Focus on infinity

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A few more things are falling into place now: after several months of sitting in the ‘slush pile’ (a term I always thought pointlessly derogatory), Ellen Datlow’s new horror anthology Fearful Symmetries has finally rejected The Ferocious Night. I have no way of knowing if anyone even read it, but at least I’ve been notified. With over 1,000 submissions to wade through, it was probably inevitable that the process was impersonal, but my polite query regarding the timescale on their tracking system got a huffy reply that the tracking system was basically useless. In which case, folks, why have it? It must have created a lot of unnecessary angst among authors and editors alike. Anyway, the story has been snapped up by Storylandia for their Spring 2014 issue. Just when I thought the story would never see publication. Bless them and their fine journal.

The ‘Two of Us’ feature on the St Buryan Wisewomen has been finished and sent to Curve magazine, together with a couple of photos (not taken by me, I should add). It’s tempted me to do more interviews. The thought of getting the stories of local 21st Century witches (and there are a fair few of them around) down on record could be an amazing project and important for historical and social reasons. I no longer have the tape of the interview I did in 2005 with Cheryl Straffon but the article is elsewhere on this site (‘The Cornish Witch’).

As for fiction: Widdershins is awaiting its second full draft, while I steamroller my way through the first draft of Grave Goods, a proper horror story, which is proving quite fun to write. Not as ‘deep’, perhaps, as what I usually write, but hopefully it’ll have a nice twist at the end and some interesting characters. I’ve been playing Kitty Jay, probably Seth Lakeman’s greatest album, full of dark Dartmoor tales and it’s undoubtedly an influence. From The Bones, meanwhile, has been rejected a few times, most recently by KZine. Editor Graeme Hurry has always offered wise and constructive criticism, so I’m going to have another look the story as soon as time allows.

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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!

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?

I came from dust, I shall return to dust

Penzance graveyard

From The Bones is now in its third draft and becoming more cohesive. The changes I’d needed to make to the story – altering a character’s gender for some balance and the addition of a hint of the central idea of the story early on (it not being the type of tale that needs a major twist at the end, more a slow revelation) – are helping to make it what it’s meant to be. Isn’t that the meaning of ‘good art’? To get across to the reader the point of it all; they may not like what that point is, but if it’s there, then the job is done. One of the points of the story, the source of conflict, perhaps, is the clash of science and academia against spiritual beliefs and fairy tales (many of which may have their roots in real events anyway). This has been done, no doubt, in many stories (M R James’ O Whistle And I’ll Come To You, My Lad springs immediately to mind) but I’m approaching this from a different angle, I think: science and spirituality can happily coexist. The more I learn about the Universe, for instance, the more weight my spiritual interests (such as in Cosmic Geomancy) seem to hold. But the other question that From The Bones intends to ask is the one that archaeology always brings up for me: what gives us the right to dig up ancient graves and burial places, to steal bones and grave goods? It’s the same discomfort I feel when I see birds, seals and polar bears trapped or sedated and tagged. It’s always claimed to be about extending knowledge and, with the latter especially, about conservation issues, but the human obsession with interfering grates, to say the least. And who knows what consequences there may be?

For the first time that I can remember, I have no stories being read or considered by editors. There are various reasons for this – one story is over 14,000 words long and so too big for most magazines and anthologies, another is waiting for submissions to open for a new horror anthology, edited by Ellen Datlow, and (in an update to the above) From The Bones may actually be finished but I need to put it aside for a while before I’m sure – but it’s an odd situation to be in. Not unpleasant, I’d add; a pause in waiting for responses is not a bad thing and perhaps helping me ensure that I’m writing for myself. Publication – the possible pleasing of other people (and I do want people to like and appreciate my work) – should always come second to being true to what I’m doing.

In other news, I happened to mention on another website (Bristol-based, for Queers, Drag Queens/Kings and general weirdos) that I’d seen the documentary She’s Real, Worse Than Queer, directed by Lucy Thane, a British woman living in San Francisco in the mid-1990s, and that I had some involvement in the London Queercore scene. The website has expressed interest in doing an interview with me, so I’ll be putting some notes together about that time. Luckily it’s a period that I have a lot of documentation on and I knew and interviewed a fair few of the major players, some more than once. It would be good to pull these things together and pass these stories – our history – on, so I’m looking forward to the interview.

Time is a physical property

Old Town Churchyard, Isles of Scilly

Ellen Datlow, editor of the Best Horror of the Year anthologies, has expressed quite some frustration regarding all the stories she doesn’t get to see. This suprised me somewhat, as I assumed all magazine editors would send her every copy of their publications; stories that get picked or shortlisted must be as good for editors as it is for authors. She does encourage writers to nag editors of magazine’s they’ve appeared in. This makes sense, but grates against my British reserve and enforced modesty. I did contact an editor late last year to ask if they sent their magazine to Datlow, but all I got back was a confused reply. It was as if it had never occurred to them to do so. Something else that I’ve noticed is that, despite being fairly prolific last year, not one of the publications I appeared in seems to have been reviewed anywhere. Kzine got a couple of reviews on Amazon, but the sf/speculative fiction press appears to have ignored it. I’m well out of the loop on this, being so far from a city and having no access to the kind of bookshops that would stock the small press, so I might have missed them, but there’s no links on any of the magazines’ websites to reviews, good or bad. Not that reviews are the be all and end all, it just feels as if many magazines are operating in a void.

I’m working quite obsessively now on Darkworlds pt. 2. Some of the characters from the original story are appearing. It feels as if it’s not really down to me. Like the first part, it’s almost writing itself and I’m just trying to keep up. Unlike the first part, I think the story will be less cynical, less harsh, some (essential) horror interwoven into the dark fantasy. I’m in a different place both geographically and spiritually to where part 1 was written (east London) although it’s necessary for the story to remain based in London. While Horse Rotorvator, Lustmord’s The Monstrous Soul and, as I recall, a bit of Kate Bush  provided the backdrop to the Darkworlds that was began nearly exactly ten years ago, the soundtrack to the writing of this part is almost exclusively down to two albums; Matthew Shaw’s Lanreath and Coil’s The Ape of Naples, which inevitably has a slightly incomplete feel to it but is acutely moving, even – perhaps especially – after all this Time.