October 2008 Issue 97
I always seem to begin RAW MEAT by talking about either the weather or else apologising for the late arrival of my newsletter. Well, this time I’m going to open with the passing of time from one stage to the next. September seems to have been an entire month littered with changes… this is not just a personal observation. Another friend of mine has also remarked it on, with lots of things in her life changing completely. Such is the situation here… still, because wasn’t I saying in the last one that everything was unsettled? Even though the summer has now thrown in the towel for good, autumn hasn’t really brought anything more conclusive. Still, I’m in a state of transition, I’m passing through and changing. While I’m not complaining about being in this state it is rather difficult to actually settle to anything… hence the missing “Space Between” in RAW MATERIALS! I won’t offer any excuses for this because it’s just the way things are at the moment… and there is no harm in change, indeed it should be embraced like an old friend!
My friend Mr. Ricketts has been becoming more and more of a real figure as I’m continuing to wade through his biography. Our developing attachment reminds me very much of my relationship with Mr. Wilde; I can still remember vividly my first introduction to Mr. Wilde in Woolwich in the mid eighties, and from there I have never looked back. A similar thing has happened with Mr. Ricketts in that I want to read more and more about him, and for him to gain substance and solidity so that he is a tangible character, flesh and blood. Alongside his biography I am reading a play about him and Shannon, The Last Romantics by Michael Lewis MacLennan. I find the Ricketts in this play quite difficult to visualise because there is no mention of his red/ gold beard and hair, which first attracted my attention when they were described to me. That, and his restless character - he was a man who was continually in a state of change, shifting from one thing to the next.
THE EARLY TWENTEITH CENTURY
One of the most interesting things about Ricketts biography (besides the man himself) is the period in which it covers - the turn of the twentieth century. I’ve always thought it was such a shame that Mr. Wilde died just before one of the most exciting times of transition began. In historical terms it was a time far beyond the Victorian age, yet not quite totally modern - I’m thinking of things like cars, planes, telephones, and surgery. And then there were those horrendous scenes of carnage in the First World War, which seem to affect everyone in some way. I’ve wanted for a long time to set a novel against this time of transition… doubtless I will one day! I used to love the film The Railway Children and still remember it in great detail. This film seems to capture the feeling of the time perfectly - and I’d like to try to do the same in a book. Maybe one day I’ll write it…
THE GREAT UNSAID
But returning to my favourite man of the moment - that is, Ricketts - I think that one of the reasons that I’m so drawn to him as a character is because of all the things that are left out of his biography, rather than all the factual details about him. This is particularly true of his relationship with Shannon, most probably because nothing definite is known. These gaps need desperately to be filled by someone, anyone who’s got the nerve to do so! For this reason I really like biographies, they make me itch to write fiction filling in the gaps, the great unsaid. I was reading about a fictionalised life of Dickens told from the point of view of his wife, which sounds extremely interesting. There seems to be a movement in literature at the moment towards exactly what I am doing in The Space Between - that is mixing history and fiction. I hope it’s true because then publishers would be more open to my ideas!
Talking of which, I’ve been thinking of trying Canadian publishers with The Space Between idea. I don’t know how much luck I will get, because Andy vaguely tells me Canadian publishers are more open and independent than main stream publishers, and also they seem to be more in touch with British culture (this may just be coincidence!). Typically of Andy though, he says vaguely that there are loads of these Canadian publishers… but fails to come up with any concrete evidence! Sigh…
TOUCHING FROM A DISTANCE
Now I promise not to say any more about Ricketts… I will turn instead to another book we have recently reached the end of. I still think one of the best things about this book by Debbie Curtis is maybe the title!! I don’t think much of Mrs. Curtis’s writing style, or the overall quality of it, which I’d hoped would give some insight into the suicide and mental state of her husband, and suggest some possible reasons for the lead singer of Joy Division deciding to opt out of life just as the band became successful. The relationship between Ian and Debbie Curtis unnerves me because it seems practically nonexistent, or at least Mrs Curtis doesn’t elaborate much on it. Perhaps this is just the way Ian was and so it’s not fair of me to criticize his wife, so I should stop. They were in fact only married a few years, so one can’t really expect them to know each other that well. Nonetheless, this was an interesting book in places, but a very frustrating read.
CHANGES: TWOMoving all the way round in a full circle I’m going to finish this issue on the subject of changes… yet again! Finally we seem to have reached some sort of conclusion as regards to the new helper situation… I may be having not one, but two new helpers sharing part of the job. Which all sounds terribly complicated, but it’s not, honest!! Latest news on Andy’s brain is that it is still behaving itself, which is good. He went recently to hossie to get it scanned and checked, and despite all evidence to the contrary it is still there. The other boy - that is, Jack - also seems to have changed recently… he’s become much more obsessed by music, both listening to it and playing it at different events. He was telling me that he wanted to take English, Art and Music at A level but it’s turned out that he can’t do Art at A level with out having O level. This sounds to me pretty daft… why should creativity be stopped for any reason at all?? Somebody tell me.
RAW MATERIALS 97
copyright Nicola Batty (c) 2008
Ever since August I seem to have found myself constantly distracted from writing by loads of other things… such is my excuse for not producing another piece of The Space Between this month. I fully intend to return to it as soon as possible, though. One of the reasons I’ve been distracted from it is that I’ve become so obsessed by Ricketts himself, so I suppose I could blame him, which is nice. He’s become so very real to me, much more so than merely a dead character on paper. I’m still in the process of wading through his hefty biography, which I’m finding totally absorbing. Alongside his design work, painting, making jewellery, sculpture (he was a busy chap) the biography also gives me more of an impression of his life with Shannon and his cats and squirrel. But one of the most interesting things about this book is what it leaves unsaid, or simply skips over without going into much detail, which leaves the way open for me to fill in the gaps, particularly where they relate to characters which are mentioned only briefly. For instance, Shannon’s relationship with Kathleen Bruce is mentioned only very briefly as there seem to be no real facts behind it. I’m quite happy with this situation, because I’m not dealing with facts, but with my own interpretation of them. The biography also seems extremely careful about the relationship between Ricketts and Shannon – but the conclusion seems to be that Ricketts was gay through and through (whatever that means). So I suppose my own conception of his relationship with Harriet has been blown… but I don’t think you can say that at all, you never know what happened so many years ago, do you? I still think that Ricketts was a man of intense passion and he must have needed some outlet…
Ricketts has also been distracting me from The Space Between in a slightly more creative way. I told readers of the story about Shannon’s fall (from grace maybe) late in his life, which resulted in brain damage, and I decided to begin the short story that I’ve had in mind for ages. I wanted to try and get across how devastating a blow this must have been for Ricketts… to have his life long companion suddenly altered. It must have seemed to frightening for both of them, especially when Shannon was unable to recognise his own paintings, it must have been like that whole part of his life had never existed. The title of this story comes from one of Ricketts’s letters, I think, when he talks matter-of-factly about the length of time Shannon was unconscious for. This seemed typical of the way Ricketts thought and wrote about himself, and how he dealt with the situation of Shannon’s brain damage. It’s interesting to notice that he never elaborated much on his feelings, but tended to stick to practical matters, such as what Shannon could and couldn’t do for himself. Which is fine because it left the way open to do my own elaboration. I was tempted to write this story as an undiscovered extract from a diary or something, but that’s been done so often and I just can’t imagine a chap like Ricketts confessing things to a diary. So I’ve left bits of the story - like the one you’ll read here – a bit diary like but other bits which are more objective. I’m not sure if the mixture of these two styles will work or not… but time will tell.
I intend to begin work on chapter 2 of The Space Between as soon as possible. As well as being distracted by Ricketts, I’ve also been distracted by Kathleen Scott and thoughts about her husband and his Antarctic expedition… I don’t want to elaborate too much at this point, because these ideas are still pretty vague. Though it seems to me to be too much of a coincidence about Mrs Scott having had a fling with Shannon… and I feel this link needs to be developed. For so long, for so many years, I’ve been so obsessed by Cherry Gerrard and the other members of Scott’s Antarctic team, who battle through blizzards and suchlike… how wonderful if I could bring all this into the final book of the trilogy! This will need quite a bit of thought, I don’t need to say… but hopefully will bear fruit someday.
FOUR DAYS AND FOUR NIGHTS
This is an extract from Nicola’s short story.
Copyright Nicola Batty © 2008
“Look at these pictures, Charles. Do you recognise them? They’re all your own work… you do recognise them, don’t you?”
I glance away quickly, aware of the note of desperation creeping into my voice. Although my hand is shaking, I grasp the edge of the paper and turn over the page of the photograph album with effort, feeling the weight of it as a welcome sensation against the ease of the movement. It seems like a contradiction, a continual struggle of wills. I’ve always been like that; restlessly struggling. I lick my lips nervously and turn my face slightly away from the window so that the light, which is streaming thru, catches at the glints of fire in my hair and my beard. The auburn tints are still there, nostalgic now, almost faded completely to a sort of dull coppery grey. I am an old man now, and I suppose you’re an old man too. My hand trembles at the page, and I can’t tell whether it’s from nerves or memories. I can hear my own breaths as they move from between my lips; I try and control my voice, to force the words into coherent order, not rising or falling too sharply, level and controlled.
“You must recognise this one… it’s you standing in our bedroom at The Vale, don’t you remember? Many years ago, I know… perhaps you have forgotten.”
I dare to raise my eyes and glance briefly into your set expression. As always you show nothing, give nothing away, but your clear blue eyes are as clear and bright as they always were, even though they are now touched by age. You gaze blankly at the photographs, nodding your blond head very slightly in acknowledgment. Slowly you take a deep breath and turn your eyes to me.
“I don’t recognise any of the paintings…except this one. This still life… these flowers.” You move your hands carefully across the page and point; your hands are as beautiful as ever, the hands of an artist with long, finely sculpted fingers. “It was on our bedroom wall at The Vale, you say? Yes, I remember all that. I remember painting the flowers from the garden…red and white roses… I sat in the garden and painted them from life like a true pre-Raphaelite. That was many years ago, wasn’t it Charles?”
I look away from you and I can feel the tears prickling against the backs of my eyes. I lay my hands very gently over your face, sealing the promise within, sealing the memories.
“Yes… many years ago,” I whisper, in a voice squeezed tight like a thread.
Standing up quickly, I snap the album shut and throw it down on the coffee table. I surprise myself by the violence of the movement… sometimes I hardly recognise myself. The grandfather clock at the far end of the room chimes dully eleven times and you glance at it quickly, as if you’ve never heard the sound before. I clear my throat very softly, loosening my tie around my neck – I feel as if I’m being choked.
“Over forty years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you’d forgotten it… and yet we made so many plans there, that’s where it all started. The Vale, Chelsea.”
Striding over to the window, I stare out over the rooftops of Holland Park - they all seem so very respectable and polished and that the gleam of their gutters chokes me still further. A boy on a bicycle trundles past, sailing along the wide avenue lined with trees, as though he hadn’t a care in the world. I watch him go, aware of a nervous tick pulling the left corner of my eye downwards. I can’t breathe here, although this is my home… and has been for thirty years. I feel a movement behind me and turn to see that you have stood up and are going over to retrieve the old photograph album. You still move with the easy grace of a dancer, even though your blond hair is now mottled with grey. My smile is gentle, filled with affection. The artist’s eye wanders over the images.“Yes,” you say gently, nodding very slowly, as if to confirm the truth of your words. “I remember the flowers, just the flowers…”
Welcome to Andy's bit..
I think I'm going to sign off for this issue, at least for now because blogger is playing up. It will only let me write in italics and in a certain font and style. I'll come back later and try to remedy this. Andy
I'm back but it's still gone crazy!
more next time...