Guest Post: The Devil’s In The Detail by Julie Travis

“Paps! Paps in the landscape!”

Many years ago I interviewed Cheryl Straffon, a Cornish witch, and she was describing the female qualities of the two hills near Land’s End. As a lifelong acolyte of folklore, magick and the supernatural, it felt like an entirely natural thing to be discussing. And it gave a sensual new angle to my conviction that the landscape is a living thing.

I’ve often seen folklore described as something intrinsically linked to the British rural landscape of times gone by. To do so is to underestimate folklore and overestimate one country’s importance. Folklore is universal – every culture, every country on the planet, is rich with it. The urban landscape and the present day are full of folklore. The tradition is as alive as the environment on which it feeds.

The Universe, our planet, nature, the reasons for our existence – are awe-inspiring, frightening things. Humans need explanations for why things happen, and story-telling traditions are one way to achieve this. Folklore is, I think, a more extreme version. It has been defined as a ‘widely held but false belief’ or ‘unofficial knowledge’ [1] and much of it makes the world even more frightening, although its structure – particularly as far as superstition is concerned – may in the past have given people some semblance of reassurance – don’t do this, avoid that, don’t let it into your home, and you’ll be safe. Weather, animals and insects, the sea, earthquakes, floods, crop failure, death and the question of What Comes After – have had huge effects on our lives, throughout time. No wonder people have needed explanations and the hope of avoidance.

May Horns

May Horns (Photo by Julie Travis)

I question, however, whether folklore is necessarily a series of false beliefs, or whether in some cases, is in fact knowledge that has been forgotten over the aeons [2], making it ‘unofficial’, but nonetheless true. By unofficial, I mean ‘non-scientific’. And by non-scientific, I mean anything that relies primarily on belief and the testimony of ordinary people rather than proof, as measured and accepted by professionals.

For instance, tales of giants in ancient times are prevalent in many cultures. Now and again finds are made of huge fossilised human footprints or massive human skeletons, but giants are still described as folklore or legend rather than history. Why is this? Perhaps because to accept the one-time existence of giant humans may question our current theories of evolution – and that’s too much for us to process right now. But I see it as a possibility. My home in Cornwall is full of stories about giants. Some were fierce, some benevolent. Some even played bowls with the boulders on Trencrom Hill – which is why a stray one lies by the side of the road near the bottom of the hill. One of my favourite stories from childhood was of the huge stone figures on Easter Island. The stone men were living creatures and lived in harmony with the humans on the island, until one catastrophic day when a volcano erupted. The humans managed to run to their boats and escape, but the stone men were caught by the lava flow as they lumbered down the mountain. Trapped, they’ve spent thousands of years looking out to sea. This melancholic tale planted a seed, blurring the lines between folklore and what I later found out to be Gaia; the belief that the Earth is a living thing.

I’ve spent more than a decade surrounded by the relatively undeveloped wildness of West Cornwall and am intensely aware of how alive the land is. There is some science to back this up; the chalk cliffs so beloved of English romanticism were formed from the shells of microscopic sea creatures. The standing stones of Avebury – one named the Vulva Stone because of its shape – have been shown to emit energy, sounds and other strange phenomena. To me these are signs of life – just one experienced in a different way to our present knowledge of it. Science is changing its opinions all the time – it wasn’t long ago that the concept of multiple Universes would have been purely the stuff of fantasy fiction and mystics. Recent experiments by scientists appear to prove their existence.

Folklore tells many disturbing stories and it is right to do so. Nature is not benign; the Devil may well have carved valleys in the landscape, thrown great stones at churches and made terrible deals with humans. The land has seen so many lives (not just human, of course) come and go over the ages that I wonder how could it not be haunted, infused with their essence? But we can work with it. Touching wood will give us the blessings of tree spirits. In China, bat pendants are worn to ensure the wearer a long and happy life. Better to function with the possibility of help from spiritual forces rather than have them against us.

Green Man Lydford

Green Man, Lydford (Photo by Julie Travis)

Many stories are set in the past, in a countryside that was full of hidden, fearful things. But the creation of folklore is continual – my own lifetime has seen new tales appear, both urban and rural. The Enfield Poltergeist caused me great consternation in the 1970s; a Council estate in an outer London borough was the setting for a family to be terrorised by an angry spirit which focused upon one of the young girls living there. In the same decade, the Owlman first appeared by a church in Mawnan, Cornwall and was sighted as recently as 2011. Half man, half bird of prey; the childish sketches of him made by witnesses are unsettling. These things quickly pass from being quirky news stories into folklore. Even stories eventually known to be hoaxes, such as the Cottingley Fairies, take on the hue of the possibly true, although this can work the other way – Jack The Ripper, the very real and horrific murderer who terrorised the East End of London in the late 1880s, has become an almost demonic myth about a London that has virtually disappeared. Again, all cultures will have their own recent versions in both urban and rural landscapes.

But it is certainly easier to imagine these things in the countryside. Nature is more obvious here and equally it is cruel and unforgiving. On a family holiday to the south coast of England as a child, we got cut off by the rising tide on our return to Lyme Regis. We were at first stuck in deep mud, then my father had to carry us, one by one, across the most dangerous section of beach. Twice I saw him taken out to sea by a wave, twice he struggled back to rescue us. There was no doubt in my mind even at that age as to how alive the sea was, and how little it cared for creatures like us in its path. Folklore, then, can be tales of wonder but is often understandably linked to horror, with the lines between fact and fiction frequently blurring. Tales of werewolves and vampires may well have arisen to explain hideous physical and mental illnesses; practices to stop those suspected of being vampires rising from their graves (severing the corpse’s head and placing it between its knees) have occurred for several hundred years and as recently as the 19th century. And Father Montague Summers’ The Vampire In Europe (1929) reads like a guide, a ‘Who’s Who?’ of the continent’s monsters.

But is it possible that that’s just what it is?

As mentioned earlier in this piece, I’ve often wondered whether a significant amount of folklore is at least based on real events, from a time when humans were more able to connect with the magical elements of the world [2]. The power of second sight and an acceptance of a different reality may have made life in ancient times a perpetual sensory overload. Since the supposed progress of the Age Of Enlightenment, we have literally been pushing back the darkness. And in the meantime given ourselves plenty of other things to be afraid of. But that’s another piece, for another time. It’s true to say that many things cannot be explained by rational/scientific means – because science doesn’t yet have the technology to measure them. That’s not the fault of the faerie folk, of course. Or anything else in our amazing world that science currently sneers at.

So how does this affect us in everyday life? Not as much as it should do, perhaps. I’m not misty-eyed for a return to the time when we feared more or less everything [1], but for many of us our connection to the landscape is seriously broken and I’d argue that this is part of why so many of us are so unhappy. Despite our attempts to adapt the world to our needs – rather than continuing to evolve – we cannot escape the fact that we are a part of nature. In death, our bodies return to the landscape and to the air. To re-connect nature would not only be healthier for body and soul, it might eventually re-establish contact with our more ancient, wiser selves [2].

Votive And Spiderweb

Votive and Spider’s Web (Photo by Julie Travis)

Despite our best efforts though, some of the old terrors linger. ‘Folk horror’ is an incredibly popular genre. The story-telling continues; it is a safe space in which to explore our fears. But it does not and cannot tame the world – when I’m out in the wilder parts of the country the Life around me brims with energy, both in the wider landscape and in the tiniest details; in the sound of bubbles bursting from limpets’ shells or in the delicate weight of a Blue Tit landing on my hand to take food. At times it’s more ominous, such as the time I was Pisky-led around Sancreed Holy Well, but more and more I revel in the sensuous beauty around me. Paps – signs of the Goddess very much alive but resting – are everywhere! Embrace the land, be it rural or urban. And I mean that literally. Towns and cities have their own sacred sites, their own powerful energies. Some will be positive, some negative. Be open to them – with caution, of course. Wherever you are, lay your hand on the ground. Even through concrete, you might just hear the Earth’s heart beat.

Good reading and references:

[1] Steve Roud, A Pocket Guide To Superstitions Of The British Isles, 2004.

[2] Colin Wilson, The Occult; A History, 1971


About Julie Travis:

IMG_20180315_074402~2Horror/dark fantasy writer, compared to Clive Barker, Thomas Ligotti, Catherynne M. Valente, Edgar Allan Poe, David Lynch and Stephen King/Peter Straub. Born in north-west London in 1967, re-located to West Cornwall in September 2002. Worked with performance poet and playwright  Joelle Taylor in London’s Poetry Cafe (where actress Katy Darby did a reading of Perpetual Motion). Since then has drafted two novels and continues to write short stories/novellas and occasional folk gig reviews for the local paper (The Cornishman). A ‘born again Pagan’ who spends time at the sacred sites of Cornwall and Dartmoor.

Julie’s Blog: Levanthia

Interview with Julie by Fiona Mcvie

Julie’s new collection “We are All Falling Towards the Centre of the Earth” is released from Wapshott Press on the Summer Solstice (21st June!)

We Are All Falling Towards The Centre of the Earth



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The Dark Issue 37


Thanks to Sean Wallace for including me in Issue 37 of The Dark with a reprint of “The Crow Palace”.

This story originally appeared in “Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales”, edited by Ellen Datlow.

“Each month The Dark brings you the best in dark fantasy and horror! Edited by award winning editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Sean Wallace and brought to you by Prime Books, this issue includes two all-new stories and two reprints.”


The Dark Issue 37Contents:

  • “In the End, It Always Turns Out the Same” by A.C. Wise
  • “Beehive Heart” by Angela Rega  (Reprint)
  • The Hurrah (aka Corpse Scene) by Orrin Grey
  • “The Crow Palace” by Priya Sharma  (Reprint)

Read online

Purchase a copy Amazon USApple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Weightless Books




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The Christian Science Monitor

Thanks to Donna Bryson for mentioning me in her article for The Christian Science Monitor : After decades of dwarfs and elves, writers of color redefine fantasy.

“For those who think the genre is all faraway galaxies or pyrotechnic wizardry, consider English writer Priya Sharma’s “Rag and Bone,” set in a not-so-distant, poignantly plausible, dystopian Liverpool. Dr. Sharma portrays a brutal city state where it’s a capital offense to agitate for minimum wages, workplace safety, and free health care. In the story included in her recently released first collection, “All the Fabulous Beasts,” Sharma, who is also a family doctor, explores the distress she feels over the widening gap between haves and have-nots. The haves in “Rag and Bone” are buying body parts from the desperate poor.”

You can read the article here.

Donna Bryson

I was lucky enough to speak to Donna while she was writing this article and she has kindly written about my collection, “All the Fabulous Beasts” on her blog too.


Donna Bryson’s work has been published by, among others, The Associated Press, The Christian Science Monitor, The Daily Beast, Equal Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, The New York Times, Stars and Stripes, VICE, and The Wall Street Journal.



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This is Horror

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of 2018 and it will take a strong work to surpass the quality of this latest Undertow Publications release. Connected not just by themes of human-creature melding, but also by an adherence to clear and poetic writing, deeply affecting emotion, All the Fabulous Beasts deserves to be read far and wide. It’s a book which ought to be on every horror fan’s shelf; not just those who love dark fiction with literary aspirations, but also those who like their horror distinctly hard-hitting and offbeat. Paul Michaels, Reviewer, This is Horror.

My thanks Paul. Read the full review here.



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The Toronto Star

Undertow Publications is based in Toronto, Canada and the city’s newspaper, The Toronto Star, have kindly included “All the Fabulous Beasts” in its horror fiction review.

UK author Priya Sharma has been quietly publishing her ornate but ultimately unclassifiable stories in online journals and hard-to-find print anthologies for over a decade. Luckily for those readers who don’t haunt specialty bookstores and the outer reaches of the Internet, Sharma’s stories have been collected into a single volume by Toronto’s own Undertow Publications. The stories in All the Fabulous Beasts draw heavily on the gothic, folk horror, and fairy tale traditions without ever feeling derivative. The lines between the living and the dead, animal and human, even lover and family member are blurred and artfully reconfigured into grotesque shapes by Sharma’s prodigious imagination and sparse but lyrical style. A major new voice in dark fantasy and horror.
The Toronto Star.



The Pan Review

The Pan ReviewThe Pan Review is the blog of Mark Andresen. In Pan Review Of The Arts – No. 7, Mark  includes a Q&A with Steve Rasnic Tem, an opinion piece on women artists in dance music and how they’re disadvantaged by deals between DJ-Producers and music platforms, and a review of “All The Fabulous Beasts”.

My thanks to Mark for this.



Black Static Issue 63

Black Static Issue 631st May 2018 was the official release date of  “All the Fabulous Beasts”.

Andy Cox has kindly included me the lastest issue of Black Static with a review of the collection and an interview, both by Peter Tennant.

“The May-June issue contains new horror fiction by Steven J. Dines (novella), Kristi DeMeester, J.S. Breukelaar, Matt Thompson, and Nicholas Kaufmann. The cover art is by Richard Wagner, and interior illustrations are by Ben Baldwin, Vincent Sammy, and Richard Wagner. Regular features include Into the Woods by Ralph Robert Moore, Notes from the Borderland by Lynda E. Rucker, Case Notes by Peter Tennant (book reviews, including an in-depth interview with Priya Sharma), Blood Spectrum by Gary Couzens (film reviews).”

Purchase a copy.

Black Static 63 ToC


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Ginger Nuts of Horror Review of “All The Fabulous Beasts”

Gingernuts Review by Laura Mauro

I feel very honoured by this review by one of the coolest women in horror, Laura Mauro.  Thanks to her and Jim Mcleod of Ginger Nuts of Horror.

Read it here.


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Publishers Weekly reviews “All The Fabulous Beasts”

All the Fabulous Beasts

Sharma’s tales are at their strongest and most poignant when they concern love, be it consuming, denied, or realized late. Their magic is usually one surreal piece fitted tightly into a puzzle of normalcy, that often roars up by the end to reshape everything. Sharma leaves tantalizing clues throughout her stories that make the conclusions surprising yet satisfying. Fantasy fans who want their stories deep and intense will consider this a fabulous debut. Read full Publishers Weekly review.

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