The place where all the starlings meet

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Photo by Julie Travis

I’ve been talking to Ginger Mayerson of Wapshott Press and a few things about the new collection are now more or less settled. The title will be We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth and should contain either seven or eight stories. After a week away at Avebury, I’m now back working on the last two stories – Beautiful Silver Spacesuits and March Of The Marvellous. ‘March…’ will be rather different to the rest of the stories – it began as an excerpt from my first novel The Gathering, which still needs a huge amount of work on it, but the piece is being developed into a stand-alone story. The original idea is probably the best part of a decade old, but it’s always been waiting in the wings to hopefully see the light of day.

As for the proposed feature on the film Rebel Dykes for Diva magazine – the film still needs funds in order to be finished and released, which I dearly hope will happen eventually. The story behind the feature is quite a farce, however, where I suspect I’ve suffered both ageism and disablism at the hands of one person involved in the film’s production. Diva’s editor recently left the magazine and to date the Deputy Editor has not responded to my email about the feature. I may name names and tell the full story at some point, but I now have no idea whether this feature will ever be written. I send my best wishes to everyone else involved in the film.

All images and text © Julie Travis

 

Women In Horror Month

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I still consider myself to be a horror writer, although these days my stories contain strong elements of other genres and influences; dark fantasy, Surrealism, the Occult. But I began as a horror writer, and a horror fan of course, and I still have a great love for the genre. Which is one of the reasons why I’m writing about Women In Horror Month. For the last eight years, February has been designated WIH Month, to provide a focus on female writers. Despite misgivings of myself and every other female horror writer I know of – one month a year obviously isn’t enough – we all realise that such a focus is necessary.

I had few female role models, artistically speaking, when I was growing up. Punk gave me almost all the ones I did have – Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), Gee Vaucher, Joy de Vivre, Eve Libertine (Crass), Zillah Minx and Gem Stone (Rubella Ballet), Vi Subversa (Poison Girls), together with Kathy Acker…no horror writers amongst them, but all helped me form my political view of the world. Before then, I read a lot of horror – mostly Gothic short stories – some of which were undoubtedly written by women, but there was no focus on female writers, especially in the 1980s, when horror films in particular seemed to provide an anti-feminist backlash. Without the attitude of punk and punk’s women, as well as Clive Barker’s post-punk style of writing, it would never have occurred to me to think there might be a place for me in horror.

Once I’d began, and had my first professional story published (‘Jump From A Speeding Car’, REM #2, 1992), the first review of the story, by John Duffield for Interzone, gave me a taste of prevailing attitudes. He hated my story – which was disappointing, of course, but his choice – but what really hurt was his sneering, patronising description of me as a person (“some sort of alternative punkette”). I knew a male writer would never have been treated in that way – in fact John Shirley was well known at the time as an old punk and was respected for it. At that point I wondered if my ‘career’ was over before it had even started, but luckily other writers and editors have been far more progressive. Still, I think the problems I had and still face in having stories published is partly down to the lack of clear genre for them to fit into but also – and I think this is paramount – that female writers are still not seriously enough, not just by (many but not all) editors, but by readers; a reflection, of course, of the place of women in society in general. We do not get the gravitas that is automatically accorded to male artists irrespective of their talent (check out New York City’s Guerrilla Girls for far more on this).

What I would like to see each February is women taking over as editors of horror magazines, slipstream magazines, dark fantasy and sf magazines. Obviously women do edit magazines and journals, but I’d like to see them in charge of everything even vaguely related to the horror genre for that month, for a different perspective, to portray the world that exists outside of men and their reflections of themselves (again, this does not describe all male editors by any means).

I don’t read enough fiction. I have neither the time nor especially the money to buy the stories by all the women I need to be reading. But I have a permanent focus on female writers now. I’ve grown up like many women have – surrounded by pressure to belittle myself and my gender. Awareness of such things is the beginning of dismantling them. So seek out women writers; of horror, slipstream, whatever, now and every month of the year. Read interviews, blogs and websites. Most important of all, don’t do the easy thing that we’re all programmed to do, and pass over the female contributors in favour of the male ones. Women are talented, inspiring, visionary. Don’t lose out by ignoring us.

All images and text © Julie Travis

 

Major writing news

Black Static 53 cover

It’s been an incredibly hectic couple of weeks. As you can see, Black Static #53 is out and includes a comprehensive review of Storylandia 15, as well as a load of great looking reading. Peter Tennant comparies the collection to the likes of Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood as well as Clive Barker, and highly recommends it. Illustrious company indeed! Many thanks to Peter for taking the time to do this. I so often operate in a vacuum, it’s extremely interesting and helpful to get an idea of what other people think of what I do. Do I need this kind of validation? As much as anyone else does – I yo-yo between brimming confidence and wild self-doubt, and I was a bit concerned that some of what I now write is just simply inaccessible to the rest of the world.

Following on from the review, I’ve been interviewed by Peter for Case Notes on the TTA Press website. He asked some good questions and I gave some very honest answers. When I first began writing, one of my ultimate goals was to be interviewed. Twenty-three years later, it’s actually happened! (as a writer – I’ve been interviewed as a musician and as a political activist). Of course, what I really meant was that I needed to be heard and taken seriously and the writing provides its own voice. The interview will either get people very interested in what I do or will send them running for the hills.

Andy Martin’s anthology, Fast-Clean-Cheap, is now at the proof-reading stage and is due to be published in September this year by Lulu. It’s likely to be an eclectic collection, with my two pieces probably the only ones inthe horror/dark fantasy vein. Expect the unexpected from Andy!

Finally, I’m very happy to announce that Wapshott Press have asked me to do a second short story collection, for release around the end of 2017. I’ve two or three stories already completed for it, plus a few tricks up my sleeve regarding some older (almost unseen by anyone else) work and two or three new stories to write for it in the next year. The working title for the collection is We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth, and I have some thoughts for the book’s cover, too. Once again I have to thank Ginger Mayerson and all at Wapshott Press for such amazing support and faith.

All text ©Julie Travis

The haunters and the haunted

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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.

The Ferocious Night: now available

Storylandia 12

Storylandia 12, which includes The Ferocious Night, is now available in physical and e-reader formats, from Wapshott Press and Amazon. More on this when I return from a short trip to Dartmoor, but needless to say I am delighted to have this story published at last.

“Everything is a Time Machine!”

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Various works are in progress and so here is an update of sorts: From The Bones has undergone an extensive amount of re-writing and is in the right place to start submitting to magazines. Probably! You have to get to a certain point with writing (or anything else) where things have to be left, or else spend forever tweaking it, and wisdom is in knowing when to stop. The second ‘modern fairy tale’ I’ve written over the summer, Widdershins, is also finished, I think. I needed to step away from horror for a short time to explore other things and with these two stories I believe I’ve managed it. They both have meaning without moralising and – possibly – could be read to children. The title of this entry, by the way, is a quote by Jacob Skiddaw, the grandfather of Charlotte Skiddaw. Wise words, I hope. Grave Goods – the full-on horror story mentioned a while back – is beginning its submission trek. It was fun to write, an intense few days of getting the main body of the story down followed by a couple of weeks of re-writing. At under 4000 words, it’s the shortest piece I’ve written in a very long while, but that should open up the market as far as submissions are concerned. And I’ve just begun another new story, which is definitely in the horror/dark fantasy camp. Working title Rebecca Shadow and The Winter House, although it’s likely to change. It’s set – or at least begins – in Cumbria. The short time I spent in the county earlier this year has had a massive influence.

In an attempt to communicate somewhat more with the outside world, I’ve been back in contact with Ellyott Ben Ezzer, Israeli singer and DJ, who fronted the fantastic London Queercore band Sister George in the mid-1990s. I sent her copies of the photos I took of the band at one of their gigs (The Water Rats, a pub in Kings Cross, London). One has appeared on their Facebook site, and it’s possible others may appear there soon (the photo above was originally published in Scotsgay, along with the feature I did on the band shortly before they broke up). And Unit are using some of my photography of birds on a forthcoming album cover/booklet. This on-going project had me chasing a flock of Greenfinches around St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly last week and managing to photograph none of them, but I’m getting some decent shots of other birds.

Grid North, True North, Magnetic North

Morrab fountain detail

It has been a long and difficult summer, but the plans I’ve been working on for the last couple of months are beginning to bear fruit. The heat has abated somewhat – trying to work in an airless attic in sweltering heat was almost impossible – and I’ve been writing solidly for weeks now. The Ferocious Night has been with the editors of Fearful Symmetries (Ellen Datlow’s new anthology) for some time and I’m expecting an answer one way or another in the next ten days. There will have been a massive pile of manuscripts to trawl through in the open reading period, so the chances of getting in are slim. After some further sharpening up and some ‘method writing’ involving an experiment with some chicken bones to test part of the story, From The Bones is with the editor of a British transgenre fiction magazine. The ‘nice’ story I’d written, and had so much angst about, was rejected as the story was ‘a bit too weak’. It was a fair criticism; while I think I have the style right for the magazine in question, I knew the plot was flimsy, but I needed to see how it went. I will have another go as soon as time allows – while my finances are now on a slightly better footing, there’s no room for complacency.

Widdershins has made it to a properly typed up first draft and stands at around 7700 words long. There’s more fleshing out to do in places, but the story is complete. If ever I wrote a story for younger people, then this is it. It is not a horror tale, more a darkish fantasy. Perhaps my next piece should be full-on horror, to redress the balance.

Next week I’ll be interviewing two wisewomen for Curve magazine. This is something I’m very excited about. They live in a village on the Penwith peninsular and I’ve been aware of their activities for many years. To meet them and hear about their work first hand will be a privilege. I do know someone who had a wart charmed away by a wisewoman at the other end of Cornwall. This happened around thirty years ago and it’s fascinating to know that the craft continues. The feature should appear in their December issue.

And, after trying different types of mediation over the years, I seem to have found a way that suits me, so I’m meditating most days now, mostly in silence, but accompanied by appropriate music/sounds on some occasions. It won’t stop my nightmares (and dreaming about giving the Grim Reaper a shiny, silver scythe and having him address me by name has been one of the more frightening) but nevertheless it’s having a positive effect.

*Photo by Julie, camera courtesy of Utherben. Many thanks!