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

 

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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.

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!

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.

An interview with Ellyott

 

I now have a copy of Curve magazine with my article on Ellyott. It’s been shortened a bit, unsurprisingly, due to lack of space, but it’s come out well (apart from Curve’s insistence on calling Ellyott ‘Ezzer’ for much of the piece – their doing, not mine) – Ellyott gets to say plenty. What follows are the bits that didn’t make it into the article. I thought the material was too good – and important – to not see the light of day. Some pieces are straight from my interview with her, others are from the original article. The result is inevitably a bit of a jigsaw, but I hope it makes interesting reading.

JT: “While most of the songs are in Hebrew, three are in English. Was there any particular reason for that? [Was it a matter of communicating these songs to a wider/different audience?]”

E: “I have been writing in both English and Hebrew my whole life, I feel both languages are my lovers, and this is the only field where I care to be polygamous. Some songs declare themselves in a certain language, and I just let them drive me, happy to ride shotgun, and let the song unroll.”

The loss of Ellyott’s father in 2010, as well as other members of her family in the holocaust, are clearly evident in the songs and among the sleeve notes are dedications to Queer activists John Edward Campbell and Tutu Tedder, along with Sister George’s bass player Lisa Cook, all of whom have passed on. As loss was the driving force behind the album’s creation, it was perhaps inevitable that it was a central theme.

While Ellyott wrote most of the lyrics, she also took the opportunity to arrange music to a poem written by Ester Raab, the sister of Ellyott’s grandfather, (‘A Song For The Mediterranean’), and covered one of Israel’s best known children’s songs.

E: “I recorded ‘My Dad’ as a requiem to my father. I actually recorded it the week my dad died and you can hear my voice breaking up at the end of the song. This, for many people here, has been the best loved song of the album and has been played here a lot. People really relate to my version.”

I had hoped that life as a Queer artist in the UK would be somewhat easier than in Israel [where her songs were banned in the 1980s and she was front page news as the first out-dyke artist in the country], but evidently I was wrong, as Ellyott is quick to point out.

E: “I thought it would be easier in London but actually it wasn’t. Sister George was allowed its fifteen minutes of fame as ‘Queer Punk Badass Gang’. We were on the cover of the New Musical Express, but were not taken seriously as musicians, which is a shame as I feel our later songs were far better than our debut album. We broke up when the others in the band thought I was trying to get U2’s scout to sign me as a solo artist, when he came to see us. Needless to say, it was never so. But we broke up and I never got to talk it out and make up, as our bass player Lisa Cook died a few years back, and it broke my heart that I never got to sort it out. Lisa was fierce, I admired her greatly.”

Despite her misgivings about the UK’s attitude to Sister George (and I can testify to the songwriting leaps the band made during their career), Ellyott has fond memories of its Queercore scene.

E: “Queercore was a beautifully exciting wave of energy. I feel lucky to have been a part of it. I guess I always will be, among other things. We all needed to be heard, and so took up the space and made sure the world heard us. This much hasn’t changed. People who are different still have that need to be counted, to express their wants and pains and joys. I just choose other genres of music to do it in nowadays.”

And part of that change of direction, musically speaking, is Ellyott’s hugely successful career as a DJ, although her playlist certainly has its punk ethics.

E: “I DJ house and techno music, and I infuse it with bits of spoken word and speeches of the likes of Gloria Steinem and Patti Smith. My heart is still a big, raw, pulsing mass of sound and energy. How I express myself might be different, but singing with my guitar or DJ-ing my tracks is all one and the same. I get to DJ to tens of thousands of people in Tel-Aviv’s Pride, for example, or as a resident of the country’s biggest gay party, Forever Tel-Aviv, and I love every second of it. I am more exposed as a singer, and find it easier to whip people into a frenzy when I DJ, but the two are very similar, the thrill of performing is the same. I have been doing it for nearly 30 years, and I am addicted to the buzz.”

Perhaps 5772 is as much about celebrating life as it is about loss – love and family are ever present in the songs. It has its sadness, but also its optimism, its acknowledgment that life continues, despite everything. Ellyott has a strength that is difficult not to take heart from. She has lost none of the fire she had when I knew her decades ago but she appears to be happier, and the self-assuredness of maturity and motherhood is reflected in her song writing.

Death is the beginning of something

Brentor Church Sign

The Ferocious Night: In January of 2011, I was walking on the beach at Marazion in West Cornwall and came across the body of a decapitated seal pup. After I’d got over the initial gruesomeness of the find, I was interested to see how, in death, the body appeared to be transforming into something else entirely. It was a strange time: two friends were diagnosed with cancer. Death seemed to be hovering nearby. I listened to Coil’s Horse Rotorvator album and paid particular attention to the track The Golden Section. How would a person approach Death? And how would Death approach a person? A local procession band – the Montol or Turkey Rhubarb Band – would appear at Penzance’s Winter Solstice celebration, dressed in black rags and masks, playing a dirge of a tune. They were perfect for the story and so were included (although, sadly, their musicianship has improved since I first saw them – it takes the edge off their performance). The story was originally called The Moth And The Flame, but The Ferocious Night seemed more suitable. After all, I don’t believe that Death is a passive Nothingness. And we don’t all die quietly.

The two stories published in Storylandia both begin with a question. These are (probably) the only stories I’ve ever begun in this way, and as far as I’m aware it’s purely coincidental (if such a thing exists) that this has occurred; the JT issue due for publication next year should have four or five new stories/novellas in it and none of them begin in this way. Perhaps I should edit them so that they do!

 

The Ferocious Night is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Molly Marie Haynes (1940 – 2013).

Jhonn Balance memorial: touching from a distance

JB Memorial

On Monday, May 13th, exactly eight and a half years after his passing, I visited Jhonn Balance’s memorial in Cumbria. A fund was set up a couple of years back, via The Woodland Trust, for an acre of woodland to be dedicated to Balance. Coincidentally, one of their plantations was very close to where Jhonn’s ashes were scattered in 2005, so this was chosen by Ian Johnstone (Balance’s partner) as the site, which has a post with a plaque on it for Jhonn. The site is next to Bassenthwaite Lake, a few miles out of Keswick and very close to St Bega’s church. As we (my partner T and myself, Ian being out of the country and unfortunately unable to join us) made our way across the first field towards the church we were hit by a fierce hailstorm that disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. St Bega’s church is dwarfed by massive yew trees and, as a backdrop, the mighty Great Dodd mountain behind it. The church faces the lake and at the lake’s edge stands the hawthorn where Jhonn’s ashes were scattered. It is a beautiful place, desolate but not bleak, the only sound of songbirds. We stood by the tree for a while, bearing the icy, ferocious wind coming off the lake, then made our way – with difficulty, due to some of the area being an absolute quagmire – through one patch of woodland, across another field and into The Woodland Trust’s Church Plantation. Jhonn’s plaque lies near the path, amongst the peace of the trees. To be there, after months of planning and saving, a 450 mile drive and all the years of inspiration and guidance that Balance’s work has given me, was intensely emotional. Check Ian’s website for details of how to find the memorial (and for his wonderful art).

Back home now in Cornwall, I have submitted The Ferocious Night to Ellen Datlow for the short open reading period for her new horror anthology, Fearful Symmetries. The story is longer than her preferred length, due to shortage of space, but I thought it was worth a go. And writer Rob Harkess has reviewed Urban Occult, with some kind words for my contribution: “The anthology covers everything from creepy golem-children, through a people eating house, to moving tattoo jigsaw. In fact, Pieces by Julie Travis, for which the latter is the subject, is one of the outstanding stories of the collection.”. Thanks, Rob!

I have been dreaming of Saturn again. Strange, since I haven’t knowingly seen the planet during my waking life. The dream occurred several weeks ago but it is still very clear in my mind – of looking out of a window during the late afternoon and seeing the moon. Turning to the window on the opposite wall, I looked out and saw two Saturns, both low and huge in the light sky. One was made of solid silver, the other glowed red. Have I been travelling without moving again?