Meet me on a desertshore

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When I began this blog, it was with the intention of being ‘findable’ for anyone interested in my writing. However, after much thought and after browsing a few other writers’ websites (in the main that of Priya Sharma – with apologies/thanks for somewhat borrowing her format) it seems a good idea to expand a little and add a few story excerpts for casual passers-by, so I’m going to be adding an excerpts page as a permanent feature, that will be updated to eventually include most of my published work. A piece of non-fiction (The Cornish Witch) has been available for some time but the link to Cross Bound, which appeared in a webzine, has been removed in lieu of it being available in physical form next year.

Some very kind words for Storylandia 15: Collected Stories By Julie Travis from Utherben, who is an excellent psychogeographic photographer from New York City, on her website:

Face The Strange: All She Had Was The Blood On Her Hand

Earlier this month Wapshott Press released Storylandia 15; the featured author this time around is the phantasmagorically fabulous Julie Travis, with five tales of atmospheric, vibrant and thought-provoking slipstream horror. Her work is terrific, in that it’s both well-crafted and inspires absolute terror. She’s been included in in various anthologies, and she’s done some self-publishing, but as far as I know this is the first literary journal issue specifically dedicated to her work…and I’m seriously fucking proud of her. Rock on, Julie!

Thanks, Utherben. While I’m on the review trail, I’ll add here an excerpt of a review by Peter Tennant of the 2008 Pigasus Press anthology Premonitions: Causes For Alarm which appeared in Black Static #9:

…‘Darkworlds’ by Julie Travis was my favourite story. It brings to mind both Barker’s Cenobites and the King/Straub collaborations in a tale of creatures from other realms entering our own and defeating the plan of a bureaucrat to take their dimensions as lebensraum. It’s clever, with good characterisation and a gratifying pair of monsters in the Torquis and Yellow Jack. Travis knows how to pitch a telling phrase at the reader and she doesn’t shirk from describing the more horrific aspects of the story, while back of it all is the sense that there is a lot more mileage to be got from this scenario and these characters. I hope Travis follows up.

This is relevant because it was mainly because of this review that ideas for a second part (of sorts) of the story began to take shape, and emerged a few years later as Theophany, which is included in SL 15. Thanks to Peter for his encouragement over the years.

Pig Iron is now in its third draft. The story, over 9000 words long, has taken a stupidly short amount of time to write and I expect to finish it soon. Then I’ll be in a position to return to The Hidden (which has taken a stupidly long time to write) and make the final changes that it needs. Leaving stories alone for a while can be the best thing you can do in order to to gain perspective.

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Curve magazine now available

 

December’s issue of Curve magazine is now available and has been confirmed as including my article on the St Buryan Village Wisewomen, Cassandra and Laetitia Latham Jones. A couple of copies of the magazine are on their way to me. I’m looking forward to seeing it. So many projects/articles/interviews fall through at the last minute, often without explanation, that it’s always a relief when things go to plan.

Walking Between The Worlds, Part Two: Curses and Cats

Wherrytown Beach (2)

I asked the Wisewomen about curses, basically because I wondered whether they considered cursing too negative to practise.

Cassandra: You have to have the ability to be able to do them. It’s a bit like karate – you work towards getting your black belt, which means you have the ability to kill people, but you don’t have to kill people to get your black belt. You don’t have to curse to know you have the ability to do so. I’ve only done it once, and it wasn’t a full blown curse, it was more a booby-trap. That was when there was all this trouble with someone setting fire to the Men-an-Tol and Lanyon Quoit [sacred sites in West Cornwall] a few years back, so it was to protect all the rest of the monuments. I set up this booby-trap. Anyone who went to the sacred sites with evil intent would get the backlash. And while I was at it I also put out a search and detect spell, which found the person in six weeks.
JT: Seriously? Oh, brilliant! It’s just that my mother used to put the Evil Eye on people who were causing harm to our family, many years ago, and she stopped because it was so effective I think it freaked her out.
Cassandra: That’s a slightly different thing. It’s connected, very much so, with actual cursing, because if you’re declaring an intent of ill will against someone, you might as well be cursing. But there is something I call The Look, which can stop people in their tracks and that could be translated as the Evil Eye, if you’re on the receiving end of it. I utilise that occasionally, don’t I? [to Laetitia] especially to men, if they’re getting above themselves. All you’re doing is fixing that person with a steady gaze, and just say to them, ever so nicely, ‘I really wouldn’t get on the wrong side of a witch, if I were you, because she could do all sorts of things’. Not that I would necessarily do them, but just that I have the ability to do so. In other words, ‘Don’t push me! Back off, or else!’. And it works! [To Laetitia] You’ve seen grown men on their knees.
JT: That’s about protection, rather than malice.
Cassandra: It is. But every woman has the ability. I’ve yet to see it in a man. I’m not saying they don’t have it, but I’ve yet to see it. All you’re doing is planting a seed. If something then happens to that person, that’s down to them and their own fear. I didn’t do anything, I just looked! So you see, a little bit of Cunning comes into it. I wouldn’t deliberately hurt anyone with no reason. You have to be able to take responsibility for what you do. What you give out, you’ll get back, with interest. You have to be very clear about your altruism; is it in place? Do you have a clear conscience? Are you acting with integrity? And if it’s an absolute bastard out there, seriously hurting people, then yeah, of course. I would protect my community. And I have done in the past.

I hadn’t seen any sign of Clutterbuck, Laetitia’s (black) cat and familiar. A little disappointing, but I asked about his place in their lives. [Some of this conversation is in the Curve feature, so can’t be included here, but here’s the rest.]
Laetitia: I got him from the RSPCA. I didn’t know that he would become my familiar. Not all animals are interested in magical work. He’s always there, he’s very interested in the work I do and he helps me with things. He seems to stay with me longer when I’m working on things. He can feel things that are coming from me.
JT: And is he okay? I heard he’d been in the wars recently.
Laetitia: Oh, he got hit by a car and broke his jaw, it was just outside, I think. [At this point Cassandra finally gets the hint and goes to find Clutterbuck.] He had to have his jaw wired together. He’s more careful now. And he’s a big cat…
Cassandra [carrying him in]: He’s huge! He’s like a small bear.
Laetitia: He’s an excellent hunter as well.
Cassandra: That’s what I like about him!
JT: I heard from someone at the RSPCA that black cats are still much, much harder to place than any other, and that’s because of the…
Cassandra: Associations!
JT: I was quite surprised at that, that people still make that association.
Cassandra: It’s particularly bad in America, apparently. My book [Village Wisewoman] has a bit in about Mab [her familiar, a cat who passed on a few years back but who still has a presence in the house] and familiars in particular. It’s a relationship that does or doesn’t happen. It certainly did with Mab, there’s this peculiar mirroring thing that can happen; when things happen to you it happens to them, too and vice versa. Mab was particularly good with animal magic – and still is – from the spirit world. She was brilliant. Clutterbuck is extremely good in other ways.
Laetitia: I’ve owned a lot of cats but this is my first familiar.
That was the end of the interview: I was busy fussing Clutterbuck. He is indeed huge, very friendly, and his fur has a lovely, strong texture to it. We talked about Boekka, the ‘Scary Morris’ dance troupe founded by the pair, which has featured a couple of times on British tv and then it was time to leave. I played a Coil cd on the drive home and that, along with the conversation, put me in a very interesting headspace. Out of necessity I’ve only scratched the surface of what the pair do – I’d have loved to have gone into more detail, especially about Laetitia’s work as a Spirit Medium. Perhaps another time. All the way through the interview I had this bizarre feeling that we’d met before; I felt unusually comfortable with what was essentially a pair of strangers.

Village Wisewoman

Cassandra’s blog

Laetitia’s blog

Walking Between The Worlds: The Village Wisewomen of St Buryan

Laetitia and Cassandra Latham Jones

Laetitia and Cassandra Latham Jones

I’ve long been aware that witchcraft was alive and well, not just in Britain but around the world in various forms. When I lived in London there seemed to be a significant link between women and magi(c)(k) (however one spells it) – especially amongst lesbians/Queer women – but it wasn’t until I moved to Cornwall that I discovered that Wisewomen and Cunning Folk still existed in the UK. The crafts are reported to have been used since around the middle of the 15th Century but it was wrong to assume that they’d long since died out. I first heard of Cassandra Latham (as she then was) several years ago; she’s a well-known local figure in the far west of the county, not just in Pagan circles but in the general community. Around three years ago it was announced that she was formally retiring from being a full time Wisewoman and had taken on an apprentice to pass the craft onto. Laetitia Jones, a Spirit Medium, originated from Kent but had felt a real pull towards Cornwall. Not only is she a Village Wisewoman, she also became Cassandra’s partner and now the two work together (Cassandra having given up on the idea of properly retiring!). The Latham Jones’ (as they now are) invited me to their cottage in the village of St Buryan, principally to interview them for Curve magazine. This is some of the conversation we had that won’t be appearing in the article. More will appear on this website as I transcribe it. As you can see, there was a lot to talk about…

JT: I was wondering how you felt now about all the Golowan hoo-ha? How long were you both involved in the festival? (A quick history: Golowan is Penzance’s midsummer festival, culminating in Mazey Day. Cassandra and Laetitia were involved until a few years back, when they were suddenly banned from it, in a surge of anti-Pagan hysteria with a fair chunk of homophobia thrown in. My first contact with the pair was a letter of support I sent them at this time.)

Laetitia: I did it for two years.
Cassandra: Nearly twenty years before being booted out. Wow. That’s a long time.
JT: I remember seeing a photograph of you two at your handfasting, on the front page of the local paper, which I thought was really progressive of them to do that, but perhaps a bit naïve as well. Did that have anything to do with it?
Cassandra: That was just weird timing. There was a specific chain of events. Our handfasting was on Hallowe’en – not too surprisingly! – and we had no idea what was about to happen. Other people did, but they didn’t want to ruin our day, which I’m grateful for. About an hour before we were due to leave for our honeymoon the next day, we got an email from Andy Hazelhurst, Director of Golowan at that time, sending a copy of the letter he was sending to The Cornishman [local paper] and a note with it saying we – and the ‘Oss (Penglaz) – were not welcome at the Golowan Festival. When we came back from our honeymoon – we knew we’d had photos taken at our handfasting by the paper. The photographer asked if we’d be happy with it going on the Wedding Page; when we saw it on the front page we thought ‘Oh, my God!’ and knew it was going to create a huge hoo-ha on top of everything else. Andy Hazelhurst was banging on about an article that had appeared the week before about Laetitia taking over as Wisewoman and she’d got misquoted in it. He was accusing her of saying that Penglaz was Pagan, and there’s no mention of it in the article.
Laetitia: The article said that I’d stated that one of my duties as a Wisewoman was to ‘teaze’ (dance with) Penglaz. I never said that. The next week the paper printed a retraction from the journalist but the ban wasn’t lifted.
Cassandra: There was the Pagan stuff, there was all the stuff about the ‘Osses and then we got a lot of homophobia. We know for a fact there were quite a lot of letters in support of us that never got printed in The Cornishman. I had letters published that were all edited and I was… (growls) because there’s nothing you can do. And they were starting to let letters in that were just nasty, especially towards Laetitia here, which I thought was really unfair, because she hadn’t been here long.
JT: So there was bias against her as an ‘incomer’?
Laetitia: Yes, and there was also a lot of jealousy because Cassandra had been on her own for forty years and then suddenly she’s with me. It seemed to cause a lot of upset with people and we found out who our true friends were.
JT: This always seems to happen. Whatever community I’ve been a part of, be it an anarchist housing co-operative, the lesbian scene in Hackney…people you’d expect to be a bit more evolved. It all goes really well for a while then it fractures. Seems to be human nature, to create trouble where there is none.
Cassandra: I’ve never understood that. It’s so much easier to get on!
JT: Going back to your duties on Mazey Day, you used to cast a spell for good weather?
Cassandra: Yes. Especially after the first year, which I didn’t attend anyway, where there was such a downpour on Mazey Day and I felt sorry for all those children who’d worked so hard [on the sculptures for the processions] and the people who’d put so much effort in. I wanted to be a part of this so I was looking at performing street theatre but I thought ‘what can I do using my skills magically?’ so I thought I’d perform some weather magic so it doesn’t rain on the kids’ parades and spoil their sculptures… their little faces! It’s not an easy to do, weather magic, at all; it takes huge, huge amounts of energy so you need to find some way of keeping that energy high all through the day and I found that, through my own experience, dance was a way of doing that and there’s a magic – still – about the Golowan Band, I just want to dance all the time, and there it was, perfect place. And for years I didn’t make a big thing about it, but it became accepted that that’s what I do. People would say, ‘It’s not looking good for Mazey Day’ and I’d tell them, ‘Ah, just you wait!’. I have to say, I’m very proud of my 100% record over nearly twenty years. So that was why I danced at processions. It kind of takes you over, it’s trance-like, dancing in the midsummer energy, and it’s wild. It’s not measured steps or choreographed, it’s wild and it took a lot of that energy to teaze the ‘Oss as well. It’s almost like a magical possession. The character takes you over, the character’s supposed to be between the worlds, the character’s supposed to make a way for the ‘Oss to get through all those hordes and that’s difficult, believe me. Also to interact with the ‘Oss, get it to stop, start, run at people. It’s not something I tell the ‘Oss to do, it’s a rapport between the teazer and the ‘Oss. It’s totally improvised. There’s only move that stops the ‘Oss and that’s to stand right in front of it and stick your arms out. In emergencies – because the ‘Oss can’t see very well, especially little children. Our one (Penkevyll) is very good with kids. The old (‘Oss) Penglaz was very wild and I spent most of my time running after her! But since I created the new ‘Oss, she’s very different, she interacts a lot.

Having seen Cassandra at Mazey Day for several years and Laetitia at two of them, I can testify that the energy created by the spell casting is amazing. They were an integral part of Mazey Day/Golowan and the festival, in its attempts to be more sanitised and ‘family-friendly’, is far poorer without them as far as I’m concerned.

Focus on infinity

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A few more things are falling into place now: after several months of sitting in the ‘slush pile’ (a term I always thought pointlessly derogatory), Ellen Datlow’s new horror anthology Fearful Symmetries has finally rejected The Ferocious Night. I have no way of knowing if anyone even read it, but at least I’ve been notified. With over 1,000 submissions to wade through, it was probably inevitable that the process was impersonal, but my polite query regarding the timescale on their tracking system got a huffy reply that the tracking system was basically useless. In which case, folks, why have it? It must have created a lot of unnecessary angst among authors and editors alike. Anyway, the story has been snapped up by Storylandia for their Spring 2014 issue. Just when I thought the story would never see publication. Bless them and their fine journal.

The ‘Two of Us’ feature on the St Buryan Wisewomen has been finished and sent to Curve magazine, together with a couple of photos (not taken by me, I should add). It’s tempted me to do more interviews. The thought of getting the stories of local 21st Century witches (and there are a fair few of them around) down on record could be an amazing project and important for historical and social reasons. I no longer have the tape of the interview I did in 2005 with Cheryl Straffon but the article is elsewhere on this site (‘The Cornish Witch’).

As for fiction: Widdershins is awaiting its second full draft, while I steamroller my way through the first draft of Grave Goods, a proper horror story, which is proving quite fun to write. Not as ‘deep’, perhaps, as what I usually write, but hopefully it’ll have a nice twist at the end and some interesting characters. I’ve been playing Kitty Jay, probably Seth Lakeman’s greatest album, full of dark Dartmoor tales and it’s undoubtedly an influence. From The Bones, meanwhile, has been rejected a few times, most recently by KZine. Editor Graeme Hurry has always offered wise and constructive criticism, so I’m going to have another look the story as soon as time allows.

Cross Bound chosen as one of Aphelion’s best stories of 2011

Boscawen-Un stone circle

February’s edition of Aphelion webzine has included Cross Bound amongst its best stories of last year. I’ve only just found this out, so the link to the story is likely to disappear fairly soon, but many thanks to Aphelion for picking it.