Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

September 2007 Issue 84

Nicola's Editorial...
I was rather stuck for a suitable heading with which to open this issue… September has always seemed to be a real time of change for me, what with the advent of autumn and the thought of all those beautiful colours combining into a mishmash of golds and dark reds. It’s an exciting time as well, teetering on the brink of something… something unexplained and quite beyond my understanding. I can’t put it into words at all, this feeling of reaching towards something just beyond my grasp but perhaps it will not remain so much longer! At least, I hope not… I feel it’s coming nearer anyway. This change in my life is echoed in the seasons, the approach of Autumn which still seems like it should be a hell of a long way off right now!! My sense of time is confused by the fact that although Summer’s just about over now, Andy and I will be going away for a week to Lake Garda in a few days. This seems very odd – I keep forgetting about it!
Talking of time, I’ll remind you that Steve Taylor’s book Making Time is now available to order from Amazon. Steve’s getting quite famous now and keeps appearing on various telly and radio shows.This is just what I’ve been talking about; things are changing all around me… very probably Steve, who is a philosophy lecturer, could elaborate on this. Steve is also a bit of a nifty guitarist when he isn’t philosophising; I think I’ll always remember his wonderful rendition of Pink Floyd’s Pigs on the Wing that he did for me recently. At his book launch last week he did Pink Floyd’s Time. For more about the launch, see Urban Scrawl and for more on Making Time, see Steve’s website.
I’ve always liked the look of the word Aberystwyth… I think words with a Y in the middle look really elegant and distinguished! When we spent a few days there the other week, Aberystwyth didn’t quite seem to be living up to the beauty of its name at first. This was because we were camping and the site was right on the top of a hill… the wind was practically gale force during the first couple of nights, and the noise was incredible! Both Andy and I were worried the tent would blow away as Scott’s did in the South Pole when he and his team ended up spending the night in just their sleeping bags, exposed to the elements, quite cold I guess. We didn’t quite have the problem with temperatures but the wind was still pretty hairy. But the tent stayed relatively in tact, although it’s definitely on the way out I think. Jack and his friend Johanna enjoyed wondering around the campsite at night, star-gazing, which you can’t do so well in the city. They also appreciated being able to walk into the town and down to the beach by themselves where they caught ten crabs that I insisted they put back before we left. I was worried about keeping loads of crabs in Manchester.
My favourite day was the last one when we journeyed to the Snowdonia National Park and went up a hill on a water powered cliff railway to the Centre for Alternative Technology. It was a beautiful day, really sunny, so we sat outside and had lunch in the garden which is full of interesting herbs and plants – so it was very smelly! Afterwards the boys wanted to go to the woods to take photos of spiders – Jack seems to be totally obsessed with the creepy crawlies for some reason. Andy and I discovered a cave which you could go right the way through which was amazing and there were loads of interesting buildings and shelters round about. A good place, and of course I loved the countryside and being in the mountains!
As I was saying earlier, my life seems to be on the brink of something… perhaps this is because of several remarkable coincidences that have been occurring recently. The first of these came to light when we went down to London recently and met up with some old friends. We were staying with Shelia and her kids, Daniel and Sophie; the friend who we went to visit, turned out to be married to non other than Daniel’s English teacher!! Indeed, it is a very small world. It reminds me of a theory I heard that says that everyone in the world is linked through no more than 6 people!! I’ve always thought this was a load of rubbish, but maybe there’s something in it…
While we were down in London we drove down to Worthing one day to meet up with Steve and Allison, who I haven’t seen for fifteen years. It was wonderful to be in a true artist’s house; though I didn’t actually see much of the place, it gave me the feeling of one of the homes which Ricketts and Shannon shared. It just seemed to be full of 19th century vibes – perhaps this has something to do with Oscar Wilde having written The Importance Of Being Earnest nearby. I think that Wilde was actually staying at a guest house at the time, though it doesn’t say much in his biography. Anyway, that makes perfect sense because one of the main characters in the play is called Jack Worthing… the place is hopelessly entangled in my mind with Wilde’s famous play and I took an instant liking to Worthing which was beautiful, very quiet and un-commercialised.
In those certain places, undoubtedly linked with occurrences in the past, I think that there has to be a certain state of mind involved in order to pick up on the vibes. I’m talking about that feeling of the 19th century which smothers Steve and Alison’s house in Worthing and which also permeated the rooms they used to rent in Spitalfields. If I remember rightly, these rooms used to be part of a cotton sweatshop and the place is fixed in my memory with candlelight and exhausted women bending over their needlework. I’m sure that certain people leave a part of themselves behind after they die. I remember being obsessed by such things when I was writing Killing Time and doing lots of research on Jack The Ripper, and this feeling lives on.
I forgot to ask Steve about our mutual friend, Stephen Fry! This is yet another of those remarkable coincidences I was talking of; Steve’s photo of Stephen Fry (see Andy's bit... Urban Scrawl! for NPG search information before you clink-this-link) hangs in the National Portrait Gallery while I still have a letter from the man himself and I’ve just thought of one more coincidental connection me and Steve have – we were both at WOMAD this year! So there you are – is it 6 people or perhaps just 2??
To return to the subject of Oscar Wilde, I wish to air a grievance I have with his Society, which I joined a few years ago. Initially I was very dubious about joining the Oscar Wilde Society, as I’ve had dealings with such literary societies in the past and have found them snobbish and pretentious. I thought The Oscar Wilde Society might be a bit less so, for after all, didn’t Wilde claim to be “something of an anarchist”? However I’ve still not had the guts to attend any meetings, which mostly take place in London anyway. So I decided this year I would attend the Annual Birthday Dinner to be held in October, for I felt I had proved my worth as a Wilde Freak, having written my piece for the Wildean. Anyway, I was curious to meet other members and make some useful contacts, but it was not to be! I discovered that the Birthday Dinner was to be held at The Savoy and would cost £58 a head! This is outrageous – how can the Society possibly justify such a sum? I realise it’s The Savoy but it didn’t have to be, did it? Wilde dined at many other, more modest places. Anyway, times have changed and I think it’s wrong to try and copy Wilde’s life style and it also goes against many of Wilde’s principles and ideas he supported – for instance in The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891). So Mr Wilde’s Society will have to wait to be graced with my presence… perhaps I should hold my own Alternative Birthday Dinner in Manchester with Andy and Jack… and Wilde’s ghost of course!
Autumn seems to be approaching fast and perhaps this time of year has put me in mind of my play, Skin, once again. I feel I could do a lot more on the subject… amongst my ideas are a radio version. Initially this would seem absolutely impossible simply because Skin is such a visual piece, but I never could resist a challenge! I’m vaguely thinking of publishing Skin myself through lulu.com, one of the many internet publishers. Andy, my dad and I have researched the project and have found that if we published the book without an isbn number, we don’t need to pay anything but it would mean we could only sell the book privately through RAW MEAT… is it worth it? I can’t make my mind up, still I suppose there’s nothing to lose. What do other readers think? I welcome some feedback on this one!
I’m still dithering over what to do about publishers, agents, self publishing etc. I feel that at this point in my writing career I’m at a bit of a crossroads and can’t decide which way to turn. Should I continue trying publishers directly with my old novels, or should I wait until finishing The Spark, or the entire Space Between trilogy? Or do I try approaching more agents? Some people say they’re a waste of time, particularly writers, and I’m inclined to agree, but other people say they’re absolutely necessary, particularly in my case. Or do I go for lulu.com and take on everything myself? While lulu.com will actually print the book, that’s about it and it’s up to the author to do all the promoting and selling. I’m very worried about taking on all this myself, because there’s such a lot I couldn’t physically do and would have to rely on other people. Any ideas or suggestions from anyone? I’d welcome them.
If you remember, my twin sister Suzanne has just had her collection of poetry published by Bloodaxe, The Barking Thing, and this is now available to order through Amazon. I’ve read a couple of the poems and they take me right back to our childhood and particularly our back garden. I found them very nostalgic but perhaps that’s just because they’re part of my childhood as well as hers! Anyway, Suzanne’s becoming quite a celebrity in Manchester, currently having an exhibition of words and photos at Central Library with Tamzin Forster. It opens September 5th and runs until October 13th, so you should have a look next time you’re down that way.
Raw Materials is the place where Nicola shares some of her secrets and the trials and tribulations of writing her trilogy The Space Between. (c) copyright Nicola Batty 2007.
It’s difficult to get back into thinking about The Space Between after having been so dis-jointed over the summer, if you see what I mean! yet the story is always at the back of my mind, and so it’s quite good to be able to take a break and then be able to come back to it with fresh eyes and ideas. I’ve been complaining about publishers and stuff like that in the editorial but I consider the actual writing of The Spark to be almost nothing to do with this… I suppose I could say that the writing of the novel is the easy part! Well, not really easy but at least I feel I’m getting somewhere with it, unlike the publishing!
Anyway, the story continues to unfold and I’m not short of new ideas yet. The main difficulty at this point of the novel is keeping going forward, not breaking off and going back over early chapters which I can now see clearly with the benefit of hindsight, but I promised myself I wouldn’t go back and rewrite anything until the first draft is finished… and I’m going to stick to this. Now that I’ve been working with the characters and story for so long I feel very differently about them and about my ideas behind the story too, so it’s not just a case of becoming more confident, though I’m sure this has a lot to do with it. At this point I can see where the characters are going and I can see what’s going to happen so I have to make them lead up to future events. I was thinking about bringing in some characters from my novel The Turn of the Century Party while the manuscript was over in Paris… but I’m not sure whether this will work, because the rest of the novel has been set in London and the manuscript needs to come back there to fit in with my plot. I may need to bend history a little to fit it in! but there’s no harm in that – fiction should always come first, as Oscar said.
The piece I’m including here concerns Charles and Robbie who have become my two favourite historical Characters. Perhaps this is because I feel really close to both of them, having worked with them for so long! I’ve always been drawn to Mr Ross ever since I read that he’s buried in Oscar’s tomb… such was his incredible devotion to Wilde… he also worked tirelessly as Wilde’s literary executer after his death and so I thought of demonstrating his loyalty to Wilde. His handing over of the manuscript to Wilde at this stage is purely fictional, but what’s to say that it didn’t actually occur? The beauty of The Space Between is that it is describing the space between known facts, so I can fill it how I like. To a degree!
By the way, a little detail I had trouble with in this piece was with Robbie’s cigarettes, believe it or not! I originally had Rickets refusing the offered cigarette on the grounds that he was “trying to give up”. But would Victorians have been aware of the dangers of smoking? Probably not, which is very strange to think of nowadays, so Rickets became a smoker! I imagine he wouldn’t have refused, if only to be polite.
(c) copyright Nicola Batty 2007
The following is an extract from The Spark which is the first novel from Nicola's work-in-progress-trilogy The Space Between.
CHAPTER 7, 1897.
That day had been a warm one full of sunshine, and now the evening air pressed pleasantly against Charles’s skin as he carefully rolled up his shirt sleeves and leaned back against the wall surrounding the courtyard. He allowed gentle chatter to lap around the edges of his consciousness; there were several other men sitting around the courtyard, some of them seated at small tables and some standing, smoking. Charles closed his eyes as the smell of cigar smoke tickled his nostrils, taking him right back to the days of his childhood. He took several deep breaths… Strange the way smells are linked inextricably with childhood. He folded his hands behind his head in exactly the way he had seen Shan do so many times before, as he watched his companion approach and set down two glasses on the table.
“Here we are… French cognac,” the dark figure informed him, standing back from the table to remove his jacket. The gentle glow of the yellow gas lights coming from the door of the restaurant touched the side of his face softly so that he seemed ageless for a moment, beyond all his troubles and worries. Pulling out a chair he sat down carefully and gazed around the courtyard with a long sigh. “You know, all this reminds me so much of what I’ve just left behind in Paris,” Ross continued, reaching across the table and picking up one of the glasses. “So now we should drink to Oscar’s release… don’t you think, Charles?”
Charles sat forward and raised his glass enthusiastically.
“Of course, Robbie. Here’s to Oscar, then.”
The two men clinked their glasses together and sipped at the contents. For a moment they were both silent, but it was a companionable silence, both friendly and thoughtful. Finally Ross took a cigarette case from his pocket and opened it, offering one to Charles who took one.
“Thanks,” he smiled quickly. “What do you think Oscar will do now? Will he stay in Paris?”
“It’s difficult to tell with Oscar… as you know, I’m sure. He never does the obvious thing… sometimes he seems hell bent on self-destruction.” Ross’s small smile was so faint that it might never have actually existed; it was gone the moment he moved his head to light his cigarette. He breathed out the smoke and leaned back, watching it curl above his head and evaporate into the darkness. “You know, I really wouldn’t be surprised if he went back to Bosie.”
Charles set down his glass abruptly, staring at Ross.
“Surely not! After all that’s happened…” He shook his head, glancing round nervously. “I couldn’t believe that, not even of Oscar… when I saw him a few weeks ago, he told me about that long letter he’d written to Bosie… perhaps he hopes to publish it and expose the man for what he is and what he’s done.”
“Yes, I have it at home… that’s one of the reason’s I went to Dieppe to meet him last week – he wanted to give me De Profundis – and I also had something to give him… a manuscript I had collected from Tite Street when he was arrested.” Ross stopped suddenly, a frown creasing his brow. “Forgive me Charles, I probably should have mentioned this to you earlier… but it slipped my mind completely. It concerns the extended version of The Portrait of…”
Charles grabbed his friend’s wrist, trying to keep his voice under control.
“So that’s it! That’s why Oscar wasn’t bothered when I told him about my… losing the original manuscript. It all becomes clear now.” He picked up his glass and drained it, savouring the sharp sting of spirits as they ran down his throat. He looked over at Ross and was surprised to feel not a trace of hostility or anger towards him, even though he now knew all his pain over his destruction of the manuscript might so easily have been avoided. “I didn’t know that Oscar had completed his extended version,” he added. “Oh yes… several years ago,” Ross said, folding his arms and leaning forward. “So now Oscar has the story in his possession to do with it what he likes.” Reaching across the table, he touched Charles lightly on the shoulder. “Who knows? Maybe he’ll decide after all to let the Vale Press publish it.”
by Jack Sewina (c) copyright 2007
I can feel the intricate engravings on the locket; I pop it open and look upon my sister one last time. I can hear sergeant shouting orders and screaming at soldiers who are cowering and hiding. We’re not being quiet anymore, shells are flying through the air and explosions are sounding in every direction, I’m just waiting for one to come my way, to put me out of my misery…out of my pain. I just want to be with my sister again, maybe this is my chance, and maybe this will get me to heaven…
My mother used to talk to me about heaven a lot. Going to church and ‘praying to the lord’ would get me there she said, and that heaven was a special place beyond the clouds away from pain and misery. I told mother that I wasn’t in any pain, and that I wasn’t miserable.

“You will be one day.” She said morosely.
Now that I was 15 I had understood more about god and religion. We used to go to church every Sunday, mother, father, Nancy and me. Mother said that if we prayed, respected and loved God, we would live happy lives and go to heaven when we died. I stopped believing this that night.
My sister was a strict Christian, no swearing, no violence and no sin. She said her prayers at tea-time and at night. So why didn’t god save her?
I lay in my bed, struggling to get to sleep. I had school in the morning and if I were late the cane that lay on the underside of M.R Crapshore’s desk would be used. Vigorously. I tried not to think of that, instead I thought of the locket that lay underneath my pillow, how much would that have cost? I guess I’ll never know. DING…DONG... the church that I had been sitting in only one hour ago swung its bells and burst into the sound of nine dings and dongs. Nine o clock, that was really late for me back then, now I stay up until past midnight, looking out into no-mans land, for hours and hours on end, just looking at… nothing. CREAK. The longest creak I had ever heard sounded right the way throughout the house, at first I thought it was father or mother walking up the stairs, going to bed, but this was too loud and far too long. I could hear it getting louder and louder, it had turned into a deafening screech now, and I got up out of my bed and covered my ears. And then it stopped…. I heard a huge crash and a rumbling explosion filled my ears and forced me to the ground. I felt the whole world crashing around on top of me, and there was no escape. Something hit me full whack in the head and I was knocked out cold. I thought to myself… maybe this is the end, or maybe this is my chance, maybe I’m going to heaven.
I opened my eyes suddenly, and shook my head. I had been asleep at my post, I looked around to see if anyone had noticed, I suppose everyone’s too nervous to notice anything now, I look out into no-mans land and picture hundreds of German troops running at our trench. I mustn’t think like that, it’s not good to be stressed. I take off my helmet and stroke my hair, it’s damp and full of sweat, I must have been having a bad dream, what was it about? Oh… now I remember, that night. I suppose if it wasn’t for that bomb that hit my house and the ones that neighboured it then I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have had any need to come to war.

I opened my eyes and stared blankly at the sky. I couldn’t remember how I got here; the last thing I remember was being in bed, in my house. I look to my left and see the collapsed wall of my room and the shattered wood of what used to be my and Nancy’s bed. Nancy. What had happened? Is she okay? A thousand dreadful thoughts ran through my head. Of course she’s okay… she’s fine. A tear grows in the corner of my eye and rolls down one side of my face. I shout for my sister but no sound comes out. I saw a floorboard fall and land silently on the ground. I rested my head on the floor, staring across the dusty cobbles. From under the pile of rubble, a flicker of gold shone and stung my eyes. The locket. My locket. I shouted for Nancy again but I couldn’t hear a thing. As I lay there, too weak to stand I thought I could hear my mother calling my name. I could hear her. I looked up and saw her running towards me, tears pouring down her face and her white night gown covered in blood.
“Mother…” I coughed.
“Oh, Ben thank god your all right.” She cried. She kneeled down beside me, sat me up and held me close. Thank god. That’s what she had said. Thank god for what? Destroying our home?
“Where’s Nancy? Is she okay?” I asked.
"I don’t know, I… hope so Ben but…" I could hear sirens in the distance, an ambulance maybe. That’s what I hoped, but it was too far away to help.
I looked over my Mother’s shoulder and saw the rubble and debris move slightly, then some of it collapsed and my father rolled out of it, his face covered in blood. I heard my mother shouting his name; she let go of me and ran towards him.
“Steve!” she cried.
I looked around and saw a hand sticking out of the rubble. I stumbled to my feet and shook my head, walking shakily towards the hand. I got down on my hands and knees and started digging and throwing the rocks and wood away with my bare hands until I reached Nancy. I shoved the last few rocks and bricks out of the way and pulled her from under the rubble, she was cold and still, her pale face stared lifelessly at me. Tears ran down my face and my lip trembled, I held her close to me, and would not let anyone else take her. Sirens filled my ears and drowned out all other sounds, car doors opened and policemen ran towards us but I wouldn’t let them take her, why did god do this… why?
I stare at the picture of Nancy, it’s fading now, I mustn’t expose it to the weather as much as I do. I can hear shouting down the trench, everyone is getting ready for going over the top, I almost forgot about it, thinking about home so much. I’m having second thoughts about it too, I’m thinking I want to go home. No. I don’t have a home anymore, this is my home now, this dirty, rotten, damp, smelly trench is my home. Maybe I should just die out there; I could run into a line of fire. Then at least I wouldn’t be in pain, or have to suffer anymore.
The Truth About War concludes in RM#85.
Jack Sewina is Nicola's fourteen year old son.
Welcome to Andy's bit...
Life isn't easy, or so they tell me! Sometimes things are so complicated that you're forced to give up. It's like banging your head against a wall, I imagine... But what's the point? Anyway, if you want to see the wonderful picture of Stephen Fry, you'll have to clink-the-link then search for Artist Steve Speller or sitter Stephen John Fry. They don't make it easy to navigate the site to give you a direct link to the photo. I tried and failed... but there you go! Such is life.
Everyone knows that Nic is a BIG Oscar Wilde fan and if they read this Newsletter they probably know that she is a member of The Oscar Wilde Society who publish a nice little magazine called Intentions and a booklet called The Wildean a couple of times a year. Nic has had a chapter from her MA dissertation Reinventing Wilde published in the latter. I know she was having a moan about the cost of the dinner at the Savoy - but Nic, that's the going rate thesedays. I know you or I could get a weeks shopping at Asda for less than fifty eight quid, but come on, look at the overheads they must have on the The Strand. Nic's real beef or should that be boeuf! is that for her to go, she would have to pay for a helper to go with her and that would double or even treble the price.
Hey Steve Taylor, I'm making time to read your book Making Time, honest! I read your last book The Fall and I'm hoping that this publication is as inspiring! So far I've only managed to read the introduction and the first chapter, so I can't really reccommend it can I? Yeah! It's dead good! Buy the book! Clink-the-link!
Yeah! It's on from the 4th. of October till I think the 13th. clink-the-links-below for full details. But there are some events that have already started. One of these is theWORD ON THE STREET exhibition at Manchester Central Library by artist Tamzin Forster and poet Suzanne Batty who is Nicola's twin sister. Clink-the-link-HERE. The other BIG thing Suzanne is doing at the Literature Festival is on October 5th. at The Manchester Museum. Suzanne will be reading with Jackie Kay and Clare Shaw at The Bloodaxe Poets event and launching her book The Barking Thing. Clink-the-link-HERE. For more info on the festival clink-this-link.
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  • At 11:34 am, Blogger sheila said…

    first printing mysteriously vanished boefre I could read it. Here goes again!!! Looking forward to a good read...

    Sheila xxx


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