Rising from the dread

Harris 4

Things are somewhat in limbo regarding publishing and acceptance news – my collection in Storylandia has suffered various delays; proofs are currently being shipped to me for checking a few editorial decisions, so I’m not expecting the journal to see the light of day before April. However, the cover photo’s been chosen – it will be one of my photographs, taken at Highgate Cemetery in the mid 1980s (and not included in the shots published in Night Mail, as mentioned in my last post). I miss these cities within cities, which were one of the few interesting things left about London when I escaped. I was slightly concerned that such a photograph might be a cliché for a collection of horror stories, but the content of the photo – the cemetery’s mausoleums – are unique and should avoid the charge. Meanwhile, Dark Regions Press have launched an Indiegogo fund to raise enough cash to extend their Dreams From The Witch House anthology and to commission the cover artist to provide an illustration for each of the stories included, so it’s likely to be a couple of months before I hear whether or not The Man Who Builds The Ruins has made it into the book, which won’t be published until December 2015. I’m still working on two stories – with a list of ideas for the next several – Pig Iron is progressing well and In Holes And Corners, now definately titled The Hidden, is finally nearly complete. It’s taken a year, with several changes of title, to knock this one into shape. Sometimes it just does.

I have been able to get hold of some ‘musick’ that I’ve been after for a while. X-TG’s Desertshore/Final Report is wonderfully mind expanding and a lovely tribute to Peter Christopherson, despite my reservations about Genesis P-Orridge not appearing on it. I’ve also managed to get a few of the extra download tracks, Faet Narok, even more dreamlike versions of Desertshore than the main album. I’m currently listening in full, for the first time, to the Coil ANS triple cd set (over three hours long), which I bought for a reasonable price after several years of patiently looking at prices. The experiment – the band gaining access to the huge Russian ANS synthesiser, worked by etching diagrams into a glass plate and the machine ‘playing’ the pictures – gives me the sensation of flying through space, something I’ve dreamt of many times. I’m aware that more or less the only cds I’ve bought over the last several years have been ones that can be used to put me in a certain frame of mind which helps me write. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them for their own sake – or that I can’t write without them – but they need to have a ‘higher’ purpose than just entertainment. And after seeing The Punk SingerSini Anderson’s documentary on Kathleen Hannah, which includes some wonderful footage of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, I’m feeling super-inspired in entirely different ways. I met Anderson at the Dirtybird Queercore Festival and Sister Spit open-mic nights in San Francisco in 1996. She was a force to be reckoned with back then and, it seems, still is.

I’ve begun reading Jeremy Reed and Karolina Urbaniak’s book Altered Balance, which documents Reed’s friendship with Jhonn Balance of Coil. It’s raw and honest and sad. I didn’t expect anything else. Stories about when Balance and Sleazy lived in Chiswick reminded me of the late 1980s; driving through the area one day, I wondered which road the pair’s flat was in (my obsession has indeed been going on for decades); ironically I now believe I was in Beverley Road a number of times to visit friends who lived in the street.

*The photo at the top of this piece is of a female Harris Hawk, visiting the Eden Project with her owner when I was there recently. I have, of course, sent all the shots of the bird I took to Andy Martin of UNIT for possible inclusion in future UNIT releases.

Low Winter sun

Castlerigg Plaque

As 2014ce edges towards a close, it seems a good time to do a bit of an update on various writings and projects:

New Zealand based fantasy writer Lynne Jamneck is editing a collection of Lovecraftian stories written by women, to be published as Dreams From The Witch House by Dark Regions Press in 2015, with a clear emphasis on diversity as regards sexual orientation and ethnicity of the authors. This is the kind of thing I really want to be involved in, so I sent her The Man Who Builds The Ruins – probably the closest to ‘Lovecraftian’ writing I’ve done. This weekend I heard that the story passed the first reading round. Still a long way to go, I know, and a couple/few months of awaiting news, but I’m much cheered by this, and reading a bit about Jamneck, who has a huge interest in science and magick/the occult, has made me even more keen to be involved. Writing is solitary – which is partly why it suits me so much – but the isolation, the sense of operating in a complete vacuum, can become overwhelming at times. One shouldn’t write/create to please others, and I don’t, but if someone else is sympathetic or gets what I’m doing, it’s a huge bonus.

The running order for my short story collection in Storylandia #15 has now been set. Coincidentally (or not), the order I put them in turned out to be alphabetical, and also the same as editor Ginger Mayerson had listed them. At her request, I sent her some photographs I took many years ago, and it is quite possible that one of them will be used for the journal’s cover. If so, it’ll be the first photography I’ve had published since some shots (from Highgate Cemetery and a Swiss forest) appeared in Night Mail art fanzine in the early 1990s.

More stories are on the way: In Holes And Corners needs some more adjustments, more in the way of place names than anything else. The story is set in Camborne but I may invent a town name, one that’s a little more lyrical. Pig Iron has now been (very sketchily) sketched out and is progressing well and I have notes on two more stories to work on next year, which don’t have working titles yet, but both ideas are promising. Completion, a story began earlier this year, is on the back burner for now, until the way forward with it becomes more apparent. Ironically, it may never be completed!

Meanwhile, I look forward to the Montol celebration in Penzance on the Winter Solstice. As one of the masked participants gleefully said last year, “All the oddballs come out for this one.” I need to connect, even at a distance, with the more strange elements of the area. It’s reassuring.

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.