Mandragora swallows the moon

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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.

Theophany

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.

Widdershins

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.

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Magickal ink: the 23rd post

I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday, from Dennis Cockell’s studio, which was then (1985) in the Finchley Road. I knew I wanted to mark my official passage into adulthood, but I only had a vague idea of what to have done. I settled on a Chinese style tiger. The tattooist, Kevin, used the outline of a panther and drew the stripes in freehand. I told him to use every colour he had available, and for years it was a beautiful mass of yellow, orange, black and red. The colours faded over the years, of course, and at one time I was tempted to have it redone, but decided against it – after all, it was a signpost to my 18 year old self. I later noticed that Kathy Acker had a very similar piece, done at the same studio. I was in good company.

Not long after I came out (1994/5ish) I had my left thumb tattooed. A tattooist at Sacred Art in Stoke Newington did a freehand image in black ink, which looks like a cross between a piece of jewellery and an insect hugging my thumb.

My third tattoo is my favourite. It’s also the most powerful one I have. I had moved deeper into Hackney and life was getting heavy there – homophobic attacks were on the increase and there were regular shootings over drug turf. I needed some protection. The Helm of Awe was a fairly natural choice; it’s a striking image, an extremely powerful symbol originally used by Viking warriors, as protection, to induce fear in the enemy and also, I believe, as a compass. I added an eye at the centre to further enforce the reflection of the bad energy that was flowing around the streets. Steve at Into You tattoo studio in Clerkenwell took my scrawled drawing and turned it into what you see in the photo. It was he who added the glint in the eye.

Helm of Awe with central eye

The finished piece, on the top of my left arm, had an incredible affect on me. It took me some time to get used to the power of it. I could clearly see a projection of the tattoo some inches away from my arm and the blue-white shield it cast all around me. Bad energy flowed around, instead of through, me.

Spiral and sea water

I had a fourth tattoo done by Beth at Shoreline in St Ives when I moved to Cornwall. It was a celebratory piece; three spirals surrounded by splashes of sea water. Placed on the top of my right arm, it nicely balances the fierce Helm of Awe. It signifies a more peaceful era of my life.

Photos by Teresa Knight