Balance is everything

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Photo: Julie Travis

This post is being written under the influence – of whatever kind – of a Creativity candle purchased from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, North Cornwall.

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Photo: Julie Travis

In order to balance the positivity of my last post, and for the sake of accuracy and fairness (I don’t believe in only reporting good news about my writing) I need to report a very negative recent experience.

Basically, the plan I had to collaborate on fiction with an old friend has imploded in a big way. Somehow we’ve hopefully salvaged our 35+ year old friendship, which I’m grateful for, but it’s been a painful time. Myself and X swapped short stories – I thought in order to see what kind of thing the other wrote, he wanted to critique, and perhaps more communication at this point would have helped. This was not a level playing field – I’ve been a published writer for a quarter of a century, X had done a writing course for three months – and in terms of attitude and approach we clashed immediately. As you might understand, I did not take kindly to being told how to write by someone who, in my eyes, had yet to prove himself as a writer, (I’m aware and slightly concerned that I’m guilty of snobbery here, although I was impressed with and respected the work he gave me) and his admission that he writes purely for entertainment was not enough for me. As has been acknowledged by another good friend, creativity is the key to my survival. I would hope that my fiction makes that clear, that I am channelling some quite terrible, but also fantastic, things from my life experiences, from my head and from my dreams and nightmares into fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I can take criticism – I’ve had more story rejections than I care to count, constructive criticism from many, many editors and writer friends critique many stories over the years. I am used to criticism, more than I am to praise. This was different. I was also put on the spot, as far as I could tell, to justify including an androgynous female character in the story (Grave Goods) which flummoxed me completely. Why wouldn’t I have characters which reflect myself in some way? This was later put down to a misunderstanding (X is very politically astute, which is why I was so thrown), but at the time I felt ‘Othered’ and it made me think that perhaps that’s why I’m not having much luck placing stories (in the UK at any rate – America appears to be far more open minded). I would still like to collaborate on fiction with someone – it would be an interesting exercise and would make me feel less isolated – but it needs to be with someone I feel is on a more similar wavelength to myself.

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Photo: Julie Travis

As mentioned earlier, and as you will see from the photographs on this post, I went with my partner T to the Witchcraft Museum in the dying days of 2016. I hadn’t visited the place since the terrible floods around 13 years ago. To my relief, the place is still quite amazing, packed full of information and exhibits. I had seen that there was a piece dedicated to Jhonn Balance of Coil, well known as using magick in his life and musickal work. We spent a couple of hours in the museum, without seeing this piece and in the last room it still wasn’t there – we both found it puzzling as we could feel that it was close by, but were somehow not seeing it. Eventually I left the room and on the wall outside, in the Shrine area, was the piece.

For me, the last room was the most fascinating. I found a lot of information on Alex Sanders, the so-called ‘King of the Witches’, who Balance had contacted when in his early teens. Most interesting was Sanders’ work with psychic Derek Taylor, where they used coloured metal (I think) circles to channel with and become Time Machines – as you will see from the photograph, the design appears to have somewhat influenced the ones used as an insert to Coil’s 1998 drone album, Time Machines. A lot of things clicked into place then.

 

All images and text ©Julie Travis

 

And the Winter Solstice begins and ends in blood

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

Greetings on this Winter Solstice.

I’ve just found another review for the Storylandia 15 collection, courtesy of Jon Yates on Amazon.com. My thanks to him for these kind words:

‘Slipstream’ Indeed: Waking Nightmares From An Under-Regarded Master by Jon Yates, Amazon.com 22 October 2016.

Julie Travis’ Storylandia collection is a must for any devoted follower of weird/dark/occult fiction. Drawing on varied influences, chief among them Britain’s pagan past, Travis manages to evoke a sense of “widdershins” otherworldiness, a nightmarish sense of the waking world slipping sideways into the inexplicable. Comparisons to writers like Clive Barker and Thomas Ligotti are apt (I’d also add Ramsey Campbell at his most lysergic), though I’d also comfortably file these stories between the stranger works of, say, Jonathan Carroll or Haruki Murakami, as the best of the stories (“Widdershins”, “Scar Tissue”) transcend their genre trappings into a far more magical (sur)realist territory. This collection deserves ten times the attention it has received thus far, and lucky are those who pick it up…I can guarantee you’ll speed through these tales and be waiting as impatiently as I for a follow up.

 

All images and text ©Julie Travis and Jon Yates, as appropriate.

 

Twenty-three and a half degrees

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

The Winter Solstice is upon us again and yesterday’s Montol celebration in Penzance was overflowing with wonderful weirdness. We walked up Chapel Street to the sound of the darkest Samba drumming I’ve ever heard and were face to face with fire dancers. I laughed at the complete failure of the powers that be who have done their damnedest to sanitise this festival and purge it of any Pagan elements – the crowd were wearing antlers, goat horns, fox masks, ivy. Best of all was the massive female energy of the dancers and much of the audience. It was incredibly powerful, emotional and positive. Once again I don’t recollect seeing any children sacrificed during the proceedings.

A Fairy Ring is finished now, I think – or, rather, it’s in a place where I can’t add any more to it; it’s been emotionally gruelling to write. I hope it will be similar to read. I’m about to send it to Andy Martin, who as editor has the final say as to whether he includes it in the anthology.

In a statement of the blindingly obvious – but it must be said due to a recent incident where someone chose to use a photograph of mine on their blog without crediting it to me or even bothering to ask if it was okay to do so – please assume that ALL photographs are taken by myself unless credited otherwise and are NOT available to use without permission. Drop me an email if you want to use something and as long as it’s credited to me and your site isn’t objectionable, then I’m very likely to say ‘yes’. Had this person done so, all would have been well. As it was, he refused to either apologise or take any responsibility, instead stating it was my own fault that he stole a photograph because I hadn’t expressly credited it as my own work. It should also go without saying that any written material cannot be used without permission but sadly I need to make this clear. I had hoped never to have to write this kind of thing – having credited anyone who reads blog this with the intelligence to have worked all this out for themselves. Such is the world we live in.

Low Winter sun

Castlerigg Plaque

As 2014ce edges towards a close, it seems a good time to do a bit of an update on various writings and projects:

New Zealand based fantasy writer Lynne Jamneck is editing a collection of Lovecraftian stories written by women, to be published as Dreams From The Witch House by Dark Regions Press in 2015, with a clear emphasis on diversity as regards sexual orientation and ethnicity of the authors. This is the kind of thing I really want to be involved in, so I sent her The Man Who Builds The Ruins – probably the closest to ‘Lovecraftian’ writing I’ve done. This weekend I heard that the story passed the first reading round. Still a long way to go, I know, and a couple/few months of awaiting news, but I’m much cheered by this, and reading a bit about Jamneck, who has a huge interest in science and magick/the occult, has made me even more keen to be involved. Writing is solitary – which is partly why it suits me so much – but the isolation, the sense of operating in a complete vacuum, can become overwhelming at times. One shouldn’t write/create to please others, and I don’t, but if someone else is sympathetic or gets what I’m doing, it’s a huge bonus.

The running order for my short story collection in Storylandia #15 has now been set. Coincidentally (or not), the order I put them in turned out to be alphabetical, and also the same as editor Ginger Mayerson had listed them. At her request, I sent her some photographs I took many years ago, and it is quite possible that one of them will be used for the journal’s cover. If so, it’ll be the first photography I’ve had published since some shots (from Highgate Cemetery and a Swiss forest) appeared in Night Mail art fanzine in the early 1990s.

More stories are on the way: In Holes And Corners needs some more adjustments, more in the way of place names than anything else. The story is set in Camborne but I may invent a town name, one that’s a little more lyrical. Pig Iron has now been (very sketchily) sketched out and is progressing well and I have notes on two more stories to work on next year, which don’t have working titles yet, but both ideas are promising. Completion, a story began earlier this year, is on the back burner for now, until the way forward with it becomes more apparent. Ironically, it may never be completed!

Meanwhile, I look forward to the Montol celebration in Penzance on the Winter Solstice. As one of the masked participants gleefully said last year, “All the oddballs come out for this one.” I need to connect, even at a distance, with the more strange elements of the area. It’s reassuring.

A festival of optimism in the Age of Worthlessness

My self-enforced low profile has come to an abrupt end, after only around a month. Perhaps Beltane has given me some energy. After some more tweaking I realised From The Bones was now actually finished and so it’s been sent to Grey Matter Press to be considered for their forthcoming anthology of dark speculative fiction Ominous Realities. They seem a very organised bunch of people and as they cite Clive Barker as a big influence then it’s definitely worth seeing if a story of mine would fit. After having information forwarded from Ginger Mayerson, the editor of Storylandia journal, about authors giving talks to book clubs, she asked to see any stories I had for possible inclusion to the mixed-genre March 2014 issue (Storylandia is not usually in the horror/dark fantasy camp). I’ve sent her Theophany (the Darkworlds II opus) and The Ferocious Night. And a new story is on the horizon. I have a title, Widdershins, and have begun making a few notes. My forthcoming trip to Jhonn Balance’s memorial in Cumbria, Hadrian’s Wall and Lindisfarne is bound to provide some different perspectives and inspiration so who knows where the story will end up?

As you can see, a trailer for Urban Occult has been put together by Mark West, one of the anthology’s contributors. It’s a snazzy, professional looking job. Nice one, Mark! I’ve yet to read a review of the book that even mentions my story, but someone once said to me, “Your work will only be appreciated after you’re dead!” so perhaps I should expect nothing else.

Beltane was marked in Penzance/Newlyn by the May Horns procession, which I’ve been lucky enough to see since its resurrection a few years back. The sight of a huge Crowman, several Green Men and Women, and dancing folk dressed in green and white, blowing horns and banging drums, making their way along the seafront, is reassuringly oddball.

At the beginning good fortune, at the end disorder

I recently saw the galley proofs of Storylandia issue 7, (and a sample of the issue is now available from the website) so all appears to be on schedule as far as publication goes (which may still be up to two months away). I’ve been very impressed with the professionalism of the magazine and am really looking forward to getting hold of a copy. As the autumn storms rage here in Mount’s Bay, early but no less fierce for it, I’ve been tidying up Theophany/Darkworlds Part Two. For a 14,300 odd word opus that practically fell out of my head and onto the page, it’s appearing to need a lot of tidying up but remarkably little rewriting. Thanks are due to Peter Tennant, writer and Black Static reviewer/columnist, who publicly encouraged me to write a sequel to the original Darkworlds. Ten years down the line, living a very different life to when the original was penned, it’s been amazingly easy to get close to the same headspace, although I think my change in environment and “born-again Paganism” (to quote a wise man) is clear in the second instalment (which is possible to read without having to be familiar with the original, I think) I’m at a bit of a loss as to where to send it: I’m not arrogant enough to assume Pigasus Press (who published the original in their Premonitions: Causes For Alarm anthology) would be interested, if they’re even still publishing new work. However, that’s a minor concern. The work is what really matters. With Pieces awaiting consideration for another anthology and The Ferocious Night hopefully appearing towards the end of September, the question is: what next? Perhaps a re-write of a very old story called Angel Wing, which I had a read through recently. The general story is good enough although it needs some work, but it was the last paragraph that made me sit up and want to see the piece realise its full potential.

Three pieces of music(k) have been accompanying my every written word and nearly my every move over the last months: King Creosote/Jon Hopkins’ John Taylor’s Month Away (a melancholic Scottish folk song), Fougou’s Further From The Centre of Disturbance (a very dark, otherworldly, ambient album somewhat reminiscent of Lustmord and Coil, very emotional in places, in a beautiful art package with the field recordings made at sacred sites in West Cornwall) and Cyclobe’s Wounded Galaxies Tap At The Window (more dark ambience; Cyclobe’s claim to be drawing water from the same well as Coil is well justified).