Contacting the living

A recent interview by Fiona Mcvie. It feels incredibly self-indulgent to take part in something like this, but it’s also a privilege to be heard.

authorsinterviews

Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.

 

Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?

Greetings! I’m Julie Travis and I’m 50 years old.

Fiona: Where are you from?

London. I spent 35 years there, first in the north-west of the city, then in the east, before moving to Cornwall in 2002.

 Fiona: A little about your self (ie,  your education, family life, etc.).

My education – such as it was! – was abysmal. Bullying was the order of the day, not only amongst the children but meted out by the teachers and even the dinner supervisors as well. Quite common in the late 1970s/early 80s. I passed a few exams but my main success was in surviving the experience.

 Fiona: Tell us your latest news.

Wapshott Press, based in Los Angeles, is…

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A sky of ice

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Killing It Softly 2 has apparently been doing well, appearing in various ‘best of’ lists and making it to #2 in the anthology section of the Critters Workshop ‘Preditors and Editors’ Poll. Reviews are also good, although they inevitably talk about the book as a whole – with 38 stories, it’s going to be difficult to be read, let alone picked out, but I’m glad the anthology’s doing well. The publishers (Digital Fiction) have certainly worked hard promoting it. I finally got hold of a copy of Fast-Clean-Cheap. It won’t make anyone’s ‘best of’ lists and probably won’t get any reviews, as it’s far too experimental, but to me it looks like a fine publication and some of the criticism of it that editor Andy Martin has received – about the odd typeface in some of it, and the fact that some of it’s in German – are some of its most interesting points, in my view. But – as I remember from my fanzine writing days – the use of imagination and pushing the boundaries doesn’t go down well with many people.

Tomorrow, When I Was Young was submitted a couple of weeks ago to an online magazine and has just been rejected. No reason was given. Many editors choose not to bother giving any kind of explanation these days, which aggrieves me somewhat. Having spent countless hours writing and re-writing a story and having chosen their publication to submit to, a few words as to why they don’t want the story is not too much to ask. I usually take rejections on the chin – I’ve had many in my time – but this one concerns me. I suspect the reason may be the content, which involves a certain amount of genderblurring. I’ve suspected unpleasant reasons for story rejections before (one was almost certainly down to me not being able to contribute much to a crowdfunding campaign), but of course nothing’s ever provable. This is where I just have to keep faith and keep going. The other new story I’ve mentioned previously, The Cruor Garland, has is now in its third draft and, with any luck, I’ll be submitting it to a horror anthology by the end of the month.

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Finally, Unit appear on Godspunk Volume Eighteen. In the cd’s booklet, their double page includes a photograph taken by me of West Kennet Long Barrow, from my trip there last May. Many thanks to Andy Martin for using the photograph. I had no idea he was going to do this, and I was extremely happy to see it there.

All text and images © Julie Travis.

By far the worst is the hamburger lady

As part of its Halloween week, BBC 6 Music asked for listeners’ scariest songs, and Hamburger Lady by Throbbing Gristle was played – a massive surprise in itself, as the station isn’t as radical as it likes to think it is. I’d heard the track a couple of times before, but this time the volume was up high on my stereo and I was sitting directly in front of the speakers, so it was a very different experience. A pulsing began in the dead centre of my forehead, where the Third Eye is located, of course, and it felt as if my head was expanding. I managed to get hold of D.O.A.(the album which includes the track) at a very reasonable price and played Hamburger Lady again at high volume. It made my Third Eye feel very sensitive, almost ticklish, this time and my head feeling disconnected from my body.

Both experiences – which may have been purely physical rather than spiritual – have been unsettling but very interesting and I want to go further with this. The subject matter of the track – a woman horrifically burned on most of her body but somehow still alive in hospital, in the utmost, endless agony – is nightmarish, the worst existence anyone/thing could suffer, I think, and the ‘music’ on the track, along with Gen’s vocals, which gently read out the woman’s terrible suffering, makes me feel nauseous. Which it should, of course. To me the track seems compassionate, with sympathy for the poor woman (who I hope died sooner rather than later), which is what makes me able to listen to it.

The whole of D.O.A. is strange in that there is a familiarity about it. I’ve heard a few tracks from it over the years, but I can’t remember having heard the complete album, although perhaps I did, some decades ago, during my time hanging around the Stoke Newington squatting scene. But it feels as if this album’s been returned to me, somehow. I’m playing it frequently – as you can imagine, it’s very good for writing to.

I’ve recently been in communication with Cosey Fanni Tutti. Her autobiography is fascinating for many reasons, but I wanted to acknowledge her honesty in writing about her relationship with an abusive person and her strength in not only surviving it, but not being completely ruined by it. She emailed me back within a couple of days. I won’t quote what she said here, but she was kind and supportive. My respect for her just grows and grows.

All text © Julie Travis apart from the title.

Fast-Clean-Cheap

 

Photo: Fast-Clean-Cheap front cover

I’m very happy to announce that Fast-Clean-Cheap is now available from Lulu. Editor Andy Martin has put together what sounds like a strange and wonderful assortment of writing and images by what he describes as ‘free-thinkers’. How my three stories (Cross-Bound, A Fairy Ring and Humans Remain) will sit with this lot is a real unknown for me – I don’t yet have a copy of the book to see how it all balances – but I look forward to getting hold of it as soon as I can. Obviously, I’m delighted when any of my work is accepted/published, but this one is a real highlight; to collaborate with Andy Martin again is an honour, and two of the stories that appear in the book were probably the hardest, emotionally, I’ve ever written (see Story Notes 2 for full details in the near future).

I now have the proofs of We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth to go through and approve, so work is progressing as planned on this book. Meanwhile, I’m now working on two new short stories – Tomorrow, When I Was Young and The Cruor Garland. The first is possibly a less dark fantasy than usual and the second is the result of having watched an M R James adaptation on television recently! My original intention is for it to be somewhat Gothic, but what it’ll end up as is anyone’s guess.

I’ve been intruiged and amused to find that the record I played bass guitar on back in 1986 has been fetching quite silly prices on Ebay and Discogs. It’s currently on sale for £34 – £55. Wonderful for my ego but the more I think about it, the more irked I am. The record was always supposed to sell for 99p. The musicians who played on the record have never received a penny in royalties for it. We were happy with the deal we got – we paid for the recording but not for any other costs associated with releasing an e.p.. The people selling the record now are making an absolute fortune (in terms of percentage profit on what they paid for it) from our work and we still get nothing. Of the four musicians who worked on the record, at least two are suffering severe financial hardship. What I’d like to see – both as an artist and as someone who’s paid high prices for cds when buying direct from the artist hasn’t been possible – is a bit of the sale price being given to the artist. Having been a poor musician and now being a poor writer is not in the slightest bit romantic!

Things passed on the way to oblivion

Photo: Julie Travis

Happy Samhain!

I’m very pleased to announce that Canadian anthology of women’s horror Killing It Softly 2 has now been published by Digital Fiction. It contains 38 stories, including one of mine – Blue, which originally appeared in issue 1 of Kzine – in the Cognitive Deception section, which is extremely appropriate given the content. It is available initially on Kindle (for 99p until the end of October), and other eBook formats with the paperback being published in the next couple of weeks. I haven’t read any of the other stories, and am not familiar with the other authors, so I’m looking forward to getting hold of this.

Andy Martin’s anthology Fast-Clean-Cheap should be available now, but there seems to be a last minute hitch with publishers Lulu and it will appear very soon, I’m told. As previously stated, this one contains three stories, two of which are probably the heaviest, emotionally, I’ve ever written. More details about this as soon as I’m sure the book exists!

Wapshott Press are also calling my second short story collection, We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth, a ‘done deal’, despite them not yet having read the nine stories submitted! This shows incredible faith in my work and it’s hugely appreciated.

Meanwhile, I’ve working on a new story, Tomorrow, When I Was Young, both here in Penwith and during the week I was on Dartmoor recently. It’s over 7300 words long and should hit the 8000 word mark by the end of the first draft. It’s a more fantastic tale than I usually write, involving time travel, gender fluidity and contact with the dead. With the book finished, I have no idea of who or where to send this to when it’s eventually completed. New horizons are necessary.

Away from writing (as much as is possible); I had the wonderful but bizarre experience of hearing Throbbing Gristle’s Hamburger Lady on the radio yesterday evening, as part of Radio 6 Music’s Samhain/scary songs special. It was unexpected and the radio was on at quite high volume; the effect was extraordinary. The area around where the Third Eye’s located felt as if it had swelled and I had the sensation of my head leaving my body. Job done, as far as TG would be concerned, I’m sure. But it does mean that I must get hold of DOA, which contains the track, as it will have various uses, writing and otherwise. The last time something profound happened regarding my Third Eye was during a group meditation several years ago, led by Pam Masterson, sadly no longer with us. I’ve discussed this experience here before, but basically it involved the feeling that my forehead had swung open and a ball of light flooded out. I contacted Pam about this and was going to do some meditation with her, but lack of money made it impossible.

On the subject of Radio 6 Music (a BBC digital station), I appeared on the Steve Lamacq show on Thursday, 19 October, on the Good Day, Bad Day section. I was able to talk self-indulgently about my favourite music, first gig I’d attended, favourite gig and my past as a ‘musician’. He was also kind enough to mention my website and played my ‘good day’ record, which was State Control by the Poison Girls.

 

All images and text © Julie Travis, apart from the title (from a story by Joyce Carol Oates) and front cover of Killing It Softly 2, copyright Digital Fiction.

Pleasure and pain, indivisible: happy anniversary, Hellraiser

This week sees the 30th anniversary of the release of Hellraiser in the UK.

Back in 1987, anticipation for the film was high. Clive Barker’s short stories were groundbreaking in many ways – not only did they contain some wonderful writing, but the horror world had its boundaries pushed. About time, too. Female characters had depth. Gay characters were in evidence. Neither were used as figures of hatred – I can’t have been the only person inspired to write horror, knowing there was someone out there who didn’t treat the Other as the enemy (Barker was not out as gay at that time) and feel that there might just be space for me in the genre I loved so much. This was Barker’s first proper film as director (if you’ve seen Rawhead Rex, you’ll know why he prefers to forget its existence); much was expected. To the point where I hurried along to a venue near Tottenham Court Road station in London for a Hellraiser exhibition before the film’s opening. I still remember gawping at the lifesize Chatterer model when it moved – it was actually the actor in full make up. Luckily I managed to stop from screaming and just ran for it.

The film itself was almost excellent, although a few bits didn’t make sense to me. I had a feeling of disorientation – it was set in North London but as the film went on the location, and the accents, drifted towards North America. Some of the acting was appalling, too, but it didn’t really detract from the idea of the film, and the power of Barker’s imagination.

Because of my obsession with the band Coil, I was aware that they were friends of Barker’s, and I’d heard that Coil were originally commissioned to provide the soundtrack. This, and the fact that the film was going to be in black and white, would have combined to create a very different Hellraiser, less commercial, more arthouse. These things were lost with Barker going to America for financial backing (to be fair, he found it next to impossible to get backers in the UK). An American composer was imposed on the film and American accents were dubbed onto some of the characters, causing the disorientation as to the setting. Coil released their own soundtrack, which I’ve always preferred and Barker admitted to the things he hated about the film (the fact that wheels can be seen on the monster in the wall, for one). Still, it was a steep learning curve (in the ways of Hollywood as well as in direction) and Lord Of Illusion and Nightbreed were far superior. Hellraiser came out on VHS and my sister went to a signing session, again in Central London. She asked for an extra copy of the sleeve to be signed and dedicated to me, even though she wasn’t buying two videos and the shop wouldn’t like it. “They won’t,” he replied, “but fuck ’em!” and signed one for me anyway. A nice bloke.

The way Pinhead captured people’s imagination was something that always amused me. Inspired by magazines lent by Sleazy (Coil), the figure was head sadist in a film clearly based on sado-masochism (although much of it was non-consensual, breaking SM’s most basic rule) but Pinhead became a kind of hero in the same way Freddie Kreuger and Michael Myers did, which just goes to show how many horror fans need to evolve somewhat. Horror in general still has a long way to go in terms of diversity and, with the spate of torture films in recent years, I wonder if the genre is not actually going backwards in some ways. I’m not going to go into the Hellraiser sequels, which I don’t think Barker had much involvement with, or the re-making of the original, although if it has to be done (which I’m doubtful of) then why not go back to the original idea and have a super-Gothic black and white version? It’s enough for me that this film was released when I was 20, a few years before I began writing horror fiction, and it made a huge impression on me in terms of what could be done. As much of Barker’s art has. Would I be writing fiction at all if it wasn’t for him? I might be – there are other writers/artists who have been incredibly inspiring. But it would be very different. I would be very different. I haven’t watched Hellraiser for some time, but I still raised a glass to the film this week. While the Cenobites aren’t heroes to me, they’re iconic horror figures from a film that was a landmark in many ways.

A house with an infinite number of rooms

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Photo by Julie Travis

Eight stories have now been completed and submitted for my Wapshott Press collection, We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth, along with some photographs and a foreword. I can honestly say I have no idea what the publisher will think of the tales. One – The Man Who Builds The Ruins – is several years old and has nearly made it into at least one publication, but the rest are very recent works unseen by anyone except a few trusted friends. I am far from complacent about the book seeing the light of day, and I see that as healthy, a way of keeping me on my toes. I’m taking a very brief break from writing (no more than a few days), just long enough to catch my breath, and then I must begin again. What comes next is something I’m not sure of, but I have a completed story, The Hidden, that needs work, so that might be a starting point. Redrafting one of the two novels I’ve written is also a possibility, but is unlikely to come before writing short stories. Something else I’ve considered is picking those novels apart and developing them into several short stories apiece. I’ve done that with a section from the first novel, The Gathering: one of the chapters has been lengthened to form its own story, which stands on its own outside the novel, but could also be reverted to its original form inside the novel. It’s time now, I think, for some experimentation, with a technique that came up in a discussion a while back. And my dreams have been so frequent and vivid recently that I can see all kinds of story material building up, if I can harness those experiences in a (reasonably!) coherent way.

Over the space of the last two years I have been copying all the emails, texts and photographs I received from Ian Johnstone over our five year friendship and saved them as two lengthy documents. This is partly to ensure their safety – should my email account disappear into the ether for any reason – and to make them more accessible for me to read. Whether I’ll ever do anything else with them is something I haven’t decided – emotionally the job has been immensely difficult, so I haven’t thought much further than keeping the correspondance safe. I like the concept of having excerpts, of emails to others as well as to me, in a book to accompany his art, but we had very few mutual friends, so it’s unlikely to happen.

Fast-Clean-Cheap, the (probably monstrous) anthology edited by Andy Martin, should be published by Lulu.com at the end of September, possibly earlier, with luck. It is still the case that I will have three stories included; this will be the first time in my ‘career’ that more than one story has been taken for an anthology, so it’s quite a milestone from me.

 

All text © Julie Travis, apart from the title, which has been adapted from dialogue from Spanish crime drama ‘I Know Who You Are’.