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

 

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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.

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.