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

 

Quis est iste qui venit

Self Portrait Sept 2013 1

Self Portrait, September 2013

In a much appreciated act of faith, Andy Martin has accepted A Fairy Ring for his forthcoming anthology even before it’s been written. Therefore I’ve been spending as much time on the story as possible to get it finished before January’s deadline and it’s progressing amazingly well. Anyone who reads this blog will be aware that Andy’s band, UNIT, have used some of my bird photographs on their album covers. Untied & United Vol 6 continues this link with a track entitled Jackdaws For Julie Travis, a reference to the Jackdaw family who continually squabble and fight on the roof, a few inches from where I write. This instrumental, a cool prog-type piece, has recently been played on Aural Innovations, an American ‘space-rock’ radio station, who describe UNIT as ‘veteran wild men’, a compliment if ever there was one!

A couple of other projects are on the cards for the beginning of 2016 – I’m considering starting a Facebook page in order to contact more writers and I hope to be writing an article on a forthcoming film. More details will follow if I get the job.

I shall look into the Eye of the storm

Wistman Spiral 1

A week staying on a smallholding on the western fringes of Dartmoor has done me good; I’m currently over 1100 words into a new story. A Fairy Ring contains neither fairies nor mushroom rings but is, inevitably, about the process of grieving, although that’s hopefully not obvious at first read. The subject matter, of course, is something everyone has to experience many times through their lives, so perhaps this is the most mainstream piece of fiction I’ve ever written. After three months of being incapable of working on anything new, it’s a relief to have such a full story just appear in my head in the way it has done. I have three finished stories sitting on the chair next to me, and I have no inclination to send them anywhere. That’s how it is for now, who knows how I’ll feel in the future?

Haytor 1

UNIT has recorded a cover of Regime Of Kindness, a song I wrote the music for around thirty years ago and which appeared on the Death To Wacky Pop e.p. Andy Martin kindly sent me a copy. It’s a fairly different arrangement, far more prog-rock than the original, and I think it’s excellent. It’ll appear on an album of theirs set for release next year. Many thanks to the band for digging this song up and doing their own version.

Tattoo 2 Swarming Shapes

Last week I had a new tattoo done – a detail from Ian Johnstone’s 23 Swarming Shapes. It’s my first new tattoo in around thirteen years. The whole process is hugely ritualistic for me. There are a couple of tattoo studios in Penzance, but I tried one of them and the vibe wasn’t right, so I went back to Shoreline in St Ives, where I had my last ink done. I knew it was the right place as soon as I stepped through the door, so I made an appointment and had a week of getting into the right frame of mind for it, hoping that Ian would have approved: he knew I thought the work was perfect for tattoos and he had one of the shapes tattooed onto his leg, so I think he’d be okay with it. The healing process is as much a ritual as choosing/designing the ink, and it’s healing incredibly quickly. Which is useful, as I can’t dress properly until it’s done so! The money to pay for it wasn’t easy to find, but I don’t think such permanent body modification should be effortless. Thanks to Cherry at Shoreline for an excellent job.

Cross Bound to be made available in physical format

Mulfra Thru Grass

Ridiculously prolific musician and writer Andy Martin is having several more books published, one of which is an anthology that he has invited me to contribute a story to. Cross Bound, a story only available online in Aphelion webzine’s September 2011/February 2012 (best of year) issues, is at 14,000 or so words, a long read on a computer screen, so this will be included in the anthology. Perhaps I am also quite old-fashioned in that I do prefer physical to digital art! Anyway, I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute. The story has had a few tweaks in terms of making parts of the prose more fluid, but the story hasn’t been altered. The anthology is due to be published in 2016.

Andy has also remastered all of The Apostles’ singles and several of their albums, ready for cd release on BBP later this year. He’s sent me the remastered Apostles’ 7th single, Death To Wacky Pop, which was recorded with my band The Joy of Living, nearly thirty years ago, and it does sound a little beefier than the version that appeared on the Mortarhate Records compilation cd a few years back. He also described two of JoL’s songs, Regime Of Kindness and A Walk With Love And Death as ‘superb pop songs’ and wants to record them with his current band, UNIT. Can’t wait to hear them!

Feedback to Storylandia 15: The Julie Travis Collection has so far been positive, but no reviews have yet appeared, so it’s difficult to tell how it’s being received. I’m very aware that I have long since left behind the shock and gore of my early writing and perhaps am wandering around the slipstream genre even more than before. I have no idea what kind of person might like what I write these days. The copies I sent to two local radio stations have been met with deafening silence, but since BBC Radio Cornwall has described the tv adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell as ‘too weird’, they’re hardly likely to embrace my stories. Meanwhile, after a week walking and discovering more megalithic sites on the Isles of Scilly, I’m still trying to come to terms with the disastrous result of the General Election. I’ll be back working on Pig Iron very soon.

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!

 

Rising from the dread

Harris 4

Things are somewhat in limbo regarding publishing and acceptance news – my collection in Storylandia has suffered various delays; proofs are currently being shipped to me for checking a few editorial decisions, so I’m not expecting the journal to see the light of day before April. However, the cover photo’s been chosen – it will be one of my photographs, taken at Highgate Cemetery in the mid 1980s (and not included in the shots published in Night Mail, as mentioned in my last post). I miss these cities within cities, which were one of the few interesting things left about London when I escaped. I was slightly concerned that such a photograph might be a cliché for a collection of horror stories, but the content of the photo – the cemetery’s mausoleums – are unique and should avoid the charge. Meanwhile, Dark Regions Press have launched an Indiegogo fund to raise enough cash to extend their Dreams From The Witch House anthology and to commission the cover artist to provide an illustration for each of the stories included, so it’s likely to be a couple of months before I hear whether or not The Man Who Builds The Ruins has made it into the book, which won’t be published until December 2015. I’m still working on two stories – with a list of ideas for the next several – Pig Iron is progressing well and In Holes And Corners, now definately titled The Hidden, is finally nearly complete. It’s taken a year, with several changes of title, to knock this one into shape. Sometimes it just does.

I have been able to get hold of some ‘musick’ that I’ve been after for a while. X-TG’s Desertshore/Final Report is wonderfully mind expanding and a lovely tribute to Peter Christopherson, despite my reservations about Genesis P-Orridge not appearing on it. I’ve also managed to get a few of the extra download tracks, Faet Narok, even more dreamlike versions of Desertshore than the main album. I’m currently listening in full, for the first time, to the Coil ANS triple cd set (over three hours long), which I bought for a reasonable price after several years of patiently looking at prices. The experiment – the band gaining access to the huge Russian ANS synthesiser, worked by etching diagrams into a glass plate and the machine ‘playing’ the pictures – gives me the sensation of flying through space, something I’ve dreamt of many times. I’m aware that more or less the only cds I’ve bought over the last several years have been ones that can be used to put me in a certain frame of mind which helps me write. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them for their own sake – or that I can’t write without them – but they need to have a ‘higher’ purpose than just entertainment. And after seeing The Punk SingerSini Anderson’s documentary on Kathleen Hannah, which includes some wonderful footage of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, I’m feeling super-inspired in entirely different ways. I met Anderson at the Dirtybird Queercore Festival and Sister Spit open-mic nights in San Francisco in 1996. She was a force to be reckoned with back then and, it seems, still is.

I’ve begun reading Jeremy Reed and Karolina Urbaniak’s book Altered Balance, which documents Reed’s friendship with Jhonn Balance of Coil. It’s raw and honest and sad. I didn’t expect anything else. Stories about when Balance and Sleazy lived in Chiswick reminded me of the late 1980s; driving through the area one day, I wondered which road the pair’s flat was in (my obsession has indeed been going on for decades); ironically I now believe I was in Beverley Road a number of times to visit friends who lived in the street.

*The photo at the top of this piece is of a female Harris Hawk, visiting the Eden Project with her owner when I was there recently. I have, of course, sent all the shots of the bird I took to Andy Martin of UNIT for possible inclusion in future UNIT releases.

Clive Barker and the future of the human race

St Ives Hepworth

“It’s amazing how often I hear people say, ‘You know, we shouldn’t be on this planet.’ I’d never heard that before. That’s very new, the whole idea that the people on the animal planet are talking about the fact that we are the problem not the solution – the wolf not the shepherd – and the decent thing that we should do is just get a gun and put it to our collective heads, I’d never heard of that said before, or mooted before, but it’s an incredibly scary prospect that people, sensible people now think the only solution for what they consider a more valuable piece of creation than us – which is the rest of nature – is best served by us packing our bags and leaving. And that is a frightening thought, just because sensible people are saying that. And I want to address that in the third book of The Art – we need to be pro-life; and pro-life isn’t just about babies, it’s about old people too.”

Clive Barker, Revelations interview, May/June 2014

This excerpt, from the latest interview on Barker’s website, is interesting for several reasons. But first, a pedantic point: the idea of the Earth being salvageable only if the human race is removed from it, is not a new one. I remember discussing this with Andy Martin (then of The Apostles, now of UNIT) at his home in Hackney around 30 years ago. Andy’s question – “If you had a bomb that wiped out humans but didn’t damage anything else, would you use it?” – eventually became the basis for my first novel, The Gathering, which was drafted several years ago but is as yet unfinished. I’m sure it was discussed by ‘sensible’ (assuming Barker means intelligent people who are approaching the issue from an environmental/bigger picture angle, rather than screaming fascists who just want to choose in which order to execute everyone) people before then, too.

Anyway, it’s interesting to me to hear that the thought is being discussed more. I’m not sure what Barker means by being ‘pro-life’, although it appears that he’s restricting the term to human life. For me it’s not just about babies, or old people; as far as I’m concerned it’s about all life. Is it such a radical concept to consider that the incredible array of life on this planet (as well as the planet itself being a living, evolving thing [Gaia, the Great Mother of All, or, for the more scientifically minded, the Gaia Hypothesis]) has as much right to be here as we consider ourselves to have? Even to be pro-human life (above all other forms of life on Earth) surely means that we have to face the fact that humans have massively over populated the planet and the way in which we live is destroying it? We are so close to the point of no return (and further as far as having made untold species extinct) that I find it astounding when other ‘sensible’ people talk about simply adapting in order to feed the massive amounts of people that humans are producing instead of dealing with the issue of over population. We are a part of nature and yet totally apart from it. Could any other species survive in such unsustainable numbers? It really, really isn’t just about us.

I’m also unsure as to what Barker finds scary – the fact that ‘sensible’ people can see how things are going for the planet and therefore it must be bad, or whether he feels that such people have, perhaps, given up on the human race. It could easily be both. This was a small point in an interview, of course, but it would be fascinating to expand on it with him. I’m looking forward to seeing how he addresses it in the third book of The Art.

Barker, presumably, is of the opinion that humans can be better than they are now, can make the Earth a better place. This is an optimistic view – and, of course, it’s always possible – but then I’ve always thought of Barker as an optimistic person. More probable, in my opinion, is David Attenborough belief that we will bring about some kind of environmental catastrophe and then the Earth will continue, with a far, far smaller amount of humans on it than there are now.

But basically, it comes down to this: is the good of the planet and everything on it worth the extinction of the human race? Or is the short-term good of some of the human race worth the ruin of the planet and the extinction of many of the other species which live on it?