A former Thanet College lecturer turned crime writer is moving disabled issues into focus by embracing physical, sensory and intellectual impairment in his books.
David R. Ewens’ series of acclaimed detective novels draw on his own experiences of hearing loss in a bid to celebrate diversity and challenge stereotype.
Few books have disabled characters and those that do often define those individuals by their medical diagnosis, Mr Ewens says, instead of what truly disables them – the society and environment in which they live.
He says most depictions of impairment in mainstream literature are also outdated, misinformed or rooted in prejudiced social norms.
Mr Ewens, who was born severely deaf, is championing the ‘different’ through inclusive works which feature a cross-section of society.
His Frank Sterling series of novels variously include a criminal wideboy with Downs Syndrome, an anti-social wheelchair user, and other complex characters who “dare to defy their expected behaviours”.
They also tackle other “unpalatable” topics including Islamophobia, racial hatred and xenophobia.
Speaking last week at the launch of his eagerly-awaited fifth novel, The Golden Spurs, Ewens urged the publishing industry to adopt a more considered, progressive attitude towards the type of fiction it commissions.
He said:“My books are not focused on impairment and nor are their central protagonists physically or intellectually impaired.
“But they include disabled or differently-abled characters who, crucially, dare to defy their expected behaviours.
“It is my view that more books should feature – and embrace – disabled characters, and this can only become custom and practice with the help, support and guidance of the mainstream publishers.”
Mr Ewens, who was a lecturer in teacher education at Thanet Technical College, now East Kent College, for 12 years until 1990, began writing full-time at the age of 58 after retiring.
His detective novels – set in Kent, East Anglia and Belgium – feature the private investigator Frank Sterling and are inspired by his interest in politics, local, national and international, inequality in all its aspects, and current affairs.
But they also draw on his own experiences of sensory impairment and the challenges of life in a hearing world.
The father-of-one, now based in Canterbury, has been deaf since birth and managed to “scrape by” with a rudimentary form of lip-reading until 2011 when his life was transformed by a cochlear implant.
The author, now 65, said: “A cochlear implant will never define me in much the same way that wheelchair users should not be defined by the wheels on which they move.
“We are all different and it is this diversity that the wider publishing industry continues, with honourable exceptions, to overlook, often by stereotyping characters or, worse, including disabled people because doing so satisfies a ‘quota’ or a perceived social expectation.”
The Golden Spurs by David R. Ewens is out now on Amazon UK. Find it here