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

 

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Women In Horror Month

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I still consider myself to be a horror writer, although these days my stories contain strong elements of other genres and influences; dark fantasy, Surrealism, the Occult. But I began as a horror writer, and a horror fan of course, and I still have a great love for the genre. Which is one of the reasons why I’m writing about Women In Horror Month. For the last eight years, February has been designated WIH Month, to provide a focus on female writers. Despite misgivings of myself and every other female horror writer I know of – one month a year obviously isn’t enough – we all realise that such a focus is necessary.

I had few female role models, artistically speaking, when I was growing up. Punk gave me almost all the ones I did have – Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), Gee Vaucher, Joy de Vivre, Eve Libertine (Crass), Zillah Minx and Gem Stone (Rubella Ballet), Vi Subversa (Poison Girls), together with Kathy Acker…no horror writers amongst them, but all helped me form my political view of the world. Before then, I read a lot of horror – mostly Gothic short stories – some of which were undoubtedly written by women, but there was no focus on female writers, especially in the 1980s, when horror films in particular seemed to provide an anti-feminist backlash. Without the attitude of punk and punk’s women, as well as Clive Barker’s post-punk style of writing, it would never have occurred to me to think there might be a place for me in horror.

Once I’d began, and had my first professional story published (‘Jump From A Speeding Car’, REM #2, 1992), the first review of the story, by John Duffield for Interzone, gave me a taste of prevailing attitudes. He hated my story – which was disappointing, of course, but his choice – but what really hurt was his sneering, patronising description of me as a person (“some sort of alternative punkette”). I knew a male writer would never have been treated in that way – in fact John Shirley was well known at the time as an old punk and was respected for it. At that point I wondered if my ‘career’ was over before it had even started, but luckily other writers and editors have been far more progressive. Still, I think the problems I had and still face in having stories published is partly down to the lack of clear genre for them to fit into but also – and I think this is paramount – that female writers are still not seriously enough, not just by (many but not all) editors, but by readers; a reflection, of course, of the place of women in society in general. We do not get the gravitas that is automatically accorded to male artists irrespective of their talent (check out New York City’s Guerrilla Girls for far more on this).

What I would like to see each February is women taking over as editors of horror magazines, slipstream magazines, dark fantasy and sf magazines. Obviously women do edit magazines and journals, but I’d like to see them in charge of everything even vaguely related to the horror genre for that month, for a different perspective, to portray the world that exists outside of men and their reflections of themselves (again, this does not describe all male editors by any means).

I don’t read enough fiction. I have neither the time nor especially the money to buy the stories by all the women I need to be reading. But I have a permanent focus on female writers now. I’ve grown up like many women have – surrounded by pressure to belittle myself and my gender. Awareness of such things is the beginning of dismantling them. So seek out women writers; of horror, slipstream, whatever, now and every month of the year. Read interviews, blogs and websites. Most important of all, don’t do the easy thing that we’re all programmed to do, and pass over the female contributors in favour of the male ones. Women are talented, inspiring, visionary. Don’t lose out by ignoring us.

All images and text © Julie Travis

 

The herding call

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

I’ve now completed the first draft of Dark Fire and am over 1,000 words into a new story, Parasomnia. I’m finding it difficult to not write at the moment, despite my feelings of isolation as a writer. I suspect a great help has been the March 2016 issue of Fortean Times, a magazine I used to read regularly. This particular issue has a feature on the Occult and Fortean sides of David Bowie’s work and a piece on J G Ballard’s fascination with Ronald Reagun in the late 1960s and how controversial his mock psychological study, Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagun was when it first appeared in print. It’s another reminder of how much of an influence Ballard has been to my writing, especially when I first began in the early 1990s. I once wrote a mock airline handbook on how passengers should approach plane crashes, which sadly is long lost on a floppy disk somewhere. ‘Parasomnia’, relates to that early work in some respects, although I doubt if Ballard’s influence is obvious in the story. I want it to be a companion piece to Bedlam’s Way, a very early story of mine which was originally selected to appear in a fiction supplement in the New Statesman magazine. The supplement never appeared (with, of course, no explanation from anyone as to why) but the story was published in Saccade magazine in around 1996.

As well as using methods to get into a particular headspace for the purposes of writing, I’m finding that what I’m writing – and when reading older pieces of my fiction – is inducing strange headspaces, too. Does that mean I’m successful/a ‘good artist’? Good art, after all, is about accurately portraying whatever it is the artist wants to portray. Additionally, I’m wondering whether words have the potential to act like a Sigil, when put together in a certain order under certain conditions. At their best, I suspect so, although time will tell whether my own work achieves that in anyone other than myself.

All images and text ©Julie Travis

Bad moon rising

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

I’m close to completing a first draft of new story Dark Fire. I’ve decided to stick with this title; it’s an alchemical term that describes an intense fire which consumes itself. The title of a painting by Ithell Colquhoun, I thought it perfect for the story. Or, perhaps, for the way I’m feeling at the moment. Either way, it works. David Bowie’s Blackstar and Coil’s Astral Disaster have been played repeatedly while I’ve been writing this story. Both albums have an otherworldly air to them and have induced some profoundly altered states of mind, which will be clear to anyone reading the story! It did at one point become too strange/frightening to continue with, but I want to explore this kind of thing further.

It’s possible I’ll finish the draft before I head off to Cumbria in around ten days – it’d be a good place to leave the work for the time I’m away. The trip is in part a sad pilgrimage in memory of Ian Johnstone, to visit some of the places he loved, including of course, Jhonn Balance’s memorial at Bassenthwaite Lake. There is still a lot of storm damage in the county, but hopefully life is getting back to normal for most of the residents there. For me, the whole world has changed since I was last there eighteen months ago but I still hope to find some beauty there.

 

All images and text ©Julie Travis unless otherwise stated.

The Apostles/The Joy of Living: ‘Death to Wacky Pop’

I first got to know Andy Martin in 1982, when The Apostles, an experimental anarchist punk band from East London, released their first piece of vinyl, an e.p. called Blow It Up, Burn It Down, Kick It Till It Breaks. Although the recording quality was quite poor I found the songs quite extraordinary; musically quite ferocious with shades of the Velvet Underground and early, raw punk rock, and lyrically just burning with anger. Class anger, racism, homophobia – all were faced head on. The band had a terrible reputation for violence and generally being impossible to get along with. I hadn’t long left school and was angry about everything. They were perfect for me. I’d written to a lot of punk bands and sent what was probably a long rant to Andy and to my surprise he replied. From then on we corresponded regularly and I began to visit him and Dave Fanning in their housing co-op in Brougham Road, Hackney. I found the pair of them to be extremely intelligent, funny and respectful – despite Andy’s insistence that he was a misogynist. I was honest with him and he was honest with me. Some of his letters were an absolute work of art and much of the band’s music showed a more melancholic side that described mental illness, sexuality and alienation. Their reputation was, it seemed to me, unwarranted; they were just passionate people who couldn’t stand bullshit.

I was getting various forms of a band together with my sister and, briefly, my brother, and once a line-up had settled (Lloyd Pettiford: vocals, Sharon Cooper & Helen Povey: backing vocals, Lol: guitar, me on bass guitar (a beautiful but incredibly heavy 1967 Les Paul Thunderbird) and Yvette Haynes: drums) we began looking for and later organising, gigs. I’d managed to get in touch with The Assassins of Hope and our first gig as The Joy of Living was supporting them at The Green Man pub in Stratford (which no longer exists, as far as I know). My first live appearance had been with The Light, in around 1981/82, at a Royal British Legion Club in Eastcote, Middlesex and we had to practically run from the place with lots of angry right-wing suburbanites in our wake who didn’t like our rather shouty attempts at punk/goth. Jamie Stewart, later of Death Cult/The Cult, was in attendance, along with the rest of his band at the time, Ritual. The first JoL gig was probably worse than this; we were virtually ignored.

The problem with the band was its lack of direction. I was influenced by punk, a bit of the darker Goth stuff (Sex Gang Children, Blood And Roses) and more avant-garde/Industrial music (Cabaret Voltaire, Psychic TV, Fad Gadget) but I didn’t really know what I wanted to play and I wasn’t a good enough musician or simply confident enough to experiment. I’d heard of other bands working well because they were friends first and fellow musicians later and I persevered with working with friends even when it was obvious that none of us was clear on where we wanted to go. Lloyd’s friend Sham joined us for a while on guitar, but they both left after a couple of gigs. We did one good gig at a community centre in Harrow, where everything clicked, but after our fifth gig (in Woking, supporting Brigandage and the Lost Cherrees), I had another argument with some of the band who just weren’t pulling their weight and it all fell apart. I was still intending to work with Yvette and we were still on speaking terms with Sharon, so when Andy asked if we’d be interested in playing a song he’d written called The Wasteland, which he felt wasn’t quite right for The Apostles, I jumped at the chance. We spent some time in Hackney rehearsing it and then Andy wanted to try our instrumental number, The Joy of Living, with the solo done differently to the way Lol (a real rock ‘n’ roll guitarist) played it. He also liked the time change in another song, called Dying For A Fag, so we played that one and also a couple of others, Regime Of Kindness and A Walk With Love And Death – which I was keen to get him doing backing vocals on. Of course he and Dave learnt our songs in minutes, while I had my work cut out trying to keep up with them. I got there in the end.

Dorothea Tanning, 1946

Dorothea Tanning, 1946

Andy and Dave had released a lot of records by then, including at least one on Conflict/Colin Jerwood’s record labels (Mortarhate/Fight Back) and he’d agreed to let us release an e.p. on Fight Back. So in 1985/86 we recorded five tracks at Redchurch Recordings in Shoreditch, London. Most of the recording went well but Andy and Dave left us to do the production ourselves and we were out of our depth, so it didn’t come out well. Andy turned up to produce The Wasteland and his experience really showed – the layering and sophistication of the song was way above anything I ever wrote. By that time Yvette and myself were  barely on speaking terms with Sharon (this happens in all bands, from what I can tell) and so it became quite tense when putting the A3 size cover together and rerecording some of A Walk With Love And Death (Dave’s guitar had been knocked out of tune and clashed terribly with the vocals; we repaired it as best we could at Abacus recording studio in Eastcote). Again, we had all the space in the world to say whatever we wanted to say, but we couldn’t agree on what that should be. It felt like a terrible waste, although the poster on the inside of the cover was appropriated from Dorothea Tanning’s 1946 surrealist painting A Little Night Music, (original above), redrawn by singer Sharon. We all liked the dreamlike quality of the work although I’m not sure Tanning would have been happy with what we did! We gave some space to The Apostles and Andy sent me instructions and artwork on squatting and how to make a bomb. Very Apostles! It was probably the most coherent part of the cover. I spoke to Colin Jerwood a couple of times (someone else with a bad reputation but I never had a problem with him) and had to wing it a bit when he found out the band had split, but by that time Yvette was in A Strange Desire and I was working with Leda Baker and Rubella Ballet, so some of us were still involved in music and that seemed to satisfy him. The e.p., with four of the five tracks we’d recorded (we dropped Dying For A Fag due to time constraints on the vinyl), came out on the Fight Back label in 1986. I never knew how many copies it sold. It got a decent review in one fanzine but I never read any others. There was talk of The Apostles supporting the Dead Kennedys at a gig in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which we were invited along to in order to play The Wasteland and perhaps a few other songs, but it fell through. Despite all the problems and the disappointing quality of the recording, I’d been proud to work with The Apostles and had enjoyed the rehearsing and much of the recording process – including getting the record cut by the legendary ‘Porky’. I just wish I’d been more assertive, about every aspect of the record.

The only copy of the record I had (apart from one of the Mayking test pressings) had been sitting quietly in my now-pared down record collection, more or less forgotten for a decade (having had no record player for years), until I found out that Mortarhate had put together all their singles, in A Compilation of Deleted Dialogue, on a double cd, in 1997. The cd’s front cover was excellent but the accompanying booklet was a bit of a mess and selected random extracts from the record’s cover. But it meant that I could hear the songs again. And recently the single appears to have had a bit of resurgence. A couple of copies have been sold on Ebay for over £20 each and reviews (rather kind reviews, actually) have appeared on various punk/anarcho websites from Britain and America, calling us a punk-folk and anarcho-acoustic band. As labels go, they’re not too bad. And the review on Amazon, describing the double album as excellent apart from a couple of slower tracks that ‘suck’, made me laugh. I expect the review’s referring either to our songs or the Flowers In The Dustbin tracks. More recently, Yvette was sure that one of the tracks was played on the radio – as a backing for announcing Saturday afternoon football results. This has not been confirmed! The Apostles’ Facebook page (an unofficial band site) has listed links to all of their singles, so the e.p. (their 7th) is downloadable for free. Which is fine by me*. I play the e.p. now and again. It brings back some happy memories and although it has a thousand things about it that I’d change, I’m proud that I was involved with it.

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UPDATE 2 JANUARY 2014: I’ve just found out that A Walk With Love And Death from the e.p. was included on a compilation cassette, called Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart – Punk Rock Love Songs, released on Hick-Up Tapes (HICKS 003), Germany, 1992. While I’m happy for the song to appear, an attempt to contact one of us and check that it was okay to use it would have been appreciated!

* Andy Martin has written comprehensively on The Apostles’ records and it appears that all of the singles were reissued on cd by BBP in 2009 (although it should be noted that Stephen Parsons of BBP crossed the Threshold late in 2012, so I’m not sure what has become of the label and its releases). Andy is quite scathing of the quality of the recordings and the musicanship (he describes The Wasteland as the only track on the DTWP e.p. that he can listen to without wincing) and urges people not to buy either of the two volumes of the cd, but he did so some of the remastering. And anyway, that’s Andy – always expect unflinching honesty. Anything less would be a disappointment.