Nick James Stead || Interview with a werewolf

What got you into werewolves and how old were you when you discovered them?

For as long as I can remember wolves have always been my favourite animal, but I have a love of big predatory animals in general. I spent most of my childhood running round on all fours pretending to be a wolf or whatever animal took my fancy on any given day. I think I was around 7 or 8 when I first heard about werewolves and I was instantly fascinated by this idea of shapeshifting into something more powerful than a human. I always thought humans are quite boring as a species – if it weren’t for our brains and opposable thumbs we’d never have risen up the food chain! So I guess I was drawn to shapeshifters because of that, and werewolves specifically because wolves are my favourite animal. I also really like the bipedal kind of wolf man when it’s done right (like in the 2004 Van Helsing movie) as well as the idea of becoming a full wolf – having a hybrid form that has all the advantages of both species really appeals to me!

Do you share the same love of other types of shapeshifters?

Yeah I do like other wereanimals and beastmen as well. I really like big cat shifters – weretigers, wereleopards, werelions, etc. I also love the gnoll race in World of Warcraft which are like hyena men. I love the lizardmen race from Warhammer and have a pretty large collection of the miniatures, though they never come out to battle anymore as I lost touch with my mate who I used to play Warhammer with. I also loved the Street Sharks we had in the 90s. Pretty much anything with big fangs and claws I’m a fan of, though werebears are an exception – not sure why but I’ve just never been into bears! A few types of shifters besides werewolves do appear in some of my short stories on my author site, including a weredragon and a couple of werelions.

What do you think it is that attracts you to werewolves?

I think because I always had that love of predatory animals and wolves specifically I was really drawn to the idea of being able to turn into one. I’ve also always had a love of monsters for as far back as I can remember which probably started off with cartoons like Scooby Doo and then grew into a love of horror stories like Goosebumps, and then horror movies as I got old enough to watch them. While my mates were all dreaming of being comic book heroes like Superman and Spiderman, I wanted to be one of the monsters. And werewolves just hit all the right buttons – the idea of becoming something more powerful than a human and the appeal of the wolf man hybrid form, as well as the idea of transforming into a full wolf.

Do you prefer a gory werewolf tale or a more modernised, romanticised version?

Definitely the blood and guts kind. As a horror fan I’m drawn to the idea of lycanthropy being a curse and the whole losing control and killing loved ones scenario, though making it a blessing in a horror setting can be awesome as well. I’ve never had any interest in the romance genre, not even if it’s werewolf characters instead of humans!

What does the ideal werewolf look like in your opinion?

If I could be a werewolf for real I’d want to enjoy both becoming a full wolf and the hybrid form. But the ideal wolfman form for me is a wolf head on a humanoid body, with clawed hands and feet and a tail. The Van Helsing werewolves are almost perfect and still my favourite movie werewolves, but the lack of a tail bugs me! I’d also like to see more werewolves given a pelt that resembles the natural pattern of grey/timber wolves, rather than always being one solid colour. Obviously some wolves are all black or all white but most are a mix of greys, browns, whites, etc. and it would be nice to see more werewolves given that natural colouring.

Give some cinematic examples of your ideal werewolf.

The main ones that come to mind are Van Helsing, Dog Soldiers (but again they need tails!), Bad Moon and the more wolfish werewolves that come from William’s bloodline in the Underworld series (which are also missing tails!). The werewolf in the new Goosebumps movie looks awesome in the trailers as well!

What should a werewolf NOT look like in your opinion?

A hairy human with fangs that doesn’t have anything distinctly wolfish about it! Or even worse, a human that just gets ever so slightly hairier or just fangs and claws and never turns any closer to a wolf – they might as well be vampires. It’s so disappointing when you get to see a werewolf ‘transform’ and they barely change from human. I’ve seen some that can hardly be called a transformation!

Give a cinematic example of a werewolf that didn’t quite meet your expectations.

I’m not keen on the original Wolf Man although I know it was great effects for its time, and the 2010 remake was such a disappointment – I liked the storyline but with today’s technology they could have made the werewolves so much more wolfish, though I guess they wanted to keep the same look to pay homage to the original. I’m also not keen on the werewolves in Teen Wolf – either the movie or the current TV series. And I really love Supernatural as a series but the werewolves in that were so disappointing – they only get fangs and claws, and I think wolfish eyes, but not even any extra hair. Wer was a huge disappointment as well – again, loved the storyline but when the French werewolf barely transformed it ruined it for me.

Stepping away from the cinematic side of things, what is your favourite werewolf novel?

It’s hard to pick just one favourite! I really love the High Moor trilogy by Graeme Reynolds, my own story of course, and your Primal Progeny series. I also read the Wereling trilogy by Stephen Cole in the early 2000s and I remember enjoying those at the time. The Goosebumps Werewolf of Fever Swamp was probably the first werewolf story I ever read and that was definitely a childhood favourite!

Back to cinema, what is your favourite werewolf film?

I think for the werewolves it would have to be Van Helsing, though I don’t consider it a werewolf film as such – it’s more like a story that has werewolves in, rather than an actual werewolf story. I also really love the Underworld prequel Rise of the Lycans as I’m a fantasy fan as well as horror, so I love the setting and the sword fighting in that one. But I think probably my favourite werewolf horror movie is still American Werewolf in London. I do find the look of that werewolf a little disappointing when you see him up close at the end as he just doesn’t look quite right for a wolf creature to me, but the transformation still has to be one of the best ever and it was exactly how I imagined it when writing Hybrid. As far as the classic kind of werewolf story goes where someone is bitten and then loses control when they turn at full moon, I think American Werewolf in London does that really well. It’s just the right mix of horror, gore, werewolf mythology and comedy for me.

Do you have any werewolf related songs to recommend?

One of my all time favourites is Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Baby – I like his music and I really love the lyrics to that one. I’ve also recently discovered Timeless Miracle thanks to another werewolf friend and I’m really loving their Curse of the Werewolf and Return of the Werewolf, but the whole Into the Enchanted Chamber album is awesome (it’s an epic mix of folklore and metal)! I also love Metallica’s Of Wolf and Man and there’s a few songs by the German band Powerwolf that are werewolf themed – Lupus Dei and Son of a Wolf are two of my favourites of theirs.

What do you think of the way representation of werewolves has changed over the years? (In both literature and cinema.)

I think it’s interesting that a lot of modern works feature werewolves as pack animals now, when historically and in the early werewolf movies they were often depicted as lone wolves. I wonder if the lone wolf image is partly down to the mob mentality of rural communities and the way anyone deemed an outsider would often be treated with suspicion and singled out in any kind of witch or werewolf hunt. It’s also interesting that being a werewolf has evolved from being a curse in most stories to being a blessing in a lot of modern media, like in the games Altered Beast and Bloody Roar. I do enjoy stories in any media that bring new ideas to the old myths and new ways of looking at being a werewolf – whether as a curse or a blessing – but I wish we could go back to more werewolf horror and less paranormal romance!

Tell me something that makes the werewolves in your works unique, what makes them special?

When I first started on Hybrid I tried to think about why it is that werewolves black out during the full moon in most stories, and I thought of real personality disorders where the sufferer can’t remember what they did when their ‘other self’ was in control. So I decided to treat being a werewolf like having a split personality which means my character’s inner wolf becomes a character in himself. But I believe animals are so much smarter than humans give them credit for so my wolf is so much more than just instincts and primal urges – in the chapters from his perspective he’s written as being highly intelligent and both his character and the human side of him evolve and grow over the course of the first book. I haven’t come across anyone else’s works that explores the psychological impact the curse might have on a werewolf in quite the same way or to the same depth that I wanted to go into in Hybrid. In my short stories I’ve tried to do werewolves from a few different angles (but I have done short stories on other themes as well; they’re not all werewolves or shifters). Beasts of Bedburg is based on the true story of Peter Stubbe, a serial killer accused of being a werewolf in 16h century Germany, and that one is a character who enjoys transforming and killing in wolf form. And Consuming Darkness is loosely based on the Norse mythology of Skoll, the wolf that chases and tries to eat the sun. The werewolf in that is actually the hero of the piece and he was turned because of the demonic wolf based on Skoll, who he’s dedicated his life to fighting. My latest short story piece featuring a werewolf took some inspiration from Skyrim and involves an epic battle between the draugar of Norse mythology and a werewolf character who has to embrace his power to defeat them.

What are you other passions? Vampires, zombies? Body horror? Etc etc.

I’m mostly into supernatural horror so that’s mostly what I write – mythology, folklore and the supernatural all really fascinates me. I’ve never been much into vampires as they’re too human for me but some vampire mythology is cool, and there is often a crossover with werewolves. Zombies can be cool but I prefer the more skeletal type – I’ve always had a love of skeleton warriors which perhaps stems from my geeky side and love of fantasy. I also have a fair few skeleton miniatures from the Warhammer undead race. I’ve always been fascinated by places believed to be haunted and that kind of thing as well, and witchcraft. And demons tend to feature a lot in my work, though I try to come up with my own spin on mythology so most of my demons have been my own creation rather than based on something I’ve read. Mostly I’m into the more bestial monsters. I’ve always loved dragons and I do really enjoy the fantasy genre, which I’ve started to dabble in over the last couple of years. A couple of my short story pieces have ended up being more dark fantasy than horror even though I didn’t intend for that to be the case when I started writing them, and I do have plans to adapt one into a full length dark fantasy novel. I prefer anti-heroes to out and out good guys though, so whenever I do get more into the fantasy side of things it does tend to be specifically dark fantasy, and still with elements of horror and gore in there.

Tell us about your most recent werewolf related work.

My latest short story piece was for one of the annual competitions we run at my local writer’s group, Huddersfield Author’s Circle. The lady we got in to judge it this year writes historical fiction, so that’s what she set us as the theme. We could pick any time period but we had to have a reunion between two characters after they’d been apart for 10 years. I ended up going with the Viking age after I came across a bit of Norse mythology I wanted to play around with. And I’m really happy to say my entry came in first place! I didn’t expect to win at all as it ended up being more of a dark fantasy with a historical setting than historical fiction and I expected her to pull me up on that, so it was a nice surprise to find I’d won when we had our results night meeting. This is the one I previously mentioned that took a little bit of inspiration from Skyrim, and tells of a battle between the people of a fictional town I named Threkeld and the draugar, a type of Norse undead. When the mortal Viking warriors can’t defeat these dreaded foe, they call in an unlikely hero who turns out to be a werewolf. It’s called Clash of Legends and you can now read it for free on my author site in the works section, along with the other short story pieces I mentioned before.

Clash of Legends

Who is your favourite character within your own work and why?

There’s so many I’ve enjoyed writing but I think my favourite has to be my main character in Hybrid. It kind of started as my own personal werewolf fantasy so the main character is essentially me as a werewolf, which is why he also shares my name. I was going to rename him for the published version but if Darren Shan can get away with a vampire named after himself I figured I could keep my werewolf named after me. I think the first Hybrid will always hold a special place in my heart, no matter how many books I put out in my career as a writer. When I started it at fifteen I wanted to write the ultimate werewolf story so I poured all my passion for werewolves and the horror genre into it, and some parts are deeply personal as they reflect things that were going on for me in real life at the time. Like the poor relationship Nick has with his dad – we did used to fight a lot in real life and I found writing the scenes where they argue was a great way of expressing all that teenage angst, plus it fit so perfectly with the rage the werewolf curse is supposed to cause. Also the problems with bullying were inspired by real life and I love how my character is able to deal with them in a way I couldn’t, due to his rage and his greater strength once he becomes a werewolf. I liked being able to give him the strength to stand up to them and how all that aggression and rage from the curse means he won’t let them walk all over him anymore, which I could only fantasise about in my teens.

Do you have any big upcoming plans relating to werewolves?

Nothing yet but my publisher has confirmed they will do a paperback release of Hybrid in the New Year, so I’m looking at possibly doing a book tour once the printed edition is out there. I’m also hard at work on the second book in the series and nearly have the first draft finished now. I’m hoping to get it out sometime next year, depending how long the submission process takes with Wild Wolf Publishing this time.

Where will you be available to meet fans in the near future, if you are doing any outings or signings?

It’s looking like I’m going to be appearing at the Huddersfield Literature Festival in March. I’m just waiting to hear more from them about possibly performing at one of the events. Birstall Library also seemed keen on me doing an event there, after I went to talk to their creative writing group last month which seemed to go down really well. Nothing concrete has been planned yet but I do like the idea of doing a book tour so keep an eye on my news page for updates!

What do you think of the furry movement and how it has affected the way people perceive werewolves?

I’ve got nothing against furries but they do seem to be anthropomorphic animals on the cute side. I much prefer snarling beastmen of a feral nature to the cutesy furry art. I think the likes of Twilight has done more harm to werewolves than the furry fandom though. If I had a pound for every time someone asked if I’m writing the next Twilight series I’d be a rich man!

Vampires and zombies have both had some serious popularity in the last few years; what do you think needs to happen to give werewolves that same boost? (Because whatever it is we need to make it happen!)

I think we need a really big budget werewolf blockbuster movie or TV show. I think True Blood did a lot for vampires in recent years, and The Walking Dead is obviously the big one for zombies, so if we could have a really well done werewolf series or movie I think that could give werewolves a serious boost. But it seems like too many recent werewolf movies are low budget and don’t do the werewolves justice – they just don’t look right, etc. Same for the likes of Teen Wolf on TV, plus we seem to have dropped it in the UK and they never gave us Bitten over here! It would have to be a really big TV series that was shown worldwide on a mainstream channel in my opinion. Or if a werewolf story could hit the mainstream and then get picked up for an on screen adaption that could be huge as well. I’ll certainly keep trying to make my Hybrid series a big success!