We are all Falling Towards the Centre of the Earth

‘We are all falling towards the centre of the earth’ is a collection of stories, the impetus for which has been the political turmoil present worldwide from 2016 onwards. If this premise puts you off then don’t let it, simply allow the stories to disturb you – as they should – and the characters affect you as you are absorbed in their telling. We’re all political animals anyway, whether we realise it or not.

We also all ruminate on death, and this is another theme in the collection, indeed the death of a close friend of the author forms the dedication in this book, together with the inspiration for the cover. These aren’t the only themes, it has to be said, and the metaphysical influences upon the author make for a rich soup that the reader can immerse themselves in.

‘Dark fires’ kicks of the collection and is about a woman who repeatedly dies, only to wake up again. This very much sets the scene and flavour of the author’s weird fiction, confronting the fears and impending release that true death can bring. I also happened to identify with the Lake District setting that formed the backdrop to some of the scenes in the story.

‘Beautiful Silver Spacesuits’ draws an ephemeral picture of two close friend’s lives set against the background of impending nuclear holocaust. This isn’t, however, a typical dystopian romp. Instead, it focuses on the internal struggles and increasing mental instability of the women concerned as they pit themselves both against the descending gloom of nations’ conflict, and the struggle to make sense of their deteriorating personal situation. There is an element of the supernatural here, but one that suggests itself rather than impinges itself directly. The idea of escapism in dreams and books (perhaps they are the same thing) is also prevalent.

‘The spoiler’ is a grand concept, featuring a woman enthralled by a demon, Saimign and instructed to tell innocent people the time and nature of their deaths. She is called the Spoiler, for that is what she does to these people’s lives. The spoiler is starkly and expertly drawn as a character – a more malign version of Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black, if you like. I have to say, the story ended rather suddenly for me. While the concept was satisfying the delivery was a little too abrupt as the final meeting between the protagonist and antagonist could have extracted more emotional juice given the stakes. That said, I loved the concept and its original nature.

‘Pig Iron’ is probably the longest story in the book and |I’m still trying to work out how the title realtes to the story itself.  Elizabeth is becoming invisible. To make matters worse, her husband, friends and relatives seem oblivious to her gradual disappearance. By chance she happens upon Uffington, a witch, who is aware of Elizabeth’s presence. She leads her to a magical place called the Unfortunate Forest where they will seek help from Jasper, the Ashen Queen. Reading this story immerses the reader in the most surreal experience so far in this collection. It is the kind of story that will appeal on different levels and be interpreted in many ways. For me, the biggest impacts were first the feelings evoked when I listened to Ronnie James Dio’s song ‘Invisible.’ The difference being that in the song, the writer wishes to become unseen, whereas Elizabeth yearns for a reversal of her condition. The Unfortunate Forest, exquisitely described, is possibly the inspiration behind the cover of the book. Again, forests have a special significance for me and the idea that they can be attractive habitats while at the same time forbidding and full of danger is wonderfully captured in Travis’ prose. The omniscient nature of the narrative where the pov hops from one character to the next breaks writing taboo, but works in the context of this story and gives it the mythical air of a Greek tale. Her creation, the Ashen Queen, is marvellous, from the way she is transported through her fabled forest to her worldview and alien perspective. Travis’ story is worth reading for the experience of meeting this character alone.

‘The man who builds the ruins’ features an architect who designs houses that the rich crave and the influential adore; together with a builder who is able to create perfect facsimiles of classic monuments, from St. Paul’s cathedral to an Egyptian pyramid. However, the builder’s constructions are made in ruin from the outset, aided by a workforce of fantastical creatures. As with the other stories, Travis is able to to meld everyday constructs with bizarre events and characters that somehow never strays into the realm of farce. In this respect it reminds me of Robert Aickman at his best. The main character’s buildings aren’t likely to feature in the next episode of Grand Designs, however!

‘March of the marvellous.’ In this story, I learned the origin of Julie Travis’ blogsite name – Levanthia; a magical land inhabited by the Greater Blood and frequented, albeit rarely, by the Marvellous. The Marvellous, as described by the author, bear some similarities to Clive Barker’s Nightbreed in that their bodies are fantastical, grotesque or deformed. They are also revered by the inhabitants of Levanthia, especially if witnessed during one of their famed marches. This was one of my favourite stories in the collection as Travis is able to weave a fabled land and race in a matter of pages that does enough to form a backdrop to a tale of tragedy and revenge. A hunter, named Praze (I love Travis’ inventiveness with names) seeks to acquire the cadaver of a Marvellous. A collector/researcher wants one for their studies and Praze has enough of a love of money to accept the job. The story has a limited number in the cast, but each serves the story and is well fleshed out. The ending to the tale is less ambiguous than some of the others and, while horrific (no spoilers) was satisfying in a storytelling sense.

‘The Hidden.’ Welcome to Chapel Estate, where things are ordinarily strange. A collection of dwellings converted from Council Houses lying in four quadrants – Ignis, Aqua, Terra and Aer. In the middle of the Aer section is a guest house where Rebecca has chosen to spend a few days. It is named ‘The Winter House’ and dwells in a permanent state of , well, Winter. Like all these stories, Travis moulds the expectation and presumption that the ‘strange’ is always there, hidden not by magic but by our inability or unwillingness to see it. This tale exemplifies this notion to its fullest. As the main character, Rebecca, explores the estate she is led to a seemingly dry stream that flows with air and meets a man with affected eyes caused by a ladybird flying into the pupil when he was a child! Then there are the woodmen of the Winter house and the mysterious appearance and disappearance of room number three. This really was the kind of story that grips you by the heart and doesn’t let you go until it is finished.

‘Parasomnia’ features a character called Sargosso, who lives close to a mountain. After a series of storms and restless nights, she realises that the mountain is moving. For a story with absolutely no dialogue, Parasomnia portrays a mystery that keeps the reader pacing forward with Sargasso’s study of the mountain, its movements and the appearance of a flaming, shape-shifting creature. We’re all the time wondering if the events and entities in the story will prove to be malevolent, benign or a mixture of both. I won’t say how this one ends up, other than that the tale evoked a meditation practice I had come across recently where one visualises becoming one with a mountain to engender resilience in everyday living.

‘We are all falling towards the centre of the earth.’  If this were an album of music, I guess they’d call it the title track, and it’s certainly a magnificent way to end this collection. The story opens with a wandering penniless woman, who pays her way in an Inn by telling her extraordinary tale. She is Ursula –  rescuer, carer and lover of a strange, black-skinned, winged woman who falls to earth. The place is a lake located in the former communist East Germany. This tale weaves together the themes of previous stories, the foremost of which is that of freedom from whatever enslaves us, whether it be a repressive state, the attitudes a person binds themselves with, or simply the fear of what is ‘other.’ To continue the musical analogy, I was reminded of the now disbanded group, ‘Slaves to Gravity’, whose very name seemed to hang like a doom over its brief but brilliant career. WAAFTTCOTE is the perfect way to end this enchanting collection, which is reminiscent of the best that authors such as Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick or Robert Aickman can offer.

You can obtain your copy of Julie Travis’ book from Amazon

It is published by the Wapshott Press

Julie Travis can be found at  https://julietravis.wordpress.com/

1 Comment

  1. Julie Travis says:

    A huge thank you for such an in-depth review, it’s much appreciated 🙂

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