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

 

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.

Grid North, True North, Magnetic North

Morrab fountain detail

It has been a long and difficult summer, but the plans I’ve been working on for the last couple of months are beginning to bear fruit. The heat has abated somewhat – trying to work in an airless attic in sweltering heat was almost impossible – and I’ve been writing solidly for weeks now. The Ferocious Night has been with the editors of Fearful Symmetries (Ellen Datlow’s new anthology) for some time and I’m expecting an answer one way or another in the next ten days. There will have been a massive pile of manuscripts to trawl through in the open reading period, so the chances of getting in are slim. After some further sharpening up and some ‘method writing’ involving an experiment with some chicken bones to test part of the story, From The Bones is with the editor of a British transgenre fiction magazine. The ‘nice’ story I’d written, and had so much angst about, was rejected as the story was ‘a bit too weak’. It was a fair criticism; while I think I have the style right for the magazine in question, I knew the plot was flimsy, but I needed to see how it went. I will have another go as soon as time allows – while my finances are now on a slightly better footing, there’s no room for complacency.

Widdershins has made it to a properly typed up first draft and stands at around 7700 words long. There’s more fleshing out to do in places, but the story is complete. If ever I wrote a story for younger people, then this is it. It is not a horror tale, more a darkish fantasy. Perhaps my next piece should be full-on horror, to redress the balance.

Next week I’ll be interviewing two wisewomen for Curve magazine. This is something I’m very excited about. They live in a village on the Penwith peninsular and I’ve been aware of their activities for many years. To meet them and hear about their work first hand will be a privilege. I do know someone who had a wart charmed away by a wisewoman at the other end of Cornwall. This happened around thirty years ago and it’s fascinating to know that the craft continues. The feature should appear in their December issue.

And, after trying different types of mediation over the years, I seem to have found a way that suits me, so I’m meditating most days now, mostly in silence, but accompanied by appropriate music/sounds on some occasions. It won’t stop my nightmares (and dreaming about giving the Grim Reaper a shiny, silver scythe and having him address me by name has been one of the more frightening) but nevertheless it’s having a positive effect.

*Photo by Julie, camera courtesy of Utherben. Many thanks!

The manifestation of a divine being to a mortal

Lots of news. Yesterday I had an email from Dark River Press, a UK based outfit, accepting The Ferocious Night (an extract from which I’ll be reading at the Penzance Lit Fest) for their next anthology, Tales From The River Vol 2. It’s due to appear around August 1st on Kindle. The Falling Man, of course, should be published in Storylandia in October(ish). So that’s two stories out late summer/autumn. I’m happy to now have everything that is in a fit state to publish either in print or accepted. I’d left Pieces – the tattoo story – aside for a while as I wasn’t completely happy with the opening line but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. That has now fallen into place and after one more read through it will be heading off to a very gay-friendly publisher. As for Darkworlds Part Two, its current title is Theophany. It may change again! It’s now in novella territory, having more or less hit the 10,000 word mark and a long way from finished. Ideas and imagery are just pouring out and I need to focus and make sure it all gets written down. It’s tempting to stop writing longhand and just rip through a lot of it on the computer, but I’m sticking with pen and paper for as long as I can.

Tickets for Slip Into Something Uncomfortable are now available, and hopefully the site will include some information about both Rosanne and myself. I’m reading the extract as often as I can bear to, and I’m getting a bit better at it. As a wise man said to me, “It’s about the words, not you.”

Midsummer seems to be passing without me noticing it as much as I should (and I’d certainly never be able to do so as eloquently as Phillip Carr-Gomm did a few days back). Jim Causley (a very talented Devon folk singer) played in town this week and I was too ill to attend. Tomorrow is Mazey Day – the climax of the Golowan Festival – and I’m not sure how much of the day I’ll see, but if I can get to one of the processions, then I’ll be happy. I’ve lost a little of my enthusiasm for it since two of the local witches were banned from appearing. More fool the Golowan powers that be: part of the witches’ task is to get good weather for the day!

Apart from some newish folk music (King Creosote’s John Taylor’s Month Away and June Tabor) I’ve been re-connecting with Coil circa the Hellraiser period. Many of the tracks on the vinyl release of The Unreleased Themes to Hellraiser did not appear on the cd release and I’ve been trying to hunt them down. There’s also some pieces on Stolen and Contaminated Songs that are from the era, one of Coil’s best.

Balance: Penzance’s Winter Solstice festival

Penglaz in all her glory. Photo: http://www.cornishwitchcraft.co.uk

This from the Montol 2011 website:

“This Winter Solstice event is 5 years old and involves the revival of recorded traditions in Cornwall but in particular, West Penwith. It originated as an idea to have an event in PZ to ‘balance’ with the Midsummer’s Golowan Festival.

Reflecting the ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ of the sun, Rivers of Fire are created, lantern-lit processions from different areas of the town, meeting at the highest point, Lescudjack Hillfort, an ancient fortress site. Here, the community gathers to watch The Lord of Misrule light the beacon, fireplay, dancing, drumming and the magical, mischievous Turkey Rhubarb Band. The site is lit by natural light from numerous lanterns and torches, crafted in the previous week at community workshops.

All return to Chapel Street in one ‘River of Fire’ where the guising, music, acrobatics, singing and mayhem begins, masked and dressed in tattered or ‘mock posh’ attire, as recorded in the history books. Later, another band-led torch lit procession begins from the top of Chapel Street, leading to a lower beacon behind the Barbican for community dancing, music and the Chalking of the Mock ceremony.

Visually spectacular, you will not be sorry if you pay a visit to Penzance on this mid winter night. Make a mask, dress up (or down!) and come along!

Montol 2011 Schedule of Events
(as at 14/11/11)

Friday 9th December, 8pm

Montol Fund Raising Ceilidh at the Magpies Football Club. Penzance. Callers and folk group ‘Smash The Window’.  Entry £5

Thursday 15th December. From 7.30pm.

Guising Tour of a Mummer’s Play around the pubs of Penzance.

Saturday 17th December. 10am to 4pm.

Exchange Gallery Penzance. Community Lantern/Mask Making Workshops. FREE!

Sunday 18th December. 7.30pm

St Mary’s Church Penzance. Montol Carol Concert. A rare chance to sing these Cornish Carols and watch a Cornish Candle Dance.

Tuesday 20th December from 8.30pm.

The Pirate Inn. Alverton. Another chance to watch the Guise Mummer’s Play during our regular Folk Night.

Wednesday 21st December. Montol Eve.

6pm.

Rivers of Fire Lantern Procession leaves St John’s Hall Penzance. Other ‘Rivers’ from various areas around the town.

6.30pm.

Lescudjack Hillfort Performance including the Lighting of the Beacon by the Lord of Misrule, fire-play, drumming, dancing and the Turkey Rhubarb Guise Band. Procession returns to Chapel Street.

8pm to 10pm.

Chapel Street Party. Guising, music, plays, fire/circus acts, Cornish dance and festive food stalls.

10pm.

Torchlit Procession led by the Turkey Rhubarb Guise Band from New Street to the car park between PZ Gallery and the Barbican. There, another Beacon will be lit, the ‘Mock’ will be ‘Chalked’ and more dancing will commence!!”

As yet there seems to be no attempt to further ‘de-Pagan’ the event. Last year the local press was full of outrage and horror and two of the people involved in the event – who happened to be witches – were treated abysmally and not allowed to participate. As a result it all felt a bit flat, although the Pagan elements were still very much in evidence. Cast a spell to encourage a bit more open mindedness and respect!