Every once in a long while, a creative human comes along who is able to transcend the arts. One of those unique and multi-talented individuals is Emily Scialom. Her first book The Religion Of Self-Enlightenment has received critical acclaim. It has become a cult classic for its thought-provoking take on religion, deeper life meanings, and exploration of the self. The book title shortens to The ROSE – Hence the photo of Emily smelling the roses!
In addition to being the author of several books, she is also a singer, songwriter, and poet. We discuss The ROSE in our interview below, along with her first music album. You won’t want to miss this conversation.
Disclosure: A sponsored interview unlike any other, featuring the exceptionally talented UK-based Emily Scialom. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases through links in this post.
Interview with author, poet, and musician Emily Scialom
Much of our interview focuses on Emily Scialom‘s popular book The Religion Of Self-Enlightenment. From there, we discuss her music career, poetry, and performing. Let’s get to the interview!
What inspired you to write The Religion Of Self-Enlightenment?
I grew up with a heartfelt belief that I would be a musician. I played guitar and wrote songs since I was 14 years old and have written hundreds of lyrics.
When I met the right women to form an all-female band with at the University of Liverpool, I felt like a deer in headlights. Having just lost several close family members, including my mother, I felt broken inside. I decided to hide from my fate, consequently had a nervous breakdown, and then contemplated it all.
As a result, the genesis of The ROSE could be said to be the desperately earnest questioning which took place in the aftermath of my inability to fulfill my musical ambitions. I found in searching my soul for answers that I hadn’t listened to my intuition and after decreeing that humanity needed a Religion Of Self. I had an epiphany: The Religion Of Self-Enlightenment was born.
What is the novel about?
Carrick Ares grows up without any particular beliefs in anything. He is boring and proudly so. Yet when he suddenly dies in a car accident, he experiences what he feels to be the afterlife. It then causes him to go through a huge existential crisis. The only person with whom he speaks about it is a psychiatrist, Paul Turnstone. They together explore the theories Carrick has about life.
Carrick goes mad and thinks that he finds the truth of existence. Struggling to dress himself hinders not his adamance that he knows the answers to the biggest questions of life. He produces a book, The Religion of Self-Enlightenment, which becomes the expression of his theories. It discusses exactly how to heal the crises which are now plaguing individuals and the wider world.
How can The Religion of Self-Enlightenment (The ROSE) help readers?
The ROSE poses questions about the meaning of life and suggests answers in a non-dictatorial way, which many readers have found helpful. The novel offers a whole new belief system promoting compassion, unity and love based on a solid foundation of extensive research.
I think we could all use more of these beautiful qualities in each and every one of our lives as well as in the wider world.
What lessons or deeper messages do you hope readers take away from the read?
There is a new religion contained within The ROSE, which harmonises Eastern and Western belief systems. Ideally, it would be the book to bring about a deep sense of spiritual peace, ignite a soulful revolution and eventually unify the disparate strands of belief which are currently causing such painful internal and external conflicts.
Failing that, it would be good if The ROSE encouraged readers to be a bit nicer to one another (and themselves). So that maybe they could become slightly more thoughtful in their approach to existence and, if things went remarkably well, a revelatory contentment could perhaps be evoked in those who understand the book’s message of pure love.
Cambridge News called your novel a “cult sensation” – Thanks for providing us with the newspaper! What does this feedback mean to you?
I am honoured to be the author of a novel which has been blessed with such high praise. I appreciate every single breathless review or generous media label which this heartfelt story has elicited.
A wonderfully erudite literary friend suggested that the definition of “a cult sensation” is a book with a small yet passionate following. I believe The ROSE has earned such a lofty accolade, but it would be heartwarming to see its reputation spread further afield.
The media has mistitled your book as The Religion Of Self-Entitlement, more than once. Even Cambridge News! What does this mistake reveal about modern society, in general, in your opinion?
This linguistic slip provides a window into the toxicity of our society and reveals the dark prevalence of entitlement in our world. We can easily observe this truly repulsive quality all around us, in my opinion. From individuals, including wayward politicians, to the behaviours of certain nations on the world stage, many horrific mistakes have been rooted in a personal or collective sense of entitlement.
It is revealing that some imagine this loathsome quality to be so ubiquitous that a religion has evolved to spiritually and intellectually enforce it. Furthermore, it also goes to show just how far enlightenment is from what I will optimistically call the consciousness of many people!
The title The Religion Of Self-Enlightenment shortens to The ROSE. Is the truth of existence a rose of sorts?
The truth of existence could be said to be similar to a rose in certain ways. There are thorns of understanding which have the potential to draw blood combined with a beauty which can enthrall any blessed beholder.
Roses symbolise many things, especially love and passion. The ROSE is a passionate call to love, so the association seems extraordinarily fitting.
Interview with Emily Scialom cont’d.
In this photo from Paradise Nature Reserve, what is happening? Why is it so special?
This photograph was taken in mid-2016 after the cover of The Religion Of Self-Enlightenment had been designed. On the front of my debut novel, I wanted to depict a pure spirit inside an eye to suggest the inner search for his true self that the main character, Carrick Ares, goes on. I could only find a suitable picture of Jesus to illustrate a pure soul.
After the cover had been finalised with my publisher at the time, Olympia, I was walking in Paradise Nature Reserve with my beloved sister, Florence. She took this miraculous photograph and exclaimed that I had been “photobombed by Jesus!”
As you can see, the image in the water of Paradise Nature Reserve mirrors the cover of The ROSE, which at that point had become a labour of love with a total of eight years and a great deal of soul-searching invested in its production. I also had a tutorial session on the Biblical parable of the prodigal son in that exact spot with a Christian friend a couple of years prior to the photo being taken, and I have always associated myself with the rather wild and badly behaved son in the tale.
I personally interpret the synchronicity of these images as a message of divine approval for the contents of The ROSE as well as a clear visual response to my deep inner search for spiritual connection. It is a special photograph as it saved my life and continues to nourish my soul. However, in expressing this, I must acknowledge there are many theories, as with all things.
In addition to being an author, you are also a talented singer-songwriter. Your first collection of songs is called Glastonbury’s Child. Where does this title come from?
I grew up in the small yet historically rich town of Glastonbury in Somerset, England, until I moved across the country to Cambridge aged 12. I still consider Glastonbury to be my hometown and see it as a remarkable epicentre of mysticism and mythology. As a place of pilgrimage, it manages to weave strands of different religions and cultures, from paganism and early Christianity to modern Goddess worship.
A filmmaker friend, John, came up with the name itself, and I loved it from the moment I heard it! I have also been to what is, in my opinion, the best celebration of the arts in the world, Glastonbury Festival, a total of six or so times through the years. It’s my dream to perform there when I grow up!
Is there a theme to the album? Is it acoustic?
There are many themes to Glastonbury’s Child: existential disappointment, spiritual turmoil and the passion of romance, for example. I always describe my style as being akin to acoustic Portishead (as an aside if you don’t know who Portishead are, then I invite you to treat yourself to the song “Numb” in order to begin your exploration as they are truly incredible).
How would you describe your music style to someone who’s never heard you sing before?
I don’t much like my speaking voice, but my singing voice is often described as “ethereal”, “enchanting” and “calming”. Add to the mix my love of intense philosophical poetry, and you should have a vague idea of what to expect from my musical offerings.
What is your creative process for writing songs?
I usually get a couple of chords which complement each other and go from there. Honest lyrics are my favourite kind to sing, so I try to write from the heart and explore exactly what I feel in the moment.
As a result, writing songs can be incredibly cathartic and clarifying. Songs such as “I Don’t Wanna Talk About Jesus” came to me in dreams, but these are rare occasions!
It might be hard to choose, but do you have a favorite song?
I call “Isolation” my “lockdown ditty,” but it’s probably my favourite so far. The backing vocals really work, and the lyrics hang together so well. I particularly savour these lines:
“In time the wind will speak your name
Throughout the backstreets and the main
Avenues of deep understanding filled with blessed noise.”
Listen to “Isolation” by Emily Scialom here:
Have you always loved to write?
I was a nationally published poet aged eight and became internationally published aged 17, so words have always been a passion of mine. I am now editing my seventh book, and I hope to produce many subsequent works.
As a poet, author, songwriter, and singer, how do you manage all these different hats?
I’m not very good at anything else except writing songs, books and poetry. Creativity comes naturally to me. I believe, as George Michael suggested that our role as human beings is to find out what we’re good at and then use our talents for the betterment of the world.
Do you perform live, Emily Scialom?
I sporadically play open mic nights. When I performed a song from Glastonbury’s Child called “Would It Happen With A Goddess?” at The Alma in Cambridge a couple of years ago, a kind man approached me afterward, shook my hand, and said, “That was the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”
It can be incredibly enriching to engage with an audience from a stage, but I’ve noticed as social well-being plummets, many have become much angrier and more reluctant to devote their time to art. I feel this is a mistake as, for me, at least, artists hold the torches in the pitch-black night of confusion and horror which surrounds us.
I also recently read some poetry at Cambridge Love Jam, which is a monthly gathering of creative types run by a couple of friends. And in early March 2023, I hosted my first speaking event in London at Watkins Books. I focused on The ROSE during my talk and the recording of the entire presentation is on my website for those who are interested!
Where do you see yourself career-wise in the next five years?
I’m hoping to be embraced by the literary mainstream in the coming years, but given the way I am a born outsider this currently seems merely a dim possibility. More specifically, I would like to obtain the services of a suitable literary agent, sign a traditional publishing deal for my new novel, The Watch On The Beach, and connect with a keenly supportive audience.
Final words from Emily Scialom
I constantly research the state of the publishing industry and am so often aghast at what I find. From literary agents who clearly do not read cover letters to Gary Barlow autobiographies in the bestseller lists and vast funds for promotion allocated to the worst books available.
Yet if you are looking for a heartfelt novel which means what it says and says what it means – if you understand what it’s like to be alone in a darkened room, rocking slowly backward and forwards while whispering, “Why am I here?” in the hope that God answers – then The Religion Of Self-Enlightenment is the book for you.
Connect with Emily Scialom, author, singer, songwriter, and poet
Emily is multi-talented! Be sure to check out each of her forms of art.
A great place to get to know her creative works better is through her self-titled website. There you will find info about each of her books, lyrics to the songs from Glastonbury’s Child, and more. You can even watch the video of her presentation at Watkins Books that she mentioned during the interview! Her social media links are there too.
Find Glastonbury’s Child on Spotify and listen to the songs. I like the track “Someone To Love” the best, I think (it’s hard to choose!). What about you?
Stay updated as she releases music by subscribing to Emily Scialom on YouTube too. As soon as I listened to her song “Street Preacher” on there, I subscribed.
Get your copy of the cult classic The Religion of Self-Enlightenment on Amazon today.