Delighted to announce that Dreamland is now officially published and available from Black Shuck Books. I received my contributor copy today and it looks marvellous. I’m only familiar with the work of one of the other contributors – the amazing Priya Sharma – but that’s down to my being out of the loop. A collection of ‘other’ stories, with an emphasis on the Surreal, by female writers, was such an enticing prospect that I made a now rare submission. My story Sky Eyes centres around a squatted industrial building in South London, home to the Beast-Boy, a character who first appeared in This Is How A Star Dies (from Contagious Magick Of The Super Abundance: The Art And Life of Ian Johnstone) a couple of years ago. It’s becoming natural to me to have a link of some kind between stories – for example The Golden Sea Captain from Tomorrow, When I Was Young first made a fleeting appearance in Beautiful Silver Spacesuits. Some characters, places or ideas have a life of their own. As to what Sky Eyes is about – as far as I’m aware it concerns the battle against apathy and negativity. And a reminder that extraordinary things happen in the most ordinary places.

The Beast-Boy is an unapologetic, very sexual gay character, inspired by the brief Mikel Quiros gave me when he commissioned the story for Contagious Magick. I based him, unsurprisingly, on Ian Johnstone. Any fans of Johnstone’s work will of course be fully aware of Ian’s sexual orientation and his toying with gender, but Sky Eyes was not written with any thought of publication. I just had to bring the Beast-Boy and his world into being. I wonder how the story will be received. Times have changed and there are far more openly gay writers around. I haven’t read much fiction over the last few years but I would hope that this change is deeper than people wanting to be seen to be more open to stories with a very different worldview than their own. I have good reason to be cautious; when slipstream fiction came into being I came across some very homophobic attitudes in the UK scene and for some years I only submitted fiction to North American publications, which were far more open to difference, although I did send an excerpt of my first novel, The Gathering, to Onlywomen Press, based in the UK. They were extremely interested (the excerpt did include a character who was able to change their sex at will) and asked for a couple of chapters, then recoiled in horror because two of the central characters were a heterosexual couple! I was exasperated enough to write to Sarah Waters, a hugely successful author of historical fiction (and several tv adaptations of her novels) that very much included lesbian characters. I asked her whether she’d faced pressure to ‘straighten out’ her work or, indeed, to dispense with heterosexual characters completely. Her reply was extremely kind and supportive – she said she was surprised at how accepting everyone was of her gay characters and had never been under pressure to change and suggested I go for a ‘three pronged attack’ – to gay publications, straight publications and full on genre publications. It helped me believe in what I was doing. Some years later I was interviewed by Peter Tennant for TTA Press regarding my first collection (for Storylandia, Wapshott Press) and he asked whether my inclusion of ‘other’ characters was a matter of ticking boxes. A fair question for those who don’t know me, and it was a good chance to explain that I was just reflecting my lived experience and the communities I’d lived amongst. Of course, I can only speculate as to who reads my work in anthologies or magazine, but I’ve been aware of at least one story (Pieces, Urban Occult), set in the multicultural gay community in Stoke Newington, north London, that was consistently overlooked in all but one review. Homophobia? Racism? One can rarely find overt proof of such things – the obvious argument could be that the story just wasn’t up to much – but sometimes one’s instincts just know why a story doesn’t get any attention.

Mandragora swallows the moon


As promised, here are the notes on Storylandia 15: Collected Stories By Julie Travis:

From The Bones

As a child many family holidays were spent hunting for fossils on the beaches at Lyme Regis in Dorset. We have evidence of the ancient past all around us but fossils gave me an amazing connection to it. Later on, I became more interested in human history, more specifically the spiritual aspects of the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. These days I spend a lot of time at sacred sites and this story came from all of these influences. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the ethics of digging up bodies and displaying them in museums and suchlike (although I have been to see Lindow Man and other bog bodies in the British Museum); does our demand for knowledge make it acceptable to disturb such places? There is a link here, I think, with our arrogance in extracting oil and minerals from the ground without worrying about the consequences, both for ourselves and for the Earth – to which we’re connected, whether we like it or not.

Grave Goods

More archaeology! Early burials would leave a few items – or, in the case of a high-status grave, almost a roomful of items – with the deceased, for them to take to the Otherworld. We don’t do that any more (at least in Western European culture) but perhaps we should. It might be of great use to take a few things with us wherever we go. I wanted to write a story that was definitely horror rather than dark fantasy and it was more or less drafted in three days. One of the characters was heavily inspired by Marlow Moss, a Modernist artist who lived in Lamorna, West Cornwall, in the mid 20th century.

Scar Tissue

Along with Pieces (Urban Occult, 2013), this story’s set in the gay community in Hackney/Stoke Newington in London, a scene I was immersed in for a few years in the 1990s. There were some terribly damaged women out there, mostly as a result of abuse in early life and this is based on some of them. It is not a failure to be mentally ill or damaged, but to use these things as leverage over other people’s lives is, in my view, criminal.


This is a continuation, of sorts, of Darkworlds (Premonitions: Causes For Alarm, 2008) but not a ‘part 2’ – each story is completely separate and stands on its own (to make sure this was the case I didn’t mention Darkworlds to Ginger Mayerson, Storylandia’s editor, so that she could be objective when she read Theophany). Darkworlds was begun in London and finished in Lelant, Cornwall, where I lived when I first moved down here, and marked a far deeper, layered form of writing.


My favourite word. What happens when you walk anti-clockwise – ‘the wrong way’ – around a church? What happens when you live an unconventional life? The church and its location are based on St Bega, a small church that stands beside Bassingthwaite Lake in Cumbria. This is the first story I wrote after my mother’s passing. Everything is a time machine.

In an update on other work: The Man Who Builds The Ruins will not be appearing in the Dreams From The Witch House anthology. It hasn’t been rejected – I found out second hand what the book’s contents are and my story wasn’t listed. As yet, no one involved with the book has had the courtesy to let me know. I wish the anthology well and I intend getting hold of a copy, but I’m not impressed with the way the writers have been treated. Along with the blog writers who I’ve supported for years but who couldn’t be bothered to reply to a polite email asking if they’d be interested in a copy SL 15 for possible review, the wheat is certainly being sorted from the chaff as regards professionalism.

I’m working on two other stories: Pig Iron is close to a finished first draft. As soon as it’s done, I’ll do the final tweaks needed on The Hidden to finish it.

Clive Barker: a dark light

Wild rocks, Isles of Scilly

Clive Barker has been a huge influence, not just on my writing, but on the way I see the world, for about the last twenty-five years. Not that I’ve read much of Barker’s stuff in recent years, apart from parts of Abarat – I’ve been delving more and more into non-fiction antiquarian/spiritual/magick/witchcraft reference books – but I’ve gone through the Books of Blood in the last few months. Many of the stories are just amazing (In The Hills, The Cities, The Yattering and Jack, The Skins of the Fathers to name a few) and his cover illustrations compliment the writing perfectly but what I noticed, having an overview rather than getting and reading one book at a time, was how he was aiming at America even way back then (the mid-80s). So many of the stories are set there, and the language of even the British (mostly London, where he was living at the time) set ones are quite Americanised. I’d heard that his native Liverpool was too small (minded?) for him, but I hoped that London would give him what he needed. But he was always going to end up in the US. I was quite sad when he did leave for Hollywood – it seemed a clichéd thing to do, I knew it would be Britain’s loss and I knew his writing would change. He obviously loves it there. Endless photos of him with a huge cigar clamped between his teeth, really playing up the Hollywood director thing, prove he’s either completely immersed or has a good sense of humour. While he is still doing fantastic things – I will always be a huge fan – the phenomenal Clive Barker obscures the man somewhat. Success is a good thing – a man with the brilliant imagination of Barker, the ability to write strong female characters and his empathy with the weird and the strange (especially seen in the novel Cabal or Nightbreed, as the film version was called) needs to be read by the masses. But it feels to me like the merchandise is a distraction. Perhaps my own idea about being a writer is also quite clichéd – sitting in a small room, poverty stricken, scribbling away longhand on cheap paper. It could be seen as a romantic view but the reality is far from it; I’ve done pretty well in getting stories published but I’m always fighting to keep my head above water financially. But the solitude, the separateness, of writing is, I think, important. Dare I mention the word art here? I wonder how Barker shuts himself away from the bullshit when he writes. He returned to horror writing a few years back, after many years of dark and darkish fantasy, with a short novel called Mister B. Gone and I’ve just re-read a few reviews of it. I still haven’t got the book because I’m worried that it won’t be what I want it to be. Too many readers have called it ‘amusing’, even ‘whimsical’ and while there’s room for humour in horror it sounds like the book could be overly light; a missed opportunity. Of course Barker is much older now and has a different take on the world and that’s quite natural – an idea, an atmosphere, a situation, can be far more scary than blood and guts and there’s too much casual nastiness around – but I hope he still takes horror seriously. There are still a lot of monsters out there.

One of his hundreds of projects currently on the go is the re-make of Hellraiser. The original film was a favourite of mine for a long time, despite some real reservations: the soundtrack (Coil, who were friends of his at the time, did a wonderful soundtrack which was never used; a waste of a great collaboration, although the work was released by the band), the drifting of location (half of the film seems to wander from London to America), and some of the acting was terrible. I’ve read that Barker wants to be involved so as to make it as good as it can be, rather than being faced with a finished second version that he’ll hate, but it would be better either left alone now or returning to what it was intended to be first time round. The initial filmed scenes were reported to be very English, gothic, black and white. Despite the minimal budget – or perhaps because of it – it sounded great. A lot about the film is very good – the Cenobites are quite magnificent and the sado-masochist angle is there for anyone who even lightly scratches the surface. Pinhead has become a rather over-used, almost cartoon bogeyman figure, up there with the likes of Freddie Kreuger rather than with Frankenstein’s monster, where he belongs. The original concept of Pinhead is fantastic.

Barker came out as gay many years ago and it was around that time that I arranged to interview him on one of his trips to London. I didn’t want to talk about his sexuality – I knew everyone else would and I was more interested in talking about the horror genre and horror writing, and he was happy about this, I think. He read an article of mine (the last interview Queercore band Sister George gave before they broke up) and it was all looking good. I was doing the article freelance, as I usually did, and had spoken to Attitude, a rather dim witted gay boys’ magazine from London. Once I’d explained to them who Clive Barker was, they were keen to publish. And at the last minute, they stole the job from me, and had Paul Burston do the interview. I was devastated. I did get to meet Barker some time later, at a signing in the West End, and had a chat with him. He was very affable. It meant so much to me that I needed a brandy afterwards to steady my trembling hands. Anyway, since then he’s done film projects specifically with the lesbian and gay community and his photography is openly gay. He also fought tooth and nail to get his first novel with a gay protagonist (Sacrament) published. He seems in many ways to be very true to himself. Perhaps the opportunities and the money available in America were just things he was not prepared to refuse. Would he have been constantly frustrated if he’d stayed in Britain, fighting for the chance to make films?

And I really should read Mister B. Gone, because I’m very happy to have Barker return to the horror fold.

[Listening to: Diamanda Galas]