Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Monday, November 05, 2007

November 2007 Issue 86

Nicola's Editorial
So it’s November once again – winter is closing in, that is if it hasn’t already arrived. The question is; when does winter actually begin and autumn end? I’ve never been able to get to grips with this seasonal change. To increase my confusion even further, I’ve just been doing some research on the Internet into Daylight Saving Time – I wanted to know where this practice of putting the clock forward and backward every year came from. I’m sure that somebody told me it only started about 50 years ago, with the purpose of making the mornings lighter for the farmers. Well, I don’t know where I got this from… although it’s not far off the mark. Daylight Saving is just a means of making the most out of daylight hours, so it’s mostly for farmers but also schoolchildren. It dates back to 1916… I suppose that there was no need to worry about clocks centuries ago! It always seemed to me to be pretty illogical to put the clocks back in the winter when it already gets dark so early – sometimes there’s so little daylight you might as well go into hibernation, like a squirrel or something.
Still talking about animals, let me tell you about Jack’s idea of getting a snake for Christmas. He wants to get a common corn snake, which is not venomous but crushes its prey to death – a constrictor! This sounds wonderful to me, but I’m not so sure because if it escaped and wrapped itself around somebody’s neck… what a way to go! Although this wouldn’t be a real worry most of the time, because the snake is the size of a little worm when it’s young… but it grows very fast up to five feet and twice as thick as your arm! Jack would have to feed it frozen mice… quite a delicacy I believe. Both Andy and I are pretty dubious about the wisdom of such a project…
No, not Monty Python but actually childhood memories of one of my cousins in Plymouth keeping pythons in his front room! Perhaps I miss-remembered but the snakes seemed to have no top to their enclosure… Paul used to breed rats to feed the snakes – whether or not he killed them first I don’t know. It all sounds pretty horrific anyway. I don’t remember the snakes themselves… perhaps they never really existed and the whole thing was just a story. Anyway, getting back to Jack’s idea… he seems to have gone off the snakes.
Recently I went over to Swaffham in Norfolk, which you may remember is close to the abode of none other than Stephen Fry. Although I didn’t go to see Mr Fry but my friend Sally. I stayed at Meadow House, which is ostensibly a nursing home, but I think you could call it a Ziggy hotel! Although it’s quite a cool place, I was somewhat nervous about spending quite a few days there… when I stayed there before I spent most of the time going out with Sally and my mum, who also stayed nearby last time but I was greatly looking forward to spending some time alone with Sally, as that hardly ever happens nowadays! So I decided to go for it with Meadow House and give the boys some time to themselves as well.
Therefore I would call my stay at Meadow House something of an experience, not all bad by any means. My main enemies were boredom and loneliness… at least loneliness in the sense that there was no one to talk to except Sally, who only popped in for an hour every day. Although there are plenty of other people there, all the helpers are so busy they only have time to see to physical needs and then bugger off! It seemed to me to be a totally unrealistic situation… if you have about 30 people in Ziggy needing occasional help and only four helpers at a time, then of course the helpers are going to be totally knackered and have no time to sit and chat, so I don’t want to criticise them at all, but I am critical of the set up.
I was reminded of a conversation I had with Sun-hyae once about the situation of people in Ziggy in Korea. Sun-hyae was amazed at the amount of help that was available to me, and said that if you were in Ziggy in Korea, you would be totally reliant on family as there was no help provided by Social Services etc. So then people in Ziggy were pretty much left to their own devices all day or simply vegetation! I don’t know, maybe it’s not as bad as that for everyone… I realise that there are varying degrees of help that people need but I do think that more helpers should be available in nursing homes. The good thing was that it made me really appreciate all the individual attention I get at home. I was really glad to see Andy again.
I wasn’t too bored at Meadow House because I was listening to the first few CDs of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I didn’t want to get too far into the book, because I’m reading it with Jessica and we’re both very into it. So far it’s very involved, perhaps a little too complicated… I’m not sure but I suspect Ms Rowling planned out the structure in a little too much detail, though I do greatly admire what she’s done and I think that it succeeds.
Ruth and I have just come to the end of The Amber Spyglass, the final part of Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. This has got to be one of the best trilogies I’ve ever read, ranking alongside such classics as Gormenghast. My favourite idea in it is the one of daemons… I was particularly glad that Mr Pullman took some time to elaborate on this idea in The Amber Spyglass, as I was afraid he was just going to leave it and I thought it was much too important to do so. I like the idea of the daemons changing form during childhood and taking on an animal shape once maturity was reached. The Amber Spyglass was actually my least favourite of the trilogy, bordering on being pretentious at times but was mainly far from it, particularly the stuff with Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter. My favourite book was Northern Lights, perhaps because of the icy setting but also because of Iorek the polar bear.
I’m still unsure about how to launch my own books on CD. Although I wanted to make my debut with a novel, perhaps Dry Rot and Camp Mary together, I think these novels may need some attention before publication, as I’ve not read them for ages! For this reason I may choose the The Ziggy Collection, which is pretty much ready, and I may even add another story on the end to bring it up to date. At the same time I’m not totally happy about revealing my identity, so to speak, straight away and becoming known as a disabled writer, rather than just a writer of fiction. Though there are some stories in the collection that are almost fiction themselves… maybe I will just go for it. Anyway, Andy and I should have the first CD ready by the spring…
I actually got in touch recently with the editor of The Oscar Wilde Society’s newsletter Intentions, after many months of trying to get him interested in an article about The Space Between. My persistence paid off and the article should appear in the next few months. I’m quite excited about writing such an article, as I hope that I will be talking to fellow Wilde followers, whether or not I actually receive any feedback afterwards remains to be seen.
Copyright (c) Nicola Batty 2007
This month I seem to have been fairly racing through 1898 – it’s all been coming together really naturally and easily. This is perhaps because most of the fragments fairly much follow on from one another and are all pretty much connected so that writing them together is easy. It still worried me that this situation with Rickets is not going to work in fiction, because I can’t simply write him out of the story. Or can I? Well, I’ll give it a try, as that’s what happened in history. I’m just not sure if I can make it fit in with my fiction.
So anyway, once I’d decided to have Charles leave his family and go back to Shan then it gave me no end of problems about how exactly he would do it… I don’t want there to be a big dramatic confrontation between them, as I didn’t think this would be credible. I wanted him rather to just leave the scene, sneaking out the back door in a fairly typical male fashion! Having said that, I feel very close to Rickets as we’ve spent so much time together… it’s quite indecent really! Whenever I think of Rickets I long to go back in time and meet him face to face. He must have been an incredible chap I think… so many ideas and projects going on all the time. A bit like Andy but much more so, I think!
Although I didn’t want him to actually say goodbye to Harriet, I did choose in the end to have Jack come into the scene. For not only could I use Jack in an emotional sense, slightly dramatic or perhaps just a bit sad… but also I wanted to develop this fairytale story with Jack’s picture. I’m getting really pissed off with this bloody story that I brought in ages ago but it didn’t develop any further at that point. However I thought the French book of fairytales with Red Riding Hood, could provide an interesting link with France. Now I’ve begun to develop it further, I’m not sure that it’s going to work at all… in the end I suspect that I night leave it to die a natural death!
Another reason for the speed I’m writing this chapter at, is that I now feel I’m approaching the end of The Spark. That’s not to say I just want to get it finished at any expense! It’s just that I can now see the various threads coming together, though I don’t want them all to be neatly tied up, I deliberately want to leave some loose to lead into the next book. At this point I’m starting to think a lot about the next book, which will be called The Space Between… though I hope this doesn’t cause confusion! I think Wilde’s manuscript will be taken over to France… but I’m not totally convinced as anything could happen – there are no historical facts about what happened, so fiction is free to do the choosing. Although because I’ve already introduced certain characters, I may use them, but I want to tie in my own characters from my other novels… like my hero of The Turn of the Century Party, Gustave. I really liked writing about him because he was a French anarchist so he was great fun to write about… planting bombs and also disguising himself as a woman! Although I’d very much like to bring back once again this important theme of anarchism, I’m not sure it will work out. I’m thinking vaguely of bringing in the notorious anarchist commune of Swiss Watch makers in the Jura Mountains that was around at this time… but no definite ideas yet. I want to finish The Spark first.
Copyright (c) 2007 Nicola Batty
The year is 1898; Wilde has been released from prison and is living in Paris. He has his manuscript in his possession. Meanwhile, back in London, Charles Rickets has made a decision to leave Harriet, their son Jack and Spitalfields, and move away with his artist friend Shannon, to Richmond.
CHAPTER 8 - 1898
The Landlord didn’t seem to be surprised; he merely smiled and nodded, taking several golden sovereigns from Charles without further comment. Stuffing his purse back inside his pocket, Charles turned away quickly and began to climb the stairs. Behind him he could hear Mr Dyer’s footsteps shuffling away. For a moment he was aware of the bunch of daffodils hanging forlornly from his hand… scraping the wall as he passed, almost like an apology for bad behaviour or a token of sympathy. Reaching the landing where his rooms were, he hesitated for just a moment before pushing open the door to the bedroom, the one he had shared for all these months with Harriet. Taking a deep breath and forcing himself to remain practical and detached, he stepped carefully across the room as if he were measuring his own footfalls, which had become part of some complicated ritual dance. Searching around on the dresser he found a small glass jar which he filled with water from the jug nearby and placed the daffodils into it without too much care. It seemed important to him now, that the flowers should turn their heads at haphazard angles as if no thought had been taken in their arrangement. Glancing up out of the window as the sun came out from behind a cloud, illuminating the square below, Charles moved closer and looked down. Harriett was there, busy at work on the stall. Charles stepped backwards quickly, into the shadows. She suddenly seemed so far away, so untouchable. His hands moved restlessly through his pockets until they found a scrap of paper and a pencil stub; keeping in the shadows, he made a small, detailed drawing of the flowers, careful to make sure that there were a few thorns on each stem. He examined the drawing critically, with careful artists eyes. Going back over to the dresser he placed the drawing in front of the daffodils and turned to go. There was no point in staying a moment longer. He wanted to leave this place, this situation, this life, completely.
As he closed the bedroom door behind him, Charles heard the sound of a child’s footsteps running up the stairs. He smiled as soon as he saw Jack, even though he was unsure that he really wanted to after all these weeks. The Christmas memories were still vivid in his mind, the coloured pencils, his parting gift. Would the boy ever forgive him? He stood there awkwardly as Jack saw him, but he stood for only a second before approaching Charles at a run and flinging himself into the man’s arms.
“Pa!” he cried, “You’ve come back!”
Careful to keep his smile formal and distant, Charles ruffled the boy’s hair affectionately.
“Only briefly, I’m afraid. I can’t stay long.” He hesitated, seeing Jack’s face fall. “But tell me what you’ve been doing since Christmas? Have you been doing anymore drawings?”
At the thought of this, Jack’s face brightened up.
“Yes of course… let me show you.”
Charles followed Jack into his bedroom, noticing at once how bare it seemed in comparison with his own. The gap between their two worlds seemed insurmountable… Charles realised how futile all his efforts to bridge that space between them had been. A great black weight hovered just above his head, threatening to descend at any moment. He kept his eyes fixed on some pictures on the wall, protecting himself by concentrating on every line, every shape, every curve. Jack shook his arm impatiently, pointing to his own drawing pinned next to the one that Charles was looking at.
“This one, of my house. Do you like it?”
Charles glanced at him apologetically.
“Of course I do. You have all the makings of a true artist, Jack,” he hesitated, his eyes drawn once again to the creature towering over the small red figure in the drawing beside Jack’s, feeling the strangest sensation of familiarity gripping him. He sat down of the edge of the bed. “But it’s this drawing which fascinates me… I’m sure I recognise it from somewhere. Where did you get it? Is it from a book?”
Jack shook his head and shrugged, drawing his attention to Freddie’s picture.
“No, I think that monster’s a real one. He told me he’d seen one in the swamps in a country a long way off. I can’t remember where.”
Charles frowned.
“That’s very interesting… a monster you say? Did you believe him?”
“Of course! Why shouldn’t I?”
Carefully remaining serious, Charles gave a little shrug.
“No reason. It’s just that I’m sure I recognise this picture from a book of fairytales I used to have when I was little. I can still remember my mother reading me the stories when we lived in France… I think that this picture is from Little Red Riding Hood. I think the monster is a wolf.” He glanced at Jack quickly. “You know that story, don’t you? Perhaps you read it at school?” Charles looked at Jack, who shrugged.
“I don’t know, I can’t remember.” Frowning, he shook his head fiercely. “I don’t believe that it’s a wolf anyway. The man who did the drawing – I think he was a sailor – told me he’d seen these monsters with his own eyes. They come out at night and eat people!”
Charles sighed and got to his feet.
“Well then, he must be right after all.”
Jack nodded. Reaching out towards him, Charles squeezed the boy’s hand, aware that this was the last time he would touch his son.
“Well then, let’s say no more about it… the artist is always right.”
“I know,” agreed Jack softly.
Turning away quickly, Charles moved towards the door with his arm outstretched towards it but never seeming to touch the handle. He seemed to be moving forever forward, reaching, for the other side, the other bank. His own words dropped heavily into his hands so he wasn’t sure if he had actually uttered them or not.
“Well, then Jack… I’m sorry… I’m afraid I must be going.” He cleared his throat deliberately, in an effort to give his words some extra substance. He didn’t look at the boy – how could he? His gaze shifted constantly around the room. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door. “Goodbye.” Jack stared into the empty space his father had left behind.
There will be another extract from Nicola's
work-in-progress-trilogy in RM #87
Jack's Page!
Hopefully we'll have something from Jack in December's RAW MEAT..
Welcome to Andy's bit...
Thanks for reading Raw Meat! I know that we're a bit inconsistant with publication dates, but the intention and the general rule of thumb is that we post this Newsletter sometime during the first week of the new month. You can subscribe for free to recieve a posting notification for Raw Meat so that you don't have to keep checking the web every day 'til we appear. Prize guy? read the next subbie...
Shush! don't tell anybody but you're the first to know that I have won a prize in a lyric writing competition. Many of you know that I write really bad poetry and lyrics and that I have a pub-poetry blog SweetTalkingGuy on blogspot. But, Wow! I've won a prize! can you believe that? Of course, I don't know what the prize is yet - it will be awarded at The Pheonix Theatre in Bolton on Tuesday the sixth of November - Also, I don't know if it's the first prize or the tenth prize - so don't get too exited! I'm not, not yet anyway...
As you know we've got a boy called Jack! And Jack writes a column in this Newsletter every month, only it's not every month, is it? It's more like when Jack can be bothered to write something. I shouldn't be too upset with the boy because he is very busy these days. It's not easy being a boy, is it? Anyhow, he's really creative and he's always drawing and practising his music - he plays drums in a band and he is learning the electric guitar and keyboards as well - did I mention he's a genius? (read between the lines!)
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