2022 has begun with a very optimistic project – writing my first film script. I’ve wanted to make a film for many years but it’s been too daunting to even start, so focusing purely on a script rather than the entire film-making process has made it more realistic. I’m aware that some writers are against adapting either short stories or novels for the small or big screen, and I appreciate that point of view as it can feel dismissive of writing as its own craft, as if it’s a writer’s ultimate goal. For me, as a lifelong film fan, it’s a natural thing to dream of doing – complete with Ray Harryhausen (impossible now, of course) taking care of the special effects! – but the written word has a magic of its own and should never be dismissed as a stepping stone to anywhere else. Therefore, despite the temptation to adapt an existing story, I’ve decided to write a story specifically for a script. It will make for slower progress but means I can think and write in a more cinematic way (although it could be argued that my stories are very visual anyway). The format and the terminology of a film script is very alien to me but I’m picking it up as I go along and am approaching it in a far more organised way than I do my fiction – writing backstories for my characters etc, rather than getting to know them en route as a short story progresses and doing much more planning. There’s only a certain distance I’ll go down that road, though, as I’ve no intention of adhering to a hugely rigid structure. The other major possible pitfall I’m very aware of is that many contemporary horror films are including a ‘folk-horror’ element, to the point where it’s becoming a lazy option, I think. I’m happy to admit that the term ‘folk-horror’ applies to a lot of my writing, but the script for Charcoal is deliberately focussed more on dark fantasy with a strong Surrealist and arthouse element. Dreams are such a big part of my life that they naturally weave themselves into my fiction, so a recent dream – where four owls flew into my home through an open window – will feature strongly. I’m not going to think too far ahead with this; the script, the story, is the thing. And the setting – an old Council housing block c1890, in a non-sensical location (a bleak moor) – is becoming more and more attractive given the insane political and social decay we’re experiencing.
The results of the 2020 BFS Awards were announced on February 22. Congratulations to all the winners, particularly Laura Mauro, who won the category I was nominated in (Best Short Fiction) for The Pain Eater’s Daughter and Priya Sharma, who won Best Novella for Ormeshadow. I’ve always had mixed feelings about awards, and this experience – my first, and likely only, nomination (although an anthology I had a story in – Necrologue: The Diva Book Of The Dead And The Undead – won a Lamda award) – hasn’t changed this. That said, I would have happily accepted had I won and it’s possible that my nomination will result in more people being aware of what I do. For the most part I have little interest in self-promotion, but I’m always open to connecting with kindred spirits, so I’ll be happy if the nomination is successful in that respect.
I currently have two stories with an editor who’s putting together an anthology by female writers that sounded strange enough for me to submit to. New story Eleven Eleven is progressing, over 7000 words now and still a way to go before the first draft will be finished. I’m finding the combination of old folklore associated with the New Forest, where the story’s set, and the new folklore that’s appearing as I write, is making for a tale that really doesn’t know where to stop.
Someone recently asked me for an update on various stories I’m working on and when there was likely to be another short story collection. His belief that another should be published was very heartening! As I wrote here some months ago, I was offered the chance by Wapshott Press to write another collection and also to edit an anthology. Both were amazing opportunities, but I had to turn them down because it would have meant 18 months of unpaid work, as well as inviting submissions from various authors who I also wouldn’t be able to pay, and writers/artists cannot live on the thanks of editors alone. There will always be projects that I’ll work on where payment doesn’t matter, but I cannot devote large amounts of time to working for free.
What I haven’t yet announced here until now is that last year I was invited to submit a story for issue one of Ironic Fantastic Quarterly, edited by the highly prolific and internationally published Rhys Hughes. The brief was to write on the theme of Impossible Nostalgia. I rarely write to a theme, but this grabbed me and I’m delighted to say that my offering, A Visit From Someone Dear, has been accepted and the tome should be published in February of this year.
I managed to write constantly during the second half of 2020, after coming to terms with the anxiety caused by lockdown and fears for my loved ones. New short stories Into An Expanding Sun, Tartan and Sky Eyes are complete, with current work in progress, Eleven Eleven, becoming a tale that could end up being novelette length; the more I work on it, the more I realise there is to this story. And I have plans for two more stories, Getting The Fear, and Yes, No, Goodbye. At present IAES is with a publisher putting a collection of Surrealist fiction together, but I’m in no hurry to place stories these days, as I’ve previously stated here. The process of writing – and dreaming – these stories is my main focus, and having completed stories sitting here at home in physical form creates its own energy. There’s also the possibility of collaborations with writers, musicians and illustrators, but these are only at the initial suggestion stage.
Meanwhile, nature continues to be a comfort and inspiration. I’ve witnessed two starling murmurations in the last week or so, one at very close quarters, with the beating of thousands of wings just above me and nothing else to be heard. I’m taking these encounters as good signs.
Big thanks to Rima Devereaux for this lovely review:
“A city where the dead go about their ordinary lives, a mysterious Golden Sea Captain, a journey through space and time, a discovering of one’s multicultural past, a hymn to self-realization and an escape from the mundane. This highly unusual, beautifully written and unforgettable novella is all these things.
Zanders finds herself aboard a strange three-masted clipper ship with a ghost crew that she can’t see. She realizes very quickly that the Golden Sea Captain is a woman dressed as a man. Hints are dropped throughout about how Zanders feels drawn to the Captain, but the ending is still a surprise. The gender ambiguity of the mysterious Captain reminded me of the Fool in Robin Hobb – Travis is similarly concerned with sexual identity, explored through the use of fantasy tropes.
Zanders’ sudden transportation to this new world of the past is an awakening in other ways too. Her loved ones have all died, she has sold most of her belongings and she is disabled by having had several vertebrae crushed. But aboard the ship, she is no longer disabled. We don’t actually learn much about her former life (which is in the future, as Travis takes pains to point out), except that her grandmother was Peruvian. In the fantasy world she finds herself in, her aim is to question people about her grandmother’s whereabouts, beginning, naturally enough, in the city of the dead.
Another reminder of Robin Hobb, this time of the liveships, is the fact that the figurehead comes to life and fights for the ship. But these nods don’t make the novella derivative – it has its own powerful and lyrical beauty, fusing an exploration of sexual and cultural identity with a journey in space and time.
Travis underlines the care the Captain takes to play the part he has adopted, and by implication pinpoints the sharp and rigid definition of gender roles in the past she is portraying. The ship is a space where things are more fluid and malleable. The same is true of Zanders’ Peruvian grandmother – the ship allows a meeting that is impossible in our world, a meeting that is a genuine communion. It shows how much is lost in families of mixed heritage where a life is reduced to a bundle of old photographs given to Zanders by her aunt. The book’s tender fantasy highlights the poignancy of these themes in a way that realism can struggle to.
The divide between waking and dreaming, past and present, and past and future, are other dualisms that the novel collapses. What we are is all about recollection and perception. But the book also shows the strong desire many of us have for the past to become real to us, a living thing, more than memory, to paraphrase The Lord of the Rings.”
I find it interesting that most of the writers my work is compared to are ones I’ve never read. It’s resulted in a huge reading list for me that I’ll never finish!
Very happy to see this review of Tomorrow, When I Was Young on Rising Shadow. Reviews are very hard to come by so I always appreciate the time taken to do this – whatever the opinion is. I find it interesting, of course, to hear another person’s thoughts on my work and I’ve been moved by some reactions over the years. Essentially I’m writing for my own purposes and often wonder if anyone else will make sense of my stories, but this particular reviewer has really got the essence of the tale, I think. Thanks RS.
I’m very happy to announce that Monsters Out of the Closet, an LGBT horror podcast, has just released an episode, Wild, that includes my story, The Cruor Garland (at around the 17 minute mark), alongside T R North’s A Mockery of Birds. It’s a very different experience to hear, rather than read a story and I’m grateful to Matt, Eric Little, J M Dow, Meredith Katz, Casey Lucas, Mason Hawthorne and Troy Gardener for providing the voices and narration to the story. The incidental music provides the perfect backdrop, so thanks also Eric Matyas and Kai Engel for composing such atmospheric sounds and a big thank you to podcast editors Nicole Calande and Shriya Vencatesch for having faith in my work.
I’ve also just been interviewed for the MOotC website and I’ll post here as soon as it’s been published.
Andy Martin has asked me to contribute to his first novel, Behind The Bike Sheds. It’s not a collaboration as such, more a section written from the perspective of a 14 year old girl in 1968. There is so much material I can use from my own schooldays – although I was 14 in 1981, I don’t think schools, or children, have changed much since the late 60s – the basics of the section are easy in some respects, but I wanted to truly get myself into the headspace of my early teenage years, so I looked up the Facebook page of my old comprehensive school. It has been painful and has reopened some old wounds. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who enjoyed school; my circle of friends has always consisted of misfits and those who question authority, so school was a matter of surviving bullying teachers and ‘fellow’ pupils. I was bullied intermittently during junior school and constantly from the moment I moved up to secondary school to the moment I left, five years later. The research worked – the section’s well on track – but I was so immersed in how I felt as a schoolchild that when a friend expressed a desire to meet up with me I was in a state of confusion and distress as to why she’d want to. I managed to get out of that frame of mind but it’s frightening to realise the appalling damage done to so many children at school – and how these things are still happening.
All images and text © Julie Travis
I’m very happy to announce that Fast-Clean-Cheap is now available from Lulu. Editor Andy Martin has put together what sounds like a strange and wonderful assortment of writing and images by what he describes as ‘free-thinkers’. How my three stories (Cross-Bound, A Fairy Ring and Humans Remain) will sit with this lot is a real unknown for me – I don’t yet have a copy of the book to see how it all balances – but I look forward to getting hold of it as soon as I can. Obviously, I’m delighted when any of my work is accepted/published, but this one is a real highlight; to collaborate with Andy Martin again is an honour, and two of the stories that appear in the book were probably the hardest, emotionally, I’ve ever written (see Story Notes 2 for full details in the near future).
I now have the proofs of We Are All Falling Towards The Centre Of The Earth to go through and approve, so work is progressing as planned on this book. Meanwhile, I’m now working on two new short stories – Tomorrow, When I Was Young and The Cruor Garland. The first is possibly a less dark fantasy than usual and the second is the result of having watched an M R James adaptation on television recently! My original intention is for it to be somewhat Gothic, but what it’ll end up as is anyone’s guess.
I’ve been intruiged and amused to find that the record I played bass guitar on back in 1986 has been fetching quite silly prices on Ebay and Discogs. It’s currently on sale for £34 – £55. Wonderful for my ego but the more I think about it, the more irked I am. The record was always supposed to sell for 99p. The musicians who played on the record have never received a penny in royalties for it. We were happy with the deal we got – we paid for the recording but not for any other costs associated with releasing an e.p.. The people selling the record now are making an absolute fortune (in terms of percentage profit on what they paid for it) from our work and we still get nothing. Of the four musicians who worked on the record, at least two are suffering severe financial hardship. What I’d like to see – both as an artist and as someone who’s paid high prices for cds when buying direct from the artist hasn’t been possible – is a bit of the sale price being given to the artist. Having been a poor musician and now being a poor writer is not in the slightest bit romantic!
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.
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.
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.
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