Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

August 2008 Issue 95

Nicola's Editorial..
Unbelievable though this may sound, at the moment I’m actually feeling the absence of both Jack and Andy who have gone away to a farm in Wiltshire for a week, along with lots of other kids and adults – some of the kids being Chinese and not speaking English! The jaunt has been organised by Sheila, so she’s taking along her Chinese husband to act as interpreter. I don’t know exactly what activities the week involves for the kids, some adults were needed also to help supervise. The whole thing sounds pretty amazing, and I must admit to feeling a bit left out of the action. Where as I had been greatly looking forward to a week by myself, it’s actually so long since I’ve been the only one here. It’s not an altogether pleasant feeling but I don’t suppose it will take long for us to get on each other’s nerves again when they return!!
Two more departures, which are due imminently, are on the cards… my friend Kirsty will be emigrating to New Zealand sometime this month. I’ll miss her, simply because she’s been such a good friend for many years. Although of course we’ll keep in touch, it’s extremely dubious whether we’ll actually be able to meet up in New Zealand! The other friend is Ruth, my trusty helper. She’s going to try a change of career – tree surgery or park rangering are two ideas, which I hope work out! I’d like to dedicate this issue to both of these not-quite-absent friends and wish them luck in the future!
I’ve just come back from a weekend spent at my mum’s in the Cheshire countryside with Brigitte, my weekend helper. It’s lovely to be out in the open countryside during the summer… we strolled around amongst the fields and then got an ice-cream from the cool ice-cream farm. Also we visited Stapely Water Gardens, which is like a massive greenhouse filled with tropical plants and flowers, and of course there are lots of crazy creatures there, such as piranhas, giant turtles, ta tarantulas, different frogs, snakes etc etc. The poisonous creatures are kept in tanks, I might add!! The best animals for me were the meerkats. I only had to remember how crazy these animals looked when they stood up on their back legs, to make myself laugh aloud! The meerkats were a new addition to Stapely… they were situated near the reptiles for some reason. I suspected that an anarchist was in charge, because all the various animals seemed to be mixed up without any apparent reason, which was actually quite nice!
I’m enjoying the summer sunshine – when it appears – as always, it’s lovely being outside when it’s so warm. We’ve just booked a week’s camping in Norfolk near to my friend Sally’s, so I’m doubly looking forward to this jaunt. Andy shares my enthusiasm for this little holiday, even though it means he has to go through all the camping stuff to make sure it’s still intact. Jack’s also coming with a friend… it’s a rare thing nowadays to get the whole family together willingly. Hopefully the weather will improve and settle down a little by then.
It’s actually raining at the moment, which is pretty bloody typical of an English summer. But talking about meteorological conditions reminds me of The Day of the Triffids, which Ruth and I have just come to the end of. I thought this was a brilliant book in some ways… the idea of the celestial fireworks was the most dramatic and memorable thing in the book, rather than the man-eating plants, which seemed a bit far-fetched and even silly. Anyway, this is doubtless my own problem but I just found the triffids funny – in fact I kept sniggering, which was very off-putting for Ruth I guess. The idea of everyone waking up blinded by watching these celestial fireworks is a really scary one… especially because the book was written only a few years following the Hiroshima bomb. I remember at school watching War Games and being scared absolutely shitless by it… I had nightmares following it, although I can’t remember exactly what it was now – a sort of drama and documentary combined, I think. It showed some of the effects of the atomic bomb being dropped. The scene I particularly remember showed some kids playing in a back garden when the bomb fell, and they were all rubbing their eyes and crying. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget something like that. Anyway, back to The Day of the Triffids which was pretty amazing, as a novel. We are yet to watch the film but I hope I don’t find it too silly!
After The Day of the Triffids we had to find something short to read that we can finish before Ruth’s departure… “How about a short story by Wilde?” Ruth suggested. The Portrait of Mr WH was the obvious choice… I’ve read it all the way through for my dissertation, years ago but thought that rereading it would be interesting, especially after writing The Space Between, or part of it anyway. we’re reading the extended version which has recently been published with Peter Ackroyd’s wonderful introduction… it was in fact this introduction that made me want to write The Space Between rather than the short story itself. The cover emphasizes the main theme of the story – having a finger print over the portrait of Willie Hughes. Wilde notoriously thought that if you believed something strongly enough, you could make it exist, thus religions exist. I don’t quite know how he fitted this in with his own death-bed conversion to Catholicism, but there you go. I strongly suspect that his conversion was simply brought on by the fear and confusion of his last days. I believe he actually became delirious towards the end in fact, so I don’t think any sudden dealings with religion can be taken seriously.
But that’s quite enough of Wilde! A word before I go about the recent first meeting of the Manchester branch of the Ataxia group that I attended recently. There were about fifteen people there – I was amazed to find out that only three of them were in Ziggy, and only one other person had Friedreich’s ataxia, the others all having Cerebellar ataxia or being helpers or relatives. I wish that I’d been able to speak to the other woman, by amazing coincidence she was called Suzanne and also has a teenager. Doubtless I’ll see her again at the next meeting. The meeting involved allocating different jobs… my hopes of getting to be editor of the newsletter were thwarted by a twelve-year-old boy who was very keen. One of the most interesting subjects brought up was the existence of two ataxia clinics, one in London and one in Sheffield. I think I will visit this clinic which has a team of experts on hand… it’s useful because not many medical people have ever heard of ataxia, or anyway, they don’t know much about it. So I rather think that a trip to Sheffield might offer some useful alternative advice from experts!

(c) copyright Nicola Batty 2008
Despite being somewhat distracted by the summer heat and enjoying lazy days spent basking in the sun, The Space Between is continuing to develop at a cracking pace. I can see it just beginning to take shape as a novel; at first I was worried because it seemed to be so top heavy… there’s a lot of historical things happening in the first few years, but then there’s sort of a blank space which needs to filled somehow! But as I’m beginning to feel more at home with the characters - particularly the new characters such as Gustave - I’m gaining sufficient confidence to let them grow in their own ways. Also little stories are just budding, which is nice to watch from a distance… although I’m not really watching from a distance, I’m writing the damn thing!
Gustave is on my mind at the moment because I’ve been having lots of different ideas which don’t seem to have worked so they are just thoughts… I couldn’t decide whether Gustave was going to be a really shady character or not, because this didn’t seem to fit in with his anarchism. I felt that I had to be very careful here… because anarchism has such a bad name anyway! I wanted to blow these ideas of anarchism meaning violence to pieces once and for all, and to show it meaning simply an alternative way of life, both peaceful and quite possible. And so if I want Gustave to be a real anarchist, it wouldn’t follow at all to make him steal or be corrupt in any way. I was rather stuck with this extract… how could I make Gustave want to get rid of the manuscript without wanting to make money out of it? Andy reminded me that in those days, Wilde’s manuscript wouldn’t have been worth anything much anyway. So… I thought and thought… but it wasn’t disastrous at all, because it gave me space to develop the Gustave/Suzanne relationship. Also it would lay down several new variations for Gustave to take later on. I’m particularly taken with the idea of having Gustave smoke opium… though whether or not this will come up is another matter! We shall see.
I also want to develop the relationship between Gustave and Esther Pissaro, which I don’t want to make definatly a romantic/ sexual one yet something more than a friendship. I at the same time I have to remember they are both anarchists so there would be no cheating or lying involved to her husband. It's got to be an interesting triangle; obviously it's not always going to be all easy going between the three of them, plenty of spikes and misunderstandings… but basically a shared house of trust.
The piece I’ve just finished writing and did originally intend to include here is with Jack and Georges, where Georges gives Jack back the drawing from Little Red Riding Hood which he borrowed some years ago. Though it was nice it was important to spend time with both of them and to show their closeness which will become necessary later in the novel - I think it’s not so important as it’s maybe being over taken now by other things… and so you will have to wait until the novel is published!
I wanted to spend more time with Jack than I have done in The Spark; it’s necessary for what’s going to happen that his character should be developed.
More Raw Materials in RM#96

(C) Copyright Nicola Batty 2008

The year is now 1901; following Wilde’s death in Paris, the whereabouts of the manuscript appears to be unknown. Both Ricketts and Ross are anxious to trace the missing manuscript, which they want to publish at the Vale Press. It seems that Gustave - who has come over from Paris to London recently and is now living in Whitechapel – knows something about the manuscript but will not elaborate. The following extract takes place in the Old House, which belongs to Lucien and Esther Pissarro – Gustave has taken a room there in exchange for doing some building work.
CHAPTER 1 – 1901
Heaving a great sigh, Gustave glanced at his companion, making sure she was involved in the scene he described. Although Esther’s face was in shadow, the gentle firelight caught the deep green glints of her eyes, in such a way that Gustave knew that she understood him perfectly.
“My friend was dying, you see… so it was very important that we should share these things, this great spirit, at this time. I’ll never forget him, or the things he said.”
He fell silent and gazed into the fire. Esther watched the firelight throwing moving shadows over Gustave’s face, accentuating the fine chiseling of his cheekbones and the strangely shifting colour of his eyes, which sometimes seemed to have a definite dark blue about them, sometimes a green, but then again, sometimes neither, something completely undefined. Leaning forward, Esther laid her hand tentatively on her companion’s arm and spoke hesitantly, as if afraid to bring Gustave back from Paris.
“Tell me Gustave, who was he, this great friend who left such an impression on you? What was his name?”
For a while Gustave made no reply; then he smiled very slightly, as if holding the great man’s hand once again. He shook his head as if to awaken himself from his trance and leaned forward to stub out his cigarette in the fire.
“The name I knew my friend by in those days was Mr Wilde, Esther,” he answered smoothly. “For I was quite a different person in those days if you understand my meaning. Mr Wilde was also staying at my father’s hotel and that’s where we met and that’s also where he died. I shared his last days with him, I’ll never forget Mr Wilde.”
“Do… do you mean… Oscar Wilde, Gustave?” asked Esther. Gustave nodded. Her face was alight with recognition and remembrance at once, and she laughed aloud in delight. “Then I know exactly what you mean. I met Oscar several times… mostly with Lucien, though sometimes by myself. You’re right, he was a very great man who will never die in a way.”
“Somehow that comes as no great surprise to me, Esther… that you knew him.” Esther’s smile was ambiguous, hinting at a touch of regret within it. “I still remember many things that he said, and indeed I still have something that he gave to me, a manuscript…” His eyes were drawn towards the tea chest that Esther sat on. Standing quickly, he moved towards her and pulled her to her feet, suddenly. “If you will excuse me a minute… you are sitting on the Parisian chest.”
Esther watched the Frenchman open the tea chest and rummage amongst its contents. Finally he drew out a manuscript, held together with stiff brown card; getting to his feet slowly, he turned to Esther and offered it to her, wanting her to take it, as if it were nothing but a heavy burden to him. Esther took the manuscript reluctantly, glancing at him.
“I’m not sure you should have this, Gustave. Are you sure Oscar gave it to you?”
“Yes,” he replied sharply, turning away and staring moodily into the fire. Beside him, Esther turned the pages of the manuscript carefully, her eyes roaming over Wilde’s small, neat writing. “Well… I’m not certain that Mr Wilde intended me to take the manuscript away with me, for that was my own decision. I wanted to keep something to myself, a part of him, something to remember him by, I suppose. At first I wanted to keep this… but now I don’t. I don’t want anything to do with it. It’s not mine. I shouldn't have it at all. I was a different person entirely when he first showed me this manuscript in Paris… you must understand that Esther.” Turning to her abruptly, Gustave reached out and stroked back her long hair from her face gently. “But now I’ve changed and that part of my life is dead and gone. It’s over. So… I don’t want the manuscript any longer. Would you like it?”
More from The Space Between in RM#96
Welcome to Andy's bit..
I just got back from an amazing place in Wiltshire, it's called Lower Shaw Farm and I went along to spend the last week doing Summer Activities there, their explanation not mine. The farm is a three acre site almost hemmed in by a housing estate to the west of Swindon and comprises of a wonderful period farmhouse and an assortment of outbuildings including the former cowshed and woodshed and a barn. The real essence of the place though is not so much the infrastructure or the location but the people.
One of the people who works there is called Paul and he was building a solar panel to heat the washing up water for the sink in the dairy. It was simply a second-hand central heating radiator, (the kind of thing you probably have in your house right now) which he mounted onto a wooden frame. After stripping all the old paint off the radiator panel first and repainting it with a matt black finish, he then covered it with a triplex glazing sheet so the whole thing was encased, coffin like and then tilted at a good angle to face the sun. A plastic 15mm pipe was then attached to the radiator and the mains cold feed via a tap and then another one to over the sink, to bring back the heated water.
It really was an amazing time and the people I met at Lower Shaw Farm really made the difference for me. Although, I managed to take part in a number of Summer Activities like the bread making workshop and an afternoons cycling which I thoroughly enjoyed, I think the actual communication between the different ones there, not least the children, was the thing that I felt made it a special time for me. When I left, shortly after midday I didn't get to say goodbye to many people, I thought it would be too emotional, so I just left, after packing Jack into the van. Did I mention that Jack came with me? I hope people weren't offended by our sudden departure but I really couldn't face all those good byes!
More from Urban Scrawl Andy and more LSF stuff in RM#96
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