Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

October 2007 Issue 85

Nicola's Editorial
Autumn is quite suddenly upon us once again, nights are drawing in etc… you know the rest, I’m sure. But whatever happened to September? It’s one of my favourite months, but this year seems to have decided to give it a miss completely, or so it seems to me! It seems to have gone suddenly from camping weather to being grey and rainy.
I suppose that I could blame my disorientation on the fact that Andy and I spent a week in Italy… Lake Garda to be precise. Of course it was beautiful, with mountains near by us as well as the lake, so we went for lots of long walks along the shores. One such walk we remembered doing eight years before with our Korean friend Sun-hyae… these memories are still very vivid in my mind – even more so now that things have changed so much for me, sight-wise. I was a little anxious initially about going back to Lake Garda without my sight; how could I hope things would be the same? But still… I could appreciate all the sounds and smells, and the taste of all that lake fish and Italian icecream! My memory has always been good and I appreciate that now. The beauty of the mountains is still close to me and certainly not something to be easily forgotten. September is a lovely time to be there, when it’s not unbearably hot but just warm and a bit quieter without all the kids around! The camp site was lovely and shady with loads of pine trees, which kept all the tents cool.
Although we hired a car we didn’t actually drive around that much… there was not need to really, it was lovely just being by the lake. However we did drive to Venice, as we both love the place and have such great memories of it. But taking the car was a mistake, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone – particularly if you’re in Ziggy (the name of my wheelchair). For a start, parking on one of the car park islands is a real drag; there is some Ziggy parking but all the Ziggy signs were too complicated for out limited Italian. Andy was pretty stressed by it all. Then when we eventually got to Venice, there were all the bridges, which of course haven’t changed at all. Andy didn’t complain too much but I felt really guilty… I was so annoyed by all those stupid mindless tourists walking past and ignoring our struggles. On the bright side, we did manage to walk around a bit, we decided to stick to the less crowded bits of Venice which I’ve always preferred.
I said to Andy afterwards that what we should have done is to get on a waterbus and stayed there all day! I should have remembered all those bloody bridges… travelling by water really is the most practical solution for Ziggies in Venice. I found it more difficult to appreciate Venice this time because I felt I missed out so much on seeing all the beautiful buildings… my favourite moments were on the waterbus as we approached Saint Mark’s Square and I could feel the wind on my face and smell the sea! I don’t doubt we’ll return again, but stick to the waterbus next time.
Although Andy and I both valued spending some rare time alone, I was keen to return home to Manchester and Jack. He’s quite involved with school at the moment; he’s just started several new subjects this year and I think is beginning to knuckle down and take his work a bit more seriously. Although he’s not taking art, he’s still constantly drawing pictures, cartoons etc as well as making and painting models. He’s still got his sights set on becoming some sort of film maker… or at least something to do with making or writing films. I’m still waiting for him to make Skin… though I think I’ll be waiting quite a few years!
Andy has recently become obsessed by the Italian artist who painted Nu Couche which I have on my wall. It’s a beautiful, very sensual picture; though Andy is rather more obsessed by the life and career of Modigliani rather than his work. Anyway, I encouraged him by lending him a book, which was based on the tragic tale of Modigliani’s relationship with Jeanne Hebuterne, who he painted about 20 times before dying of TB in poverty in 1920. Two days after his death, Jeanne committed suicide and also killed their child, for she was 8 months pregnant. She was only twenty. It’s an incredible story and I’ve wanted to write my own version ever since reading the book, which is called Into the Darkness Laughing. I originally came to read it because it’s written by Patrice Chaplin who also wrote Siesta… I don’t know if anyone remembers this film from the early 80s with Gabriel Burn and Julian Sands but I was absolutely obsessed with it. It must be something about her writing style, maybe…
If that story isn’t tragic enough, there’s another dimension to it which makes it even more sad for me. The final painting I did back in 1995 was a copy of one of Modigliani’s lesser-known portraits of Jeanne, which I deliberately chose because it was very simple, without too much detail – I was very nervous about painting, even then, before my eyesight had become too unclear. The picture simply shows Jeanne sitting in a straight-backed chair in front of a green door… it’s still vivid in my memory because I had such trouble painting it!! This painting means so much to me and we can’t find it… even as I write this, Andy tells me that he’s just found it, buried in the attic! So there we are, it will go back on the wall somewhere… I hope it’s not as bad as I remember!
I’ve actually began to read the final Harry Potter book. Several people have asked me how I managed to wait so long!! But it was worth it – I’m greatly enjoying it so far. Also we’re still continuing with The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman which is easily as good as Northern Lights. Pullman’s vision of the land of the dead makes me think of the song Heaven by Talking Heads “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.” Is this really what death will be like, just a complete absence of anything, total boredom?? I hope not! Anyway, I don’t think that Pullman will finish his trilogy in such a place, the characters must cut their way through to another world and finish the story there – maybe back in the arctic regions??
Recently Andy came up with another of his well known brilliant ideas, which I was extremely dubious about at first. But then I thought – well, why not? “Forget all ISBN numbers and just sell your books on CD, to be read on the computer. Sell them through RAW MEAT!” He enthused. The temping thing about this idea is that we can produce a complete item similar to a book with a cover of my own design. While almost everything would be under our control, it wouldn’t be a major break through in terms of making a vast profit or becoming mega famous or anything… but it’s still a start, so I think that the first novel I’d like to put on CD is Dry Rot… together with it’s sequal, Camp Mary. This would work as they’re both quite short, but it won’t be for a while because I want to finish The Spark first. Do let me know your reactions to this idea!
RAW MATERIALS #85 copyright (c) Nicola Batty 2007
Today being the birthday of Charles Rickets, I thought it was quite suitable that I should talk about him in this month’s RAW MATERIALS. Both he and Shan appear in this extract which actually became much more significant than I’d intended… such is the nature of novel writing, I suppose. It was difficult to keep this bit from being over written and saying too much. I couldn’t imagine Rickets being the sort of bloke who would analyse his own behaviour too much so I decided to make things happen by chance. I thought it would be much more realistic that he and Harriet drift apart rather than to have a dramatic separation but at the same time I’m anxious not to let the story become too realistic and boring. I’ve learned this from watching soap operas, which are full of unlikely coincidences, so that they’re not a reflection of everyday life but at the same time are totally credible! So it was that I finally decided not to have Rickets totally abandon his family for Shan, which I thought was too clear cut… but rather to emphasise the inseparability of his artist’s life in Chelsea and his life with Shan. In all my research, I have been able to find no clear definitions of the sort of relationship Rickets and Shannon had… which is lovely! There’s obviously no proof of whether the relationship was physical - Shannon himself denies it in his diary - but I think that Rickets seems to be the type of character to whom physical passion is completely necessary. This is where I hope that I made Harriet fit in.
Anyway, it followed quite naturally that Rickets’ and Shannon’s move out of the city should become paralleled with their move back to each other. Or perhaps it’s not as clear as that; on Rickets’ part, the move is rather an escape from his East End connections, though I didn’t want him to think about Jack and Harriet in personal terms, I didn’t want him to deliberately and intentionally hurt them. Rickets is like any chap, he just wants his home comforts and wealth etc. I just wanted to present the whole relationship between him and Harriet/Jack as hopeless, doomed right from the start.
At this point in The Spark I’m beginning to think towards the end, or at least the last few years, tying up loose threads etc. I made a discovery recently, which totally blows how I was going to end the novel, but instead of freaking out I thought I might have to think about how I could tie that fact in with my fiction. Actually it would work with just a few dates changing… it all supports my original idea of not wanting the book to be tied down too closely to history but to let fiction win through! So I can think about the next few years of the novel – I want to bring in characters from another one of my novels. Guess which one? I’m not going to say… but I think it’s quite obvious, it being the turn of the century. Although Wilde dies soon, I don’t think I’ll actually show his death… too much space has been given to Oscar already. No, I think I’ll stick to fiction now and allow history to fade a little bit into the background and hopefully this will pave the way forward into the next novel, which I’m still quite foggy about. It will be set in France and probably focus on characters from other novels, which are also a mixture of the historical and the fictional, but it’s still very much at the ideas stage at the moment.
More Raw Materials in RM#86
The year is now 1897; Wilde has just been released from prison and has gone to France, taking with him the manuscript of The Portrait of Mr WH. Meanwhile, back in London, Charles Rickets and his partner Charles Shannon are busy with designs for their publishing company, The Vale Press.
Copyright (c) Nicola Batty 2007
CHAPTER 7. 1897.
Moving over towards the window, Charles watched two figures alight from a cab, arm in arm, and as the couple moved towards the front door of one of the houses, Charles saw that the man bent to whisper something in the lady’s ear. The distant music of her laughter floated across the street to his ears, and Charles found himself wondering what the man had said to her… it seemed suddenly important to know such a thing. Charles stood there by the open window, feeling outside of all this.
Turning away, he returned to the table and stood alongside Shan, still watching him.
“I think these medieval letters and designs will work admirably with some poetry maybe… something along the lines of Rossetti or even Chaucer. What do you think?”
“Chaucer, yes… but I’m not sure about Rossetti; too modern. Why do you want him particularly?”
“No reason really.” Charles turned away with a shrug, returning to his work. “Just thought I’d like to try something new for a change… I’ve always liked his poetry. And anyway, I think we owe him a favour. He said years ago that he’d be quite happy to let us print his book, as you know.”
“Mmm.” Shan looked up at him slowly, his mind still half with his design. “When was this? When we all met at Kelmscott Manor a few years ago?”
“I don’t know, probably. Wherever it was it was a lovely place anyway… yes, I think it must have been at Bill Morris’s.” Charles’s hand hovered above the box containing his chisels, as he was suddenly distracted from his work by memories. The gentle rolling hills and abundant greenery of the fields and orchards. The peace, quiet and space away from the noise of the city and the smog and… that feeling of being stifled which had always plagued him. He dropped the fine paring tool he had been using into the box quickly; his hand had begun to tremble violently as he was gripped by a sudden vision of those East End streets, shuffled together like a pack of cards, propping each other up and surrounded by high walls, high railings, no escape. No way out. Charles squeezed his eyes shut and turned away, taking a deep breath. He must have air. With rapid steps he moved across the room to the pitcher of water and poured himself a glass, trying to keep both his hand and his mind steady. “It would be lovely to have that sort of space away from the city.”
“Mmm.” Shan turned slowly round and gazed at Charles, his blue eyes alert as always, yet gentle and placid like a calm lake. They began to shine with excitement, as if a fire had been lit deep within his skull. “Well then, why don’t we do the same thing? You know we could, Charles – let’s think about it anyway. We could make our new house the perfect artists’ home. We’d have gardens for me to paint outside – just like a true Pre-Raphaelite – and of course there’ll be many rooms for you to design…” Standing up he strode over and seized Charles’ hand. Charles also dropped his glass as he felt the old electric charge shoot through his veins; it had been so long since Shan had touched him with any sort of passion, any sort of strong emotion. He still wanted to be able to respond to him, just as he always had done. Nothing had changed. “Let’s think about it, at least. Remember it would be quite possible for us at the moment, now that I have this commission.”
For a long time Charles gazed down at his hand completely wrapped within Shan’s; it seemed to be coiled there like a sleeping sea creature within its shell, protected inside. He gave a long sigh, and the hollow sound echoed round and round in his chest. He raised his eyes slowly to confront his friend’s enthusiasm.
“Well… we’ll consider it, certainly. But I don’t know about leaving the city completely. I don’t think that’s possible with the Vale Press and the bookshop.” And with my family living close by, but Charles did not say this aloud, for he did not want to give Harriett and Jack substance. He wanted to keep them shrouded so that they were almost ghostlike, a childhood vision or memory. But still, he confronted Shan’s gaze with an open hunger quite uncharacteristic of him.
“Of course there’s the Vale Press… but we don’t have to move right away from the city, do we? We could still be within reach. Do let’s think about it, Charles… just think about it.” Shaking his blonde hair back from his face with a careless toss of his head, Shan moved towards Charles quickly and embraced him. The movement was so fleeting and casual it might easily have gone unnoticed… but Charles would remember it for years to come. “It could be just what we need… it’d mark a new era in our life, our life together as artists.” Shan’s smile was as warm and boyish as ever as he stood back and gazed at Charles expectantly. “So what do you think?”
Charles stood frozen where he was for several long moments, feeling the gentle breeze from the open window stirring the hairs of his beard and eyebrows. He made no movement; how could he dare to break this magic stillness, this moment that existed tenderly between them, stretched out like a wire on which they balanced like circus artistes? He knew then that he could never leave this life. He took several long, deep, lungfuls of air, allowing his breath to circle round and round inside his rib cage, knocking gently against the bones, the echoing sensation filled him with a great sense of peace. As he looked at Shan he felt an easy smile creep across his face and it seemed quite a natural growth, not strained at all. He reached towards Shan and seized his hand.
“Yes, this will be our new home… our new life together.”
More from Nicola's work-in-progress-trilogy in RM#86
Jack's Page!
(C) Copyright Jack Sewina 2007
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.
I marched along behind with the other soldiers in my regiment; I looked ahead; thirty men carrying green bags march in time along the street. We passed a poster displaying a silhouette of a proud soldier, standing on a cliff, his rifle held skywards. Words underneath read: IF YOU’RE A MAN OF YOUR COUNTRY YOU WILL FIGHT FOR YOUR COUNTRY; ENLIST NOW! It was one of the same ones that made me enlist, as well as the problems at home. Since the death of Nancy my whole family fell apart, my mother had a breakdown and went to live in an old peoples home, my father couldn’t live through the stress of having to cope with my sick mother, his depressed son and dead daughter. So he shot himself with my grandfather’s handgun. I had nowhere to go after that, my home was in ruins and a war had started, and I was caught right in the middle of it.
The golden chain that holds my precious locket around my neck jingled as it bounced up and down as I marched. I kept the locket close to my heart and could feel the cold gold touching my skin. We had been through little tests and hardly any training and now we where marching out to go to war. We had 6 months out in the field on the front line. All that had been said to us before we left camp was:
“Whatever you do, don’t die!” probably the most encouraging words General Greaves had ever said to us.
Later that day, around five past six, we found ourselves digging our first trench, and also our last, for this was the only trench we would be staying in for our six months worth of warfare. I looked along the line of soldiers, each one digging and dumping his patch of earth; I looked down at my pathetic hole, I would have to do better than this. I picked up my shovel and started digging again and continued for a few hours. Blisters on my hands formed then ripped open and started bleeding and if could have sweat, I would have, but it was too cold.
After a day of digging the trench was half done, some of it still round in places and could easily collapse, but it was getting too dark, so instead, we were ordered to place sandbags in and around the trench to support it. Without the sound of a thousand shovels digging at dry earth I could hear the sound of bombs and gunfire ahead of us.
“Don’t worry, they're too far away to harm us.” A small man, about 19 years old, sat down next to me. He had short ginger hair and a strong Irish accent.
“Yes, I thought so…” I replied.
“Ronnie,” he held out his hand, I shook it. “I’ve noticed that you haven’t had many friends since we’ve been out here. Its true I hadn’t had any friends at camp either. Over the next few months I got to know Ronnie a lot more. He was a really nice chap and I’d never met an Irishman before. In the foreground of no-mans land and the continuous gunfire that we soon came to ignore, Ronnie and I passed our time with games of cards, exchanging stories from home, re-reading letters from loved ones. I didn’t have any, but I loved hearing stories from Ronnie about how he grew up in Ireland and what his family are up to know.
After three months of doing nothing, we got a message from our General that in four days time we would be going over the top to kill the German soldiers who had a trench and camp 2 miles ahead of us. We were to go to the aid of our fellow troops who had continuously been fighting and sending in reinforcements over the past few months. We were told that the loud, long firing came from a German machine gun that was located at the front of the trench.
So, we waited and we waited for three days that passed too quickly for my liking. On the fourth day we were lined up in our positions and were just waiting for the order to go.
I could see our General running along the line. This is it; he is going to give the order any minute now. He stops halfway down the line and starts shouting encouraging words and battle plans but I’m too scared to listen. I’m shaking all over and I stare out into the empty, quiet, barren no-mans land.
“Okay men, I’ve said everything to you I can say, now go!” I pull myself up and over the top of the trench and start to run with my rifle in hand and I don’t stop, we run for 2 miles until one of the men in front of me falls to the ground. At first I think he’s been shot, but then I fall too and notice that we have tripped over the dead bodies of our fellow soldiers. We stare at them in horror but get up and continue running until I hear the long, loud sound of the German machine gun. I try to run out of the way but the sprays of bullets are too long, I get hit and fall to the ground, dying. I can't breath or see anything, I grip onto my precious locket and hold it close to my heart. I think to myself, maybe this is the end, maybe I’m going to be with Nancy again, maybe, just maybe I’m going to heaven.
Jack is Nicola's fourteen year old son.
Welcome to Andy's bit...
Jack's little story about the first world war has just concluded and we're eagerly awaiting for something new for the next issue of this publication.
We went on one of those end of season camping specials to Lake Garda. The tent was owned by one of those camping companies and had been in place all season, it was like a little bungalow with two double bedrooms and a kitchen complete with fridge and freezer box. I phoned up the company and they told me it was three weeks for the price of two and Granny goes free. I informed them that we only wanted to go for one week and that Nic wasn't collecting her pension quite yet. The nice lady on the other end of the phone asked if we had any children. I told her that we had a teenage boy but he wasn't coming with us as he'd be back at school. Okay, the camping lady continued, You've got a teenage son, so your wife probably is a granny, so she goes free and if you only want to go for seven nights you can go for half price. Great! I said. Do you do car hire? Oh yes, and if you book your flight with us you can get a medium sized car thrown in. The booking went on in this vein for several more minutes until the wonderful camping company telephonist informed me that as I was the millionth customer to book over the phone she would be sending me a cheque for E500 to spend in Italy. Phew!
I don't know what Nic has been saying about me and Modigliani, but just for the record, as mentioned elsewhere, we've lived with Modigliani's pictures in this house for the last fifteen years. So, I haven't suddenly become obsessed with the artist or his work. Out of the hundreds of Modigliani paintings I like only about six, my favorite being Portrait of Mario. What has happened is that I wrote a poem about Modi, his mistress Jeanne Hebuterne and the portrait of Mario and the 1917 picture Nu couche. If you want to read it I will be posting it on my really bad pub-poetry page on tuesday 16th. October.
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