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.

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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’.

 

Transition metal

Photo: Julie Travis

A few updates to note: regarding the second short story collection – March Of The Marvellous is now in its second draft. It’s one of those stories that virtually wrote itself – it was just a matter of writing it down as quickly as possible. It’s somewhat different in tone to the rest of the stories in the collection, being more of a dark fantasy with social/political undertones. And a nasty ending. Saying that, the last story for the collection, Beautiful Silver Spacesuits, has a political backdrop but in contrast is proving incredibly difficult to write. Some stories are just like that, for me at any rate. But progress is still being made, and everything else is almost ready to send to the publisher.

The Killing It Softly 2 anthology is progressing well. It’s going to be a huge book – forty stories long – with a couple of big names signed up. Being so removed from what is, I suppose, my ‘peer group’, the other authors are unfamiliar to me, so this will be a good chance to see what other female horror (ish!) writers are coming up with. Due to the size of the book, the stories have been split into four sections, with mine coming in the third: Another Space, Another Time/Monster Party/Cognitive Deception/The Changed And The Undead. This gives some real cohesion to the book, I think, and my story, Blue, fits extremely well under its heading. Promotional work is beginning to be put together for this publication, and I have already submitted a short bio and an ethereal photo of myself. I’m using the term ‘Transgenre’ to describe my writing, a hark back to an event with performance poet Joelle Taylor many years ago in London. The term is a respectful nod to the huge discussions taking place at the time about Transgender issues.

In a surprising turn of events, I have heard from Diva magazine – they still want to do a feature on the Rebel Dykes film, and they still want me to write it. The release date for the film is some time next year, so when this will happen and what form it will take, I don’t know. There has been a lot going on behind the scenes with this – as I indicated in my last post – so I expect this to (continue to) be a long and bumpy ride.

All images and text © Julie Travis

 

The place where all the starlings meet

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Photo by Julie Travis

I’ve been talking to Ginger Mayerson of Wapshott Press and a few things about the new collection are now more or less settled. The title will be We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth and should contain either seven or eight stories. After a week away at Avebury, I’m now back working on the last two stories – Beautiful Silver Spacesuits and March Of The Marvellous. ‘March…’ will be rather different to the rest of the stories – it began as an excerpt from my first novel The Gathering, which still needs a huge amount of work on it, but the piece is being developed into a stand-alone story. The original idea is probably the best part of a decade old, but it’s always been waiting in the wings to hopefully see the light of day.

As for the proposed feature on the film Rebel Dykes for Diva magazine – the film still needs funds in order to be finished and released, which I dearly hope will happen eventually. The story behind the feature is quite a farce, however, where I suspect I’ve suffered both ageism and disablism at the hands of one person involved in the film’s production. Diva’s editor recently left the magazine and to date the Deputy Editor has not responded to my email about the feature. I may name names and tell the full story at some point, but I now have no idea whether this feature will ever be written. I send my best wishes to everyone else involved in the film.

All images and text © Julie Travis

 

Journey to Avebury

Photo: Julie Travis

My first trip to Avebury and the surrounding area was even more powerful than I thought it would be. The huge stone circle, which I’d first seen forty years ago in the excellent children’s tv drama Children Of The Stones, really has to be seen to be appreciated. The stones are colossal. I felt swamped by them, but not threatened. My first view of them – in sunshine, above me, as I walked along a lane through the village – was intensely emotional. As it was at the end of the week, when, in the rain, we visited them again and said goodbye. The site was quiet and there was plenty of time to spend, undisturbed, with the ancient giants. I stood in the main circle and looked up at the henge. I could visualise a line of people all along it, observers to the ceremonies taking place. I haven’t read anything to say that’s what happened, but that’s certainly what I felt. The stone avenue, leading down towards The Sanctuary, is quite majestic despite having many stones missing. Back in the village, I tried to get a sense of the multiple circles. I wasn’t aware that there were circles within the main circle, that is, until I dreamt of taking part in a ritual in such a place. The next day I saw a book which included an illustration of Avebury in its complete state and I was amazed – it was the place I had dreamt about the previous night.

Photo: West Kennet Long Barrow by Julie Travis

Nearby Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow were equally deserted, apart from a pair of swallows who flew in and out of the barrow, their calls echoing around the chamber. I was pleased to find the chamber open and freely accessible. We cleared away a few tealights left by a previous, thoughtless visitor and enjoyed the cool silence. At each of these places the overriding feeling was of peace.

Photo by Julie Travis

A day was also spent in Glastonbury, climbing the daunting Tor and recovering afterwards in the Rainbow’s End cafe. The town, which I hadn’t visited for decades, is as powerful and spiritual a place as Avebury. The trip will inevitably have an effect on my fiction – for once I didn’t take any work with me, but it’s something I never stop thinking about, and I made a few notes during the week. I was doing my best to take a quick break from writing, as it’s been so draining recently, but, a few days after my return, I’ve redrafted The Spoiler and it’s very close to being complete.

All images and text © Julie Travis, apart from the title, taken from Derek Jarman’s film.

 

Killing It Softly

Longstone, Isles of Scilly by Julie Travis

I’m delighted to announce that volume two of Killing It Softly, an anthology of horror by female writers, will include a story of mine, Blue. Contracts need to be sorted out, but publication should be in October this year. The anthology does reprints only, so I sent a story that had been published in Kzine #1 in 2011 (and I featured it on this website for a short time). I didn’t re-read it at all – I knew I was fairly happy with it, but there would always be the temptation to re-write parts, which of course would stop it from being a reprint. Interesting that KIS is a Canadian publication – yet again, North America offers a home for my writing.

After much thought and discussion with various people, Humans Remain – the third story of mine to be included in Andy Martin’s Fast-Clean-Cheap anthology – will be published under my name. I had deep misgivings for a while because of the content, but it’s a story that needs to be told. Anyone close to me who wishes to read it will be warned that it’s a nasty, autobiographical tale (well, more literally autobiographical than any other piece of fiction I’ve written). I have no wish to read it again, so I don’t blame anyone who decides not to!

The Spoiler is now complete and undergoing extensive re-writing. It’s been written over such a massive amount of time (more than a decade since it was started) that there’s plenty to do to make it work properly, but I’m confident that it can be included in the Wapshott Press collection. And after reading more about Surrealist writer/artist, Leonora Carrington, I am making sure the story is as fantastique as possible!

 

All text and images © Julie Travis

 

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