Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

December 2007 Issue 87

Nicola's Editorial
Hey ho, it’s the last month of the year once again. After all these years I am still touched by the spirit of Christmas, even though I’m well past childhood now. There’s still that magical feeling in the air that I don’t think will ever completely fade for me! I went out to the park the other evening to listen to Jessica playing some Christmas carols on her clarinet and was filled with excitement… the trees were decorated with candles and glittering things which I was still able to appreciate! Added to this, that feeling of cold, that sharp edge stinging your face, it’s definitely a Spirit. Whether it’s the spirit of Christmas I don’t know because Christmas is pretty meaningless nowadays, religion wise, but it can still be celebrated as a magical period of glitter, presents and even, perhaps, snow. I love Christmas for another reason – it’s filled with that special Christmas smell of pine trees, oranges and chocolate… these are things which won’t ever be lost to me.
Okay, so I’ve stressed all the positive aspects of the season of good will… and now prey indulge me while I have a little moan about how bloody commercial the whole thing has become. I suppose I’m moaning particularly about Jack; Christmas means nothing at all to him besides the presents he wants… it just seems to be a time for taking, taking, taking for kids. What the hell happened to giving? I refuse to believe that “That’s just the way kids are nowadays,” as Andy says so bloody calmly. Well then, we should teach them a different way of thinking, we have a responsibility to do so. I’m very glad to find myself getting so irate and worked up about such things… just as I did 25 years ago. My anarchist ideals haven’t changed, even though passing them on to Jack is a real struggle! He doesn’t seem interested yet; maybe we’ll have more luck in a few years. Nothing against Jack personally, but everything seems to encourage kids to becoming really calculating, £s lighting up in their eyes and all that stuff. Everything is money, pretty empty.
Enough of moaning, anarchism is on my mind at the moment because I’m writing about it in The Spark. For more about this you’ll have to wait for the next RAW MATERIALS, suffice to say I’ve been thinking about The Freedom Press, which is the anarchist bookshop/publishers in Whitechapel – actually on the wonderfully named Angel Ally. I’ve never been there but wish that I had done, because I want to set a chapter of The Space Between there. Anyway, I was remembering my first glimpse of a group of anarchists on a protest march in the mid 80s… not in Whitechapel (unfortunately) but in Trafalgar Square. Somebody pointed out this very angry looking bunch of young people, dressed head to foot in black. At once I was intrigued to know exactly what these people stood for... and there began my obsession with anarchism. I had to ask a few people for information about it; this information was finally given to me by a lovely old chap named Bill, who was actually a teacher of something, perhaps politics or philosophy. Anyway, I think that I’ll always remember Bill… he came straight to the point, answered all my questions and gave me loads of books to read. I wonder what’s happened to him now?
I don’t know how exactly anarchism connects with the story of Dr Jekyll’s housemaid, which we’ve just finished reading, in fact it may well not connect at all!! Such is RAW MEAT… a bundle of surprises. However, I was so impressed by this story, even on the second reading of it! I first read it only a few years ago when I was writing an essay on Jekyll and Hyde for my Culture and Sexuality course (I’ll leave you to figure out how the story fits in with ideas of Victorian sexuality). Anyway, I’ve always liked that idea of reworking traditional myths or legends into an entirely different framework so they are given a different slant, for the main character, Mary Reilly is the housemaid of Doctor Jekyll. You get a good idea of what life was like in a Victorian house… which was another ulterior motive for my reading it, to give me background for Harriet’s new role in The Spark. The story itself is a very sad and haunting one and I was most impressed by the afterward, in which the writer, Valerie Martin, claims to have found, edited and published Mary’s diaries that we’ve just been reading and so she moves the fiction of the Jekyll/Hyde myth into reality. Another purpose of rereading Mary Reilly was to get into the Victorian atmosphere of smog and candlelight and all that… next on the list is Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth. I hope it lives up to both its title and its psychedelic cover!
A forthcoming event for the spring of next year will be the publication of The Ziggy Collection on CD, complete with not only a beautiful cover illustration by CJ Batty, but also an additional, previously unpublished story by me to bring the collection up to date. I’m still not sure what form the new story will take, though I think it may well interweave characters from The Space Between with real life people and happenings. Of course it will all be set in Manchester over the past few years, which should make for an interesting story. Doubtless I’ll appear from time to time, though I want to stay as much as possible in the background… and allow the fiction to speak for itself. I do hope that people will still be interested in getting the CD version of The Ziggy Collection even though they may already have the paper one. Both Andy and I are confident that the CD will both look beautiful and read well on the computer. It should be ready by March 2008.
I still have some misgivings about making my digital debut with The Ziggy Collection as opposed to one of my novels, which I would rather do. Although my autobiographical tales have their moments certainly, this is not how I would like to become known – the most important thing to me is not Ziggy at all but FICTION and my making of it. But having said that, I remember what Wilde said about not being able to separate the self from the fiction and so… I suppose that’s why he continues to appear today in so many films, plays and novels. Also, The Ziggy Collection includes a couple of stories which border on fiction – particularly The Burial, which is one of my favourites in the collection. Although I wouldn’t call my autobiographical tales pure fiction, I think it’s inevitable that they would each contain a mixture of the two forms of writing. Anyway, see what you think.
While we’re on the subject of Mr Wilde, I’ve just completed my first ever article about The Space Between for Intentions, which is the Oscar Wilde Society’s magazine about what’s on in the way of films, books, plays etc in the world of Wilde. Writing the article was a major progression for me because it gave reality and substance to the trilogy, which had only existed before as an idea in my head, although by now The Spark is almost complete and so I feel confident enough to share my ideas for the other novels with members of the society who I hope will be interested.
Jessica and I are still ploughing our way through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows… though whether or not we’ll finish it before Jessica has to leave is a different matter! (By the way I forgot to mention that one of my helpers, Jessica, might be changing jobs soon) We’re making such slow progress through the book because it’s so very complicated and involved, making The Space Between look like a children’s book! I’ll readily admit to becoming extremely impatient and pissed off in places with Harry Potter… it seems unnecessarily complicated and at times, although I do like the way Ms Rowling refers back to things which happened in other earlier novels, and so ties them all together. I greatly admire all the work she did before even beginning the series, on laying out the complete structure so that the many different threads don’t contradict each other or get lost. I do suspect that she’s over done the complexity in this novel but it’s not affected my desire to finish the book or my ability to enjoy it. Although the Harry Potter books began being aimed at children, I think that the novels have gradually become so complex that many children will have given up reading the last few! But more important than plot should be the feelings and ideas of this alternative magic world which Harry Potter inhabits, and I do feel that Ms Rowling has made a mistake in putting too much emphasis on the intricacies of plot and structure.
Jack finished Harry Potter sometime ago and gave me his opinion in a muttered grunt, which is typical of him these days, “Oh, it was alright.” I can imagine many other people also giving this opinion about the book, meaning it had its moments BUT… and that’s exactly what I mean. Anyway, I’ll turn away from Harry now and tell you about Jack’s change in lifestyle. Not only has he changed his mind about wanting a snake for Christmas but he’s also changed his diet, refusing to touch anything remotely sweet or fattening – including mince pies!! He’s also begun weight lifting, which he does in his room… I just hope he doesn’t ever drop the weights because they’ll go straight through the floor. I said he’d abandoned the idea of a corn snake for his Christmas present but Andy and I are still unhappy about his alternative desire – for an Xbox. I half wish he’d have stuck with the corn snake – at least it’d be cheaper!
Notes on the trials and tribulations of
writing a-work-in-progress-trilogy.
copyright (c) Nicola Batty 2007
At this point I decided that there was going to be a bit of a change in direction… after all we’ve now reached 1899 which seemed to mark a turning point not only with the end of the century, although this has always had a special significance for me, that change over between two centuries is such a weird time – the space between two definite edges, if that makes any sense at all! As well as all this, it was obvious that things were changing within the various characters lives, particularly Harriet who has becoming much more of a major character than I had intended her to be, I knew she was heading towards some pretty drastic change in her life, though for a while I dithered about exactly what form this would take. Her break up with Charles meant that she had to move out of Spital Square at the end of the year; several months ago I had the idea of making her a housemaid for Robbie Ross in Kensington which I thought could be a useful way of bringing the characters together but I wasn’t totally confident about the wisdom of moving Harriet and Jack out to wealthy Kensington but research has reassured me that there were actually lots of poorer people there as well as rich! As I’m writing The Spark, I’m constantly surprised by my vision of Victorian London becoming altered in many ways. There was not such a sharp division between the wealthy West End and the scummy East End… actually it’s obvious that by Wilde’s well known exploits with rent boys for example. There were also loads of charity schools everywhere, even in the West End, which I was totally shocked by. So there it is… Harriet and Jack are now in Kensington. So please don’t be confused by this… I’m afraid I didn’t include the fragment about the move as I seem to be writing The Spark at a fast and furious pace at the moment.
The piece I’ve included here is about Ricketts, who I was pretty nervous about bringing back into the story after he went missing for a whole chapter. Although I tried to keep him in the novel by having other characters refer to him, I still wasn’t quite sure whether to keep this piece about the fire at the Ballantyne Press at all, although I wrote it last year. I still don’t know how credible I’ve made it… would a chap such as Rickets really have destroyed his own work?? I suppose that’s one of those questions that doesn’t have an answer. I just hope that I made it seem believable. This was difficult to do because I don’t totally believe that he would’ve performed such a drastic act myself!! And so perhaps this comes across… but does the writer have to totally believe the truth of what they’re writing?? I’m not certain… and perhaps I never will be.
The year is now 1899, and Wilde has his manuscript in his possession in Paris. Back in London, Charles Ricketts has moved away to Richmond with Charles Shannon but is not totally happy there.
THE SPARK. copyright (c) Nicola Batty 2007
Please note: The following extract from The Spark
may well be very different from the final published version.
CHAPTER 9 – 1899.
I’ve waited long enough… now is the time for action.
Charles slammed the shop door behind him and locked it with a decisive movement of his arm. Taking a few steps back, he gazed at the wooden letters over the window… THE VALE PRESS… coiling round beautifully. He tore his eyes away, feeling impatient. Now is the time to act. Turning his back on the shop, he began to hurry along the street, through the crowds, for there were still many people around on such a warm evening as this. As he moved along the street towards Oxford Circus, Charles put on his dark jacket, not because he was cold but rather because he wanted to make himself as inconspicuous as possible, difficult though this was with his red hair. Still, he turned up his collar and hoped for the best.
He paused briefly and wondered whether to get a cab to the Ballantyne Press, but he found himself appreciating the warm weather in such a way that he didn’t recognise, he never usually felt this way. Perhaps his reason for choosing to walk to the printers was more to do with not wishing to be identified afterwards. Anyway, whatever… he hurried on, his hands clenched by his sides, his head bowed and his eyes on the pavement before him. It was just beginning to get dark as he approached Oxford Circus, and the streets were becoming busier as the night began. Charles ignored all the people bustling around, for his mind was fixed on one thing… one purpose, one image of fire in his mind, consuming all else. He looked to neither left nor right, but straight ahead, his eyes on the paving stones immediately ahead of him. When he collided with people coming in the opposite direction, he simply ignored them and pushed his way forward without apology. There’s no time to apologise… only time to act. Crossing Oxford Street, he had to stop in the middle of the road to allow a Hansom cab to pass; his heart gave a lurch as he thought that somebody leaned out of the cab’s window and called his name. He stood frozen where he was in the middle of the street for what felt like several moments but the cab disappeared into the distance… he must have been mistaken. Come on, Charles, keep your mind on the action. He forced himself to move onwards quickly, his boots snapping sharply against the pavement as he continued north. Gradually the crowds began to thin out as he moved away from the West End and out into a strange in-between area, neither busy nor quiet. Certainly he still saw the odd passer by, and there were occasional hotels or shops, though these were all closed up and sleeping silently, or perhaps even dead. Charles hardly glanced up at them, but hurried past towards his goal, for he was getting near now. He could feel his heart beating faster, echoing hollowly round and round inside his ribs. He thrust his hands into his pockets, checking that he had the bottle and matches… yes, they were still there. He suddenly thought of all those years spent creating those founts, all those hours bent over them. What am I doing? I must be mad. But no, he crossed over the street carefully, allowing his steps to slow as he approached the entrance to the Ballentyne Press. He stood before the long low building for quite some time, touching the smooth iron railings gingerly, as if fearing they would explode. No… there’s nothing else for it. This was his final break with the city and with Harriet; everything would be behind him now.
More Raw Materials and another extract from The Spark in RM#88
Jack's Page!
Unfortunately Jack has missed the deadline again. Come on Jack!
Welcome to Andy's bit!
First off, many thanks to all the new subscribers. I'm sorry it's such a pain to join our mailing list and yes, I'm looking into new ways of doing this. I suppose the addage 'You get what you pay for' applies.
CD Books, E-books, call them what you will. Text-books? didn't we have those at school? Anyhow, I think you get the idea. They're a dead simple way to publish things and keep full control over the whole process. But, I hear the masses interject, who's going to read them? Well, wouldn't you like to know! I've done my research, which was my usual, figure out how to do it routine. But and it's a big BUTT! More importantly, the likes of Amazon.com and some of their rivals have spent millions of dollars researching the very same question. And they tell me that, Yes! not only is it the future of publishing but that they have already developed and begun marketing (in the US) a paperback book sized reader that can hold up to 200 novels which can be downloaded using mobile phone technology for about £5 (5GBP) per novel.
A few people e-mailed me and asked how I got on in the Phoenix "Overdrive" Lyrics competition at Bolton last month. The answer is, I got second place! Moxy Casimir came first with a dead good song Raspberry Space Cadet Cap it had ufo references et al. On the blogging front, my site SweetTalkingGuy has been listed on BritBlog and Poetry Kit recently. If you clink-the-link to my blog you will find links to their sites there. I have been doing a few poetry prompts lately, as I'm pretty much confined to barracks these days, what with one thing and another. I just wish I had the strength to plaster a few walls or lay a few bricks - perhaps I've left it too late now. Anyway...
Anyhow, guess what I'm doing on Thursday the 13th of December? I'm performing at the Wigan Christmas Poetry Slam! For full details you'll need to check the WriteOutLoud website at http://www.writeoutloud.net/ I know it kicks off at 8pm and I think it's at The Tudor House Hotel in the city centre... anyway, if you're not too square, I'll see you there!
May I take this opportunity to wish you and all of your loved ones a very Happy Christmas and New Year!
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