Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

September 2008 Issue 96

Nicola's Editorial..


It seems ridiculous to feel the chill edge to the air even though it’s only just turned September! Even while we were on holiday camping in Norfolk the sun only shone intermittently, and it was too cold for me to even contemplate going in the outdoor pool… which was frustrating because Andy was quite keen believe it or not!! Although I love the autumn and welcome the change in the seasons, I do feel that this summer was a great disappointment - I’m hoping at the moment that Andy and I are actually going to fly somewhere suitably warm such as southern Italy or Greece. But at the same time I know Andy far to well to bank on that…


Everything seems to be changing at the moment - not just the seasons. Ruth’s left and so Brigitte is now helping write this; though I’m still seeing Ruth sometimes as she’s been helping out with some reading. More about that later! What with Jack just going back to school today at the end of the week, it’s very difficult for anyone to feel settled. Andy’s promised lots of changes and improvements around the house… but I’m not confidant about anything at the moment, though hopefully this will pass as things begin to get sorted out.


Central library have been finding me some interesting Rickett’s books, including a rare biography, which I borrowed for a few weeks. The library also have encouraged my interest in Rickett’s by showing me an actual Vale Press book… although this was a very plain edition of Shelley’s poems it smelt so old, it was wonderful to touch. It was from 1901… imagine all those years which have ticked by since it was made! The library also lent me a book by Rickett’s, which was a sort of collection of bits of letters to the likes of William Morris, and also fragments from Ricketts’ diary. It is so incredible to read his own actual words - especially when he says things like “ Did some painting this morning and then called round to the Ballentyne Press for the last time…”. Every word I read about him gives me a fuller idea of his character… he’s definitely one of those people I want to meet in the after life!!


While I’m going on about Rickett’s, I must just elaborate on my idea for a short story which I’ve had in my head for months but have put aside because I didn’t want to get distracted from “The Space Between”. Now, however, I think that the story will actually materialize because I simply can’t keep it in my head a moment longer. I keep reading little details about Rickett’s character and relationship with Shannon which intrigue me… I want to fill in that gap left in biographies. I think I already mentioned Shannon’s dramatic fall whilst hanging a picture later in his life, which resulted in brain damage. Although he lived on for another ten years and was physically ok he was only able to recognise a few of his old paintings. That situation must have been terrible for both he and Rickett’s… it just had to be written about! The short story will be the first of my collection about the lives of historical characters, which I’ve had in my head for several years. I already have a completed short story about Swinburne and another in my head about Lizzie Siddal… so this tale of Rickett’s and Shannon should fit in the collection quite nicely.


There is something intriguing about a biography - it always leaves gaps, spaces which are crying out to be filled by the imagination. I remember first being captured by Wilde in this way - by reading about the 1890’s generally, and wanting at once to know more about the great man. How ever many facts a biography may give there’s always something more to be learnt which the biography leaves out; for this reason I love reading them because I always want to fill in the gaps left. Details of characters lives are not an end in themselves, but just a springboard for the imagination… I’m using Wilde’s own words here as I think we were talking about the same thing. Wilde was actually talking about Wainwright in his essay “Pen, Pencil and Poison” - but the meaning behind his version is the same.


To change the subject from Wilde, both Andy and I have been for some time talking about going away this month - really “away”, abroad, Andy’s promised... But the question is where? We both want to go somewhere different, somewhere we’ve never been before… it has to be an island, somewhere warm and quiet. I was thinking of Capri or Malta… but then I thought of Madeira. I remember reading in Scott’s journals that he stopped there on the way to the South Pole… I was quite taken by the image in my head of the members of Scott’s Antarctic team in the early twentieth century equivalents of Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses, basking on the decks of the ship! Anyway this promised exotic holiday will remain a dream for now.


The reality of this summer’s holiday was a little less exiting than Madeira… I only went for a few days camping in Norfolk, as I have already said. Although the campsite was perfectly ok for Ziggy, it wasn’t particularly exiting. The best thing about that holiday was the fact that Jack was there, actually willingly spending time with the family!! The most memorable trip we made there was to Bury St Edmund's which had been recommended for some reason, by Sally - my friend who lives in Norfolk, though I couldn’t work out why. But when we arrived there and visited the cathedral with it’s beautiful stained glass windows, and then went to the ruined Abby in it’s gardens which smelt strongly of the sea because the Abby building was made of sea stone, it was easy to see why Sally had liked it so much. Like me, she is a great lover of history… and so this was definitely the most memorable experience of the holiday for me.


A few days after we returned from Norfolk we were off again, though not camping this time - we just stayed near Sheila’s house in Surrey. For August bank holiday we went to the green fair where Sheila had two stalls, one of them selling pizzas and the other selling circus things like juggling balls. There were quite a few crazy stalls - we managed to get hold of some citrus fruit marmalade and also some ginger wine. Andy spent a long time talking to a green stall owner about Ziggy bikes.


Andy’s very into Ziggy bikes at the moment… I hope all his ideas actually come to something, because a bike, which could carry Ziggy, and me, sounds like a wonderful idea. It would also be a great way of transporting us to our allotment, which we’ve put our names down for. Both Andy and I are very into growing our own vegetables and potatoes… Andy also has been going on about building his own poly tunnel for quite some time, though I don’t know if this will ever materialize. Rather like the holiday really…


One of the most amazing things that happened at the green fair was that I met up with my friend Christine’s two daughters, who I haven’t seen for twenty odd years!! It feels totally strange to me to try and visualise people after such a gap… to me Yolanda and Chloe are still little school girls of about eight and will remain so all their life! How ever many descriptions Andy and Christine gave me of the girls I still couldn’t get any image of them now as good looking young women. I suppose this is one of the more positive things about loosing my sight… people have become frozen in time, years pass and age never touches them. Perhaps in Andy’s case this may not be such a bad thing!


Copyright Nicola Batty (c) 2008

For quite some time I’ve been aware that as I approach the end of chapter one I was going to introduce a totally new character. It seemed the right place to do this as I’ve already introduced Gustav and the Pissaro’s and so I had no qualms about bringing in someone else. In my research about the relationship between Shannon and Ricketts, on a gay website, I came across a rather interesting piece which suggested that whereas Ricketts was gay, Shannon was bisexual as he had some sort of relationship with a woman named Kathleen in the early years of the twentieth century. It seemed from Rickett’s diary that he was anxious about Shannon getting married and although this was not definitely to Kathleen I thought… hey, I can use this in my novel. So I had actually decided to use Kathleen before I stumbled across an amazing coincidence concerning her later marriage to a certain Captain Scott… who we all know from my Antarctic obsession. At first I couldn’t believe this incredible coincidence, ever since reading Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, I’ve longed to use this as a backdrop in my trilogy at some point, but it had always seemed impossible to make it fit in credibly. Now here was my chance… I’m not absolutely certain how it’s going to work out but I’m quite certain that it will. I wanted to make the last part of the trilogy mostly a work of fiction; I don’t want it to be unbelievable at all but just to step away from the know facts into the realms of fiction with confidence. I’m sure by then I should be able to pull this off.

I wanted to put Kathleen in “The Space Between” as soon as I discovered that she was an artist herself – actually a sculptress, and also Shannon’s model for a few portraits. I was quite intrigued to know more about her and so I got myself a biography – but I’m now reluctant to read it before finishing my novel. I don’t want to get bogged down by little facts like the exact place she lived but at the same time I don’t want to make any obvious contradictions. Maybe I’ll have to reach some sort of compromise… I hoped the biography would tell me more about her relationship with Shannon but I’m also quite prepared to fill in the gaps myself, so I may just end up using bits of the biography and ignore other bits that go against my fiction. I thought it was high time I spent a bit of time with Shannon, or at least give him more of a look-in than in “The Spark”. The triangle relationship was another intriguing one, for Kathleen was also good friends with Ricketts, though I imagine he was a little reserved with her – he obviously saw her as a bit of a threat. Her sister is actually totally fictional - though Kathleen had many brothers and sisters, something stupid like eleven I think – I thought it would be useful to make her married to an American, I’ve got no definite ideas about her husband yet, but I’m vaguely thinking of making a dedicated Wilde-follower.

Apart from Kathleen, I’ve been reading lots of stuff about Ricketts, including a sort of reconstruction of his life, including letters from the likes of William Morris… which is wonderful, taking me right back to the 1890s, where all my characters are alive and kicking. It’s great to read Ricketts’ actual words and get more idea of the way he thought and reacted to other people. I don’t know what it is I find so fascinating about the chap – I just wish I’d been born a hundred years ago!! In my research at central library they also showed me an actual Vale Press book which was quite a plain edition of Shelley’s poems – not at all elaborate or ornate as some of them were, but still it was a Vale Press book from 1901 – which I’m proud to say I actually touched. The library has also got hold of a Ricketts biography, which is something I’ve not been able to get before. This should be fascinating reading, though in a way it’s too late, too late for “The Spark” anyway.


Copyright Nicola Batty (c) 2008


As 1901 draws to a close, Wilde has been dead for almost a year. The whereabouts of his manuscript is unknown generally – it’s assumed to be in the Paris hotel where he died, though in fact it’s been brought back to London by Gustav, a friend of Wilde’s. Gustav is staying at the Pissaro’s in Chiswick. Nearby in Richmond, Ricketts and Shannon are still continuing their work on the Vale Press. This extract is set somewhere in the city, at the house of the Bruce family.

From CHAPTER 1 - 1901

Turning away from the window, Kathleen had already begun to wash her hands and clear away the used clay, when there was the sound of a commotion from the hallway below, which carried easily up the stairs. She looked up curiously as the door of her room was pushed open by a tall, stoutly-built woman with a broad grin and round face and stood there with her hands on her hips. Her eyes roamed all round the room carefully, interested.

“Hello Kathleen… I hope I’m not interrupting your work.” Kathleen began to untie her apron, throwing it casually on the table and turning away.

“No, no… that’s quite alright, I just finished. How was your meeting anyway?”

“It was very good – you should have come with me. There were quite a few old friends there I hadn’t seen for years… not since before I went to America. There was even Laura Hattersley there… I don’t know if you remember her? She remembers you, anyway… and she didn’t believe that I was married, though I’m not quite sure why. It’s not that surprising is it?”

Kathleen smiled faintly, collapsing down into the armchair at the back of her small room. Immediately beside her, the fire burned brightly, giving off warm waves of welcome heat.

“I only remember her very vaguely, so I can’t really say what she thinks. Perhaps she’s just simply surprised that you’ve married an American. Who knows?” She shrugged, smoothing down the flowered folds of her skirt. “I wouldn’t worry too much about her, Lottie, anyway.”

Taking several strides towards the fire, her sister stood before the flames for several moments, rubbing her hands and pinning back her hair so that it hung in very loose coils around her face. Sneaking a quick glance at Kathleen, Lottie went on chattering.

“You should have come cycling with me, Kathy… the meeting was over in Islington and it’s a lovely day for cycling – bright and cold. I’ve borrowed Timothy’s bike… at least I think it’s Timothy’s, I’m not sure. It was one of the servant s who lent it to me.”

“Perhaps they’d lend me one as well… I’ve never cycled, so I might fall off.” Kathleen nodded approvingly at Lottie’s red, embroidered bloomers. “But first I need to get something like you’re wearing… my skirts would never do.”

Lottie slapped herself on the thigh heartily, grinning all the time.

“Do you like them? I got these from a department store in New York… I can bring you some back next time I visit. I don’t know when that would be. Mark is so busy with his paper nowadays.” She paused and patted her belly ruefully. “And then, of course, there’s this one to think of…”

“Yes, of course… when’s it due?” Asked Kathleen, leaning back against the cushions and running her eye casually over the stout figure of her sister.

“June, I think,” replied Lottie with a slight shrug. She turned her back on the fire slowly, folding her hands behind her as she did so. “I’ll have to leave straight away after Christmas. But then, I suppose you’ll be leaving soon, yourself, won’t you?”

Kathleen smoothed her hair back with delicate fingers.

“That’s right, though I’m not quite certain exactly when the classes start… Easter perhaps.” She gripped the arm of the chair suddenly, grinning. “I’m so excited about it, Lottie… you can’t imagine.”

Lottie nodded enthusiastically.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for you… my little sister, studying sculpture in Paris.” She looked up suddenly, turning round to face Kathleen with a finger held up before her like a lighted candle. “Which reminds me of something else Laura said about you, Kathleen. Someone that she’d seen you with… a man… perhaps an artist. She says she saw you at the national portrait gallery, several months ago.”
More of Nicola's work-in-progress-trilogy in October.
Welcome to Andy's bit..
Here's a little link to a couple of poetry blogs. The first one is my brother Stan's blog, Elephant Small. We all knew that he was a bit of a writer, 'cos way back in 1991 he worked on my Doktir Nairobi publications, WN Funzine and Space Travel for Beginners. But what we didn't know was that he would go on to write a couple of novels (so far) and surprise surprise he is now the web author of his very own prolific poetry blog. Elephant Small.
The second link came as a bit of a surprise too. Steve Taylor, who we know from the South Manchester Writers group, who is generally a serious writer of educational and very imformative books like Making Time, (his latest). And my favorite The Fall. Informed us this week by e-mail that he had posted some poetry on his website. You-can-clink-the-link-HERE.
The third link is to my sisters video, Kim has been seen many times on tv in adverts and in the newspapers as a prolific competition winner over the years. She is also a mystery shopper, so if you see her coming into your store be sure to give her good service. Anyway, her latest adventure was a day out at Tatton Park in leafy Cheshire a dozen miles or more away from this keyboard. She took her grandkids and their mother and her son Andy and a camera crew from a local Manchester television station Chanel M. Unfortunately, I couldn't make the link work here but you may be able to view it by clinking-this-link to Chanel M and then clicking on "fun for the family" and then Aug 1st. 2008 and it's the Tatton Park video.
More from Urban Scrawl Andy in RM#97

It's two years now since we started posting Raw Meat to the www. The first issue we posted was in September 2006 and just for the record, Raw Meat became a totally Online publication from January 2007. We have been publishing this Newsletter since 1999 every month apart from while Nicola was doing her MA at Manchester University, when it was produced every two months.
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