Nostalgia for an age yet to come

Photo: watchmaker’s tombstone, Lydford, Devon by Julie Travis

Last week’s trip to London – to catch up with much missed friends – left me with a fresh perspective on the city I left nearly 15 years ago. The relentless nature of the place hasn’t changed, of course; I knew that however far I walked, the city would still stretch out around me, unlike Penzance, where you can stand at the top of the main road and see buildings give way to green fields and the sea. But what I was surprised at was the cleanliness of the streets in comparison with Cornwall, which looks as if its residents just don’t care about their environment and the politeness and patience of city people, despite the stress of everywhere being constantly busy. I couldn’t connect to the magickal elements of the city when I lived there, but I’m more knowledgable now, so perhaps it would be possible to do so on my next trip there. A visit to Treadwell’s Occult bookshop proved wonderfully overwhelming and will provide the setting to new story Beautiful Silver Spacesuits. I could have spent days there.

One of the friends I met up with was Andy Martin, who has been mentioned here many times. The last time I’d seen him was around 1985/86, when we recorded the 7th Apostles’ e.p. (with the Joy of Living). It was an emotional meeting for me. We spent a couple of hours talking about everything from Nazi skinheads and the Neo-folk movement to musical time signatures to childrens’ tv drama Grange Hill and listening to Unit tracks, and I bought a couple of Apostles’ LPs from the late 1980s off him. My extensive vinyl collection – including at least one of those albums – has mostly been sold over the years, but a few gems remain and to add two mint condition albums to it was very gratifying. A few days after I got home, I had an email from Andy, asking me to contribute a third story to his anthology Fast-Clean-Cheap, scheduled for publication later this year. I didn’t want to take a story from the second Wapshott Press collection, so I dug through my files and found a story that was written about ten years ago, but never submitted for publication because the content – domestic abuse – was based on my own experiences and too painful to share. It’s still a difficult read, but I thought the story was good enough that, with a bit of spit and polish, I can give it to Andy for consideration. He, of course, will make the final decision as to whether it sees the light of day. If it does, however, it’s one story I won’t be saying much about. Hopefully it will speak for itself.

I’m working on two stories simultaneously again for the Wapshott Press collection – The Spoiler is nearing completion of its first draft, and is currently 6500 words long, so may easily get to 8000 by the time it’s finished. And I’ve just begun the aforementioned Beautiful Silver Spacesuits, as well as working on the Foreword and story notes for the book. I’m beginning to feel a bit burned out now, so perhaps once these two stories are completed, it will be time to hand the thing over to Wapshott Press.

But on the other hand, if I push myself just a bit further, who knows what I could come up with…?

All images and text © Julie Travis, apart from the title, by Pauline Murray/Penetration

 

Women In Horror Month

img_20170204_1030063

I still consider myself to be a horror writer, although these days my stories contain strong elements of other genres and influences; dark fantasy, Surrealism, the Occult. But I began as a horror writer, and a horror fan of course, and I still have a great love for the genre. Which is one of the reasons why I’m writing about Women In Horror Month. For the last eight years, February has been designated WIH Month, to provide a focus on female writers. Despite misgivings of myself and every other female horror writer I know of – one month a year obviously isn’t enough – we all realise that such a focus is necessary.

I had few female role models, artistically speaking, when I was growing up. Punk gave me almost all the ones I did have – Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), Gee Vaucher, Joy de Vivre, Eve Libertine (Crass), Zillah Minx and Gem Stone (Rubella Ballet), Vi Subversa (Poison Girls), together with Kathy Acker…no horror writers amongst them, but all helped me form my political view of the world. Before then, I read a lot of horror – mostly Gothic short stories – some of which were undoubtedly written by women, but there was no focus on female writers, especially in the 1980s, when horror films in particular seemed to provide an anti-feminist backlash. Without the attitude of punk and punk’s women, as well as Clive Barker’s post-punk style of writing, it would never have occurred to me to think there might be a place for me in horror.

Once I’d began, and had my first professional story published (‘Jump From A Speeding Car’, REM #2, 1992), the first review of the story, by John Duffield for Interzone, gave me a taste of prevailing attitudes. He hated my story – which was disappointing, of course, but his choice – but what really hurt was his sneering, patronising description of me as a person (“some sort of alternative punkette”). I knew a male writer would never have been treated in that way – in fact John Shirley was well known at the time as an old punk and was respected for it. At that point I wondered if my ‘career’ was over before it had even started, but luckily other writers and editors have been far more progressive. Still, I think the problems I had and still face in having stories published is partly down to the lack of clear genre for them to fit into but also – and I think this is paramount – that female writers are still not seriously enough, not just by (many but not all) editors, but by readers; a reflection, of course, of the place of women in society in general. We do not get the gravitas that is automatically accorded to male artists irrespective of their talent (check out New York City’s Guerrilla Girls for far more on this).

What I would like to see each February is women taking over as editors of horror magazines, slipstream magazines, dark fantasy and sf magazines. Obviously women do edit magazines and journals, but I’d like to see them in charge of everything even vaguely related to the horror genre for that month, for a different perspective, to portray the world that exists outside of men and their reflections of themselves (again, this does not describe all male editors by any means).

I don’t read enough fiction. I have neither the time nor especially the money to buy the stories by all the women I need to be reading. But I have a permanent focus on female writers now. I’ve grown up like many women have – surrounded by pressure to belittle myself and my gender. Awareness of such things is the beginning of dismantling them. So seek out women writers; of horror, slipstream, whatever, now and every month of the year. Read interviews, blogs and websites. Most important of all, don’t do the easy thing that we’re all programmed to do, and pass over the female contributors in favour of the male ones. Women are talented, inspiring, visionary. Don’t lose out by ignoring us.

All images and text © Julie Travis

 

Episodes from another world

Peter Tennant’s kind review of Storylandia, published last year in Black Static magazine, now available on his blog. Cyril Simsa’s collection, also reviewed here, sounds very interesting. My thanks to Peter for this.

Trumpetville

Reviews of two short story collections that originally appeared in Black Static #53:-

EPISODES FROM ANOTHER WORLD

Storylandia is the title of ‘The Wapshott Journal of Fiction’, published by Wapshott Press. The Spring 2015 issue, STORYLANDIA #15 (Wapshott Press pb, 142pp, $7.50), is dedicated to the work of Julie Travis, a writer who will be familiar to older readers from the early days of our predecessor The Third Alternative and possibly from other places as well. It contains five stories, all of them previously unpublished, and which, though the writer admits a preference for the term “slipstream”, have about them much that should appeal to horror genre purists.

Opening proceedings is ‘From the Bones’ which begins with the discovery of two separate burials on Dartmoor and the unearthing of ancient bodies that have been miraculously preserved and yet prove to have writing on their bones. For amateur archaeologist Vivienne this…

View original post 1,792 more words

This moment is not forever

img_20170111_1248442

Photo: Julie Travis

And the scales balance again…I’ve swapped stories (mine: A Fairy Ring, due to be published in Andy Martin’s Fast-Clean-Cheap anthology this year, I hope) with writer and friend, Maj Ikle, who I deeply respect for her work and everything else she does. We used to meet in East London for wired conversations about writing and I’ve had many, many constructive and inspired comments from her on my work.

The Spoiler continues in a slightly, possibly a massively different way: I had an idea to change an aspect of the story, and the story has ‘forked’ several thousand words in, so has an alternative idea currently running parallel to the original. Whether this will turn out to be a matter of choosing which path makes the final cut, or if it’s possible to keep both ideas in the final copy, is yet to make itself clear. If the latter doesn’t work in this story, then it’s something I intend to make happen in the future.

I’m very happy to announce that The Morales, a band from Devon/Dartmoor, will be using a photograph of Bodmin Gaol (seen on this website), on the cover of their forthcoming album. I checked the band out and liked what I saw, so gave them my blessing. Best wishes to them!

The backdrop to all this is Kate Bush’s live album Before The Dawn, a cd that confirms the gigs she played in London in 2014 were incredible and the descriptions of them being a ‘spiritual experience’ were not an exaggeration.

All text and images copyright Julie Travis

 

Balance is everything

img_20161230_1341562

Photo: Julie Travis

This post is being written under the influence – of whatever kind – of a Creativity candle purchased from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, North Cornwall.

img_20161230_1325113

Photo: Julie Travis

In order to balance the positivity of my last post, and for the sake of accuracy and fairness (I don’t believe in only reporting good news about my writing) I need to report a very negative recent experience.

Basically, the plan I had to collaborate on fiction with an old friend has imploded in a big way. Somehow we’ve hopefully salvaged our 35+ year old friendship, which I’m grateful for, but it’s been a painful time. Myself and X swapped short stories – I thought in order to see what kind of thing the other wrote, he wanted to critique, and perhaps more communication at this point would have helped. This was not a level playing field – I’ve been a published writer for a quarter of a century, X had done a writing course for three months – and in terms of attitude and approach we clashed immediately. As you might understand, I did not take kindly to being told how to write by someone who, in my eyes, had yet to prove himself as a writer, (I’m aware and slightly concerned that I’m guilty of snobbery here, although I was impressed with and respected the work he gave me) and his admission that he writes purely for entertainment was not enough for me. As has been acknowledged by another good friend, creativity is the key to my survival. I would hope that my fiction makes that clear, that I am channelling some quite terrible, but also fantastic, things from my life experiences, from my head and from my dreams and nightmares into fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I can take criticism – I’ve had more story rejections than I care to count, constructive criticism from many, many editors and writer friends critique many stories over the years. I am used to criticism, more than I am to praise. This was different. I was also put on the spot, as far as I could tell, to justify including an androgynous female character in the story (Grave Goods) which flummoxed me completely. Why wouldn’t I have characters which reflect myself in some way? This was later put down to a misunderstanding (X is very politically astute, which is why I was so thrown), but at the time I felt ‘Othered’ and it made me think that perhaps that’s why I’m not having much luck placing stories (in the UK at any rate – America appears to be far more open minded). I would still like to collaborate on fiction with someone – it would be an interesting exercise and would make me feel less isolated – but it needs to be with someone I feel is on a more similar wavelength to myself.

img_20161230_1346582

Photo: Julie Travis

As mentioned earlier, and as you will see from the photographs on this post, I went with my partner T to the Witchcraft Museum in the dying days of 2016. I hadn’t visited the place since the terrible floods around 13 years ago. To my relief, the place is still quite amazing, packed full of information and exhibits. I had seen that there was a piece dedicated to Jhonn Balance of Coil, well known as using magick in his life and musickal work. We spent a couple of hours in the museum, without seeing this piece and in the last room it still wasn’t there – we both found it puzzling as we could feel that it was close by, but were somehow not seeing it. Eventually I left the room and on the wall outside, in the Shrine area, was the piece.

For me, the last room was the most fascinating. I found a lot of information on Alex Sanders, the so-called ‘King of the Witches’, who Balance had contacted when in his early teens. Most interesting was Sanders’ work with psychic Derek Taylor, where they used coloured metal (I think) circles to channel with and become Time Machines – as you will see from the photograph, the design appears to have somewhat influenced the ones used as an insert to Coil’s 1998 drone album, Time Machines. A lot of things clicked into place then.

 

All images and text ©Julie Travis

 

And the Winter Solstice begins and ends in blood

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

Greetings on this Winter Solstice.

I’ve just found another review for the Storylandia 15 collection, courtesy of Jon Yates on Amazon.com. My thanks to him for these kind words:

‘Slipstream’ Indeed: Waking Nightmares From An Under-Regarded Master by Jon Yates, Amazon.com 22 October 2016.

Julie Travis’ Storylandia collection is a must for any devoted follower of weird/dark/occult fiction. Drawing on varied influences, chief among them Britain’s pagan past, Travis manages to evoke a sense of “widdershins” otherworldiness, a nightmarish sense of the waking world slipping sideways into the inexplicable. Comparisons to writers like Clive Barker and Thomas Ligotti are apt (I’d also add Ramsey Campbell at his most lysergic), though I’d also comfortably file these stories between the stranger works of, say, Jonathan Carroll or Haruki Murakami, as the best of the stories (“Widdershins”, “Scar Tissue”) transcend their genre trappings into a far more magical (sur)realist territory. This collection deserves ten times the attention it has received thus far, and lucky are those who pick it up…I can guarantee you’ll speed through these tales and be waiting as impatiently as I for a follow up.

 

All images and text ©Julie Travis and Jon Yates, as appropriate.

 

Beautiful silver spacesuits

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

Plans for the second Storylandia collection have changed: I’m delighted to announce that Wapshott Press now want to publish the collection as a book in its own right, rather than as an issue of Storylandia. Apart from the heartening faith this shows in my work – which is hugely appreciated – this also now gives me 250,000 words to play with, rather than the 50,000 I thought I had. It briefly occurred to me to change the entire format of the book and re-write either one or both of the two short novels I’ve drafted. Both have real potential with a hefty amount of work. But it didn’t feel right to do so: I’m proud to be a short story writer, I believe in the craft and I believe in the stories that are finished and ready to be a part of the collection.

I’m currently working solely on The Spoiler, which is nearly 4000 words long now. It’s progressing in ways I didn’t expect it to, always interesting when a story does that. I used to feel out of control of these things, but these days a different path is something I can shape to an extent, although I also like my imagination to have free rein. I’ll make sense of it afterwards!

Feeling somewhat isolated from other writers, I’ve made an unsuccessful attempt to join a local writers’ group. After initially sounding friendly and welcoming, my enquiries as to which meeting would be suitable for a newcomer to attend have been met with absolute silence. It was worth a try, but the result is that I now feel twice as isolated. Perhaps this is how it’s supposed to be for me.

All images and text ©Julie Travis