Interview: Stephen Hill – Echoes of Innocence
We were over the moon when author, Stephen Hill, agreed to talk to us about his new book, Echoes of Innocence: Survivor.
Stephen began noting down his experiences in 2008 alongside weekly meetings with a psychologist. From these early meanderings grew a workable manuscript which, with hard work became ‘Echoes of Innocence – Survivor’. Initially written for himself and his family, he began to find the strength to face and work through the traumas of his past. With his wife suggesting that there was little literature of this nature on the market, Steve took a leap of faith. He decided in 2012 to produce a completed book with a view to helping other survivors, their families and to begin dispelling the myths and prejudice surrounding male rape. Stephen is married to Sue, and they have two beautiful daughters, a cat called Daisy and a dog named Ellie. He is a passionate supporter of his home town rugby league club, the Leeds Rhinos, loves fishing and is seldom seen without a book in his hand. He is presently unemployed after being made redundant in February 2013 but this does give him more time to write and Book Two, ‘Echoes of Innocence – Redemption’ will be available in Spring 2014. Stephen can be contacted on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi Stephen, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us, we really appreciate it. How’s this year been for you up to now?
It’s been a pretty hectic year. My family and I lived in Spain for nine years. I was made redundant in February this year (2013), after seven years in sales and retail management for the same company. It came as a pretty big hit. In the end we made a decision as a family in October that in the present economic crisis, it made more sense to move back to the UK. People think thing are bad here, Spain’s situation is even worse. Even here I’ve already been employed and laid off. But both occasions have given me valuable time to concentrate on getting the book completed and then edited, proof read and formatted properly etc. It’s been like doing an English degree!. I’ve also come to the conclusion that fate wants me to get the book out and make a difference.
When did you first get into writing?
I’ve always loved books and reading. They act like a form of escapism into another world. But I’ve also enjoyed scribbling things down and playing word games. So, when I started seeing a psychologist about my PTSD, my love of literature cropped up during the sessions. He suggested that I write about my experiences and feelings as a type of therapy and then see what my reactions were to what I wrote. That was in 2008 and by Summer 2012 I had reams of disorganised notes. My wife read through everything as I wrote it down to help her understand what I was going through: Sue had been the first person I had ever told nineteen years after the event. When she had read everything Sue did some research of her own. She concluded that there was very little on the market which was written so honestly, from a personal perspective. She suggested that I needed to put it all together in a manuscript. This way it might be able to help someone else and begin to eradicate some of the stigma regarding male rape. From there ‘Echoes of Innocence’ was born.
What inspired you to write Echoes of Innocence?
To make a difference. I read through my original notes and as I started to collate them together I saw in black and white what damage my rape experience had caused not just to me but my family, friends and indeed nearly every facet of my life. For almost twenty years, nearly everything I had done had been affected by the two men who had raped me. They were still winning through my silence, because all of the shame, anger and frustration I felt was turned inward and festered, only to be released against other people including my wife and children. Susie suggested that I search the internet for more information. On discovering sites such as Survivors Manchester I read the stories of survivors which were available. I read further and learned of the limited services/resources available because of a lack in government recognition and funding. From there I felt ‘Echoes of Innocence – Survivor’ was a voice which had to be heard to help contribute to the healing of survivors through breaking the silence. There is so little out there to help survivors and educate people. A lot of that is to do with fear and ignorance by the rest of society and that makes me angry. I know I am not alone but we can only make a difference if we are united and really prepared to not let the rapists/abusers win.
Was it hard to write about the experience of being raped?
It was extremely difficult because I was tapping into events, feelings and emotions which I had tried desperately to bury and keep hidden for a long time. I was frightened of the nightmares and flashbacks increasing in their intensity. For a period, I had a torrid time fighting the old battles with my mind which I had fought all those years ago. The rape itself is covered in one chapter. I had a long talk with my wife before writing about it. It was completed in one evening, in one sitting and spans 2,829 words. Afterwards I cried like I had never cried before and my wife Susie just held me. That in itself was a massive step forward and a huge part in the healing process. I think that the other important thing to remember here is that the experience of being raped isn’t just about the actual event. The experience also includes the entire trauma which comes after and how it affects our lives. That was another massive part of the process because as I wrote I discovered that where I thought I had dealt with the rape, in reality, I had not. It had literally infiltrated every aspect of my life. The rape experience had to be looked at holistically, to be appreciated and understood.
What do you think the hardest thing is about being a male speaking out?
Being believed. Society is all too quick to place labels on something it is frightened of and doesn’t understand. These labels create stereotypes and myths because there are preconceptions as to who we are or should be, particularly as men. This only makes it harder for male survivors to speak out and report the crime and seek medical help and recovery. That’s another reason for the book, to educate, change perceptions and gain acceptance that what we have experienced is all too real. That’s why Echoes of Innocence reveals in the middle chapters what my childhood was like. By the time I was raped I had been brought up to be the stereotypical male; strong mentally and physically and capable of fighting anyone, anywhere. The ‘ug’ or ‘caveman’ factor as I refer to it. And society expects all men to be like that, while forgetting the very simple fact that we are all just human beings, with our own unique responses to stress and trauma. But you know what? That’s why the book exists, to break the silence by speaking out, and that’s why I have put my real name to it. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
What do you hope to achieve with the book?
There’s so much! I have two very simple aims: acceptance that male rape exists and acceptance that male rape survivors exist. If ‘Echoes of Innocence – Survivor’ succeeds in helping one person to reach recovery, or helps them through their recovery or assists the family of a survivor in their understanding then the book and my experience has been worthwhile.
I would love to see the establishment of dedicated crisis centres for male rape survivors in every major city in the UK or at the very least centres which are easily accessible to any male irrespective of where they live with the funding to keep them open and providing the services that are so desperately needed.
Do you feel that you are still healing?
I don’t think healing ever stops. You think about it. We are subjected to the physical act of abuse/rape and then we internalise it for years because the support services we need are not there and society doesn’t take us seriously. During that time the trauma has nowhere to go; no release. We don’t talk about it, we desperately try not to think about it but it eats away at our subconscious and when we’re asleep. A lot of survivors – me included – develop mental health problems because of the years spent in silence and emotional isolation. So I think that healing, by necessity is a life long journey. We’re never going to forget what happened to us, therefore we (and our families to a point) need to learn how to live and develop healthy coping mechanisms and responses to life. I spent years developing unhealthy coping strategies like alcohol and drugs etc which then became problems in their own right. I am a member of AA and if I am never to drink again I will have to continue in the programme. So healing for me is a lifelong commitment. The devastation caused psychologically when I was raped requires a lifelong healing process from me. To ensure this continues I am in regular contact with Mental Health Agencies but I’m not afraid of that anymore because I love my wife and my family and equally as important these days, I love myself.
On average, male survivors will take in excess of twenty years to disclose being abused as children. There are loads of reasons for this, which we try and help lads deal with, but what message have you got for these guys?
You are not alone. It was not your fault and you are not to blame. It’s never too late to begin healing. I know the first step of telling someone is terrifying. I know the hurt, the pain and the shame; I know you and I know what it took to get you this far. Tell someone you love, they’re probably trying to piece together why you do the things you do and why you are who you are. I think you’ll be surprised by their reaction. By telling them, it will help them understand and they will only love you more. There is support available and people who will listen to what you have to say and who will not judge. They can help you begin your journey to recovery and healing and a positive future. Break the silence, if we remain united we can conquer the fears and change attitudes. We can help others on their journey. It’s never too late.
So what does the future hold for you and writing?
Well, there is ‘Echoes of Innocence – Redemption’ which is Book Two to be released in the Spring of 2014. This takes up the story from when I was twenty-five to the present day and I believe it will be interesting for partners and family members of survivors as it charts my married life as I struggle to come to terms with my PTSD. After that I would like to try my hand at fiction. I have the outline for a novel ready to go and a book of short stories.
More importantly I really want to make an impact with the first book to begin making some changes and make a difference. It’s not a matter of releasing the book and then doing nothing. The work has only just begun, and there is so much more to do. We need a fair deal for male survivors and support for organisations like Survivors Manchester.
On a personal level, I will continue healing and being happy with my family. And as I am still unemployed I would like so much to find job!
So where can people get your book from?
Well ‘Echoes of Innocence, Book One: Survivor’ will be available through…Smashwords, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, Flipcart, Oyster, Baker & Taylor, Diesel eBook Store and of course Amazon…I think that’s everyone!!! It will be priced at £2.99 and 10% of the sale price will be donated to Survivors Manchester to help continue the fantastic work undertaken by Duncan and the team. It’s been an honour and a privilege to be asked to do this interview. So, thanks to Duncan for inviting me and for supporting of ‘Echoes of Innocence – Survivor’ and remember, together we can break the silence.