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Mary Phelan: “Life has taught me never to give up”

Life has taught me never to give up on anything or even, to rest for too long. That said, I took much time out to pursue college courses and do other work, long after I had begun writing. I did not have much choice in the matter and these are great excuses to chill. But […]

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Life has taught me never to give up on anything or even, to rest for too long. That said, I took much time out to pursue college courses and do other work, long after I had begun writing. I did not have much choice in the matter and these are great excuses to chill. But I have my eye upon the many away days, and rest days, and holidays, and time out for this and time out for that, which I am sure amounts to a few years’ writing time. Now, I shudder at what I have lost and I urge all aspiring writers to remember that life is very short and to use time to its utmost.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Phelan.

Mary Phelan grew up in a working-class neighbourhood of Dublin. In her earlier years, she worked in a series of mundane occupations and in her spare time, she learned to love literature. The books that she read indicated the much wider world and she moved to Europe, initially to Germany and then settling in London. In this world city, she discovered the vast wealth of museums and art galleries, a fascination that led to her becoming a student of art history at University College London. Following graduation, she worked as a copy editor and eventually, a copywriter.

All the while, the question spun in her head: where does creativity come from? What makes one person determined to pursue a career in art, literature or music or at least, become a very creative entrepreneur, while other persons write themselves off as unimaginative? In the meantime, she continued to write fiction. A series of random events — career problems, illness — led to her routinely recording her dreams. What she has discovered over the years has astonished her and she hopes, will prove illuminating and helpful to others. Now in possession of an MA in English literature from the Open University, she has worked as an English tutor. To quote Mary: “The better and greater part of my fictions, I have written post-dream recording. As things stand, I have more plot ideas to follow up than I can ever find time to write. This creative power — in whatever direction — is available to everyone. I continue to record my oneiric experiences and I hope to produce a follow-up book to Dreams: Exploring Uncharted Depths of Consciousness, one day.”


Thank you so much for joining us! When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story?

I have read many inspirational books; in fact, I do not believe that it is possible to read copiously without incurring profound changes in one’s life. But I have a memory of picking up a copy of Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (Penguin: London, 1991) at an airport bookshop, six years ago. It was as if someone handed it to me and commanded: read. I read it in the departure lounge and on the plane and barely stopped to unpack when I arrived home. I sat up into the early morning hours, reading. In fact, I barely took time out to do anything else, until I had finished it. What struck me most was the close connection between the archetypal imagery that appears in dreams and the stock characters that appear in fairy tales, giants, princesses and so on, a matter that Bettelheim refers to now and again.

What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

As above, it is difficult to pin-point the exact sequence of events. However, on finishing Bettelheim’s book, I knew then that I had to evolve from a copywriter into a more profound writer. I had already had a series of editing posts which had not led anywhere, and a brush with illness to remind me how short life is. And, following picking up and reading The Dream Whisperer by Davina Mackail, I was already keeping a dream diary.

But it was reading Bruno Bettelheim’s book that consolidated everything. Within months, I had enrolled on my Masters’ course in English literature and about a year later again, I began the first transcript. At the time, I saw it as a lighter aside to all of the academic writing.

It was strange, but as the book began to take shape, it felt as if the world was handing me the material with which to finish it. One example was the awarding of the Nobel prize in 2017 to three scientists who have discovered that all of our cells are involved in the body’s sleep cycle, not just one bundle of cells in our brains. This material proved significant when explaining the importance of sleep.

What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?

Initially, I wrote it for me, to consolidate the material that I had found in my dream recording and the theories of writers like Bettelheim. But as the months rolled on, the transcript began to take on a life of its own and I eventually found I had a book manuscript, on hand. Then as now, I hoped that my journey of self analysis would inspire and help others.

Did the actual results align with your expectations? Can you explain?

I have had readers tell me that my book has inspired them to interpret their own dreams. However, I have also heard from readers who want me to interpret their dreams for them. I point out that the principles in the book discourage them from revealing their dreams to others too soon, and I encourage such readers to return to the text.

What moment let you know that your book had started a movement? Please share a story.

First, the shock of receiving this email from Authority magazine and next, receiving all of those emails.

What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?

The majority of readers have problems involving love and relationships, and work and money, which proves what I always knew, that humans are more like each other than we imagine. A few more involve recovering from illness. I have had a few people thank me for “solving” their problems but I say now as I always have done to readers, that the only person who can solve a problem in life is you. I simply guide the reader to this latent power, but only you can make use of it. To a person claiming to be ill, I say, see a doctor.

What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?

As I point out above, I find it curious and nice when people thank me for solving their problems — I can’t do that, only guide the reader towards the power that they have within themselves.

Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?

I haven’t had any negative experiences yet but if I nurture a fear, it is that readers will imagine that I am trying to posture as “super” human, a person with special powers. To that, I say, never. My book is at all levels, about getting and staying in touch with the more subtle aspects of one’s humanity.

Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?

There is no force upon Earth like the power of the word: just think of the Bible “In the beginning…”?

A book is a collection of words organised into ideas, which touch upon human emotions and yearnings, spurring men to act upon its contents. A book can be reproduced and disseminated around the world, and filter down through the ages. If enough humans love a book for long enough, it will never go out of print: just think of (again) the Bible, the Koran, A Vindication of the Rights of Man, Das Kapital, and others.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

In a nutshell, I have learned — over a very long time — how to combine creativity with productivity. Perseverance does help here, but it is important to learn to be oneself. When I began writing, my work was merely imitative in nature, a good way to learn the nuts and bolts of the craft, but utterly useless in becoming a writer of note. Slowly, I learned how to listen in to my hunches, those ideas that seized me and compelled me to act.

I soon discovered that I needed to add to my store of knowledge if I were ever to achieve anything, and I began to take advantage of every learning opportunity that came my way. Today, I have a BA in art history and an MA in English literature. And I have by no means finished adding to my stock of ideas. Even watching TV can be a source of inspiration. And I have gotten into the habit of writing down every idea that floats into my head — daydreaming is simply an extension of early morning memories — to channel into use for writing fiction or non-fiction. To writers, I say: be true to yourself, write to the point where you think you can — and go one step beyond — and never, ever stop dreaming!

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?

Life has taught me never to give up on anything or even, to rest for too long. That said, I took much time out to pursue college courses and do other work, long after I had begun writing. I did not have much choice in the matter and these are great excuses to chill. But I have my eye upon the many away days, and rest days, and holidays, and time out for this and time out for that, which I am sure amounts to a few years’ writing time. Now, I shudder at what I have lost and I urge all aspiring writers to remember that life is very short and to use time to its utmost.

Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book? (please include a story or example for each)

First, it helps to have an emotional connection with whatever you write about. I felt compelled to write about dream analysis because it has spurred me to much achievement.

Second, when you feel that you have something to say, the next factor is action and it is never too soon to begin. No one can write anything noteworthy in a heartbeat. When I felt my achievements mounting up, I finally put my thoughts into script. I wish I hadn’t waited so long because it has been a long and tortuous journey.

Third, do not fabricate events but write from experience. It is important to write from the heart, to recognise that other humans can benefit from what you have learned. Fabrication will only disrupt this pattern.

Fourth, give readers a plan of action to follow, which I have done in my book. Curiosity is a perennial human emotion and if readers feel that they cannot engage with your text, they will soon lose interest.

Fifth, finish writing on a note of hope. Life’s story is ongoing and no book is ever truly finished. I finish my book by encouraging readers to embark on their own dream adventure.

The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?

I anticipate seeing a work explaining how essential it is to extend social equity to all mankind in the most profound areas, such as access to food and shelter, education at all levels, healthcare and work opportunities. It is an injustice to leave these vital matters to fortunate birth or other chance. There is enough in this world for everyone, materially speaking, and it is time that humanity advanced to an understanding of this, of providing equity in these areas to everyone, without preconditions.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My LinkedIn profile is:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/mary-phelan-6660aa1b?trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

Read my travel and lighter literary articles at https://hubpages.com/@maryphelan

My just-for-fun blog is at http://maryphelan.blogspot.com/

Or you can follow me on Twitter @BlondeMary

Thank you so much for these insights. It was a true pleasure to do this with you.

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