Journey to Avebury

Photo: Julie Travis

My first trip to Avebury and the surrounding area was even more powerful than I thought it would be. The huge stone circle, which I’d first seen forty years ago in the excellent children’s tv drama Children Of The Stones, really has to be seen to be appreciated. The stones are colossal. I felt swamped by them, but not threatened. My first view of them – in sunshine, above me, as I walked along a lane through the village – was intensely emotional. As it was at the end of the week, when, in the rain, we visited them again and said goodbye. The site was quiet and there was plenty of time to spend, undisturbed, with the ancient giants. I stood in the main circle and looked up at the henge. I could visualise a line of people all along it, observers to the ceremonies taking place. I haven’t read anything to say that’s what happened, but that’s certainly what I felt. The stone avenue, leading down towards The Sanctuary, is quite majestic despite having many stones missing. Back in the village, I tried to get a sense of the multiple circles. I wasn’t aware that there were circles within the main circle, that is, until I dreamt of taking part in a ritual in such a place. The next day I saw a book which included an illustration of Avebury in its complete state and I was amazed – it was the place I had dreamt about the previous night.

Photo: West Kennet Long Barrow by Julie Travis

Nearby Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow were equally deserted, apart from a pair of swallows who flew in and out of the barrow, their calls echoing around the chamber. I was pleased to find the chamber open and freely accessible. We cleared away a few tealights left by a previous, thoughtless visitor and enjoyed the cool silence. At each of these places the overriding feeling was of peace.

Photo by Julie Travis

A day was also spent in Glastonbury, climbing the daunting Tor and recovering afterwards in the Rainbow’s End cafe. The town, which I hadn’t visited for decades, is as powerful and spiritual a place as Avebury. The trip will inevitably have an effect on my fiction – for once I didn’t take any work with me, but it’s something I never stop thinking about, and I made a few notes during the week. I was doing my best to take a quick break from writing, as it’s been so draining recently, but, a few days after my return, I’ve redrafted The Spoiler and it’s very close to being complete.

All images and text © Julie Travis, apart from the title, taken from Derek Jarman’s film.

 

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.

I am a ghost in my own life: Balance, Ballard and Michell

Lands End Airport

Prompted by the sad death of ‘slipstream’/horror writer Joel Lane late last year, I’ve been determined to read more fiction. I was always aware of how well regarded Lane was, both as a writer of horror in realistic/urban/working-class settings and as a person but am not familiar with his work. I should be, as well as others who are in my peer group, but who all have a higher profile than myself. For the last decade or so, I’ve been very involved in non-fiction writings: local and national archaeology and sacred sites, reference books on demonology and suchlike… Should I be reading more fiction, if nothing else, to keep in touch, both with the writers and with the art form? Following my own path is fine, I think, but I don’t want to go so far down it that my writing becomes inaccessible and ceases to do what I want it to do. So, a couple of forays into local Oxfam bookshops have been useful: I hadn’t read High-Rise by J G Ballard for decades, so was glad of a chance to re-familiarise myself with it. I like Ballard. His characters all seem to have their own personal madness going on, often while they try to survive in the Hell of suburbia. [NB: the ICA in London once organised an event with Ballard being interviewed by the then fresh faced Clive Barker. It must have been in the mid 1980s. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled, with no explanation or rescheduling taking place. A bitter disappointment! It was around the same time that Kathy Acker interviewed William Gibson at the same venue, a fantastic and inspirational event.]  I’m several chapters in to High-Rise and I’ve had to stop reading it: perhaps it’s my frame of mind, but the story is just making me laugh. It feels odd to do so, a little disrespectful, but I was a very different person when I read the book first time round. Another time, perhaps. To complete the failure, I went into Oxfam a few days ago and found a copy of Michellany: A John Michell Reader. I don’t know nearly enough about Michell (to my shame: he was a real authority on sacred sites and Earth energies) and the book – hardcover, signed and numbered by the authors – has a number of previously unpublished essays in it, together with writings on Michell by a number of people. No fiction here! I need to be careful while I browse it: financial pressures mean I need to sell it on as soon as possible, which is a shame, as it’s a beautiful looking book, but such is life. I hope to learn something before I let it go.

After years of missing local record fairs, I went to one last Saturday. I had a feeling there was something there for me, so I went in as soon as it opened, looked around the roomful of cds and records and let my instinct take me to one of the boxes of albums. There, about halfway through, was a copy of the first pressing of Current 93/Sickness of Snakes’ mini-album, Murder Culture (1985). On the back was a dedication, signature and date (1986) by John (as he was known then) Balance. It was the real deal, so I got it – £28 well spent, I think. This one I’m not selling on, unless times get absolutely desperate. I have an item that belonged to Balance, and perhaps it’s his writing on the Zos Kia test pressing I have, but the album’s another connection which I could not walk away from.

Music has always been more of an inspiration/springboard for my writing than other people’s fiction (which may be another reason that I don’t feel the need to read that much), and that continues, with the acquisition, finally, of the first Electric Sewer Age album, Peter Christopherson’s final musical work. It has not been a disappointment, indeed, it has the feel, perhaps the magick, of Coil, something I thought would not be possible without Balance’s (physical) presence.

And as for writing, the two stories I had been working on have had to be put on hold again. For good reason: in the space of a day or so, I’ve sketched out a whole new short story. It’s one of those that has just dropped on to my notebook and I had to get the general idea down as quickly as it appeared. A bit of research and it’ll be all systems go. I would say it’s a subtle, psychological horror story, with a (probably male) Spanish architect as its centre.

Harmonic Sanctuary

Pz Churchyard Headstone Detail

Life in West Cornwall has recently become about planning for storms, hiding from storms and hoping they’ll pass before the windows are blown in or the roof comes off. Like many places, Mounts Bay has taken a battering, with the last two Spring tides and storm force winds combining to smash much of the front between Newlyn and Penzance and hurl huge paving slabs and granite blocks across the Promenade and into the road.

Somehow, no one here has been injured. Many places are faring worse (we still
have power and for that I’m grateful) but it’s a frightening time and some of us are having to adapt our lives somewhat – including the fact that our links with the rest of the UK are now tenuous to say the least. Perhaps one day it will make for some (cathartic) fiction but for now it’s too dreadful to contemplate in that way.

Pz Churchyard Smallpox 2014
Despite all this and the endless disturbed nights hearing the wind thundering
against the building, I’ve been managing to get a fair amount of writing done.
All the stories I wrote last year have been edited and re-written where
necessary and are now with Storylandia. I’ve also massively re-worked Rebecca Shadow and it’s now in a coherent state to continue with, although I suspect it won’t be a quick one to finish, having taken the difficult route and based it in a modern house; atmosphere is far harder to work into this setting rather than a rambling old mansion. Although I’m bearing in mind that one of the more famous alleged poltergeist/hauntings of recent times occurred in a Council house in Enfield, Middlesex, during the 1970s; spirits, malevolent or otherwise, can appear anywhere. I’m enjoying the difficulty, actually, the opportunity to push myself, and the whole point of the story is about how the fantastique can be part of ordinary, even deprived, lives. Seth Lakeman’s new album, Word of Mouth, has provided much of the backdrop to my current work, along with the sounds made by Wind Harps – amazing structures that can be part of a door or window frame or sometimes placed at sacred sites to see what musick they create.

From inside the beehive hut

Inside looking out, Carn Euny

Two days ago I revisited Carn Euny iron age village near Sancreed and managed to spend some time completely alone in the fogou. We (T and I, in celebration of T’s birthday) had approached the ancient village via the old trackway from the bottom of Chapel Carn Brea, around the bottom of Bartinney Hill, between the two Holy Wells and past the dell that has its own strong energy – all sacred sites; as T said it felt like a pilgrimage – to find the village almost deserted (rare, as it is reasonably easy to access from a nearby layby). When we had the place to ourselves I made my way through the fogou entrance and into the older beehive hut. It is a strange place indeed. There are spiders’ webs over various stones but arachnophobia never rears its head. It has a hole at its centre, like a chimney (now grated) so is open to the outside world but is nevertheless absolutely silent. An other-world. The most peaceful place I have been (on the British mainland at least). There is much argument about what purpose fogous served. Possibly storage and hiding places, but a visit to one will leave you in no doubt that they also had ritual purposes. The energy at Carn Euny is undeniable and I will use the experience in future writing.

A little after we arrived home there was the sound of horns blowing: outside was the May Horns procession, five days late from its traditional Beltane date, but still a welcome sight. Amongst the Green Men and Women danced a huge Crow, a recent addition to the procession. It reminded me why I stay here and, along with experiences like the one at Carn Euny, is more than consolation for missing the odd cultural event in the big smoke.

I have just finished doing another read-through of The Ferocious Night for the Penzance Literary Festival. The theme this year is ‘journeys’ and TFN is about Death, the biggest journey of all, so seems even more appropriate now. I had an idea of looking as conservative as possible for the event, so as to appear almost at odds with the subject matter but I’m incapable of looking straight (in any sense of the word), so will go the other way – the brightest, flame red coloured hair and perhaps (it taking place in July) a vest top that will show off my tattoos. But the hope is that the writing will attract more attention that however I look on the day.

Finally, Fougou (Matthew Shaw and Brian Lavelle) have a new album out, titled Further From The Centre of Disturbance. The initial copies come beautifully packaged and the track I’ve heard sounds fantastic, as dark and wonderful as its name would suggest.

Automatic writing

The Penzance Literary Festival is shaping up, albeit with a few hitches and bumps. I’ve seen a draft programme and have been working with Rosanne Rabinowitz – a far more prolific and successful writer than I am – on the title and blurb for the event we’re taking part in. It’s still possible that writer and political activist Emily Apple will also appear. I hope so. The festival seems to be growing year by year and is attracting bigger names. Sennen based author and very out gay man Patrick Gale is opening and doing a reading. His novel The Cat Sanctuary is my favourite of his; a beautiful tale, although he’s probably more known from Notes on an Exhibition, which was picked for, of all things, Richard and Judy’s Book Club a few years back. But having a queer author on mainstream tv is as good as having a female horror writer on mainstream tv.

Ravens is progressing nicely. I’m still trying to keep up with myself to get most of it down. I know how it ends but there’s a gap in the second half of the story that still needs to be filled. It will come by the time I get there. I’m still deciding whether the story should leave London, but since much of it is about cynicism and greed, then London’s the perfect setting. I write nearly everything longhand – it’s slower than writing straight onto the computer but lets my thoughts settle properly and I’m less likely to miss things out. It also means I can write anywhere but these days I tend to stay close to where I can play music. Although I’m realising that it’s time I wrote at a sacred site again. I’ve not been getting to these places as much as I’d like recently, apart from a short trip to the womb-like holy well at Sancreed, where it’s said that you can enter a trance state if you sit right inside it for half an hour or so. I have not spent that much time there. It would be interesting to try it. The only similar experience I have was visiting Carn Euny some years ago early one frosty February morning. I had the place to myself, until I was leaving the beehive hut in the fogou. I hit my head on the granite lintel and as I staggered out a cat appeared. It sat next to me for some time while I recovered and then made its way elsewhere. I’d always assumed the cat was real but perhaps should be a bit more open minded about it!

Story accepted/Julian Cope and The Modern Antiquarian

Cross Bound has been accepted by Aphelionan American webzine, for their next issue. I’m assuming that to be October 2011 but have asked for confirmation. This is great news for several reasons. I seem to have got a real momentum going which I’m determined to continue. Having five stories published during the course of a year is probably no great shakes to some writers but for me it’s a real achievement. Better access to the Internet has certainly helped me find suitable magazines/outlets, and I’ve been lucky in that the two pieces I had in Kimota magazine were re-printed in the anthology, but I also feel I’m in a better frame of mind for writing. I’d placed just about all my completed short stories when I relocated to Cornwall (and was finishing off Darkworlds) and spent years writing two novels and the initial chapters of a book on punk rock ‘n’ roll band Green Day. When that fell through I returned to the short story. It is not, as someone insisted to me the other day, a way of ‘working up to writing novels’! It is a completely different art form. I wrote the two novels because that was the only way of telling those stories. Since then I have finished one novelette (Cross Bound), one short story (The Ferocious Night – with another editor as I write), have nearly completed another long short story (The Falling Man) and have sketched out a new, more concise horror short, (working title Pieces) that had me crawling out of bed the other morning to make notes on it before it disappeared from my sleepy head. I’m aiming to have this one in at under 5,000 words, mostly because I think that’s all I’ll need to tell the story but also because I want to make sure I can still do such a thing. I’m incredibly relieved to know that my more recent, post-novel, work still cuts it. Cross Bound is very different to everything else I’ve done – as I’ve said before, it’s definitely dark fantasy rather than having a crossover with horror. Some of the references to witchcraft and witch hunts come from the Pendle witch trials of the early 17th century, with bits from German witch hunts of the same era, so thanks to R. Hart’s Witchcraft and The Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft and Demonology for essential details. Also to Coil’s Musick To Play In The Dark Vol 2, which has provided the soundtrack to the writing. Coincidentally (if you believe in such things) there was a programme on BBC4 a few weeks back about the Pendle witch trials, which was very well done, with some animation creeping over the brooding Lancashire hills and Simon Armitage walking around in the mizzle.

Holy well, St Agnes, IoS. Photo: Teresa Knight

When my family lived in London I would occasionally meet my parents at Regents Park. One time, around my 30th or 31st birthday, they presented me with a very heavy parcel. It was the recently published The Modern Antiquarian by Julian Cope, in all its blue and orangeness. They’d even got a signed edition. The book has survived many house moves since then and is still in almost perfect condition. Obviously, it’s not a tome that can be taken on trips to sacred sites (and Cope has recently stated that it will always be reprinted in its original format, never as a paperback) but it’s a constant source of information and reference. I’ve always been interested in archaeology but found the more academic work to be dry and without passion. Along with knowing his subject very well, Cope is passionate beyond words. The book has notes written at every site visited, often in howling winds and rain, and he gives a sense of the place, the vibe if you like. It reignited my interest and made me feel that someone like me, who didn’t know the ins and outs of archaeology, could get into it again. And the spiritual side – Paganism, Goddess worship, is as close as you’ll get to where I am – has just exploded in recent years. Try TMA’s website for huge amounts of information on sites all around the UK. The website has branched out to mainland Europe, but I haven’t got that far yet. In another life, perhaps.