In ancient times, spiritual office involved initiation, and the most valuable healers were the shamans who were called to their profession through hardship, illness, or a near-death experience. In our modern times, many creative people hold shamanic office, though we tend to only think of them as artists—and they inspire us from their own dark wells of survival and gift us with extraordinary works. It is in this tradition that I view British novelist Stephen Mullaney-Westwood—survivor, writer, percussionist, folklorist, photographer.
Mr. Westwood’s tales spring from the depths and bubble to the surface with the cohesive of human experience and the magic of worlds unseen. He speaks of shadows and shining mystical realms with equal ease, and unlike many writers who dip their pen into the dark depths, Stephen illuminates his pages with resilience and hope for all of us. He invites us to befriend our demons, dig our hands into the rich earth of ancient philosophies, and take the untrodden path, be it in the moss-covered woodland or the storm-ravaged hidden places within our spirits and psyches.
It is an honor to present this visionary writer here at Inspiration Speaks on the heels of his third release, Paradise Shift… Here he is, in his own words, followed by links to his website, publications, book trailers, and his wonderful videos spotlighting the world of Faerie and folklore. Enjoy!
Q: Your novels are haunted with other-worldly beings and human struggles, the two overlapping seamlessly. What first sparked the foundation of your subject matter and how has your own personal journey contributed to your themes?
A: Undoubtedly my life story has shaped the tales I now put out there for others to learn from. I have struggled mentally for most of my life, and have been to some very dark places, but I think I have finally found peace with it, and grown wiser in the process. The day needs the night so that it can rejuvenate for the next… and each time it comes, it passes. That understanding and acceptance of both the light and the dark is definitely something which helped me, and it is prevalent in the ‘old ways’ in paganism and in folklore… So to write about those aspects; those ambiguous ‘in betweens’; felt like a natural calling.
Q: Your respect for the Earth and deep personal values are evident. As a writer, how do your convictions and passions inspire your pen?
A: I can’t imagine myself writing a story without simultaneously conveying some kind of a message, even if it‘s hidden in allegory. It is a powerful tool to have someone’s attention for so long, reading your words, so I decided very early on that what I write has to be important and that what I give birth to and unleash into the world has to be there for a reason… not just for throw-away entertainment. Some people might see that as pretentious, and I’m certainly not saying that there is anything wrong with books and films and TV that are only there for escapism… but that’s just not what I feel comfortable doing. Other people do that sort of thing much better than I ever could… but I do this… this is my ‘voice’, and I only speak if I have something to say.
Q: Do you remember the first time words came to you and you felt compelled to write them down? How old were you and where were you?
A: I don’t have a very clear memory for my childhood, I only see it in scenes, and that one is lost somewhere on the cutting room floor. So I can’t say when or where, but I have kept hold of a few things I wrote back then. My father used to work for a company that produced exercise books which would be used in schools, and often came home with a pile of seconds for my sister and I to use as drawing paper or to write in. The staples might have been off centre, but each one seemed to offer me the possibility of creating my own ‘proper book’. I still have ‘The Adventures of Harry Hedgehog’ and then, later, a book of vampire tales, both of which I wrote and illustrated. In English lessons the opportunity to write a story was always met with relish and I never struggled to muster up the imagination. So I never doubted that writing was something I would always want to do.
Q: What are your favorite outdoor haunts—and how do you spend time there? Do you ever go out in the woods with pen and paper and just take “dictation”?
A: As a child the fields, ponds and woods were my playground… and as I grew up I lost sight of that, almost as if it were only ‘kids stuff’… but, ultimately, urban settings depress me greatly. My rekindled love for nature was my savior, and that theme is definitely expressed in my novels. Countryside walks are, for me, an opportunity to just ‘be’ and I will usually take them alone. It offers me the best chance to reach a state of mindfulness, I suppose. Sometimes I will take a camera with me, as everything I see appears so artistic in my eye; I enjoy trying to capture it. I do carry paper and pen wherever I go, and I end up with a lot of scribbled notes, but I don’t tend to write anything during those solitary walks… it all spills out on my return when that state of consciousness alters. Although I have lived in several places with some beautiful areas for ‘haunting’, I have yet to set my roots down, and where I live at the moment is particularly devoid of anywhere that I can go to be far from people and spend time with the trees. That is a strain for me, but it did help me get into the mind set I needed to write ‘Paradise Shift’.
Q: As a writer, are you also a mystic, parting the veil between worlds, in collaboration with realities between realities? Do you feel this connection consciously or does it require effort and intention? What is your process like?
A: I can’t really say that is something I have considered before, although I suppose you could say that I ‘conjure’ up these characters and their stories. What I will say is that once I am writing I become the character, as though channeling them; ceasing to be Stephen and having memories and thoughts which are not always my own. I have had a number of people express to me that my work seems autobiographical… and that authenticity is, no doubt, produced by this method.
Q: What is on your writing desk that makes you smile?
A: Along with my computer and my drums, the tools of my trade; my entire office is filled with memories of the woodland: pieces of fallen or cut wood, still covered in moss… feathers and stones, a vase of twigs from trees I have loved, pagan artifacts and figurines resembling ents and dryads. At the moment I have a mystic sitting upon my writing desk, a character from the Jim Henson movie ‘The Dark Crystal’. I grew up in the 80s and Jim was an inspiration, but those creatures in particular hold a special place in my heart. They are kind and gentle, and yet magically powerful.
Q: What personal experiences and emotions fuel your plots—without explaining any of it, what single word symbolizes your dark muse—your “duende” that ignites a bright light of inspiration?
A: Introspection, pessimism… the heart of the innocent, yet wild nature, and the hunt for there to be ‘more’… that seems to be the common thread. And, to answer the second part of the question… I think that without the influence of the trees my work would be completely different, or perhaps non-existent.
Q: If you were a force of nature, what would you be and why?
A: I’d be the wind. That is the most constant, yet changeable force of nature. It can be a subtle gentle breeze, or it can be devastating. That sounds closest to the human condition… closest to my fluctuating emotions, and much like my writing, too.
Q: What is the greatest lesson Nature has taught you?
A: I think the idea that death is only change… that everything is constant, though nothing is forever. If you pull up a plant, another will grow in its place. Leaves fall and become sustenance for the earth. A creature dies and becomes food for the flies. It is a process which offers hope. As a human, especially in this day and age, we fear death, because we are aware of what might mean, while still not knowing anything about it. If only we could see it as part of the cycle, and dismiss the sadness of it, that understanding could make us feel both humble and invincible.
Q: You weave tales from rushing streams, ancient bark, and human scars… If they could all speak in words, what would they all tell of you, their translator?
A: I have translated their words into two novels and many short stories, yet they still tell me that is not enough. I expect I will continue to write, and spread those messages, but I am not the only one speaking for them, and I have to remember that. I can become deeply despondent about the state of this world, but, in many ways, it is better than it has ever been… the new generation is hearing those desperate words of nature and they are doing something about it. Ecology is no longer just another word for ‘hippie’… it matters to us all. As an old cynic, I sometimes feel that it is too late, but while we’re here, we should try to make a difference… it’ll make us happier than giving up and closing our hearts.
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