Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 2007 Issue 82

Nicola's Editorial
Amazingly, I’m a bit early with this issue partly because of the bloody awful weather… typical English summer, pouring with rain! I thought I should make the most of being stuck inside by getting right to work on RAW MEAT. Now also seems a good time to begin my Newsletter as I’ve just completed the infamous chapter 6 of The Space Between – for more about that see RAW MATERIALS. So while I’m in between chapters I can allow myself to think of something else apart from Ricketts and Harriet for a while, which comes as something of a relief! Although it’s very frustrating as well, because there’s not a lot you can do when it keeps on raining… I must say that at times I feel like Mary Queen of Scots who was kept in captivity in Sheffield Castle for nearly 20 years! Sorry about that – I’m reading a book about the Scottish Queen at the moment which I’m fairly obsessed with it.
As I say, Antonia Fraser’s biography is quite captivating. I’m not sure whether to see her as a victim of Queen Elizabeth’s power craziness, or as an evil plotter – probably she was a bit of both. I found it difficult to take the Queen of Scotland seriously after hearing so many Monty Python sketches with thick Scottish accents demanding “Are you Mary Queen of Scots?” followed by many sounds of fighting… an extremely silly sketch. I’m also intrigued by the title of the Scottish lady… why was she called Mary Queen of Scots instead of Queen Mary of Scotland?? Can anyone answer this or is it just one of those great, unanswerable questions…?
Another book which I’m even more obsessed with is Still She Haunts Me by a woman with a totally unpronounceable name, Katie Roiphe. The novel concentrates on the relationship between Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carrol) and the young daughter of the Dean of Christchurch College, Oxford, Alice Liddel. Their relationship was a very close one until it was put to an end quite abruptly by Mrs Liddel. This is one of the best books I’ve read for ages… not only because Roiphe succeeds completely in creating a work of fiction based on historical writers but also she writes beautifully about her characters, the quality of her language is never lost. I’m amazed to discover this is her first novel, before she had only written factual newspaper stuff. Which just goes to show fiction is within everyone! The actual title of the book is taken from a poem in Through The Looking Glass which was written 30 years after the period in which the book is set. Clearly something dramatic must have occurred between Alice and Charles Dodgson to break their relationship. But what? To find out read Still She Haunts Me… it’s great!
I suppose you could say it was inevitable I was going to like Still She Haunts Me, as it was set during my favourite period of history… the latter half of the nineteenth century, that is. I don’t quite know why I’m so obsessed with these years, there just seemed to be so many changes taking place in English culture, particularly as regards psychology, literature and… I can’t think of any other word for it apart from atmosphere. This sinister background can be found haunting not only works such as Jekyl and Hyde, Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray but also strange stories in the newspapers of the time about real events which are still saturated with this dramatic feeling, a prime example being the Jack the Ripper story with plenty of horrible photos in the illustrated police news. David Lynch’s film The Elephant Man captures this feeling perfectly. You should watch it if you don’t know what I’m talking about! The film is all shot in black and white and is something more than just scary… chilling is more the word. I’ve always known that one day one of my novels would be set in the 1880s or 90s and so it was with The Spark. In a way, I feel like I’m writing about a time in which I’ve lived. The background to the story becomes more real by the moment as the characters become more solid and three dimensional in my head, I hope it does to the reader too.
Talking about The Spark reminds me of something I was going to mention in RAW MATERIALS but forgot, so I’ll put it here. Several readers have suggested adding a piece to the monthly extracts, which would keep them up to date with the story so far. This is a good idea, if only because the story is difficult to follow in extracts! So I hope this will make it easier… please do continue to send in any further comments or suggestions. That reminds me of another suggestion a reader made recently for an “anti-computers” column. This came up in a conversation about our feelings of hostilities towards the computer replacing human interaction. I’m very tempted, I must admit… but wonder if I would run out of steam. Reactions?
The other week I went with my dad, sister and Jack to see The Tempest at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. I was really looking forward to the play which I had read beforehand so I could hopefully follow it! Even though I recognised some of Prospero’s speeches I still found it difficult to know exactly who was speaking when and what it all looked like. In my head I visualised it being much more dramatic than it actually was, though I wasn’t really disappointed at all. Prospero’s voice was beautiful to listen to, very clear and melodic. He was played by Pete Postlethwaite, quite a famous actor I believe. I didn’t miss much actually in the way of visuals because there was very little scenery or props or even costume! Prospero and the other chaps wore 1950s suits with no shirts and everyone else just wore tee-shirts and knickers or y-fronts! Very stark, yet it worked. I think almost any production works in the Exchange because it’s such a beautiful theatre, being in the round with the audience so close. The audience is instantly involved in the play, becoming almost part of it.
Trying to follow a play by sound alone is not an easy task… I was constantly distracted from Prospero’s speeches by the sound of Ariel jumping around! It was frustrating for me because he must have looked great… apparently he was a very good looking 18 year old, and an extremely agile one by the sound of it! I asked Jack afterwards which character he liked best, and without hesitation he replied “Caliban.” Jack always seems to go for the antihero… although Caliban was played very sympathetically in this production as just an ordinary bloke a bit slow on the up- take.
Talking about Jack I must just tell you about his latest obsession which is quite interesting. For as long as I can remember my Dad has been collecting, painting and re-enacting battles with tiny little figures of Napoleonic soldiers. Recently he took Jack along to his War gaming club… Jack was more impressed by the fantasy armies of crazy elves, trolls, dwarves and things like that. Anyway, he got himself an army of Chaos Warriors who sound rather like anarchists, don’t you think? These differ from Dad’s metal soldiers in that they need to be assembled first, which is half the fun according to Jack! He has been busy all weekend painting each figure meticulously… I imagine that they look absolutely beautiful! While I was watching Jack busy with his warriors, I was reminded of those few years when I was about 20 and was totally obsessed by constructing my own air-fix models of old cars. I can’t imagine what happened to these amazing objects. It’s unthinkable that I could have thrown them away…
Back to the here and now… all this rain we’ve been having is unbelievable. There are parts of the Cheshire countryside near my Mum’s where the fields look like either swamps or lakes, completely underwater! According to Andy, the scientists say it’s due to global warming and not a case of the earth actually moving closer to the sun, as it did in J G Ballard’s The Drowned World. In this book the polar icecaps were melting and everywhere became flooded so that all the buildings were underwater, only the top few floors of sky scrapers were showing and so the few survivors lived there. I can’t remember exactly what happened in this novel but I like the idea of everything being submerged. I really admire J G Ballard as a writer, as does my Dad and also Angela Carter. This is perhaps not as weird as it sounds; Ballard’s writing is not really science fiction, it’s much more imaginative than that.
By the time I write the next issue I’m going to feel many years older. That’s because Jack will have turned 14… which is one of those ages that seems so much older than the one before. Well and truly a teenager now, it’s impossible to think about Jack as ‘my little boy’. So this is one major change in my life taking place this month, the other being Peter Gabriel, or at least the sight and sound of him! I’m referring to our camping jaunt to the WOMAD Festival where the great man is due to make an appearance. Of course I’m very excited not only about Mr Gabriel, but also the entire festival should be great, I just hope it’ll have stopped raining by then!
Copyright (c) Nicola Batty 2007
Finally I’ve come to the end of Chapter 6 – which is unbelievable!! I think we must have been working on this chapter for nearly six months; I can remember doing all that research on Victorian ambulances (which I used at the beginning of the chapter) way back in February sometime when it was freezing cold. So it’s high time it came to an end anyway. The length of this chapter is truly ironic when I was initially worrying that nothing much happened historically in 1896… which just goes to show that fiction has taken over! The bit I’m including this month is from right at the end – I decided it was important to explain more about the whole memories thing which was originally an idea of Andy’s that I’ve borrowed. Basically his idea is that children inherit their parents’ memories – I don’t doubt for a minute that Andy will enlarge on this on his page so I’ll say no more about it here.
The same old difficulties with trying to keep the characters’ speech Victorian-sounding is continuing to plague me. Not only that but to have someone from Harriet’s background conversing with a wealthy chap like Ricketts seems quite incredible beyond belief!! That’s the beauty of fiction I suppose – it might possibly have happened after all. Who’s to say for certain? This whole situation with Ricketts and Harriet moving in together is one that I didn’t plan – it just developed, a natural progression. I’m still not sure exactly how it will end – I’ve got just vague ideas, so will work from them! I feel quite confident at this stage about doing that, branching out into my own fiction… where as I was getting too bogged down with keeping it true and factual, now I’m not afraid to take a step further. This confidence has simply developed through the novel, through the writing. It’s not there at first – the writer has to know their characters, spend time with them and then create further fiction from the novel.
Because this chapter has become such a major part of the story, I’ve been having thoughts about the shape of The Spark as a whole. I suspect that the beginning of the novel needs some alterations and ruthless chopping which I won’t do at this point, I’ll wait until it’s all finished. The best thing about writing a novel is when it reaches a point at which it suddenly takes on a life of its own, the characters taking on their own shape and deciding which direction the plot will move in. It’s really exciting when this happens – quite disturbing really, because you have to keep a tight grip on the reigns or else the whole novel will fall apart.
Standing back and seeing clearly the shape of The Spark makes me suddenly aware of how much a work of fiction it has become… and I’m really relieved to see this! At one point I was very worried that it was becoming too historical and authentic, all that rubbish… you know, dates and facts etc. But no!! History has been relegated to second place… and there it should stay. I’m wondering about my characters’ futures… which of them will appear in the next novel? Should Ricketts reappear in France?? I think by now I have a pretty good idea of the way The Spark will end… though I’m open as regards to how things go from there.
The year is 1896. Oscar Wilde is in prison for gross indecency; he has left a copy of his short story, The Portrait of Mr WH, which Charles Ricketts, who has destroyed the manuscript through fear of being incriminated himself. Meanwhile Charles has met up with Harriet and they have moved into some rooms on Spital Square with their six year old son Jack. Charles still spends most of his time in Chelsea, where he lives with his friend Charles Shannon who doesn’t know about his life with Harriet.
Extract from The Spark
Copyright (c) Nicola Batty 2007
Chapter 6.
Jack began to run towards the door and Charles caught him up in his arms as he entered. Harriet noticed at once the whiteness of his complexion in sharp contrast with the colour of both his beard and the striped muffler around his neck. She wondered if this winter paleness was a family trait.
“Hello Jack!” Hugging the boy tightly to him, Charles turned to Harriet and gave her an affectionate kiss on the cheek. “I’m sorry… it was very difficult to get away without making it seem too obvious. I used Robbie as an excuse in the end. Good old Robbie!” He glanced around the room quickly, his eyes coming to rest upon the fireplace. Setting Jack down, he strode over towards it unwinding his muffler as he did so. “It’s nice and warm in here… it’s so cold and dark outside. I long for the summer to be here once again,” he said with a long sigh.
“That’s exactly what Jack was just saying,” Harriet said as she moved towards the door. “Perhaps you’re both lovers of the sunshine and summer.”
“Ah yes… most certainly I am.” Charles pulled an armchair close to the fire and sank down in it, stretching out his legs before him. A small smile began to play around the corners of his mouth as he gazed into the flames. “I love the sunshine… it makes me think of when I was a boy, about your age, Jack. I used to live beside a lake and I would go there with my mother often.” Harriet watched him from the open doorway, feeling his memories gaining strength and reality as he relived them. “Once, a friend took me out with him in his boat… fishing I believe. I remember it like it happened yesterday, the feeling of the sun on my skin and the sound of the waves lapping… it is with me still.” Charles looked round suddenly as Jack clambered on the arm of the chair, causing the whole thing to shake. “Have you ever been fishing Jack?”
Jack shook his head slowly, meeting his Pa’s eyes.
“No, never,” he said, “but I have been in a boat. I remember it.” Harriet gazed over thoughtfully at the boy, saying nothing. She suddenly felt once again those strange rocking sensations that had come upon her before Jack was born… and she heard the gentle, soothing sounds of the waves.
“Did you go on a boat at the seaside? You never told me about that, Harriet,” Charles said. “How secretive of you.”
Harriet moved towards them slowly, feeling as though she were struggling to move through water, pushing against the tide of memories.
“We’ve never been to the seaside… or on a boat. Never.” She moved slowly closer to Jack so that he was leaning against her body and she stroked his reddish hair gently with a steady rhythm… and the motion of the waves caused her to sway back and forth, back… and… forth. The warmth of his little body spread through her belly, feathering along her veins right out to her finger tips. When she spoke, it was in a quiet voice as if a part of herself had become separated and was floating several miles away. “It must have been a dream Jack.”
Jack sat up suddenly, pulling away from her.
“No, it was real! I can feel it!” the boy’s voice became shrill and frantic.
“Shh Jack… calm down,” said Charles soothingly. He laid his head back so the firelight cast strange shadows across his face, making his eyes glint sharply from the depth of his memories. “You know, this is very interesting… it seems that you have inherited my memories. Does that make sense to you?” Jack simply shook his head but Charles went on without hesitation; perhaps he didn’t really expect a reply anyway. “It seems that my memories have been passed on to you, Jack… so intensely that you feel they’re your own.”
MORE FROM Nicola's
Welcome to Andy's bit...
I guess that I always had big ideas that I would be a writer one day and live in a white house on a cliff-top overlooking a harbour village of white painted houses and that I would sit outside by the swimming pool and compose a masterpiece or three in the blazing sun. Well, things don't always work out quite the way you imagine them sometimes, do they? But one thing we can all do is dream! I might not be the novelist in this household or even in this creative street, but I still have big ideas and if I'm honest that's where most of them stay - as ideas - completely un-developed. So it's quite flattering really when Nicola uses one of my big ideas in her novels. Although, in this case (the idea about the inherited memory) the ancestral memory actually plays a major part in my story Doktir Nairobi Speaks!
I don't know if you are a blogger or if you can find any time to read other peoples blogs but we/I have three or four on the go right now and you can check them out, simply clink the links My Really Bad Poetry! My Proper Joe's Page! My Doktir Nairobi Blog! And don't forget Nicola's Website which tells you all about her novels and her writing at: http://www.nicolabatty.co.uk/
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