And November brings starlings

Kirkstone Pass

These last few days have brought huge clouds of starlings; initially on the eastern side of Penzance, then perhaps 10,000 murmurating at Marazion Marshes last night and, just now, thousands of them whirling in a massive circle outside the back of the house. It’s been like a wonderful, waking dream.

As you can see from my previous post, the trip to Cumbria in September included a return to Jhonn Balance’s memorial. We spent some time at Bassenthwaite Lake, with only geese for company, near the hawthorn tree where Balance’s ashes were scattered, then made our way to the nearby woodland memorial. We had time here, too, to tidy up litter left by thoughtless visitors and to photograph the woodland. I was able to take in the surroundings more fully this time. The place is dearly important to me.

The trip was overwhelming for many reasons. We stayed in a house overlooked by Blencathra mountain on one side and the Helvellyn range on another and visited Castlerigg stone circle three times, such was its effect on us. On each visit the weather and light were radically different, the mountains surrounding the plateau on which the circle sits subtly changed as the sun came and went. On our first visit, we were lucky enough to have D, a local Pagan, quietly impart his extensive knowledge of the place. Thank you, D.

We also travelled east to Long Meg And Her Daughters, a stone circle so big that it contains several trees and a lane runs through it. Long Meg, outside the circle but seeming to keep a protective eye on it, has a beautiful spiral carved into her side. It is entirely different to Castlerigg but a fascinating place. On our last visit we were unable to meet up with Ian Johnstone (artist/farmer/Coil affiliate and Balance’s partner) but met with him twice this time. After several years of communicating with him, it was wonderful to meet face to face and we talked at length about many, many things.

JB Hawthorn & Dodd

Storylandia #15 – the issue devoted to my work – is now set for publication in January 2015. This means my deadline is two months’ shorter than I originally thought, but I’m happy that it’s going ahead so soon. Four short stories and one novella are now with the editor and I’m hoping that all of these will appear in the issue. I have one story that’s near to completion but won’t be ready in time and another with an anthology editor – this feels like a good momentum to have gained.

Waking the witch

Votive And Spiderweb

I’ve spent some time reading The Occult by Colin Wilson and it’s been reassuring to find that most of the beliefs I’ve had over many years are or have been shared by various peoples over time. No surprise that most of them are from outside Europe – my own experience is of dismissive or condescending attitudes towards beliefs that can’t be backed up by scientific experiments (except for Christianity of course, although the existence of more than one Universe has recently almost been proved by A Man In A Laboratory and is therefore more worthy of being taken seriously). I’ve learnt to be cautious: the possibility of astral travel via dreaming, for instance, is something I’d never even spoken to anyone about due to the closed minds of most people. This doesn’t mean I won’t be exploring such things in future stories – the only safe place I felt I had – but it’s occurred to me that I’m living in the wrong part of the world as far as belief systems go. However, the far west of Britain – Cornwall, Dartmoor or Cumbria – is where I feel centred. It’s where I’m meant to be now, so I can’t see myself leaving. I’ve had a bit more contact recently with writers via the Internet, which has been doing me good, so I don’t see why I can’t make contact with others of a more similar spiritual nature.

After what seems like endless re-writes over several weeks, my two latest short stories – Scar Tissue and Perihelion – are close enough to being finished to be put aside for at least a few days so I can read them more objectively and, hopefully, make final adjustments. Perihelion will probably get (another) new title – In Holes and Corners – as it rests more comfortably with the story. Sometimes several title changes are needed, although I’m finding these days that a simple phrase or word can be enough to inspire an entire story and it will therefore begin with the title. Inevitably, I’ve been hearing a lot of Kate Bush every time I turn the radio on and from my own collection Ariel has again been forming a good backdrop for writing.

Clive Barker and the future of the human race

St Ives Hepworth

“It’s amazing how often I hear people say, ‘You know, we shouldn’t be on this planet.’ I’d never heard that before. That’s very new, the whole idea that the people on the animal planet are talking about the fact that we are the problem not the solution – the wolf not the shepherd – and the decent thing that we should do is just get a gun and put it to our collective heads, I’d never heard of that said before, or mooted before, but it’s an incredibly scary prospect that people, sensible people now think the only solution for what they consider a more valuable piece of creation than us – which is the rest of nature – is best served by us packing our bags and leaving. And that is a frightening thought, just because sensible people are saying that. And I want to address that in the third book of The Art – we need to be pro-life; and pro-life isn’t just about babies, it’s about old people too.”

Clive Barker, Revelations interview, May/June 2014

This excerpt, from the latest interview on Barker’s website, is interesting for several reasons. But first, a pedantic point: the idea of the Earth being salvageable only if the human race is removed from it, is not a new one. I remember discussing this with Andy Martin (then of The Apostles, now of UNIT) at his home in Hackney around 30 years ago. Andy’s question – “If you had a bomb that wiped out humans but didn’t damage anything else, would you use it?” – eventually became the basis for my first novel, The Gathering, which was drafted several years ago but is as yet unfinished. I’m sure it was discussed by ‘sensible’ (assuming Barker means intelligent people who are approaching the issue from an environmental/bigger picture angle, rather than screaming fascists who just want to choose in which order to execute everyone) people before then, too.

Anyway, it’s interesting to me to hear that the thought is being discussed more. I’m not sure what Barker means by being ‘pro-life’, although it appears that he’s restricting the term to human life. For me it’s not just about babies, or old people; as far as I’m concerned it’s about all life. Is it such a radical concept to consider that the incredible array of life on this planet (as well as the planet itself being a living, evolving thing [Gaia, the Great Mother of All, or, for the more scientifically minded, the Gaia Hypothesis]) has as much right to be here as we consider ourselves to have? Even to be pro-human life (above all other forms of life on Earth) surely means that we have to face the fact that humans have massively over populated the planet and the way in which we live is destroying it? We are so close to the point of no return (and further as far as having made untold species extinct) that I find it astounding when other ‘sensible’ people talk about simply adapting in order to feed the massive amounts of people that humans are producing instead of dealing with the issue of over population. We are a part of nature and yet totally apart from it. Could any other species survive in such unsustainable numbers? It really, really isn’t just about us.

I’m also unsure as to what Barker finds scary – the fact that ‘sensible’ people can see how things are going for the planet and therefore it must be bad, or whether he feels that such people have, perhaps, given up on the human race. It could easily be both. This was a small point in an interview, of course, but it would be fascinating to expand on it with him. I’m looking forward to seeing how he addresses it in the third book of The Art.

Barker, presumably, is of the opinion that humans can be better than they are now, can make the Earth a better place. This is an optimistic view – and, of course, it’s always possible – but then I’ve always thought of Barker as an optimistic person. More probable, in my opinion, is David Attenborough belief that we will bring about some kind of environmental catastrophe and then the Earth will continue, with a far, far smaller amount of humans on it than there are now.

But basically, it comes down to this: is the good of the planet and everything on it worth the extinction of the human race? Or is the short-term good of some of the human race worth the ruin of the planet and the extinction of many of the other species which live on it?

The haunters and the haunted

Mount mural 001 April 2011

On the weekend of 10-11 May this year, I was staying at the Premier Inn in Liskeard, a recently built ‘motel’ on the outskirts of the town. On the second night, I awoke in the early hours to see what I thought was my partner, T, walking across the room towards the bathroom. The naked figure stopped near my corner of the bed and busied itself doing something (it was too dark to see details). It was at that point that I realised T was still asleep next to me. This is a ghost, then, I thought (not being prone to straightforward hallucinations, but that is another possible explanation), and watched the figure for a minute or two. It stayed in the same place and was still doing whatever-it-was when it faded away.

I’ve had various paranormal experiences during my life, but this was the first time a straightforward ghost/apparition has appeared in front of me. It’s also the first time I’ve been faced with anything like this without being frightened. I felt no malevolence from the figure; it seemed to be doing its own thing, oblivious of me or at the least totally disinterested.

The Inn has no hauntings associated with it as far as I’ve been able to find out and I don’t know what use the land had before the place was built (although it was probably a field, in line with the surrounding area) or the ancient history of it. Old buildings are classically associated with ghosts, but any building or place can, of course, become haunted. Hopefully one day I’ll find out more about what I saw that night; I may well record the incident with the Society for Psychical Research in London and perhaps they’ll have some thoughts on it.

Rebecca Shadow and the Winter House is now in a complete, typed up first draft format. It’s been a long haul to get it to this state and I’m sure there’s plenty of rewriting to do. The title has now been changed to Perihelion; this is the point at which a planet passes closest to the sun on its orbit. It was appropriate, bearing in mind what happens in the story. The ending makes for a darker dark fantasy than I’ve written for a while, although I feel like writing another full-on horror tale, so that’s probably next on the agenda. UPDATE: a story I wrote some time ago, Scar Tissue, was but never quite happy with, is now in the process of being extensively rewritten. I always liked the story, but the angle I was telling it from just wasn’t working. I spent much of last week with my window open, listening to a chaffinch in a tree nearby, which sang constantly every day. Something about the repeating rhythm and pattern put me in the right headspace (similar to listening to various drone/dark ambient recordings), and I think the story – several years in the making – will finally turn out to be just what I wanted it to be.

In late summer I shall be making another trip to Cumbria, to spend a week in the amazing landscape of the north lakes. It means I’ll be able to visit Castlerigg and Long Meg and her Daughters stone circles for the first time and return to Jhonn Balance’s memorial near Bassenthwaite Lake. My 24 hour visit to the area last year left me wanting much more and, of course, having two faulty cameras with me meant that I only got a handful of shots of the entire trip (I had the second film processed recently and it contained a couple of shots taken at Vindolanda museum/Roman army camp – more than I’d been expecting, but still virtually nothing from such a huge trip) – which was a reminder to always be in the present and enjoy an experience, but needless to say I’m very happy to be going back.

An interview with Ellyott

Ellyott DJ

I now have a copy of Curve magazine with my article on Ellyott. It’s been shortened a bit, unsurprisingly, due to lack of space, but it’s come out well (apart from Curve’s insistence on calling Ellyott ‘Ezzer’ for much of the piece – their doing, not mine) – Ellyott gets to say plenty. What follows are the bits that didn’t make it into the article. I thought the material was too good – and important – to not see the light of day. Some pieces are straight from my interview with her, others are from the original article. The result is inevitably a bit of a jigsaw, but I hope it makes interesting reading.

JT: “While most of the songs are in Hebrew, three are in English. Was there any particular reason for that? [Was it a matter of communicating these songs to a wider/different audience?]”

E: “I have been writing in both English and Hebrew my whole life, I feel both languages are my lovers, and this is the only field where I care to be polygamous. Some songs declare themselves in a certain language, and I just let them drive me, happy to ride shotgun, and let the song unroll.”

The loss of Ellyott’s father in 2010, as well as other members of her family in the holocaust, are clearly evident in the songs and among the sleeve notes are dedications to Queer activists John Edward Campbell and Tutu Tedder, along with Sister George’s bass player Lisa Cook, all of whom have passed on. As loss was the driving force behind the album’s creation, it was perhaps inevitable that it was a central theme.

While Ellyott wrote most of the lyrics, she also took the opportunity to arrange music to a poem written by Ester Raab, the sister of Ellyott’s grandfather, (‘A Song For The Mediterranean’), and covered one of Israel’s best known children’s songs.

E: “I recorded ‘My Dad’ as a requiem to my father. I actually recorded it the week my dad died and you can hear my voice breaking up at the end of the song. This, for many people here, has been the best loved song of the album and has been played here a lot. People really relate to my version.”

I had hoped that life as a Queer artist in the UK would be somewhat easier than in Israel [where her songs were banned in the 1980s and she was front page news as the first out-dyke artist in the country], but evidently I was wrong, as Ellyott is quick to point out.

E: “I thought it would be easier in London but actually it wasn’t. Sister George was allowed its fifteen minutes of fame as ‘Queer Punk Badass Gang’. We were on the cover of the New Musical Express, but were not taken seriously as musicians, which is a shame as I feel our later songs were far better than our debut album. We broke up when the others in the band thought I was trying to get U2′s scout to sign me as a solo artist, when he came to see us. Needless to say, it was never so. But we broke up and I never got to talk it out and make up, as our bass player Lisa Cook died a few years back, and it broke my heart that I never got to sort it out. Lisa was fierce, I admired her greatly.”

Despite her misgivings about the UK’s attitude to Sister George (and I can testify to the songwriting leaps the band made during their career), Ellyott has fond memories of its Queercore scene.

E: “Queercore was a beautifully exciting wave of energy. I feel lucky to have been a part of it. I guess I always will be, among other things. We all needed to be heard, and so took up the space and made sure the world heard us. This much hasn’t changed. People who are different still have that need to be counted, to express their wants and pains and joys. I just choose other genres of music to do it in nowadays.”

And part of that change of direction, musically speaking, is Ellyott’s hugely successful career as a DJ, although her playlist certainly has its punk ethics.

E: “I DJ house and techno music, and I infuse it with bits of spoken word and speeches of the likes of Gloria Steinem and Patti Smith. My heart is still a big, raw, pulsing mass of sound and energy. How I express myself might be different, but singing with my guitar or DJ-ing my tracks is all one and the same. I get to DJ to tens of thousands of people in Tel-Aviv’s Pride, for example, or as a resident of the country’s biggest gay party, Forever Tel-Aviv, and I love every second of it. I am more exposed as a singer, and find it easier to whip people into a frenzy when I DJ, but the two are very similar, the thrill of performing is the same. I have been doing it for nearly 30 years, and I am addicted to the buzz.”

Perhaps 5772 is as much about celebrating life as it is about loss – love and family are ever present in the songs. It has its sadness, but also its optimism, its acknowledgment that life continues, despite everything. Ellyott has a strength that is difficult not to take heart from. She has lost none of the fire she had when I knew her decades ago but she appears to be happier, and the self-assuredness of maturity and motherhood is reflected in her song writing.

Transgenre: falling between fictions

Storylandia 12

Some writing updates: The Man Who Builds The Ruins has been with a couple of editors and was rejected immediately by both. It’s always possible that the story just isn’t up to scratch but after a lot of revision I’m extremely happy with it – perhaps it’s time to put it aside for a month or so and come back to it more objectively. If I’m still happy with it I know it will find a place somewhere. But possibly the ‘problem’ is that the piece doesn’t fit to any genre. I had to describe it for one magazine and chose ‘horror+fantasy’ (there was a list), although I’m not sure it would sit comfortably in that place. There’s a small element of horror in the story, but it could also be described as Weird/dark fantasy/slipstream. Someone once said I wrote ‘bloodstream rather than slipstream’ fiction. If one has to put a label on these things… I came up with the term ‘transgenre’ whilst working with performance poet Joelle Taylor in London – with many of the lesbian community at that time beginning to describe themselves as transgender, it seemed appropriate and supportive at the same time.

018

As for Rebecca Shadow and the Winter House (a title that may well change) – I’ve done a lot of work on it recently and the first draft is almost finished. The last, fairly hefty section of it, needs to be typed up, then it’ll be in a fit state to begin rewriting. After not touching the manuscript for three months while I wrote TMWBTR, I’d forgotten the pages and pages of longhand that I’d done. It’s in a much better state than I’d thought. I’ve read a lot lately about writers playing music while writing, and there’s a fair few that think that only silence will do – that perhaps it’s as much of a ‘false’ influence as writing while drinking or on drugs. I respect their choice; silence certainly has its place. Having the window open and hearing the repeating pattern of the chaffinch singing outside has its place, too But state of mind-changing influences of various kinds can unlock doors, if done wisely. It won’t create an imagination where there isn’t one.