Welcome to Defining moments and my guest this week is not a stranger to us here in blog world. Most of us have a tough time being consistent with our posting and find juggling full-time jobs and other commitments a bit of a stretch at times. However, Kevin manages to work full-time in London, write and publish books and post interesting articles on his blog New Author Online. The added twist to this is that Kevin uses software that most of you reading this will never have to utilise.
Kevin has been blind since a blood clot caused severe damage when he was just 18 months old. Whilst he possesses enough vision to distinguish between light and dark and can see the outlines of objects he requires the assistance of Jaws (Job access with speech) and braille to use his computer.
However, you will find as you enjoy conversations via the web that this does not cramp his style in anyway and he is a prolific author with several published collections of his short stories.
Recently, Kevin put out a call to other writers to collaborate in an anthology of dog stories for the charity Guide Dogs for the Blind and in tribute to the other major influence in his life.. The lovely companion and guide dog Trigger. The Anthology is doing very well but perhaps you could give it a boost by sharing the link in the posts.
Kevin comes from Liverpool and although we only spent a couple of years in that amazing city in the early 80’s, I can understand why anyone would be proud of being born there. Kevin went to a number of schools for the sight impaired and following his A-levels went onto study for his BA in History and Politics and then his MA in Political Theory at Swansea University. Since 1994 he has lived and worked in London and since 2012 has combined his full-time job with writing.
He was inspired to write his first stories by the articles in the press on how students and graduates in the UK were turning to the sex trade. Often as a means of paying back educational loans and also facing the challenging prospect of finding jobs in a worsening economy after graduation. It is a recurring theme in the four collections of short stories that Kevin has written and his longer work Samantha
This is obviously a dark subject matter. Surprisingly, despite the number of young people who are employed in the sex industry there is relatively little media coverage. It is however been suggested that 6% of adult students are actively engaged in some aspect of the sex trade. With an approximate 3 million students in the UK that means that nearly 200,000 may be involved in this dangerous and unpredictable business.
In “The First Time”, the first story in this collection, we meet Becky a young graduate who enters the world of prostitution in order to clear her debts. The story looks at the effects of prostitution on Becky and her fellow escort and friend Julie. In “The Pain Behind the Smile” Issie presents her friend, Peter with a birthday cake, however things are not what they seem. In “Lucy” the acquaintances of a crusty old bachelor speculate how he could attract and retain the affections of a beautiful young woman. As with “The Pain Behind the Smile” things are far from what they seem. “Hemlock” explores what happens when machines attain the capacity to appreciate high culture. The story is both humorous and deeply serious.
It is clear that reading the few reports in the media that the involvement of our young in this trade is not being discussed as openly as it should be. Whilst I shall be asking Kevin about students in this context, it is clear that their involvement is the tip of the iceberg. His stories do explore this subject and I thought it would be interesting to explore the reasons behind this increase in young people putting themselves at risk and what he considers we should be doing to prevent it. It is a complex and disturbing subject for an interview but I hope that you will find it interesting. Even if we do not have children of our own of this age their safety and futures should be all our concerns.
Thanks Kevin for taking the time out to be interviewed and I would really like to start by taking advantage of your research into this topic and your insights into this troubling trend. I would imagine that it would be a concern for parents of students across the board but particularly those moving away to study.
First, clearly in recent years the rise in student fees and the cost of living is going to be a major reason behind the involvement in the trade. But, what do you consider to be the key factors involved?
For many young people going away to study at university will be their first experience of living (and budgeting) independently. The realisation of just how expensive the cost of living is comes as a shock to many young people, particularly those whose parents have paid for everything while their child was living at home. Many students who find themselves financially stretched will seek help from student unions; obtain part time work such as bar tenders or turn to their families for help. However a minority will see sex work, in its various forms as offering a quick and easy means of making money.
Those who turn to prostitution may convince themselves that “its only sex. I’ll switch off my emotions during intercourse avoiding getting emotionally harmed and make a lot of money”. Once engaged in prostitution students may dislike the activity of selling sex to random strangers but come to rely on the money to meet living expenses. Indeed some young people may enjoy the luxuries (for example expensive shoes) which escorting can pay for while, at the same time disliking the work. In effect they become trapped in a vicious circle from which it is hard to break free.
I read a number of articles on the subject and interviews with some students that were typically female. Are male students also entering the trade or are there more part-time jobs that are available to them in other businesses local to major study centres?
From my research it is clear that men are engaging in prostitution but (seemingly) not to the same extent as women. I don’t know why this should be the case. I have heard it postulated that it is easier for women to obtain casual sex than it is for men and that this explains why there are more female sex workers than male ones. (I am somewhat sceptical of this argument as there are many women who find it difficult to find partners, it’s not just men). Perhaps (for whatever reason) men are less inclined to admit their involvement in sex work than are women and this helps to explain why there are (apparently) less men than women in the industry. The truth is, I don’t have a clear answer.
What could the universities and colleges be doing to help students find jobs to subsidise their studies to prevent this and is there enough advice available for students on this and financial issues?
I think the National Union of Students already offers advice to students on debt and other issues. If it isn’t already happening) and I suspect it is, universities should ensure that leaflets providing advice on budgeting, debt management etc are available. Perhaps the student bodies could hold a debate on sex work allowing a free and open discussion on the subject.
Are there enough incentives for parents and young people to save into some form of college fund? If not what would you propose both on a personal and governmental level?
Many parents already sacrifice a lot to pay for their child to attend university. Perhaps accounts specifically designed to enable parents to save for their child’s higher education could be set up, the accounts not being subject to tax so all the money saved would go to pay for their child’s studies.
The sex trade is allegedly the oldest profession and is not going to end overnight. What are your views on legalising prostitution?
Prostitution is legal in the UK, however many of the activities associated with it are illegal. It is legal for a person aged 18-years-of-age or over to sell sex and a person buying sex from such a sex worker is not breaking the law. It is illegal to run a brothel which is defined as a place where 2 or more sex workers are working. So a sex worker working alone from a flat or other premises is not breaking the law as regards brothels. She (or he) may well be breaking other rules and/or regulations, (For example many housing associations and landlords would consider it to be against the terms of a lease for a sex worker to ply their trade in residential or other premises). Under UK law a person is guilty of an offense if he pays to have sex with a person who has been forced into prostitution irrespective of whether he knowingly does so, (I.E. genuine ignorance by the sex buyer that the prostitute was coerced is not a defense in UK law).
The state and society needs to ensure that people are not forced into prostitution. There need to be well funded programmes to assist those who wish to exit the sex trade. However there are adults who make a conscious choice to engage in prostitution and provided this is genuinely a freely entered into decision I don’t think the state should become involved. People (quite understandably) may dislike prostitution but do they really want the authorities involved in the bedrooms of consenting adults? My instincts are liberal and I feel uncomfortable at the thought of the authorities poking into the private lives of citizens.
There are actions which could make the lives of sex workers safer. For example allowing brothels in designated areas. Women working alone are vulnerable and the old adage about there being safety in numbers holds water. A sex worker working alone is more vulnerable to attack than one who works with others.
In short I think resources should be concentrated on tackling forced prostitution. Assistance should be offered to those wishing to exit the industry. There are, however men and women who freely choose sex work and we should recognise this fact and make their lives as safe as is humanly possible.
It is a fascinating subject that must concern millions of parents who have children heading off to college and I am sure that they will be interested in your comments. Perhaps now we could look at your current projects.
Trigger you guide dog is almost, but not quite as well- known as you are Kevin. How long have you been together and what is extra special about the way he takes care of you?
Trigger is indeed well known. He even signs Christmas and other greetings cards along with me! Trigger and I have been together since 4 July 2011. The date sticks in my mind because it is, of course American Independence Day!
Trigger is a wonderful guide dog and has, on several occasions prevented me from walking in front of cars. To me Trigger is far more than a mobility aid. His friendly personality has captured the hearts of all who know him, not just me. It’s very therapeutic having a dog around. If I’m ever feeling stressed a few minutes stroking Trigger has me feeling much better. He really is a wonderful companion.
Kevin is author of several collections of short stories and poetry and here is a small selection.
Can you tell us more about your longer story ‘Samantha’ set in Liverpool?
Certainly. Samantha tells the story of a young girl forced into prostitution in the city of Liverpool. Can Sam survive or will she end her miserable existence in the murky waters of Liverpool’s Albert Docks?
Samantha takes a no-holes-barred look at forced prostitution. Sam’s pimp, Barry is a nasty piece of work. While few (if any) of my readers will feel any sympathy for Barry, the story does provide an insight into why Barry is as he is. None of the characters in Samantha bare any resemblance to living or dead persons. My story does however hopefully constitute a faithful portrayal of forced prostitution.
I was born and brought up in the city of Liverpool and many of the landmarks featured in the story are known to me. I have, for example, visited the Albert Docks on Numerous occasions. Anyone familiar with this great city will, I feel sure recognise many of the places portrayed in Samantha.
What about your next projects, what can we look forward to in 2015?
I love poetry. Recently I have been writing a lot of verse. I would like to expand my collection of poetry and prose, “Dalliance” adding some of my more recent poems. I will also be writing more short stories.
I know from reading your other interviews that you have some favourite authors including Emily Bronte but as you write science fiction too, who would be your choice in that genre?
I enjoy H. G Wells and have recently been rereading his “The Time Machine”. Wells is in many ways an optimistic writer. However in “The Time Machine” he portrays a decaying world in which the once privileged class has degenerated and is preyed upon by their former servants, the Morlocks.
I also like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 which tells of a society in which firemen burn books rather than putting out fires. It is a chilling world in which entertainment has almost completely subsumed serious culture and the authorities brainwash people with pap on television.
Perhaps you could share with us what you consider to be a key defining moment in your life that has inspired you in any way.
I don’t know whether I have experienced any defining moments. I have for a long time though felt a burning desire to express myself. I find writing wonderfully therapeutic. There is so much going on in my head which I need to get down on paper (albeit of the virtual kind)!
My thanks to Kevin for being so forthcoming about the subjects discussed today and please feel free to share with other bloggers or on social media.
Here are the links to Kevin’s blog, book buying sites and social media.
Connect with Kevin online
Kevin’s blog – http://newauthoronline.com/
Kevin’s Amazon US author page
Kevin’s Amazon UK author page
Twitter – https://twitter.com/drewdog2060_
Please pop in and meet other guests in the this series.