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

 

I shall look into the Eye of the storm

Wistman Spiral 1

A week staying on a smallholding on the western fringes of Dartmoor has done me good; I’m currently over 1100 words into a new story. A Fairy Ring contains neither fairies nor mushroom rings but is, inevitably, about the process of grieving, although that’s hopefully not obvious at first read. The subject matter, of course, is something everyone has to experience many times through their lives, so perhaps this is the most mainstream piece of fiction I’ve ever written. After three months of being incapable of working on anything new, it’s a relief to have such a full story just appear in my head in the way it has done. I have three finished stories sitting on the chair next to me, and I have no inclination to send them anywhere. That’s how it is for now, who knows how I’ll feel in the future?

Haytor 1

UNIT has recorded a cover of Regime Of Kindness, a song I wrote the music for around thirty years ago and which appeared on the Death To Wacky Pop e.p. Andy Martin kindly sent me a copy. It’s a fairly different arrangement, far more prog-rock than the original, and I think it’s excellent. It’ll appear on an album of theirs set for release next year. Many thanks to the band for digging this song up and doing their own version.

Tattoo 2 Swarming Shapes

Last week I had a new tattoo done – a detail from Ian Johnstone’s 23 Swarming Shapes. It’s my first new tattoo in around thirteen years. The whole process is hugely ritualistic for me. There are a couple of tattoo studios in Penzance, but I tried one of them and the vibe wasn’t right, so I went back to Shoreline in St Ives, where I had my last ink done. I knew it was the right place as soon as I stepped through the door, so I made an appointment and had a week of getting into the right frame of mind for it, hoping that Ian would have approved: he knew I thought the work was perfect for tattoos and he had one of the shapes tattooed onto his leg, so I think he’d be okay with it. The healing process is as much a ritual as choosing/designing the ink, and it’s healing incredibly quickly. Which is useful, as I can’t dress properly until it’s done so! The money to pay for it wasn’t easy to find, but I don’t think such permanent body modification should be effortless. Thanks to Cherry at Shoreline for an excellent job.

Meet me on a desertshore

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When I began this blog, it was with the intention of being ‘findable’ for anyone interested in my writing. However, after much thought and after browsing a few other writers’ websites (in the main that of Priya Sharma – with apologies/thanks for somewhat borrowing her format) it seems a good idea to expand a little and add a few story excerpts for casual passers-by, so I’m going to be adding an excerpts page as a permanent feature, that will be updated to eventually include most of my published work. A piece of non-fiction (The Cornish Witch) has been available for some time but the link to Cross Bound, which appeared in a webzine, has been removed in lieu of it being available in physical form next year.

Some very kind words for Storylandia 15: Collected Stories By Julie Travis from Utherben, who is an excellent psychogeographic photographer from New York City, on her website:

Face The Strange: All She Had Was The Blood On Her Hand

Earlier this month Wapshott Press released Storylandia 15; the featured author this time around is the phantasmagorically fabulous Julie Travis, with five tales of atmospheric, vibrant and thought-provoking slipstream horror. Her work is terrific, in that it’s both well-crafted and inspires absolute terror. She’s been included in in various anthologies, and she’s done some self-publishing, but as far as I know this is the first literary journal issue specifically dedicated to her work…and I’m seriously fucking proud of her. Rock on, Julie!

Thanks, Utherben. While I’m on the review trail, I’ll add here an excerpt of a review by Peter Tennant of the 2008 Pigasus Press anthology Premonitions: Causes For Alarm which appeared in Black Static #9:

…‘Darkworlds’ by Julie Travis was my favourite story. It brings to mind both Barker’s Cenobites and the King/Straub collaborations in a tale of creatures from other realms entering our own and defeating the plan of a bureaucrat to take their dimensions as lebensraum. It’s clever, with good characterisation and a gratifying pair of monsters in the Torquis and Yellow Jack. Travis knows how to pitch a telling phrase at the reader and she doesn’t shirk from describing the more horrific aspects of the story, while back of it all is the sense that there is a lot more mileage to be got from this scenario and these characters. I hope Travis follows up.

This is relevant because it was mainly because of this review that ideas for a second part (of sorts) of the story began to take shape, and emerged a few years later as Theophany, which is included in SL 15. Thanks to Peter for his encouragement over the years.

Pig Iron is now in its third draft. The story, over 9000 words long, has taken a stupidly short amount of time to write and I expect to finish it soon. Then I’ll be in a position to return to The Hidden (which has taken a stupidly long time to write) and make the final changes that it needs. Leaving stories alone for a while can be the best thing you can do in order to to gain perspective.

Mandragora swallows the moon

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As promised, here are the notes on Storylandia 15: Collected Stories By Julie Travis:

From The Bones

As a child many family holidays were spent hunting for fossils on the beaches at Lyme Regis in Dorset. We have evidence of the ancient past all around us but fossils gave me an amazing connection to it. Later on, I became more interested in human history, more specifically the spiritual aspects of the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. These days I spend a lot of time at sacred sites and this story came from all of these influences. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the ethics of digging up bodies and displaying them in museums and suchlike (although I have been to see Lindow Man and other bog bodies in the British Museum); does our demand for knowledge make it acceptable to disturb such places? There is a link here, I think, with our arrogance in extracting oil and minerals from the ground without worrying about the consequences, both for ourselves and for the Earth – to which we’re connected, whether we like it or not.

Grave Goods

More archaeology! Early burials would leave a few items – or, in the case of a high-status grave, almost a roomful of items – with the deceased, for them to take to the Otherworld. We don’t do that any more (at least in Western European culture) but perhaps we should. It might be of great use to take a few things with us wherever we go. I wanted to write a story that was definitely horror rather than dark fantasy and it was more or less drafted in three days. One of the characters was heavily inspired by Marlow Moss, a Modernist artist who lived in Lamorna, West Cornwall, in the mid 20th century.

Scar Tissue

Along with Pieces (Urban Occult, 2013), this story’s set in the gay community in Hackney/Stoke Newington in London, a scene I was immersed in for a few years in the 1990s. There were some terribly damaged women out there, mostly as a result of abuse in early life and this is based on some of them. It is not a failure to be mentally ill or damaged, but to use these things as leverage over other people’s lives is, in my view, criminal.

Theophany

This is a continuation, of sorts, of Darkworlds (Premonitions: Causes For Alarm, 2008) but not a ‘part 2’ – each story is completely separate and stands on its own (to make sure this was the case I didn’t mention Darkworlds to Ginger Mayerson, Storylandia’s editor, so that she could be objective when she read Theophany). Darkworlds was begun in London and finished in Lelant, Cornwall, where I lived when I first moved down here, and marked a far deeper, layered form of writing.

Widdershins

My favourite word. What happens when you walk anti-clockwise – ‘the wrong way’ – around a church? What happens when you live an unconventional life? The church and its location are based on St Bega, a small church that stands beside Bassingthwaite Lake in Cumbria. This is the first story I wrote after my mother’s passing. Everything is a time machine.

In an update on other work: The Man Who Builds The Ruins will not be appearing in the Dreams From The Witch House anthology. It hasn’t been rejected – I found out second hand what the book’s contents are and my story wasn’t listed. As yet, no one involved with the book has had the courtesy to let me know. I wish the anthology well and I intend getting hold of a copy, but I’m not impressed with the way the writers have been treated. Along with the blog writers who I’ve supported for years but who couldn’t be bothered to reply to a polite email asking if they’d be interested in a copy SL 15 for possible review, the wheat is certainly being sorted from the chaff as regards professionalism.

I’m working on two other stories: Pig Iron is close to a finished first draft. As soon as it’s done, I’ll do the final tweaks needed on The Hidden to finish it.

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.

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.

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.

Transgenre: falling between fictions

Storylandia 12

Some writing updates: The Man Who Builds The Ruins has been with a couple of editors and was rejected immediately by both. It’s always possible that the story just isn’t up to scratch but after a lot of revision I’m extremely happy with it – perhaps it’s time to put it aside for a month or so and come back to it more objectively. If I’m still happy with it I know it will find a place somewhere. But possibly the ‘problem’ is that the piece doesn’t fit to any genre. I had to describe it for one magazine and chose ‘horror+fantasy’ (there was a list), although I’m not sure it would sit comfortably in that place. There’s a small element of horror in the story, but it could also be described as Weird/dark fantasy/slipstream. Someone once said I wrote ‘bloodstream rather than slipstream’ fiction. If one has to put a label on these things… I came up with the term ‘transgenre’ whilst working with performance poet Joelle Taylor in London – with many of the lesbian community at that time beginning to describe themselves as transgender, it seemed appropriate and supportive at the same time.

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As for Rebecca Shadow and the Winter House (a title that may well change) – I’ve done a lot of work on it recently and the first draft is almost finished. The last, fairly hefty section of it, needs to be typed up, then it’ll be in a fit state to begin rewriting. After not touching the manuscript for three months while I wrote TMWBTR, I’d forgotten the pages and pages of longhand that I’d done for it. It’s in a much better state than I’d thought. I’ve read a lot lately about writers playing music while writing, and there’s a fair few that think that only silence will do – that perhaps it’s as much of a ‘false’ influence as writing while drinking or on drugs. I respect their choice; silence certainly has its place. Having the window open and hearing the repeating pattern of the chaffinch singing outside has its place, too But state of mind-changing influences of various kinds can unlock doors, if done wisely. It won’t create an imagination where there isn’t one.

Harmonic Sanctuary

Pz Churchyard Headstone Detail

Life in West Cornwall has recently become about planning for storms, hiding from storms and hoping they’ll pass before the windows are blown in or the roof comes off. Like many places, Mounts Bay has taken a battering, with the last two Spring tides and storm force winds combining to smash much of the front between Newlyn and Penzance and hurl huge paving slabs and granite blocks across the Promenade and into the road.

Somehow, no one here has been injured. Many places are faring worse (we still
have power and for that I’m grateful) but it’s a frightening time and some of us are having to adapt our lives somewhat – including the fact that our links with the rest of the UK are now tenuous to say the least. Perhaps one day it will make for some (cathartic) fiction but for now it’s too dreadful to contemplate in that way.

Pz Churchyard Smallpox 2014
Despite all this and the endless disturbed nights hearing the wind thundering
against the building, I’ve been managing to get a fair amount of writing done.
All the stories I wrote last year have been edited and re-written where
necessary and are now with Storylandia. I’ve also massively re-worked Rebecca Shadow and it’s now in a coherent state to continue with, although I suspect it won’t be a quick one to finish, having taken the difficult route and based it in a modern house; atmosphere is far harder to work into this setting rather than a rambling old mansion. Although I’m bearing in mind that one of the more famous alleged poltergeist/hauntings of recent times occurred in a Council house in Enfield, Middlesex, during the 1970s; spirits, malevolent or otherwise, can appear anywhere. I’m enjoying the difficulty, actually, the opportunity to push myself, and the whole point of the story is about how the fantastique can be part of ordinary, even deprived, lives. Seth Lakeman’s new album, Word of Mouth, has provided much of the backdrop to my current work, along with the sounds made by Wind Harps – amazing structures that can be part of a door or window frame or sometimes placed at sacred sites to see what musick they create.