, but it’s going on right under your nose. The US Department of State estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States alone each year.

I wanted Trafficked to be gritty, hard hitting, and tear-jerking. And I wanted it to make people really stop and think about this subject. I chose to write it in the form of a diary so the reader really feels every emotion – the fear, beatings, horror, desperation, hope, and faith. I wanted them to experience the ordeal through her eyes. Sometimes it’s not what you say that’s the most effective; it’s what you don’t say. I think it has a more psychological impact on readers when they use their imagination about what she describes. For example, in one passage I write, “I have not written much because I do not want to describe the things they make me do. You can imagine every depravity and increase it a hundred times, then you will understand.” Hopefully readers can really feel the pain, shame, fear, and courage of Elena.

Trafficked was a completely different genre than my normal chick lit. Instead of writing something that cracked me up laughing, this brought tears to my eyes and chills down my spine. But the beauty of being an Indie is I have the freedom to jump genres. I can’t imagine a traditional publisher being too keen on me starting something so vastly different when I’d established myself as a quirky, screwball chick lit author.

I’ve always wanted to write a serious book and when the idea formed for Trafficked, I was excited, but worried I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. From the feedback, and reviews I’ve had so far, I think I’ve managed to do that. The Bornean Bookworm did a lovely review saying, “Elena is unquestionable in the line of my favourite inspiring characters.” Hope is an essential part of Elena’s character, because if we don’t have hope, the only way is down. Another review by a Doctor from Cambridge said,

“As someone who works in the field of criminology, I immediately recognized Elena’s plight in the real-life accounts of trafficking victims. Certainly, this book puts a human face on the nameless women (and men) that we, as a society, largely (and wrongfully) view as ‘throw aways’ who ‘made their own choice’. This book is an exceptional tool for raising awareness–not only for fiction readers but also for the classroom. I would recommend this as an accompanying text for any University course on victimology or the sex trade. Without hesitation, if I ever have the opportunity to teach a course on this subject, I will use Trafficked as a required text.”

Trafficked isn’t a read for the faint-hearted, but it’s a story that needs to be told. And if it makes you cry, or gets you pissed off, or makes you want to get even and do something about it, then, as a writer, I’ve done my job right.

As Sibel says, in the old publishing world this book would probably never have seen the light of day. But it’s s story that deserves to be read, and the story behind the story needs to be told.

Slavery didn’t end when Britain reluctantly abolished the trade in 1807, or when Lincoln was forced to abolish slavery in the USA in the 1860s.

Slavery, in slightly different guises, continues to blight the lives of millions of innocent people to this day. As Sibel says, if her book helps open the eyes of even other one person to the abominable trade in people that is happening right now in our so-called civilized world, then as a writer she has done her job right.

It would be trite to compare writers in the old world as slaves of the publishing industry, but to be honest that’s pretty close to how things were. No question the epublishing revolution has emancipated writers.

As writers in the new world we have untold opportunities to write what we want. To write what we think our readers want to read.

But we can also write what we think our readers need to read. To write what needs to be written.

Thanks, Sibel, for leading the way.

Sibel’s book can be bought on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

It won’t make you laugh, or brighten your day. It’s not something you’ll enjoy reading.

But buy it and read it anyway, and be reminded how lucky we all are to have our freedom.

  1. Trafficking is one of the most disgusting crimes a human being can commit against another, and personally I reckon people who are held responsible for trafficking rings ought to be locked up in a deep dark hole until the end of time. But that might just be my opinion.

    Couldn’t agree more Mark, people ought to know about these things. If we know, we can stop it. Awesome post guys, and great work Sibel!

  2. Thanks so much for having me and spreading the word about Trafficked. I agree, Charlie, it is a disgusting crime that needs to be brought out into the open. For one, so hopefully it might save someone from being taken advantage of and duped into believing they are being offered genuine work, when, in fact, they’re being kidnapped into slavery. And also, because the more people who know about it, the more people can do something positive to stop it.

  3. I absolutely love the concept of this book. I bought Trafficked when it came out, only I’ve been on deadline and haven’t read it yet. It’s first in line. I have watched several shows about this and it breaks my heart that this really does take place.

    • Aw, thanks, Tonya! It is heart-breaking and there’s no excuse for it happening in a so-called modern society.

  4. Go get ’em, Sibel! Need any ammunition?

    • Miriam Joy
    • October 16th, 2011

    This post strikes a particular chord with me because there was a period of about three years when I spent a lot of time working and volunteering for Stop the Traffik, an anti-trafficking charity based in London. I organised a fundraiser concert, did a sponsored swim, ran a fairtrade chocolate fondue party, busked, wrote my first novel for them … 15k of terrible writing, but it was such an insight for me. I was 12. I sent it to an agent, actually, optimistic as I was, and she read it (though, I realise now, she’s actually pretty high up in the business and I can’t believe she gave me the time of the day). Only after she rejected it did I tell her that I was 12 when I wrote it, and she was shocked.

    The point is that slavery IS still around. Even though I don’t have so much time to spend working with STT any more, they’re still first on my list of charities to donate to when I can. They still remember me and talk about me, and I still remember them.

    There’ve been times when Mum’s accused me of reading things that aren’t ‘suitable’ for my age group. If only she knew! I’m so glad the library doesn’t offer parents the function to check their children’s loan history, or I would have so many lectures. But whenever she goes off on one, I point out to her the sort of things I was reading on the Stop the Traffik website when I was eleven, the leaflets they gave me, the things I told other 11-year-olds in an assembly at my school when I first joined, the things that inspired me to run that stall at the summer fair and raise money for them, and I tell her this: it wasn’t books that spoiled my innocence, mother dear, it was the real world, and all the things no one ever told us.

      • Miriam Joy
      • October 16th, 2011

      Oh, and I’m sorry that comment was such an essay. I feel very strongly about trafficking and as soon as that Kindle Mum’s promised me has arrived, I’ll be downloading this book.

      • Miriam, you are an inspiration. I think I was the same at your age. I hate injustice, and I have done from a very early age. And you’re so right, it isn’t the books that take away innocence, it’s the real world and real life experiences. When I was doing research for the book I found out about the Poppy Project for victim’s of trafficking. It’s run by Eave’s Housing in the UK. They recently lost funding from the UK government, which is such a shame.

  5. I’ve read those sad, terrifying magazine articles, too, Sibel. Your book sounds like a great read. Definitely will hop over to Amazon and pick it up.

    And as a author drawn to write in varying genres, I can fully appreciate what you said about not being pigeonholed when you are deeply inspired to write on a theme that requires a style poles away from your current brand. As humans we feel and think many different things and I don’t see why our books cannot reflect that.

    • This is so true, Alicia. And one of the great things about being in indie is that if I want to make a statement about a subject like this that needs more exposure, then I can. 🙂

  6. This sounds like a brave, must-read book. It’s such an important subject. Slavery exists in all its horrors on many levels in today’s world. Many workers are enslaved, too–brought to foreign countries with promises of work, only to find they “owe” thousands to the traffickers, who then imprison them and force them to work horrible hours for no pay, sometimes working them to death. Not as horrific as the sexual torture these young women are put through, but just as immoral, cruel and–somehow–invisible.

    We delude ourselves by focusing on certain chapters in history like the Nazi genocide or American slavery and saying it only happened “back then”–when equally horrific stuff is going on right now and we ignore it.

    Miriam, thanks for your “tome”. (Kristen Lamb calls leaving long blog comments “toming”) You’ve obviously been fighting the battle for a long time. Thanks for everything you’re doing.

  7. Thanks, Anne. This is so true. In the 21st century it’s so scary that slavery is still going on. And I know what you mean, if anyone mentions black slavery or the genocide, people are angry, and rightly so, but who talks about the type of trafficking and slavery that is going on under their noses today?

  8. This morning, the AP headline Malaysian Police Rescue 21 Ugandan Sex Slaves reminded me of your book, Sibel. I posted about it on Facebook… the women who become victims of these heinous crime rings are not from families with deep pockets, or Liam Neeson as a secret-agent Dad. Their voices are rarely heard, their families are too afraid to report them missing, and it’s very sad. Fiction is a great way to help spread awareness, awesome job Sibel.

  9. Thanks so much, Elizabeth. It’s very true that their voices are rarely heard, and when they are, they’re often swept under the carpet.

  1. October 16th, 2011
    Trackback from : No Time To Write – Honest!
  2. December 1st, 2011
    Trackback from : mark williams international
  3. December 4th, 2011

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