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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Balance is everything

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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.

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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.

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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

 

In the midst of death

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

Strange fiction and stranger dreams.

We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth is nearly 7500 words long and heading towards its finale. Finding the sadness I need to convey in the story is easy – channelling it is difficult and emotionally draining. Once I’ve finished the first draft – which may well be done during my week in Lydford, with its powerful energies (as mentioned in my last post) – I can let it rest awhile and re-draft Parasomnia. I also found the beginnings of another story, The Spoiler, possibly ten years old, which was far better than I remembered it being, so that’s next on the list for when Parasomnia is finished. Story relays are working well for me.

The title of this piece is the title of the photograph I hope will form the the front cover of the second Storylandia collection, a version of the dead deer on the banner of this website, in tribute to Ian Johnstone.

Strange dreams abound, of course, the best of my most recent ones involving a city of gigantic buildings and huge bronze sculptures dedicated to a composer (his name was spoken but had slipped my mind by morning), of me flying along the avenues, heading West, out of the city and all the way to a super-real North Somerset coast and along to a small town located there – Weston-super-Mare. Weston has a lot of Occult/magickal connections – Aleister Crowley, Dion and Coil/Jhonn Balance are names that spring to mind.

UPDATE: NOTES FROM LYDFORD – the energy in this area is as powerful as I’d hoped it would be. We Are All Falling… was finished on my first day here and is now 8700 words long. I found myself unable to stop writing and was in tears when I’d finished. The story’s let me go for a while, and it’s a relief. A more thorough investigation of Lydford village found the church was haunted – or at least held a presence…Something was in there, anyway! Next to the castle we found a Viking stone covered in Runic lettering and in the Castle Inn the witch glasses that I’d seen before were sadly gone, although the strange hexagonal glass was still there and the Green Man appeared to peer out from a place behind the stained glass window of the pub’s door.

 

All images and text: copyright Julie Travis

 

Mimicking the machines: the first Industrial music

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

By chance I saw a few minutes of a tv programme on dance and found out that some types of English clog dancing was invented by the women working the mechanised looms to relieve the tedium of the job. Many steps mimicked the sounds and movement of the machines. I’ve watched programmes on clog dancing before – and seen it executed wonderfully, most notably by Rachel and Becky Unthank – but had not heard how the steps came about. The original Industrial Music then, I thought – pre-dating by around a century (if my social history is right) the term coined by Peter Christopherson, then of Throbbing Gristle, to describe the sounds/noise of TG. I’ve read many interviews with him and other members of the group but have found no reference to clog dance steps so perhaps he was not aware of it but it certainly seems to reflect his own ideas about how to use sound and noise. When I was researching whether anyone in the 1970s/80s Industrial ‘scene’ had talked about mill workers in Northern England I found no reference to it, either, although contemporary sound artist Sarah Angliss had made the connection several years ago, and had written about it in 2009, even mentioning Kraftwerk and Coil. Of course, between these two eras came industrial music from the Midlands from the likes of Black Sabbath, which was labelled Heavy Metal, since the music reflected the heavy industry of the area and the lives that it dominated, but the later Industrial Music, like the clog dance steps before it, sought to mimic industrial noise more closely.

My forays onto social media are having mixed results. On the plus side, I’ve managed to connect with more writers and have made contact with a few people I’d lost touch with. On the negative side, too many people, I think, consider that clicking the ‘Like’ button on someone’s posts is a decent replacement for emailing friends. It isn’t. It may take time for me to respond to emails sometimes – or write a letter – but that’s because to do so requires the effort that my friends are worth. A few rushed words on social media is not communication. The other main problem is that Facebook feels like being in a room where so many people are shouting that my voice is either not heard or is just ignored. Not having a Smartphone means that taking photos, loading them onto the computer and then posting them anywhere again requires a lot of effort, so my posts on FB have to be considered. So I’m spending less and less time there. Some personal and professional issues of late are also making me consider whether to delete my account completely, along with this website, and retreat into the complete reclusiveness that was necessary when I first left London. A person can only be ripped off, fucked over and taken for granted so many times before they give up and walk away from it all.

On the writing front – I’ve just completed the first draft of Dark Fire. At present it’s just over 6,000 words, which is quite short for me, but is likely to grow a bit when re-drafted. I’m very pleased with it, but I may put it to one side for the time being to press on with another new story.

 

All images and text ©Julie Travis

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

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.

Whishtful thinking

Sancreed Branches

A page for Ian Johnstone has now been added to the site. It is probably the most difficult piece I’ve ever had to write. I just hope it does him justice. Tomorrow morning I’m heading to Dartmoor for a week of peace, hopefully, before making a start on some new fiction. Again, hopefully!