I came from dust, I shall return to dust

Penzance graveyard

From The Bones is now in its third draft and becoming more cohesive. The changes I’d needed to make to the story – altering a character’s gender for some balance and the addition of a hint of the central idea of the story early on (it not being the type of tale that needs a major twist at the end, more a slow revelation) – are helping to make it what it’s meant to be. Isn’t that the meaning of ‘good art’? To get across to the reader the point of it all; they may not like what that point is, but if it’s there, then the job is done. One of the points of the story, the source of conflict, perhaps, is the clash of science and academia against spiritual beliefs and fairy tales (many of which may have their roots in real events anyway). This has been done, no doubt, in many stories (M R James’ O Whistle And I’ll Come To You, My Lad springs immediately to mind) but I’m approaching this from a different angle, I think: science and spirituality can happily coexist. The more I learn about the Universe, for instance, the more weight my spiritual interests (such as in Cosmic Geomancy) seem to hold. But the other question that From The Bones intends to ask is the one that archaeology always brings up for me: what gives us the right to dig up ancient graves and burial places, to steal bones and grave goods? It’s the same discomfort I feel when I see birds, seals and polar bears trapped or sedated and tagged. It’s always claimed to be about extending knowledge and, with the latter especially, about conservation issues, but the human obsession with interfering grates, to say the least. And who knows what consequences there may be?

For the first time that I can remember, I have no stories being read or considered by editors. There are various reasons for this – one story is over 14,000 words long and so too big for most magazines and anthologies, another is waiting for submissions to open for a new horror anthology, edited by Ellen Datlow, and (in an update to the above) From The Bones may actually be finished but I need to put it aside for a while before I’m sure – but it’s an odd situation to be in. Not unpleasant, I’d add; a pause in waiting for responses is not a bad thing and perhaps helping me ensure that I’m writing for myself. Publication – the possible pleasing of other people (and I do want people to like and appreciate my work) – should always come second to being true to what I’m doing.

In other news, I happened to mention on another website (Bristol-based, for Queers, Drag Queens/Kings and general weirdos) that I’d seen the documentary She’s Real, Worse Than Queer, directed by Lucy Thane, a British woman living in San Francisco in the mid-1990s, and that I had some involvement in the London Queercore scene. The website has expressed interest in doing an interview with me, so I’ll be putting some notes together about that time. Luckily it’s a period that I have a lot of documentation on and I knew and interviewed a fair few of the major players, some more than once. It would be good to pull these things together and pass these stories – our history – on, so I’m looking forward to the interview.

If it goes any faster there’ll be an astral disaster

Rough Tor with Showery Tor in the foreground, Cornwall

Tales From The River Vol 2 has sadly not yet been published, despite its anticipated release date of 22 September. Enquires are being made as to when the anthology will be available. Volume 1, I’m told, contains some extremely good stories, so I’m being patient. Storylandia 7 is now on sale, both in physical and Kindle formats. Initial feedback is very positive (although I’ve yet to see the magazine myself) – The Falling Man has been compared to Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, which is a huge compliment. I suppose its setting does lend itself to the Gothic horror I read as a child, although that was not my conscious intention when I was writing it. I’ve had a proper look through Angel Wing, which must be fifteen or more years old, and have found two useable paragraphs; the ending may prove to be a suitable beginning to what is probably going to be a horror-archaeology story. This is something I know M R James specialised in, and I won’t pretend to be anywhere near his academic breeding (despite my obsession with musty, old reference books!). More a modern, working-class take on a profession which has become a little more accessible since James’ day. And I’m thinking of doing a couple of interviews (for what or whom I don’t yet know), the first in many years. The interviewees – an artist and an ambient musician – haven’t yet been approached and may well decline, but I feel each has a lot worth sharing. I was tempted to interview Coil back in 2002 and felt somehow not worthy. The chance of course has now gone forever and I don’t want to make the same mistake again.

Someone recently asked me whether my totemic animal was the tiger, after seeing my first tattoo (a colourful Chinese tiger) and I had to admit that it wasn’t – the tattoo was picked instinctively, and began life as a panther before Kevin the tattooist added the stripes and colours freehand. It would seem to me, that the starling would fit the bill of totemic animal: several incredibly powerful dreams involving huge flocks of the bird would point to this. Two dreams on consecutive nights, however, have pointed in a different direction; after seeing a documentary about how the asteroids that hit Earth millions of years ago possibly contained ice, and therefore brought water – life – to the planet, the connection to the stars that Cosmic Geomancers believe in makes even more sense to me. The first dream had me in a wood, looking across at the moon, which was so close to the Earth that I could see it in detail as it rotated. I was lifted above the trees and began to circle around them, and was offered the Universe to travel around. This – which I assumed was Death – was too huge a prospect and I refused and was lowered to the ground. The next night I was asked the same question. More prepared, I accepted, and hurtled towards the stars at incredible speed. Is this what awaits me when I die? I hope so.

Julie Travis, West Penwith, Autumn Equinox 2012 CE

The universe is a haunted house: the Cornish Earth Mysteries Group

An unquiet house

One of the best discoveries I made on moving to Cornwall was the Cornish Earth Mysteries Group, a bunch of local Pagans who spent the summer hanging around at sacred sites, dowsing and suchlike, and the winter holding fascinating talks in Penzance. The talks sadly ended a couple of years back due to increased venue rental costs, but the few I went to opened my head – literally – to The Way Things Are, and I’m eternally grateful to them for it. As a lifelong believer in the paranormal, it was perhaps appropriate that the first talk I went to was by ghost-hunter Ian Addicoat. It was a long time ago and he seemed very nervous, but there were plenty of ghosts in Penwith for him to tell us about. I met him a while later at Pengersick Castle, where I was lucky enough to have him give me a tour of the building and gardens, then a look at some photos taken outside the house of orbs. He still does ghost walks in Penzance and St Ives and I must go along to one. I’ve not experienced anything in town that feels like a haunting although I’ve had experiences elsewhere, most recently in Minions. Near to The Hurlers stone circle is a bridleway that goes past an abandoned house and down towards Darite. It is an uneasy place to walk. The house (occupied at the time by an affable squatter) feels ‘dark’ and continuing along the path was extremely uncomfortable. I kept looking behind me, expecting to see something there. A definite feeling of being watched by something unpleasant accompanied us (T didn’t like the place either) and I’ll not go there again. Ian’s talk didn’t tell me a lot I didn’t know, but it made me realise I’d made the right decision to leave London.

A while later I was back at a talk by Jude Currivan about Cosmic Geomancy. I will try to explain the theory simply: every Thing in the universe is connected. All are part of a Life energy. This hit me for six and made perfect sense. And it was refreshing to hear someone talking about all life as being equal and from the same source of energy. It made me realise that this life is just one phase of being. We change at death. This doesn’t alter the huge loss of bereavement, but I certainly feel a loved one’s death is worse for those left behind than for the deceased. I’ve linked to Jude’s site. It looks ‘wafty’ but the woman has plenty of substance. Oh, and have a look at Ian Johnstone’s piece on Jhonn Balance’s memorial and the sign Balance left him of his presence.

The third mind-altering CEMG talk was by Pam Masterson, who owns a shop in Penzance called The Healing Star. It was about chakras and at the end she did a short meditation with the audience. All we did was relax and focus on various parts of the body but when we got to the forehead things got weird. The best way I can describe it is like having the front of my head opened and a brilliant light streaming out. I’d always been sensitive in the ‘third eye’ area but had thought nothing of it. Now – several years after that short meditation – that area still constantly tingles. It’s not a great feeling but I know it’s incredibly important and something I should explore, preferably with Pam in more meditation. Lack of money is holding this back but at some stage it will be done.

There are many talks I missed – Paul Broadbent, Hamish Miller (now departed) and Craig Weatherhill all spoke at meetings over the years and I would have loved to have been there, but what I did hear has changed my worldview. It’s also affected what I write about – it’s all still very dark stuff, I suppose, but I certainly feel some of the bleakness has gone. Someone dying at the end of a story is not necessarily an unhappy ending.