Paths that cross will cross again

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

The trip to Cumbria was long and emotional but also beautiful and inspiring. We stayed in a small house at the foot of Blencathra and watched the mountain turn from green to white in a short-lived but furious snowstorm. From the back were sweeping views over St John’s in the Vale and more mountains than I could count, plus a bat that flitted around the garden one evening. Our visit to Castlerigg stone circle was marred by an arrogant pair of men who had camped inside the stones, and who stared and commented at us as we approached as if we had no right to be there. What was it someone said recently about some people and their sense of absolute entitlement? I nearly spoke to them, as I wanted to explain how disrespectful they were being (and that they were giving wild campers a bad name) but my instinct was to keep away. We returned later in the week and they were gone, replaced by visitors who treated the place – and us – with respect.

It was with great relief that we found the hawthorn tree where Jhonn Balance’s ashes were scattered, and the nearby Church Plantation, the location of his memorial woodland, entirely undamaged from the terrible flooding of December 2015. In the lane approaching St Bega church T found the body of a young deer (as you will see from the new ‘banner’ photo on this site). Ian had a fondness for photographing dead animals, and the deer was one of his favourite creatures, so I photographed it in his honour.

The story I’m currently working on, Dark Fire, finishes at Bassenthwaite Lake, and I took some time, sitting on a boulder on the shore, to note the details of the area. The story is near completion of its first draft and the trip has provided the motivation to finish it sooner rather than later. I also made some notes for what will be my next story (as yet untitled); perhaps it’s impossible to be in such a landscape and not stumble upon new story ideas.

 

The title of this piece is from a lyric by Patti Smith. All other images and text ©Julie Travis

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Bad moon rising

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

I’m close to completing a first draft of new story Dark Fire. I’ve decided to stick with this title; it’s an alchemical term that describes an intense fire which consumes itself. The title of a painting by Ithell Colquhoun, I thought it perfect for the story. Or, perhaps, for the way I’m feeling at the moment. Either way, it works. David Bowie’s Blackstar and Coil’s Astral Disaster have been played repeatedly while I’ve been writing this story. Both albums have an otherworldly air to them and have induced some profoundly altered states of mind, which will be clear to anyone reading the story! It did at one point become too strange/frightening to continue with, but I want to explore this kind of thing further.

It’s possible I’ll finish the draft before I head off to Cumbria in around ten days – it’d be a good place to leave the work for the time I’m away. The trip is in part a sad pilgrimage in memory of Ian Johnstone, to visit some of the places he loved, including of course, Jhonn Balance’s memorial at Bassenthwaite Lake. There is still a lot of storm damage in the county, but hopefully life is getting back to normal for most of the residents there. For me, the whole world has changed since I was last there eighteen months ago but I still hope to find some beauty there.

 

All images and text ©Julie Travis unless otherwise stated.

Wake up: time to Live

Teresa Boscawen-Un 17 July 2015

T at our memorial for Ian Johnstone, Boscawen-Un stone circle, 17 July 2015

After what has been a long break between posts, it’s time to do an update. Writing fiction has been almost impossible since Ian’s passing, as it was after my mother passed away, so I have been concentrating on re-drafting Pig Iron, to the point where I think it’s now ready to go for publication. The Man Who Builds The Ruins – the story inspired by Ian and his partner Mikel’s agroforestry project in Northern Spain – has been rejected yet again. I read it through, prepared to ditch the story if necessary, but instead I think it’s one of the best stories I’ve written, so I’ve made a few changes to the prose and am hanging fire on what to do with it next. It does have a very occult/’out there’ feel to it, so perhaps horror/dark fantasy publications are not the right places to send it (although it was nearly placed in two publications).

On a very different note, I’ve been chasing Penguin Books for eight months for an interview with Sue Perkins, but have just been turned down due to her ‘full schedule’ (her memoir, Spectacles, is out in early October). This was to be for Curve magazine in the United States and they are as disappointed about this as I am, I think – Sue has some forthright opinions and would, I think, make the subject of a good article. I’ll be writing to Sue direct in a final attempt to arrange this – if she doesn’t want to do the interview, I’ll accept it and move on. But I do need work that might pay as much as anyone else does!

Otherwise, I’ve been working on Ian’s page for this website. As you can imagine, it’s been a difficult task – plenty of material to choose from, but very emotional to put together, but it’s nearly there. I’ve also been putting Ian’s texts and emails into a document for my personal records, which has proved even more difficult to do! But out of all this grief has come some positive things: contact from some Russians who corresponded with Ian and are constructing a site in his memory, and an email from Phil and Layla Legard of the Hawthonn project, based around Jhonn Balance, grieving, and a journey from Balance’s home in Weston to his resting place at the hawthorn tree near Bassenthwaite Lake. I thank them all for their kindness and generosity.

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.

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.

She calls to the king of fishes

Lindisfarne by T Knight

Lindisfarne by T Knight

To begin, a distinctly Lovecraftian dream from a few weeks ago that I can’t forget, even though I can only remember it in flashes: set at night in a large room with a bay window in a grand house, the gentleman sitting opposite me – white, well-groomed hair, big sideburns, 19th Century dress – widens his eyes and says in a sinister voice, “Dark forces!”. Whether he has conjured something up himself or is warning me, I can’t tell, but there is a terrifying but unseen Thing in the room.

As you can see, just a section remains, and this might be for the best. I certainly woke up – not sitting up, in a sweat, like they do in films – too afraid to move. Given its style and setting I can’t even use this one in a story. However, Widdershins is making decent progress. Over 3,000 words in, which is good going, bearing in mind I began with virtually nothing other than a saying of my partner’s, which she uses when she’s busy but which has always made me shiver slightly: I’ll meet myself coming back in a minute. The story, as the title would suggest, involves the supernatural and folklore. I’ve just finished reading Goose of Hermogenes by Ithell Colquhoun, artist, writer, occultist (with thanks to Matthew Shaw for pointing me in her direction and providing the music, via Fougou’s Further From The Centre of Disturbance, that has accompanied much of the writing and note-making so far) and no doubt the surreal, dream-like nature of the novel will influence the story in some way, even though Widdershins bears no relation to the book. And perhaps this is all an escape from a life that right now is more about dire poverty, illness and bereavement than the things that I would prefer to connect with. Saying that, I don’t intend the story to be either escapist or irrelevant.

The picture above is one of the few available from my trip around the north of England; due to two cameras becoming faulty simultaneously, I found that instead of having a detailed document of the trip, I have two reels of blank negatives and a digital camera that’s now completely useless. The 35mm SLR may be fixable but that just isn’t an option at this point in time. All I have is one shot of Jhonn Balance’s memorial; the close-ups I took of the plaque, the shots around the woodland and by Bassenthwaite Lake, the magical island of Lindisfarne – all have been lost.