Killing It Softly

Longstone, Isles of Scilly by Julie Travis

I’m delighted to announce that volume two of Killing It Softly, an anthology of horror by female writers, will include a story of mine, Blue. Contracts need to be sorted out, but publication should be in October this year. The anthology does reprints only, so I sent a story that had been published in Kzine #1 in 2011 (and I featured it on this website for a short time). I didn’t re-read it at all – I knew I was fairly happy with it, but there would always be the temptation to re-write parts, which of course would stop it from being a reprint. Interesting that KIS is a Canadian publication – yet again, North America offers a home for my writing.

After much thought and discussion with various people, Humans Remain – the third story of mine to be included in Andy Martin’s Fast-Clean-Cheap anthology – will be published under my name. I had deep misgivings for a while because of the content, but it’s a story that needs to be told. Anyone close to me who wishes to read it will be warned that it’s a nasty, autobiographical tale (well, more literally autobiographical than any other piece of fiction I’ve written). I have no wish to read it again, so I don’t blame anyone who decides not to!

The Spoiler is now complete and undergoing extensive re-writing. It’s been written over such a massive amount of time (more than a decade since it was started) that there’s plenty to do to make it work properly, but I’m confident that it can be included in the Wapshott Press collection. And after reading more about Surrealist writer/artist, Leonora Carrington, I am making sure the story is as fantastique as possible!

 

All text and images © Julie Travis

 

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.

It’s in my blood (stream)

In the course of a discussion with Graeme Hurry, editor of multi-genre fiction magazine Kzine, about the trials of breaking into the exploding ereader market, and the apparent lack of anti-ereader feeling amongst the physical press community, I discovered that the British Fantasy Society has been reviewing every issue of Kzine. Here, in its entirety, is their take on Issue 1 and my contribution to it:

“Those of you over a certain age might remember a small-press magazine called Kimota. Kzine is the latest re-incarnation, a downloadable ebook for this technicological age. Back then, Kimota was well received, praised for its quality and variety of stories. I must say Kzine issue one lives up its heritage, with a wide range of stories of various lengths and genres, covering SF, fantasy, horror, crime, and all the slipstreams in between. There are seven good stories this issue, here are my favourite three.

The opening story is “The Family Programme” by Caroline Dunford. It’s the future, and everyone has access to advanced technology. Jimmy is a young college student, very good with the tech, but not so good with the social parts of life. When he finds a virtual female, he is delighted, but she has an agenda of her own. It’s a good opening, with believable characters, well written, and one that makes you think.

“Blue” by Julie Travis is hard to categorise, slipstream horror maybe (or bloodstream?) It tells the story of a young woman fighting depression, almost literally in this case. It’s very intense, deep, and intelligent. We could do with more stories like this.

“Leila” by Martin Owton is a story of a physicist who invents a device to travel to a different dimension, and uses it in a very imaginative, if amoral, way to solve his woman troubles. Excellent stuff.

What we have here is a selection of stories you wouldn’t find anywhere else, never mind together. And startling good value at the price. Those things combined, I’d give this 10/10.”

It was very pleasing to see that the reviewer, Steve Dean, really understood what Blue was about. The story has previously been described as ‘surreal’ and I can see why, but there’s also a huge streak of reality running through it. Mental illness has been romanticised by some (the mad/tortured genius artiste is always fantastic from a distance) who don’t comprehend the utter misery that it can be for both the sufferer and those around them, although it’s fair to say that many of the world’s great creative people have suffered various mental disorders. Perhaps it’s a matter of putting that strange energy to good use, for the well-being of the sufferer: for some, creativity is a major key to their survival. And sometimes the rest of the world benefits.

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.

A bird or a shooting star*

A chest infection has prevented me from doing more or less anything (apart from watching the Montol procession, a hearteningly strange event) for around a month, including no more than a few lines of writing. However, the chance of a week’s recuperation on Dartmoor and illness finally loosening its grip has pushed me to type up a new draft of my latest short story, Pieces. It’s now in a fit state to take away and do further work on. There’s plenty still to do before I’ll let anyone see it; the ending, for instance, has the right words but they’re not necessarily in the right order. It’s quite clunky in places but the meaning is there and it’ll flow in time. It’s nice to write about more unconventional characters than I have for a while, too. Not that many of the people I create are ‘normal’ (whatever that is) but I’m mindful of Sarah Waters’ advice and am happy to have a tattooed lesbian couple in the centre of the tale. They’re right for the story, too which of course is the most important thing.

I haven’t been entirely out of the loop, though – thanks to the Acorn Arts Centre in Penzance, I now have a couple of notices on the Dance and Theatre Cornwall website advertising for an actress to do the reading at the Penzance Literary Festival. I’ve also been assured by event organiser Rosanne Rabinowitz that part of a story will be acceptable. Therefore I’m considering Cross Bound for the event, as I ideally want to do a fairly recently written piece that’s been published. And a review of Kzine on Amazon.com describes my contribution (Blue) as “a dark piece of surreal fiction, the kind of thing Thomas Ligotti would write if he was pretending to be David Lynch for the day”. I’m not as familiar with Ligotti’s work as perhaps I should be (I remember reading some of his work many years ago) and this is not my first comparison with him, but he’s undoubtedly a writer with a nicely twisted view of the world, so this is a great compliment. David Lynch, of course, will be known to anyone who might read this blog. It goes without saying that I’m pleased with the review although it’s perfectly possible that the comparisons were not actually meant as a compliment!

And I’ve discovered, via Spectral Press, that congratulations are due to dark fiction writer Alison J Littlewood, whose first novel has been picked for Richard and Judy’s Book Club. Never mind the inanity of R&J, the exposure for her and for some decent dark fiction will be amazing.

I’ve finally been able to listen to Matthew Shaw’s Lanreath album. It’s a good ambient piece, a little lighter than most of the ambient pieces I have – it doesn’t have the sinister quality of the likes of Coil and Nurse With Wound, but playing it had a quite amazing effect. It took me to Duloe stone circle (where some of it was recorded); I had an insect’s view of the stones, from way down in the grass. I also ‘saw’ the fogou at Carn Euny. I think I’d call it life-affirming. As opposed to Coil, who were life-after-death-affirming. Both have their place. I would love to hear it performed at a sacred site. But why choose Lanreath? There’s nothing on the cd cover or the website to say why. The village’s own website mentions local hauntings, but isn’t everywhere haunted by something? He doesn’t give much away and it would be interesting to know of his spiritual beliefs, if any. Perhaps that’s something I’ll question him on at some point.

*from Daughters of Fire by Barbara Erskine

Three rings of atoms: writing update

Chun Quoit

I have it! I have the book.

I finally got hold of Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker but have allowed myself only to read one page. It has a smattering of humour but no trace of whimsy – yet. I’m halfway through Daughters of Fire and must finish it. It’s very different to the fiction I usually read (and any fiction is different to what I usually read). I’d say it was lighter, but much of it concerns pre-Roman Britain and some very spiritual stuff concerning Celtic beliefs regarding death and the soul. So perhaps the style is lighter (and therefore much more commercially successful) but the subject matter is not. It seems Barbara Erskine experienced quite a spiritual awakening while she was researching/writing it. I haven’t interviewed anyone for years now but if she were to visit Cornwall I think I’d make an exception and join the queue on the phone line to her agent.

After a couple of days away from Everything amongst the sand dunes on the other side of the peninsular, I’m organising myself to hopefully continue the momentum that’s built up over this year. I’m almost finished on a final run through of The Falling Man – more tweaking than I thought still to do – because I want to get it out to a magazine this week. My newest story, Pieces, is changing as I write it. Not in the general premise, but some of the detail needs to be more… apocalyptic. Blame the presence of a new Barker book in the house for that, plus Coil’s Winter Solstice: North continually playing in the background. And after some thought and encouragement from various people, I’m going to start work on part 2 of the Darkworlds story (currently on this website’s ‘Short Story’ section). My life is very different to when I began writing the original, so I’m not totally convinced of how successful it will be, but it feel like the right thing to do to try.

And how is Kzine faring, I wonder? I have no idea how popular Kindle is, either with writers or readers. The price of buying the magazine is certainly extremely good value although I notice version two of Kindle is already available.

A look at the outside world has me remembering some of the things that I miss about London. Strange events happen here but we don’t have Daniel O’Sullivan leading a procession of bricks made by Serena Korda out of the dust of dead folk. This is just the kind of thing I’d have gone to were I still ‘living’ there. And I’m not sure where he’s currently located (Spain, perhaps?) but Ian Johnstone is doing new work and performances. I dearly wish I could be present at something of his.

Show of Hands gig review/Kzine published

Diddly-dee

Kzine is now available from Amazon, price £2.40 or US$3.79.

I went to see Show of Hands recently at the Guildhall in St Ives and the local rag (The Cornishman) has published my review. It’s corny in places, but it’s the style that the paper likes. It’s not available online, so I’ve reproduced it here:

“They may be from across the Tamar, but Cornwall loves Show of Hands as much as the rest of Britain. Tonight’s gig, with a band who’ve played the Royal Albert Hall many times, was always going to be a sell out – it was just a matter of whether the band could live up to expectation. As it happened, they were simply magnificent. One reason might be that music as social protest and commentary is as needed now in these harsh times as it ever was and the intimacy of the venue enhanced communication between band and audience. The band was certainly as passionate as any of the punk bands I saw in my youth. A unique folk duo – in that Steve Knightly and Phil Beer usually appear with double-bassist Miranda Sykes – tonight, with the audience singing along loud enough to raise the roof, it was more like a band of five hundred.

The night had begun well, with Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin in the support slot, providing some very contemporary folk music. Their recent album ‘Singing The Bones’, a mix of original and traditional songs arranged in their own inimitable way, is justifiably causing a stir and I wonder how long it will be before they’re headlining at the September Festival. Definitely worth seeing if you can.

From the moment Show of Hands took to the stage, however, the night was theirs. They seemed fresh, relaxed and very happy to be there. I usually scribble notes and a set list at gigs but I was too busy clapping and stamping along to the songs to write anything. I do know that they played plenty of favourites such as Santiago, The Napoli, Country Life, The Galway Farmer, Youngs Town, The Falmouth Packet, Boys of Summer and a very emotional Blue Cockade, as well as a couple of new songs and their still very topical comment on the banking crisis and the mess it’s left us all in – Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed. This wasn’t a lecture, though – the seriousness of the recession, the recent riots and the terrible mining tragedy in south Wales was all there, but the night was about having a good time and the songs were interspersed with stories from the band’s many years on the road and even a joke about Camborne. Just in case there was anyone left to win over. When they returned, to play their West Country ballad Now You Know and finish, appropriately enough, with Cousin Jack, the story of Cornish miners emigrating to find work, the crowd was quite euphoric and many were on their feet at the end.

Someone said that hard times can bring out the best in song-writers and the so-called revival in folk music includes plenty of people capable of reflecting life, injustice and current events. Show of Hands are right there with the best of them. They write beautiful, moving songs. And seeing them live is like sitting down with old friends.”