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Black Static


Julie Travis Interviewed

19th Jul, 2016

Author: Peter Tennant

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In Black Static #53 I review Storylandia #15, which features the work of Julie Travis, and by way of a follow up to that I asked Julie to do an 'identikit interview', with some of the questions posed by me and the remainder chosen at random from a 'crowd sourced' pool.

Here are the results of that exercise:-

PT: You're a UK writer and much of your work seems very solidly grounded in the landscape here, and yet your first collection is appearing from a US publisher. Can you tell us a little as to how that came about? What has it been like working with Wapshott Press?

JT: It came about by chance. I see my work as quite 'British' in terms of the folklore element as well as in the physical landscape. Some years back I trawled the Internet looking for possible publishers and came across Wapshott Press amongst others (I've had several stories published by North American magazines and webzines). I sent them a story because I thought the covers of their anthologies were gorgeous and my instinct said it was the right thing to do - even though horror/dark fantasy was not mentioned at all in what they publish. Storylandia's editor, Ginger Mayerson, just understands what I'm doing. Two stories ('The Falling Man and 'The Ferocious Night') appeared in two of their anthologies and when they moved to single author collections I was asked to do one. And they're lovely to work with; friendly and professional. I feel blessed to have crossed Ginger's path.

PT: As an addendum of sorts to the previous question, you've had a long writing career and most writers in that situation, when putting together a first collection would incorporate previously published fiction. What made you decide to go with completely new material instead of a retrospective element?

JT: It didn't occur to me to do so, perhaps because after writing 'Darkworlds' in 2002, in London and then in Cornwall once I'd moved there, my writing changed somewhat. It became very heavy in symbolism, full of obscure references (so much so that I wondered whether it would be at all accessible to anyone else). And perhaps I needed to look forwards.

PT: In the 'After Wor(l)ds' to Storylandia #15 you make reference to your dreams and nightmares. Can you tell us a bit more about these? Are they important to your writing? Have any of your stories ever been directly inspired by them?

JT: My dreamlife is utterly fundamental to my writing and inspires most of it on some level. I believe that dreams are as important - and real - as waking life. The good ones are euphoric and mind-expanding. The worst of my nightmares are so horrific that I daren't put them into print. But much of what I dream does directly appear in my stories: much of 'The Guinea Worm' (The Third Alternative, 1994) was a description of nightmares, as was 'Blue' (Kzine, 2011) and 'Theophany' (from the Storylandia collection). A recently finished tale, 'Dark Fires', has word for word dreams included (although they're not dreams in the story).

PT: What writers have had the greatest influence on your work? What have you learned from them?

JT: I think I've learnt of possibilities more than anything else from other writers. And of how important it is to push things a little bit further, in life as well as whenever I pick up a pen. Early influences were (unsurprisingly) Clive Barker and J G Ballard. Barker modernised horror in my view by incorporating the 'Other' into his stories: gay characters, strong female characters... it may have been there before but I hadn't been aware of it. Suddenly there was the possibility of space for me as a writer. And his friendship and collaboration with Coil (who composed the original, but not used, score to Hellraiser) really raised his game, in my opinion. Ballard's characters often have a particular and peculiar view of the world, I was attracted to their individual insanities and the way he portrays outlandish things in a really clinical manner. He's also hilarious. Orwell gave my angry political views a (slightly!) more coherent voice, as did the writings of anarchist band Crass, both of whose work I read when I was at school. Kathy Acker was someone I hugely admired even though I was not a fan of her writing, for her lack of compromise as both a person and a writer. More recently I've been reading Anna Kavan and Dion Fortune, who are providing an even stranger worldview! It's wonderful.

PT: In my review I said of one story that there is "underlying it a kind of pantheism or Gaia worship". Do you regard yourself as a spiritual person? What do you understand when you think of the spiritual side of existence?

JT: I have a deep respect for nature and the seasons, the cycle of the years and everything's place in it. All life is sacred - human, animal, plant... if that makes me a Pagan, an Animalist, a Pantheist, so be it. I believe in existence outside the physical - I've had too many experiences of it not to. My mother saw ghosts and her mother used 'country magick'. I've tried various forms of magick but it's not my strength, although I designed a Sigil and had it tattooed on my arm, with powerful results.

I've had many Supernatural experiences, most of which have scared the shit out of me because I haven't expected it or been able to understand it, but when I saw a ghost a year or so ago I felt an amazing sense of calm. Perhaps it depends on the ghost! Basically I believe humans have disconnected from many of their abilities. We are capable of so much and yet we in the West are simply obsessed with the acquisition of Shiny Things, the worship of the great god Money. It also doesn't help governments if people are doing things like meditating instead of being a 'hard working tax payer', so the main organised religions have been used politically to cosh people into submission. I've long believed in multiple Universes (and our ability to travel between them) and now science is beginning to experiment with the theory - the first bit, anyway. I have some psychic abilities but no control over them. I definitely 'want to believe', hence my childhood obsessions with Bigfoot, Forteana, UFOs. Everything that's outside the normal sphere of what one can see and hear. The move to Cornwall has only magnified and refined these beliefs. The land has an incredible, positive energy, which is ironic as many of the people here are horribly negative.

I live almost on top of the most powerful leys in the country and I can feel it in many of the places around here. I once met Angela Evans, the late owner of Pengersick Castle, famously haunted. She'd never seen a ghost there but she said when she felt old and achy she'd walk down the spiral staircase with her arms outstretched, touching the stone walls, and something about the stone always healed her. Everything in the Universe in connected. The Earth is a beautiful, living thing. Gaia worship? Definitely! I also believe in existence after death. Loss is a terrible thing, grief can crush you, but death is just a transition to a different existence (something I've written about a lot in recent years) - let's face it, we all want to know where we go after we die. I sound like a crank's dream but I try to be objective.

PT: In 'After Wor(l)ds' you state "I've always been painfully aware of politics, social injustice, the horrors that people inflict on one another". Do such concerns directly inspire your stories or are they incorporated after the initial idea? In your writing how fine a line do you tread between putting over such concerns and lapsing into pure polemic? Is lecturing the reader something you have to guard against?

JT: Hopefully I put my 'lecturing' days behind me when I stopped writing fanzines! If anything I'm more radical, more angry and more compassionate than I was in my angsty teenage years, but one's approach has to change. Because just shouting in people's faces doesn't work, however justified it may sometimes be. Many of my stories hinge around an idea, and some are certainly 'political',  'Darkworlds' (Premonitions: Causes For Alarm, 2008) began with me thinking that, were Hell ever proven to be a real, physical place then certain people would be rushing to make money out of it. The idea made me laugh. And 'Cross-Bound' is acknowledging the sad fact that there will always be a witch-hunt of sorts. People need witches to hunt. It's just the nature of the witch that changes. Several stories have examined mental illness, either the damage done to people by others or characters simply born out of time or place. I'm more likely to include a non-mainstream set of characters - strong, strange women, gay and transpeople, different nationalities, folk from the cultural underground (from the days when tattoos and piercings were a form of body modification rather than this week's fashion accessory). Not in order to tick any 'minority' boxes, purely because they reflect the diversity of the communities I'm part of or have lived in. Why shouldn't people outside of the mainstream be the hero of a tale and have the adventures!

PT: Literary awards: a good thing or a bad thing?

JT: Let me make one thing clear - I have no idea how literary awards work, so this is not a comment on any of them. But I would say they're a good thing if there's a diverse set of judges that regularly changes. Acknowledgement is good. But of course some writers will always be left out.

PT: Do you ever find aspects of the behaviour of a character you are writing about come through in your own behaviour or attitudes? E.g. if you wrote a very left or right wing character do you think that might temporarily affect your own politics?

JT: It hasn't as yet. I consider a story to be an entity that exists in its own right - separate from me, although not disconnected. What does occur is that I can be affected by the atmosphere of a whole story rather than one character: I rarely re-read my own work but I read 'Pieces' (Urban Occult, 2013), recently, and it induced the same kind of altered state that I often write in. Which is what I'd like the reader to experience. I grew up in a very Left-wing household - perhaps I should write an extreme Right-winger (I've met a few of these charmers) to see if it's possible to become a rabid Righty for a while.

PT: Does mental or physical pain affect or influence your writing?

JT: I have Crohn's Disease (a digestive condition) and I exploited it fully in 'Best Wishes' (Dummy, 1999). I wasn't precious about it; it amused me to do so. And anyone who's read my blog or much of my work will not be surprised to hear that I've suffered several complete mental breakdowns over the last twenty-odd years after some very heavy personal experiences, so this is the other thing that's fundamental to what I do and why I do it. I would hope to promote understanding of something that's often misunderstood, or at least discussion of it. As the years pass I learn more and more about what's wrong with me and why, which helps me stay in one piece but it's essential for me to channel it artistically. I couldn't survive otherwise. The idea of the tortured artist as something romantic or 'cool' is a cliché that pisses me off, frankly: mental illness can mean utter despair for the sufferer, their family and friends. But it also means that I see and feel the world in a certain way and I can induce very strange frames of mind to write in - using 'drone' music rather than legal or illegal substances. I'd rather be like this - ultra sensitive to all the ills of the world - than be someone who sleepwalks through life. It's not the sort of thing there's a cure for. Never mind. As a wise man once said: it just is.

PT: What can we expect to see from you in the near future? What work do you have in the pipeline?

JT: I have two stories ('A Fairy Ring' and 'Cross-Bound') appearing in Fast-Clean-Cheap, an anthology that should be out in September via Lulu. It's being edited by Andy Martin, a writer and musician who I worked with thirty years ago when I played bass guitar. It's not a horror anthology; no doubt it'll be as unique as its editor. And I'm delighted to say that Wapshott Press want to do a second collection, for release at the end of 2017. I have two, maybe three stories ready and I'll be spending the next year writing for it.



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