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.
Eight stories have now been completed and submitted for my Wapshott Press collection, We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth, along with some photographs and a foreword. I can honestly say I have no idea what the publisher will think of the tales. One – The Man Who Builds The Ruins – is several years old and has nearly made it into at least one publication, but the rest are very recent works unseen by anyone except a few trusted friends. I am far from complacent about the book seeing the light of day, and I see that as healthy, a way of keeping me on my toes. I’m taking a very brief break from writing (no more than a few days), just long enough to catch my breath, and then I must begin again. What comes next is something I’m not sure of, but I have a completed story, The Hidden, that needs work, so that might be a starting point. Redrafting one of the two novels I’ve written is also a possibility, but is unlikely to come before writing short stories. Something else I’ve considered is picking those novels apart and developing them into several short stories apiece. I’ve done that with a section from the first novel, The Gathering: one of the chapters has been lengthened to form its own story, which stands on its own outside the novel, but could also be reverted to its original form inside the novel. It’s time now, I think, for some experimentation, with a technique that came up in a discussion a while back. And my dreams have been so frequent and vivid recently that I can see all kinds of story material building up, if I can harness those experiences in a (reasonably!) coherent way.
Over the space of the last two years I have been copying all the emails, texts and photographs I received from Ian Johnstone over our five year friendship and saved them as two lengthy documents. This is partly to ensure their safety – should my email account disappear into the ether for any reason – and to make them more accessible for me to read. Whether I’ll ever do anything else with them is something I haven’t decided – emotionally the job has been immensely difficult, so I haven’t thought much further than keeping the correspondance safe. I like the concept of having excerpts, of emails to others as well as to me, in a book to accompany his art, but we had very few mutual friends, so it’s unlikely to happen.
Fast-Clean-Cheap, the (probably monstrous) anthology edited by Andy Martin, should be published by Lulu.com at the end of September, possibly earlier, with luck. It is still the case that I will have three stories included; this will be the first time in my ‘career’ that more than one story has been taken for an anthology, so it’s quite a milestone from me.
All text © Julie Travis, apart from the title, which has been adapted from dialogue from Spanish crime drama ‘I Know Who You Are’.
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
A beautiful and moving sight in the pre-dawn sky this week: Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter, in an arc from the south-east to the south-west. A week of amazing things, then. The Ithell Colquhoun exhibition has opened in Penlee Gallery. I’ve had a look around, noting how Death of a Vampire in a Magic Mirror resembled in part a dream I’d had the previous night, and will return to take it in more fully.
My thanks to Whollybooks, who published a piece on Surrealist writer Anna Kavan recently, which stirred me to get hold of Sleep Has His House. How is it possible to be so influenced by a writer I’d never heard of until a few months ago? What I’ve read of her work feels like a continuance of the influence of Colquhoun and Dion Fortune on my writing, despite my not having knowledge of them for so much of my life. Kavan’s belief in dream-life echoes my own lifelong thoughts and experiences.
I’ve started work on a new, as yet untitled, short story, after finishing all the preliminary work and research on the Rebel Dykes article. Two recent apocalyptic dreams are perfect for this story and will be included.
All images and text ©Julie Travis unless otherwise stated.
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.
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.
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.
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!
To begin, a distinctly Lovecraftian dream from a few weeks ago that I can’t forget, even though I can only remember it in flashes: set at night in a large room with a bay window in a grand house, the gentleman sitting opposite me – white, well-groomed hair, big sideburns, 19th Century dress – widens his eyes and says in a sinister voice, “Dark forces!”. Whether he has conjured something up himself or is warning me, I can’t tell, but there is a terrifying but unseen Thing in the room.
As you can see, just a section remains, and this might be for the best. I certainly woke up – not sitting up, in a sweat, like they do in films – too afraid to move. Given its style and setting I can’t even use this one in a story. However, Widdershins is making decent progress. Over 3,000 words in, which is good going, bearing in mind I began with virtually nothing other than a saying of my partner’s, which she uses when she’s busy but which has always made me shiver slightly: I’ll meet myself coming back in a minute. The story, as the title would suggest, involves the supernatural and folklore. I’ve just finished reading Goose of Hermogenes by Ithell Colquhoun, artist, writer, occultist (with thanks to Matthew Shaw for pointing me in her direction and providing the music, via Fougou’s Further From The Centre of Disturbance, that has accompanied much of the writing and note-making so far) and no doubt the surreal, dream-like nature of the novel will influence the story in some way, even though Widdershins bears no relation to the book. And perhaps this is all an escape from a life that right now is more about dire poverty, illness and bereavement than the things that I would prefer to connect with. Saying that, I don’t intend the story to be either escapist or irrelevant.
The picture above is one of the few available from my trip around the north of England; due to two cameras becoming faulty simultaneously, I found that instead of having a detailed document of the trip, I have two reels of blank negatives and a digital camera that’s now completely useless. The 35mm SLR may be fixable but that just isn’t an option at this point in time. All I have is one shot of Jhonn Balance’s memorial; the close-ups I took of the plaque, the shots around the woodland and by Bassenthwaite Lake, the magical island of Lindisfarne – all have been lost.
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?
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