March 2007 Issue 78
THE MEMORY OF ERIC TOPP,
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NICOLA'S MARCH EDITORIAL
As always, the first signs of Spring’s approach fill me with hope… it’s like a great weight is being lifted from my mind! If this doesn’t sound too dramatic! I’ve got used to not being able to see the crocuses and daffodils in the park by now… but I can still see the light and tell the difference in the quality of light there is as the seasons change. I think that this is the major reason why I find it impossible to think of myself as being ‘blind’. I suppose it’s quite funny that I freak out when it’s totally pitch black… I panic completely. Where’s the logic in that?? But is it really so irrational that as I’m losing my sight, I’m becoming more afraid of the dark… or does it really make sense? Anyway it’s been Winter for far too long – roll on Spring!
EARLY MARCH TRAUMAS
But it’s not all positive vibes. Although it’s early March, it’s turning out to be a pretty unsettled and traumatic time. Major changes seem to be happening to relatives or friends, people moving away or getting ill… stuff like that. For this reason I find it difficult to concentrate on writing RAW MEAT… so you’ll have to forgive me being a little distracted! Early March also marks the anniversary of the sudden death of our young writer friend, Eric Topp… I believe it’s the 5thanniversary of his death very soon, so I’ll dedicate this issue to him and his memory. Some of his friends have published some of his writing posthumously… I’m sure that Andy can tell you more in his column… so I’ll leave it to him!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!
On a more positive note, it’s my Dad’s birthday next week and we’re celebrating in style! As it’s a bit of a special do, all of my siblings are coming – it’s extremely rare that we are all together at the same time so it should be quite an event! I wonder how Dad’s illustration for the cover of 50 Bites is coming on. Together we found the picture of the Mad Hatter taking a bite out of his teacup from the Alice book and my Dad’s going to make a copy it. As far as I know, the book should still be ready by 1st April, all things going to plan – and Andy’s said nothing different!
One of the reasons for my lack of concentration during the writing of this issue is that I’m still having problems adjusting to writing RAW MEAT onto the computer and then having it swallowed up by the internet. Once again it’s quite illogical but it seems a completely different ball game, printing out RAW MEAT and sending it out… as opposed to having it disappear inside the computer at the tap of a button. RAW MEAT doesn’t seem to be a real thing anymore. I don’t like being so out of touch with all my subscribers so I’d appreciate any messages you’d care to leave in the comments box! Hopefully I’ll get used to this new technology soon.
THE END OF LIZZIE SIDDAL
Back to sad tales… we’ve reached the end of the biography of the Pre-Raphaelite model Lizzie Siddal. Even though I already knew that she died from an opium overdose, it was still very tragic to read… she was only 32 and had just got married to Rossetti after a courtship of 10 years. Lizzie got a bit pissed off with Rossetti continually promising to get married and then farting about with other women… the usual stuff!
Although her death was never officially reported as a suicide, apparently she left a suicide note pinned to her nightgown which Rossetti’s friend threw onto the fire to avoid scandal. How we’ve come to know about the existence of this suicide note I’m not sure… somebody must have recorded it in their diary or something. Like many Victorians, Lizzie had been addicted to laudanum for many years, so to die from an overdose was fairly inevitable. But nonetheless it is a tragic tale. It may have been suicide… Lizzy had many reasons to not want to go on living.
One of the most famous of Rosetti’s paintings is dedicated to the memory of Lizzie and shows her with her beautiful red hair streaming down her back. It’s a very sad picture, because Rossetti was filled with guilty feelings after her death or suicide. Apparently he buried a volume of his own poetry in the coffin with her but some years later dug up the coffin to retrieve the poems and publish them! Legend has it that Lizzie’s body had remained intact and as beautiful as ever, with her red hair filling the coffin. So the story goes, anyway.
LIZZIE’S SPACE BETWEEN
Another interesting thing about Lizzie’s life is the space between 1858 and 1860, in which she disappeared! There was nothing recorded by anyone so instantly I want to fill in the space! It would be quite possible for me to do so, for I feel I know Lizzie quite well now. Perhaps I will pickup this thread after completing my trilogy in years to come!
I’ve just finished listening to this wonderful book – I read it years ago but I still think it’s brilliant. It’s frustrating because the Calibre tape library have only sent me the first 2 books in the trilogy. Whatever happened to Titus Alone, the third book? Perhaps I’ll have to read the printed copy. The character I remember most vividly from Titus Alone is Muzzle Hatch who drives a beautiful old car from a prostrate position! I’m not sure how or even why! His lover is the wonderfully sexy Juno but I’m afraid I can’t remember any other details of the book! Perhaps this will be the next volume we will read.
Okay, I’m going to give up on this issue now! Hopefully I’ll have managed to collect my thoughts together by next month. See you then!
RAW MATERIALS copyright (c) Nicola Batty 2007.
After concentrating on Wilde’s arrest in the last chapter, it comes as something of a relief to turn back to my fictional characters. It’s essential that I should keep on developing their stories and relationships – both with each other and with historical characters. It never ceases to fill me with excitement when this confrontation of fiction and reality occurs… the reader is left wondering “Is this reality? Or did she make it up?” and what’s the difference anyway?
So the stories of Harriet, Emma, Freddie and Jack become just as important as Wilde’s arrest. At this point in the book, I was dithering for quite a while about where to go from here… there was always a danger of the reader losing interest or feeling let down. I had to keep the novel moving along; to bring the fictional characters back into focus meant that something dramatic had to happen. In a way it was inevitable… death was in the air, and would develop quite naturally from what had gone before. Never the less, it’s still a pretty hairy decision for a writer to make - to kill off one of your major characters is not something to be taken lightly. In a way I have to be quite cold blooded and objective about it – I suppose it’s almost like committing a murder, or at least thinking about it and all its possible consequences. If one character dies, how will this affect other characters? And how will it affect the story line? It’s quite horrific, I suppose.
Alongside developing the boys’ relationship, I have to keep looking towards making it possible for Rickets and Harriet to meet up once again. I really don’t know how I’m going to manage that; they’re both from totally different backgrounds and I can’t think how they would manage to stumble upon each other by accident! I may use good old Robbie Ross in some way… I’m keeping Rickets in mind while working on the fictional characters because I want to spend some time on Rickets’ relationship with Shan… this is one of those beautiful grey areas which nobody knows much about, allowing me to elaborate freely! I think there must be some way to use Rickets’ obvious dissatisfaction with his relationship with Shan to make him perhaps turn back to Harriet… to give her another go. This is not quite worked out yet… obviously it needs more thought before putting into words! With writing, so much of it is trial and error – I can’t really be totally confident with how things are going to work out until they exist in print. And then you have to be ready to rewrite them!! MORE RAW MATERIALS IN RM#79
copyright (c) Nicola Batty 2007
From CHAPTER 5 - 1895
The gate of the churchyard creaked ominously as Harriet pushed it open. It dragged along the ground, causing long furrows to be made in the gravel… it didn’t want to allow her entrance, it seemed; this was an isolated spot of silence and sadness. All around bare trees stood like skeletons scratching the grey clouds, shaking furiously in the furious winter wind. The chill December wind whipped around Harriet and she pulled her shawl tighter, encasing her entire body within the warm shell. It was already beginning to get dark, and the gravestones on either side of the path stood like spectres, slightly threatening and intimidating. Harriet hesitated as her eye fell upon the dark, frail figure wrapped in many shawls kneeling before a fairly fresh grave. Taking a deep breath, she approached Emma and laid her hand gently on her shoulder
“Emma… I thought I’d find you here,” she said awkwardly. She was concerned by the extreme whiteness of Emma’s thin face as she turned her hollow eyes to Harriet. “Come on, you should come home now. The service finished a long time ago, it’s too cold to stay here.”
With great reluctance Emma allowed Harriet to help her to her feet, though it was obvious that she would have preferred to stay with her baby’s grave, perhaps allowing herself to dissolve into it until she and Bess became one again. Emma stared blankly at Harriet as though she didn’t recognise her. Harriet frowned and rubbed her friend’s shoulder soothingly, wishing she could offer more.
“You’ll make yourself ill out here in the cold and rain. Come on!” Emma drew back from Harriet’s touch, shaking her head urgently. Her words issued from her mouth in a thin, wispy trail… almost like a vapour, without any substance at all.
“No… I can’t leave yet. I have to stay with Bess… she needs me here.” Harriet watched her friend helplessly as she turned back to the small stone slab on which was simply written Bess Taylor, Aged 8 Months.
Harriet was alarmed both by Emma’s haggard appearance and her persistent cough which continued to wrack her whole body still, even worse now than ever. She glanced up at the grey sky anxiously as vicious, stinging drops began to blow into her face.
“But Emma… Bess has been dead for weeks,” she said desperately, tugging at her friend’s arm. “You’re needed at home too, you know… by Freddie… and by Sam.”
Emma stared at her grimly, her mouth set to a rigid, hard line.
“Sam doesn’t need me… he didn’t care about Bess,” she said, her words edged with a sudden strength. She gazed at the empty words inscribed on the stone without expression. It seemed that the anger she felt was draining away her energy, her will power. “He doesn’t care,” she repeated. “He isn’t sorry she’s gone. He just doesn’t care.” Once again Harriet stared at her helplessly.
“How can you say that, Emma? Of course he cares… Bess was his daughter as well.” Harriet began to move away slowly, hoping that her friend would follow. “Come on now, it’s beginning to get dark. You’ve spent enough time with Bess… now you must think of yourself. You must take care of yourself.
As Harriet moved towards the main path leading out of the church yard, she paused to drape her shawl over her head and while she did so, glanced surreptitiously over her shoulder to see if Emma was behind her. The dark figure trailed like a ghost in her wake, her coughs echoing hollowly after her.
MORE FROM THE SPACE BETWEEN TRIOLOGY IN RM#79
URBAN SCRAWL !!
Welcome to Andy's bit...
As this issue is dedicated to Eric, I now turn Urban Scrawl over to his memory.
Is it really five years since Eric died? Doesn't time fly! Eric was our friend from the south Manchester writers group. He wrote I believe thirteen novels. Three of which have been published posthumously, in a single volume called I'm Saying Nothing. The three novels are, I Don't Stop, Here Are The Young Men and Love Doves. For more information you can check www.thebadpress.com or order from your local bookseller ISBN 1-903160-07-3
HOW WE REPORTED ERIC'S DEATH in March 2002. In RM#28 Nicola said:
Before I begin, I want to dedicate this issue of RAW MEAT to Eric Topp, who died a few days ago. He was a writer friend of ours, and will be greatly missed... other friends are talking about compiling a book of Eric's writing, and perhaps pieces by fellow writers about him. It's a good idea, one which I'm sure Eric would like. But for now - here's RAW MEAT 28… For you Eric, with all my love.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ERIC'S TOPP??
Outside Scunthorpe crematorium, the sun is shining brilliantly from clean cut sky. Handfuls of dark people cluster around in little mournful groups, murmuring disconsolately. Outlined against this sky is the chimney; I imagined it would be belching smoke and incinerated ashes into the air, mingling… back to Nature, ashes to ashes. But there's no smoke here. The sky stretches taught and azure-clear, crystal clear… I feel the tears sting in my eyes as I stare right through that protective layer. When I was a child I used to think that the clouds released rain by being scratched or ripped open in some way, whether by sky-scrapers or aeroplanes or even birds beaks… their thin skin was too fragile to be kept intact.
Jack scrambles up on my lap; he's bored of waiting for the Service to begin. I hold him close to me for a moment, wanting nothing but silence. This doesn't seem to be a place for death, or even a time for death, with the bright weather and the spring flowers… and young Jack, burrowing in my lap like a small rodent sheltering from the storm.
I wanted to write something for Eric… something to remember him by. Other people have turned naturally to poetry; but I always avoid this like the plague… I'm not a poet, and I fear breaking the lines, and making them sound stilted and contrived, dripping with sentiment. This is not to say that the sentiment's not there - but I don't think writing is the place for it. I want to create something, something that Eric would read and smile at. So here it is.
I first met Eric back in the early 90's, when I used to go the Writers Group regularly… we were meeting at Withington, and Eric and I used to talk together in the pub afterwards of schizophrenia and magic mushrooms, and other crazy anecdotes. There was a bond between us then; we were closer during those few years than we have been since… two crazy kids in their 20's sharing secrets.
I may even have harboured a sort of crush on Eric for a while… though I think it was more a sort of fascination, a special closeness. During this time he gave me a psychedelic tie-dyed top, the sort made popular by followers of the Happy Mondays… I don’t know whether this top was one of Eric's own - though surely it was, for this was so typical of Eric, that he would give me the shirt off his back because I admired it! But the question is unanswered: whatever happened to Eric's Topp??
Andy has searched in the cupboards but he can't find it. I have vague memories of it being used to wash windows or the car with… but I doubt the truth of these memories, because I loved that top. But we can't find it anywhere. I remember it exactly - it was bright purple, decorated with explosions of yellow and green all over. That's Eric, to me: crazy, talking of having conversations with himself in the bath. And magic mushrooms are still there, found in a jar in his flat after he'd died.
Eric always used to wear a baseball cap. I can never imagine him without it… perhaps it had become part of his body, grown into the skin so that you couldn't remove it without exposing the brain beneath. When people say, 'ashes to ashes' I think only of this, these real memories… and he is immediately alive again.Inside the Scunthorpe crematorium, it's like an altar, a shrine… I can't reconcile this with my memories of you. There are so many flowers outside I can hardly breathe… perhaps my sense of smell has become just too sensitive these days… anyway it's all too much, too much to bear. I'm trying hard to stifle my tears, to keep my feelings under control… but they need some release, some way of getting in touch with you. And so, this is what I leave to your memory, Eric. And I'll ask again; whatever happened to Eric's Topp?? 04/04/02