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.

Mandragora swallows the moon

006

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.

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.

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.