Can you tell me about ‘Paid For’, your newly released book?
I wrote ‘Paid For’ because I so badly wanted to tell the truth about prostitution, not just as I had lived it, but also as I had witnessed it. Some of the personal accounts of prostitution that have been released have been written by women who’ve only ever worked in one area of prostitution, or who have always worked alone so have never had a conversation with another prostituted woman during the time they’ve been working, so naturally those accounts are limited in scope. In my case I worked in every area of prostitution; the streets, the massage parlours, the escort agencies etc. I also worked as a stripper and was photographed pornographically and I worked alongside hundreds of women, so I knew that I had a very broad base of experience to draw from. I wanted to tell people the truth about all that I had seen. I wanted to record the degradation and the simple human suffering that’s an inevitable and intrinsic part of sexual exploitation, and I wanted, most importantly, to talk about how we can put a stop to it.
How has your book been received in your home country?
I think there’s been quite a bit of shock. I was prostituted between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two and I think it has been shocking for Irish people to hear of certain things, for example, that there are brothels that specifically cater for men who like to pay to abuse adolescent girls who are below the age of consent. I worked in one of those brothels, so I know what I’m talking about.
Thankfully on the whole the book has been very well received and Irish people, both women and men, have been incredibly supportive.
What’s your writing background? When did you begin writing and what inspired you?
My earliest memories of writing go back to when I was six years old and our teacher would have weekly writing competitions, the idea obviously being to sharpen the children’s writing skills. I would win almost every week; I was very proud of that. It was nice to be recognised for something I was good at. That inspired me to start writing for my own sake, and from the time I was about seven or eight I was writing little stories just because I wanted to, but I clearly had my eye on being a published author also. I obviously wanted to have them appear in book form because what I’d do was cut out the tiny photographs of books that’d arrive in the Irish books catalogue and I’d stick them over my own little handwritten books, made out of a page torn from a school copybook and cut to fit the size of the book covers, and I’d scribble out the authors name and replace it with my own. Sometimes I’d write a story and have to go looking for a book cover to match it; other times I’d construct stories to match the book covers. I had the funny feeling that I was doing something wrong, that there was something kind of underhand about it, though of course I didn’t fully understand what. It makes me laugh now to think of my own plagiarism!
How often do you write? And how do you manage to fit in writing among other commitments?
My activism has made it difficult for me to spend as much time writing as I used to, in terms of the hours I used to sit down and write for, but I still write every day. It would feel like a strange day if I didn’t. In ‘Paid For’ I described how, as a prostituted teenager, I used to write on the back of beer mats and receipts and anything I could get my hands on. In ways I’m still like that. I’ll often have to organise random notes into some sort of coherence. I actually prefer it that way. That’s what comes naturally to me.
In which genre do you most enjoy writing?
The books I most love to read, and to write, are the ones that really don’t fit neatly into any genre. Having said that, I do love the classics. I love classical English; that sense of careful, precise prose is something I find very elegant and attractive on the ear, and if you juxtapose that with some brutality, as I like to do in my fiction, I think the result can be very striking.
What draws you to write in that genre?
I find that when I’m writing I slip into a mode of writing what I’d love to read myself. I feel inclined to sooth myself with the words, and that of course helps shape them. I love writing to be contemplative, to provoke me to look inward. I also love dark humour; I love to pepper my writing with flashes of darkly humorous prose that the reader will not expect. I suppose it is a mix of lulling, soothing and entertaining. That is what I’m aiming for.
Can you tell me about your current projects and your writing plans for the future?
Well I’m very guarded about my current projects because I feel that to describe them in too much detail would be to leak out some of their energy, leaving less for me to complete them, so I’ll just say they feature strong women and stories about love, loss, and the human condition.
I’d written several novels before I finished ‘Paid For’, but never edited them because I kept getting drawn back to the book I really, in my soul, needed to complete. Now that’s done it has freed me up to be creative, which I’m really enjoying. I’m contractually obliged to offer any further non-fiction to my current publisher, Gill and Macmillan, but they don’t publish fiction. I have been contacted by a fairly major international agency interested in seeing my fiction and I’ve just sent the two projects I’m currently working on to them, so we’ll see where we go from here.
What are your plans for your advocacy in the area of anti-sexual exploitation and anti-human trafficking?
We’ve made great strides already, which has been a wonderful thing to see. A lot of hard work and commitment from the Irish survivors of prostitution and our allies in the Turn Off The Red Light campaign has paid off, and we are relieved and delighted that the government has taken note of what we’ve had to say. The Irish government recently returned the recommendation that the basic tenants of the Nordic Model, which criminalises the purchase of sex, should be implemented in Ireland. They have advised exit programmes for prostituted women and criminalising the accessing of online escort agencies, which have been proven by police to be a hotbed of organised crime, directed mainly by home-grown and international pimping and trafficking gangs. We Irish survivors are determined to see these recommendations passed into law here and, beyond that, to assist other survivors see the same laws brought into force in their own countries. If those with a financial or sexual agenda think they’re going to be able to stop us they’ve got a whole lot more thinking to do.
Since your book was released in April in Ireland and more recently in Australia, what has life been like?
Busy, incredibly busy! I lost count of the amount of interviews I’d done within days of the Irish release. I’ve had some nasty incidents, like pro-lobby threats direct to my front door which meant that my home was under police surveillance for about ten days shortly after the book came out. I was assaulted by an older male family member who didn’t like what he was reading and I’ve had a threat of gang rape by five young men who were walking behind me as I walked through a tunnel near my home. There is a price to be paid for speaking out against commercial sexual exploitation and I always knew I’d have to pay it. For every one of those incidents though, I’ve had too many positive experiences to count. It’s been a very comforting imbalance.
Where can people find out more about you?
People who are interested in the book I’ve just published can find me on www.facebook.com/PaidForMyJourneyThroughProstitution and those who are interested in my anti-prostitution activism can find me on www.spaceinternational.ie. I also blog at www.theprostitutionexperience.com.
- ‘Residues of the Past’, a short piece of non-fiction written by Rachel Moran, can be read on Voices of Prostitution Survivors.