I came from dust, I shall return to dust

“D.U.S.T ltd is a Memento Mori museum and shop with a growing collection of stuff related to death and grieving rituals. It houses a collection of objects and curios connected to death and mourning. A mummified cat, dried frogs, the head of a goldfinch, broken graveyard debris, Victorian tear vials, bones and haunted dolls are on display alongside artworks by artists and makers whose work addresses grief in some way selling artworks relating to dust, dirt and death. The Shop also hosts a series of online lectures, events and podcast exploring mourning and in particular the presence the dead have in the lives of the living.”

DUST Ltd has recently opened in Penzance. I visited the shop on its opening day and spoke with the owner, Lucy Willow. As you can see from the photo below, it’s an intriguing and beautiful place, highly reminiscent of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall. I gave Lucy a copy of Dykes Ink and it’s likely her shop will stock the zine – there are a number of zines etc for sale there with a ‘folk horror’ element and although Dykes Ink doesn’t come under that category, our ethos is certainly something she could relate to. I also spoke to her about my writing and she will be interviewing me for her forthcoming podcast. It’s very exciting to have such a place here in Penzance and I’m looking forward to working with Lucy – and, of course, visiting the shop again.

Photo: Julie Travis

The woman with shining eyes

Thanks to Kendall Reviews for giving me the opportunity to discuss why I write horror. I’ve written a few articles/answered interview questions on this subject a few times now and I try to use a different angle to approach how I answer so that I’m not endlessly repeating myself. Over time influences and motivation change, so hopefully this piece casts a slightly different light on the subject and it’s useful for me to reassess what I do and how I’ve evolved as a writer and as a person.

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

 

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?

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