Women In Horror Month

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I still consider myself to be a horror writer, although these days my stories contain strong elements of other genres and influences; dark fantasy, Surrealism, the Occult. But I began as a horror writer, and a horror fan of course, and I still have a great love for the genre. Which is one of the reasons why I’m writing about Women In Horror Month. For the last eight years, February has been designated WIH Month, to provide a focus on female writers. Despite misgivings of myself and every other female horror writer I know of – one month a year obviously isn’t enough – we all realise that such a focus is necessary.

I had few female role models, artistically speaking, when I was growing up. Punk gave me almost all the ones I did have – Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), Gee Vaucher, Joy de Vivre, Eve Libertine (Crass), Zillah Minx and Gem Stone (Rubella Ballet), Vi Subversa (Poison Girls), together with Kathy Acker…no horror writers amongst them, but all helped me form my political view of the world. Before then, I read a lot of horror – mostly Gothic short stories – some of which were undoubtedly written by women, but there was no focus on female writers, especially in the 1980s, when horror films in particular seemed to provide an anti-feminist backlash. Without the attitude of punk and punk’s women, as well as Clive Barker’s post-punk style of writing, it would never have occurred to me to think there might be a place for me in horror.

Once I’d began, and had my first professional story published (‘Jump From A Speeding Car’, REM #2, 1992), the first review of the story, by John Duffield for Interzone, gave me a taste of prevailing attitudes. He hated my story – which was disappointing, of course, but his choice – but what really hurt was his sneering, patronising description of me as a person (“some sort of alternative punkette”). I knew a male writer would never have been treated in that way – in fact John Shirley was well known at the time as an old punk and was respected for it. At that point I wondered if my ‘career’ was over before it had even started, but luckily other writers and editors have been far more progressive. Still, I think the problems I had and still face in having stories published is partly down to the lack of clear genre for them to fit into but also – and I think this is paramount – that female writers are still not seriously enough, not just by (many but not all) editors, but by readers; a reflection, of course, of the place of women in society in general. We do not get the gravitas that is automatically accorded to male artists irrespective of their talent (check out New York City’s Guerrilla Girls for far more on this).

What I would like to see each February is women taking over as editors of horror magazines, slipstream magazines, dark fantasy and sf magazines. Obviously women do edit magazines and journals, but I’d like to see them in charge of everything even vaguely related to the horror genre for that month, for a different perspective, to portray the world that exists outside of men and their reflections of themselves (again, this does not describe all male editors by any means).

I don’t read enough fiction. I have neither the time nor especially the money to buy the stories by all the women I need to be reading. But I have a permanent focus on female writers now. I’ve grown up like many women have – surrounded by pressure to belittle myself and my gender. Awareness of such things is the beginning of dismantling them. So seek out women writers; of horror, slipstream, whatever, now and every month of the year. Read interviews, blogs and websites. Most important of all, don’t do the easy thing that we’re all programmed to do, and pass over the female contributors in favour of the male ones. Women are talented, inspiring, visionary. Don’t lose out by ignoring us.

All images and text © Julie Travis

 

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Major writing news

Black Static 53 cover

It’s been an incredibly hectic couple of weeks. As you can see, Black Static #53 is out and includes a comprehensive review of Storylandia 15, as well as a load of great looking reading. Peter Tennant comparies the collection to the likes of Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood as well as Clive Barker, and highly recommends it. Illustrious company indeed! Many thanks to Peter for taking the time to do this. I so often operate in a vacuum, it’s extremely interesting and helpful to get an idea of what other people think of what I do. Do I need this kind of validation? As much as anyone else does – I yo-yo between brimming confidence and wild self-doubt, and I was a bit concerned that some of what I now write is just simply inaccessible to the rest of the world.

Following on from the review, I’ve been interviewed by Peter for Case Notes on the TTA Press website. He asked some good questions and I gave some very honest answers. When I first began writing, one of my ultimate goals was to be interviewed. Twenty-three years later, it’s actually happened! (as a writer – I’ve been interviewed as a musician and as a political activist). Of course, what I really meant was that I needed to be heard and taken seriously and the writing provides its own voice. The interview will either get people very interested in what I do or will send them running for the hills.

Andy Martin’s anthology, Fast-Clean-Cheap, is now at the proof-reading stage and is due to be published in September this year by Lulu. It’s likely to be an eclectic collection, with my two pieces probably the only ones inthe horror/dark fantasy vein. Expect the unexpected from Andy!

Finally, I’m very happy to announce that Wapshott Press have asked me to do a second short story collection, for release around the end of 2017. I’ve two or three stories already completed for it, plus a few tricks up my sleeve regarding some older (almost unseen by anyone else) work and two or three new stories to write for it in the next year. The working title for the collection is We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth, and I have some thoughts for the book’s cover, too. Once again I have to thank Ginger Mayerson and all at Wapshott Press for such amazing support and faith.

All text ©Julie Travis

Quis est iste qui venit

Self Portrait Sept 2013 1

Self Portrait, September 2013

In a much appreciated act of faith, Andy Martin has accepted A Fairy Ring for his forthcoming anthology even before it’s been written. Therefore I’ve been spending as much time on the story as possible to get it finished before January’s deadline and it’s progressing amazingly well. Anyone who reads this blog will be aware that Andy’s band, UNIT, have used some of my bird photographs on their album covers. Untied & United Vol 6 continues this link with a track entitled Jackdaws For Julie Travis, a reference to the Jackdaw family who continually squabble and fight on the roof, a few inches from where I write. This instrumental, a cool prog-type piece, has recently been played on Aural Innovations, an American ‘space-rock’ radio station, who describe UNIT as ‘veteran wild men’, a compliment if ever there was one!

A couple of other projects are on the cards for the beginning of 2016 – I’m considering starting a Facebook page in order to contact more writers and I hope to be writing an article on a forthcoming film. More details will follow if I get the job.

The haunters and the haunted

Mount mural 001 April 2011

On the weekend of 10-11 May this year, I was staying at the Premier Inn in Liskeard, a recently built ‘motel’ on the outskirts of the town. On the second night, I awoke in the early hours to see what I thought was my partner, T, walking across the room towards the bathroom. The naked figure stopped near my corner of the bed and busied itself doing something (it was too dark to see details). It was at that point that I realised T was still asleep next to me. This is a ghost, then, I thought (not being prone to straightforward hallucinations, but that is another possible explanation), and watched the figure for a minute or two. It stayed in the same place and was still doing whatever-it-was when it faded away.

I’ve had various paranormal experiences during my life, but this was the first time a straightforward ghost/apparition has appeared in front of me. It’s also the first time I’ve been faced with anything like this without being frightened. I felt no malevolence from the figure; it seemed to be doing its own thing, oblivious of me or at the least totally disinterested.

The Inn has no hauntings associated with it as far as I’ve been able to find out and I don’t know what use the land had before the place was built (although it was probably a field, in line with the surrounding area) or the ancient history of it. Old buildings are classically associated with ghosts, but any building or place can, of course, become haunted. Hopefully one day I’ll find out more about what I saw that night; I may well record the incident with the Society for Psychical Research in London and perhaps they’ll have some thoughts on it.

Rebecca Shadow and the Winter House is now in a complete, typed up first draft format. It’s been a long haul to get it to this state and I’m sure there’s plenty of rewriting to do. The title has now been changed to Perihelion; this is the point at which a planet passes closest to the sun on its orbit. It was appropriate, bearing in mind what happens in the story. The ending makes for a darker dark fantasy than I’ve written for a while, although I feel like writing another full-on horror tale, so that’s probably next on the agenda. UPDATE: a story I wrote some time ago, Scar Tissue, was but never quite happy with, is now in the process of being extensively rewritten. I always liked the story, but the angle I was telling it from just wasn’t working. I spent much of last week with my window open, listening to a chaffinch in a tree nearby, which sang constantly every day. Something about the repeating rhythm and pattern put me in the right headspace (similar to listening to various drone/dark ambient recordings), and I think the story – several years in the making – will finally turn out to be just what I wanted it to be.

In late summer I shall be making another trip to Cumbria, to spend a week in the amazing landscape of the north lakes. It means I’ll be able to visit Castlerigg and Long Meg and her Daughters stone circles for the first time and return to Jhonn Balance’s memorial near Bassenthwaite Lake. My 24 hour visit to the area last year left me wanting much more and, of course, having two faulty cameras with me meant that I only got a handful of shots of the entire trip (I had the second film processed recently and it contained a couple of shots taken at Vindolanda museum/Roman army camp – more than I’d been expecting, but still virtually nothing from such a huge trip) – which was a reminder to always be in the present and enjoy an experience, but needless to say I’m very happy to be going back.

The Ferocious Night: now available

Storylandia 12

Storylandia 12, which includes The Ferocious Night, is now available in physical and e-reader formats, from Wapshott Press and Amazon. More on this when I return from a short trip to Dartmoor, but needless to say I am delighted to have this story published at last.

The manifestation of a divine being to a mortal

Lots of news. Yesterday I had an email from Dark River Press, a UK based outfit, accepting The Ferocious Night (an extract from which I’ll be reading at the Penzance Lit Fest) for their next anthology, Tales From The River Vol 2. It’s due to appear around August 1st on Kindle. The Falling Man, of course, should be published in Storylandia in October(ish). So that’s two stories out late summer/autumn. I’m happy to now have everything that is in a fit state to publish either in print or accepted. I’d left Pieces – the tattoo story – aside for a while as I wasn’t completely happy with the opening line but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. That has now fallen into place and after one more read through it will be heading off to a very gay-friendly publisher. As for Darkworlds Part Two, its current title is Theophany. It may change again! It’s now in novella territory, having more or less hit the 10,000 word mark and a long way from finished. Ideas and imagery are just pouring out and I need to focus and make sure it all gets written down. It’s tempting to stop writing longhand and just rip through a lot of it on the computer, but I’m sticking with pen and paper for as long as I can.

Tickets for Slip Into Something Uncomfortable are now available, and hopefully the site will include some information about both Rosanne and myself. I’m reading the extract as often as I can bear to, and I’m getting a bit better at it. As a wise man said to me, “It’s about the words, not you.”

Midsummer seems to be passing without me noticing it as much as I should (and I’d certainly never be able to do so as eloquently as Phillip Carr-Gomm did a few days back). Jim Causley (a very talented Devon folk singer) played in town this week and I was too ill to attend. Tomorrow is Mazey Day – the climax of the Golowan Festival – and I’m not sure how much of the day I’ll see, but if I can get to one of the processions, then I’ll be happy. I’ve lost a little of my enthusiasm for it since two of the local witches were banned from appearing. More fool the Golowan powers that be: part of the witches’ task is to get good weather for the day!

Apart from some newish folk music (King Creosote’s John Taylor’s Month Away and June Tabor) I’ve been re-connecting with Coil circa the Hellraiser period. Many of the tracks on the vinyl release of The Unreleased Themes to Hellraiser did not appear on the cd release and I’ve been trying to hunt them down. There’s also some pieces on Stolen and Contaminated Songs that are from the era, one of Coil’s best.

Slip Into Something Uncomfortable: Women Writing Weird Fiction and Slipstream – Acorn Arts Centre, Penzance, 25 July 2012

Slipstream fiction describes writing that crosses the boundaries of the science-fiction/horror/fantasy/speculative genres. Some also call it weird fiction. Many women write this kind of fiction, but their stories are more likely to be seen in the independent press or on the Internet than in mainstream book shops. Influenced by all or none of the above genres, their stories are dark, disturbing, imaginative and, above all, weird.

This event will be a talk with readings and lots of discussion. We’d particularly love to hear from other writers engaging in these genres, and also from readers who want to find out more about them. Everyone welcome!

The timetable for the Penzance Literary Festival is now confirmed. The event with Rosanne and me begins at 12.30, after Patrick Gale opens the festival and does a reading. Admission is £2.00.

What I’m hoping for is some discussion about why women are often overlooked in this genre (less so than when I began writing but it’s still a problem) and why we do not achieve the same gravitas that male artists automatically get. Is this partly our own doing in that we are not used to trumpeting our achievements? Diamanda Galas, bell hooks, Kathy Acker, to name a few examples, force/forced us to take them seriously; they defy the conventions of our gender and perhaps more of us – myself included – need to show more self belief.

To find other writers of slipstream – of any gender – at the festival would be refreshing.