Nostalgia for an age yet to come

Photo: watchmaker’s tombstone, Lydford, Devon by Julie Travis

Last week’s trip to London – to catch up with much missed friends – left me with a fresh perspective on the city I left nearly 15 years ago. The relentless nature of the place hasn’t changed, of course; I knew that however far I walked, the city would still stretch out around me, unlike Penzance, where you can stand at the top of the main road and see buildings give way to green fields and the sea. But what I was surprised at was the cleanliness of the streets in comparison with Cornwall, which looks as if its residents just don’t care about their environment and the politeness and patience of city people, despite the stress of everywhere being constantly busy. I couldn’t connect to the magickal elements of the city when I lived there, but I’m more knowledgable now, so perhaps it would be possible to do so on my next trip there. A visit to Treadwell’s Occult bookshop proved wonderfully overwhelming and will provide the setting to new story Beautiful Silver Spacesuits. I could have spent days there.

One of the friends I met up with was Andy Martin, who has been mentioned here many times. The last time I’d seen him was around 1985/86, when we recorded the 7th Apostles’ e.p. (with the Joy of Living). It was an emotional meeting for me. We spent a couple of hours talking about everything from Nazi skinheads and the Neo-folk movement to musical time signatures to childrens’ tv drama Grange Hill and listening to Unit tracks, and I bought a couple of Apostles’ LPs from the late 1980s off him. My extensive vinyl collection – including at least one of those albums – has mostly been sold over the years, but a few gems remain and to add two mint condition albums to it was very gratifying. A few days after I got home, I had an email from Andy, asking me to contribute a third story to his anthology Fast-Clean-Cheap, scheduled for publication later this year. I didn’t want to take a story from the second Wapshott Press collection, so I dug through my files and found a story that was written about ten years ago, but never submitted for publication because the content – domestic abuse – was based on my own experiences and too painful to share. It’s still a difficult read, but I thought the story was good enough that, with a bit of spit and polish, I can give it to Andy for consideration. He, of course, will make the final decision as to whether it sees the light of day. If it does, however, it’s one story I won’t be saying much about. Hopefully it will speak for itself.

I’m working on two stories simultaneously again for the Wapshott Press collection – The Spoiler is nearing completion of its first draft, and is currently 6500 words long, so may easily get to 8000 by the time it’s finished. And I’ve just begun the aforementioned Beautiful Silver Spacesuits, as well as working on the Foreword and story notes for the book. I’m beginning to feel a bit burned out now, so perhaps once these two stories are completed, it will be time to hand the thing over to Wapshott Press.

But on the other hand, if I push myself just a bit further, who knows what I could come up with…?

All images and text © Julie Travis, apart from the title, by Pauline Murray/Penetration

 

Mandragora swallows the moon

006

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.

Storylandia 15: Collected Stories By Julie Travis

Storylandia 15 Front

I’m very pleased to announce that Storylandia 15 – Collected Stories By Julie Travis has just been published by Wapshott Press. It’s available direct from them or from Amazon in physical and Kindle formats. The finalised covers are shown here.

I’ve been having fiction appear in the small press for over twenty years now and it’s always wonderful to be published but this is my first collection, so it’s extra special. I must thank everyone at Wapshott Press and especially editor Ginger Mayerson for having such belief in my work. It’s appreciated more than they know. I intend giving details here of why I wrote each of the stories (From The Bones, Grave Goods, Scar Tissue, Theophany and Widdershins) in the near future. Of course, should anyone read the collection and wish to submit a review to Amazon or Goodreads, please go ahead – and I’m not only asking for good reviews to appear, which is apparently what some authors are doing these days. At least any review won’t be able to ignore my work, which is what has happened occasionally in the past, mostly with the Urban Occult anthology of two years ago, I suspect because of the story’s setting amongst the lesbian and gay body modification community in London.

Storylandia 15 Back

A first glimpse of Storylandia

Storylandia 15 Proofs

These are the front and back covers of Storylandia 15. It will be re-titled as the Spring 2015 issue of the journal rather than Winter, but apart from that all is more or less now finalised (photographed are the first and second proofs) and I expect physical and e-copies to be available soon. My huge thanks and appreciation to editor Ginger Mayerson and all at Wapshott Press for their faith in me and all their work on this collection.

In other news: Andy Martin is reportedly remastering just about all of The Apostles’ releases, beginning with all the singles, for cd releases on BBP Records. This was begun some time ago but was halted due to the untimely death of BBP’s Stephen Parsons. I’m assuming the first compilation will include The Apostles’ 7th e.p. recorded with my old band, The Joy of Living, which has been described as ‘folk punk’ and ‘anarcho acoustic’. This was released on cd several years back as part of a Mortarhate Records compilation, but was taken straight from the vinyl rather than remastered. I’m intrigued as to how this will turn out!

 

“Everything is a Time Machine!”

Ellyott Scotsgay 2

Various works are in progress and so here is an update of sorts: From The Bones has undergone an extensive amount of re-writing and is in the right place to start submitting to magazines. Probably! You have to get to a certain point with writing (or anything else) where things have to be left, or else spend forever tweaking it, and wisdom is in knowing when to stop. The second ‘modern fairy tale’ I’ve written over the summer, Widdershins, is also finished, I think. I needed to step away from horror for a short time to explore other things and with these two stories I believe I’ve managed it. They both have meaning without moralising and – possibly – could be read to children. The title of this entry, by the way, is a quote by Jacob Skiddaw, the grandfather of Charlotte Skiddaw. Wise words, I hope. Grave Goods – the full-on horror story mentioned a while back – is beginning its submission trek. It was fun to write, an intense few days of getting the main body of the story down followed by a couple of weeks of re-writing. At under 4000 words, it’s the shortest piece I’ve written in a very long while, but that should open up the market as far as submissions are concerned. And I’ve just begun another new story, which is definitely in the horror/dark fantasy camp. Working title Rebecca Shadow and The Winter House, although it’s likely to change. It’s set – or at least begins – in Cumbria. The short time I spent in the county earlier this year has had a massive influence.

In an attempt to communicate somewhat more with the outside world, I’ve been back in contact with Ellyott Ben Ezzer, Israeli singer and DJ, who fronted the fantastic London Queercore band Sister George in the mid-1990s. I sent her copies of the photos I took of the band at one of their gigs (The Water Rats, a pub in Kings Cross, London). One has appeared on their Facebook site, and it’s possible others may appear there soon (the photo above was originally published in Scotsgay, along with the feature I did on the band shortly before they broke up). And Unit are using some of my photography of birds on a forthcoming album cover/booklet. This on-going project had me chasing a flock of Greenfinches around St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly last week and managing to photograph none of them, but I’m getting some decent shots of other birds.

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.

Clive Barker pt. 2: power to the imagination

Lydford Castle, Devon

First of all I should say that I’m glad to be writing about a novel of Barker’s, rather than a posthumous tribute. He nearly left us in January after contracting toxic shock after a visit to the dentist. He was in a coma and wasn’t expected to recover, but had ‘too much to do’ to go just yet. Thankfully. Too many inspiring souls have gone in recent years.

A lifetime or so ago, I went to an exhibition relating to the soon to be released film Hellraiser. In a smallish upstairs room near Tottenham Court Road station (in the same building where, many years later, I was to finally meet Barker) were photos and props from the film. I remember the excitement, the anticipation, of what Barker’s first ‘proper’ film would be like. It was all quite low key and underground; this all happened before the Hollywood Barker industry began. He was even still living in London. One of the props – a full size model of Chatterer Cenobite – was especially fascinating. Wires pulled the lips back to reveal the Cenobite’s teeth and gums. The detail was incredible. I got close up, face to face, to study it properly and the ‘model’, who was, of course, actually an actor in full make up, moved a bit. It scared the wits out of me but come the film’s release you couldn’t keep me away.

I finished Mr B. Gone a while back, and since the novel was several years old when I got hold of it, I doubt there’s many out there with any interest in horror/dark fantasy/Clive Barker who haven’t read it and in the light of what happened to Barker in January it seems almost unimportant to write what I thought of it so I’ll keep it brief. I wonder if anyone else thought the opening section was reminiscent of Nick Cave’s And The Ass Saw The Angel? I was immediately reminded of it – first person narrative by a bizarre, misshapen creature who is inevitably going to meet a bad end. The biggest criticism of the book by others – the continual insistence by the protagonist that the book be burned – is a reasonable one. By the middle of the novel it became seriously frustrating to still be reading it. There is a whimsical air to the book as well in places and there were a few times I nearly stopped reading because of it, but then Barker would deliver some amazing prose, a piece of brilliance that made the book worth buying. Barker can still write horror, of that there’s no doubt, it’s just that in this novel he’s chosen to play with his protagonist, and therefore with the reader, instead of taking things much further. The fact that for at least half the book there appears to be no real story, just a demon running away from a series of enemies, is my biggest criticism. Barker has the talent and the wit to write the most amazing horror stories if he chooses to. Perhaps he’s grown away from the genre (and his recent illness might have a huge effect on his writing). Time will tell.

Far more interesting, and pertinent, than Mister B. Gone is an interview conducted in the middle of March, which appears on Barker’s website. The first part is entirely about his horrific near-death experience, which began on 10 January and from which he is still struggling to recover. I’ve only just read it myself and it shocked me to think how close we all were to losing him. It hasn’t changed my views about Death, but how one makes one’s way there is certainly something to feel cautious about. The second part of the interview changes tack and discusses the next Abarat and Clive’s absolute love of dogs throughout his life. Inevitably, perhaps, the loss of such beloved companions comes up, something I and many of us will certainly be able to relate to. So even if you have no huge interest in Barker’s books, I’d recommend reading the interview. All power to you, Clive, get well soon. And please dazzle us again with the kind of horror only you can write.

Back to the stars they go: Jhonn Balance, Peter Christopherson, Lisa Cook

 

With the death of Jhonn Balance seven years ago, in a fall at his home in Somerset, came the end of Coil. And with the end of Coil, a band/project inhabited by many over the years but with Balance and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson at its heart, came a loss that becomes ever more evident with time. Coil created what I’ve always thought of as dream soundtracks, but that barely describes the depth of what they did. Some gothic, Industrial beginnings led to the original score for Hellraiser, to some dark ambience, to meditative and mind-expanding ‘moon musick’. Balance explored the occult, Death and What Comes After in much of his work. It was his attitude that initially attracted me to the band, his proud, defiant sexuality and interest in magick kept me hooked even when I wasn’t so keen on the music (Love’s Secret Domain, with its acid-house tinge, was really the only album that didn’t completely enthrall me). Although that voice, that beautiful, golden voice, was always irresistible. Balance has been described as a ‘musical alchemist’ but I’ll remember him most for his spiritual and magickal exploration. His relationship with alcohol and his often fragile mental state perhaps doomed him to an early death; at 42, he still had so much more to do here, and it’s still difficult to think of the world without him. But he has moved on – to whatever comes after – and perhaps its more our loss than his: Barbara Erskine wrote in Daughters of Fire, “…like the Celt, I also believe in a form of reincarnation… that the soul, on occasions, splits into three parts on death, one part to reincarnate, one to go to the Blessed Isle and one part to enter another life form – perhaps a bird or a shooting star.” The Woodland Trust memorial to him, situated near Bassingthwaite Lake in the Lake District, is in a place he loved and is a beautiful, fitting tribute.

Sleazy was the quieter, more stable half of Coil, though no less gifted than Balance. After Balance died he somehow carried on and managed to complete the band’s last studio album, The Ape of Naples, in 2005. He relocated to Bankok, continued making music and began to enjoy life again. A few months before his death (in November 2010) he posted a short film on Myspace, apologising for having cancelled a gig due to illness. In the film he claimed it was ‘nothing serious’, but somehow it didn’t ring true, and this quote, from 31 July 2010, seems to bear that out: “We are all only temporary curators of our present bodies, which will all decay, sooner or later. In a hundred years or so all the humans currently alive will have died. I take great comfort in knowing, with certainty, that thing that makes us special, able to enrich our own lives and those of others, will not cease when our bodies do but will be just starting a new (and hopefully even better) adventure.” He passed away in his sleep, in his own bed at home and no cause of death has been officially announced. I have my own theories but he and his loved ones deserve their privacy. With him gone, the void left by Coil has become immeasurably bigger, The Ape of Naples even sadder and more difficult to listen to. Coil were with me for around half my lifetime, their influence on every part of my life immense. I doubt any ‘band’ can take their place and perhaps I shouldn’t even look for someone to do so.

Sister George, London, circa 1994

 

Lisa Cook played bass guitar in Sister George, the leaders, as such, of the British Queercore scene of the mid-1990s. I got to know her after doing an interview with the band (which turned out to be their last) in guitarist Lyndon Holmes’ flat in Walthamstow. I’d seen them for the first time at a pub in Camden, North London, a couple of weeks after I came out. Gay punks! I was smitten. I played pool with Lisa, went to a few gigs with her and Lyndon and then girlfriend Yas (guitarist in Mouthfull), including Huggy Bear’s last gig. She was interested in my writing and made me promise that, should I ever make a film (a version of The Guinea Worm was being discussed at the time), she could play a zombie, whether or not the story included one. After Sister George broke up, she and Lyndon formed Kidnapper, a short-lived but brilliant pop band. She gave me their demo tape; it was full of promise but the band had serious personal problems and split up after releasing one single. I saw her at Club V (queer/indie club, late 1990s) but then she left London and I lost contact with her. She had a partner at the time of her death (in January 2008, of cancer) but my attempts to get more details have come to nothing, but she was far too young to leave us. We were friends for a time and Sister George were a truly great, feisty band that made it easier for me to come out. I’ll remember her with affection and sadness.

Brentor/Dartmoor, 8 November 2011

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.

Wounded Souls

I nearly didn’t watch Mysteries of the Vampire Skeletons, part of Channel 5’s Revealed series, basically because it was on Channel 5 and I didn’t think it warranted attention, but after catching the first few minutes I was intrigued enough to continue. The main focus was on archaeological digs in Ireland that had uncovered some unusual skeletons with large stones forced into their mouths or, in one case, the legs broken and twisted around a huge rock. The skeletons were dated to be from around 500 – 600 CE (Current Era, or AD, if you’re of that persuasion). Which was something new to the archaeologists. Folklore evolves over time and tends to have roots as far back as humankind, but this seems to be the earliest evidence of protection against vampires.

Was it that most, if not all burials were done in this way at this period in time, or was it that the individuals were specifically suspected of being the kind to become vampires? The programme didn’t answer that question, but it gave some explanations of classic vampire mythology. For instance, most people wouldn’t know how long a corpse takes to decompose, and what the various stages are. Digging up someone who’d been dead for a few months would therefore have caused further terror to folk who were probably frightened enough as it was – they may well have looked as fresh as when they went in the grave and the breakdown of the stomach would’ve caused blood to pour from the mouth – which would look like a vampire having had a recent feed. Also, of course, opening up a corpse to take out the heart (for burning) was likely to make gas escape, hence the idea that a corpse sighed or growled upon being cut. In times of more basic medical knowledge, premature burial was reasonably common, which meant that some did literally rise from the grave. Or were exhumed and found to be dead, but looking as if a terrible spirit had possessed them in the casket. And finally, there were illnesses and conditions that made people extremely sensitive to sunlight and tightened the skin to give an enduring youthful appearance. All very feasible. However, the books I’ve read (most recently The Vampire in Europe by Father Montague Summers, written in the first half of the 20th century) show how deep seated these beliefs were over the whole of the continent. Summers’ book has case after case where the existence of vampires is completely accepted as fact. And rituals against the dead rising from the grave as a vampire still take place in parts of rural Romania, (although apparently city dwellers find this quite embarrassing and backwards). It’s something that just hasn’t gone away and may never disappear, either from Europe or the rest of the world; each continent has its own version of the belief.

What’s made me (fairly!) hopeful that these creatures don’t exist is the oft-repeated assertion that those with a ‘difference’ of some kind, be it ginger hair, a disfigurement or being foreign, were said to be likely to become vampires after death. Fear of the ‘other’ is one of human nature’s nastier sides, which constantly needs to be battled with education and communication. But I have respect for these legends – there’s usually a grain of truth in them somewhere. I’ve no doubt that many strange things, both physical and spiritual, walk the Earth, but I’m not convinced that vampires, in the classic sense, are one of them. Although we’ve all met people who thrive by sucking the life out of others!

Elizabeth, resting.

But ghosts are a different matter. I’ve always loved ghost stories and like any decent child was frightened of graveyards, but I’ve long since found cemeteries to be places of peace and calm, as resting places should be. Life is lived outside of them, and so, if a ghost is a recording of an event replayed over and over again, seen by the living if they’re tuned in to the right frequency, or a more coherent, trapped spirit interacting with the world of the living, it makes sense for them to do so in the places they lived and died.

I’ve never seen a ghost, but I have had many experiences that have left me in no doubt that a ghost has been present. The house I spent most of my childhood in was haunted. I’ll state that as fact, because I can’t find any other explanation for how the place was, the happiness I felt when we moved out and the nightmares I had for years afterwards. From the age of six months to around 17 I lived with my family in Ruislip Manor, on the far north-western reaches of London Underground’s Metropolitan Line. It was a small, terraced 1930s house with a long back garden and narrow alleyways behind and around the blocks of houses. I don’t know anything of the house’s former inhabitants or the plot the house was built on. What I do know was that it was an extremely frightening place. Many times at night I heard footsteps on the stairs that stopped at the top of the landing. One night I looked up and saw my bedroom door open; a shadow came in and touched the end of my bed. I screamed and it dissolved before my parents could come rushing in. I heard whispering right outside my window (I was on the first floor) and had recurring dreams of a pale, white coach and horses driving at speed along the alleyway and into our garden. On one day, my brother, sister and I were in the front room and heard someone coming down the stairs. The connecting door’s handle was pressed down, as if someone on the other side was about to open it. Then – nothing. When we eventually had the nerve to look, no one was there and everyone who was in the house was accounted for downstairs. It was not a happy house – and I always got the impression that it was the skin and bones of the house itself that was unquiet, rather than something separate inside.

The next odd event occurred when I was about 17 or 18 and was alone in a room in a squatted house, listening to music and lying on a bare mattress on the floor. The top corner of the mattress suddenly began moving up and down, as if someone had grabbed it and was violently yanking it. I watched it for a while, then reached out and turned the music off, as I thought the vibrations might be causing it. The violent movement continued. I didn’t see anything or anyone, didn’t feel a presence of any kind, it was just a physical manifestation. Eventually it stopped and I never found any rational explanation for what happened.

Perhaps ten or so years ago I visited a notorious gay bar in King’s Cross, north London. At the time a couple of friends worked in the basement bar, so I went along one Saturday night to see them. I sat for a while at the side of the room and watched the dancers. Completely sober, I should add! I was suddenly aware of a horrible presence. Something was seeping out of the walls of the basement. All I can say is that it felt like Death was there. It surrounded the dance floor and moved in. I got the feeling that it was centring on one man, who appeared unaware of anything going on. Perhaps it was just that he was in the middle of the room. It felt appalling and I had to leave. Afterwards I spoke to one of my bar worker friends and she said the basement did have a reputation for being haunted. Weird stuff, like glasses jumping off shelves, happened there. She’d heard that a customer had died in one of the little cubby holes while cavorting. Because drugs and dodgy sex was involved, the body was carried to the upstairs bar and propped in a corner, so as to be found in a more ‘innocent’ position. How much of this was true was unknown. I seem to remember going back to the basement bar but not having anything untoward happen.

My most recent experience was at Minions in Cornwall, which I’ve written about previously (30 August 2011). Coincidentally, (pah!), just as I was writing this piece, I found a postscript in the back of Barbara Erskine’s novel Daughters of Fire. Called Why Ghosts?, it’s part of an address given by Meryn Jones to the annual meeting of the Celtic Society (no year is given). The piece sums up Celtic belief in what happens to the soul after death, which just about word for word mirrors my own beliefs and goes on to describe ghosts thus: “The choices the soul makes can leave it unhappy. The life it has led may not have been full of glory. It may have ended in anger, sorrow, unfulfillment. Some will go for another crack of the whip in a new lifetime. But others haunt the scenes of their last life. And in doing so they can grow frustrated and angry because they find that people on the whole cannot see or hear them…” More than just recordings, then? I remain open-minded.