Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

May 2009 Issue 104

Nicola's Editorial!


So… another one bites the dust, as they say. I heard a few days ago that my wild travel proposal was not on… the Jerry Farr fellowship didn’t say who had won the award, which was a shame. It looks like Tahiti will just have to remain a distant dream for the moment. To try and make up for it a bit, we booked a days sailing in Falmouth which has been on the cards for a long time, one of those things I’ve wanted to do ever since Ruth told me about the existence of this totally Ziggy friendly boat she’d seen last year. She made enquiries and found out that half the boats crew are disabled in various ways, and the other half are able bodied and some of them are trained sailors even. Everyone is encouraged to do as much as they feel able, and so I feel confident that both Andy and I should have a fun time! It’s something neither of us have tried before… but I feel naturally friendly towards the sea having come from down near where were going in Cornwall. I’m especially excited because it’s something I can be involved with and feel the motion of the boat, as well as smell the sea salt and feel the wind… I get so pissed off with being left on the sidelines while everyone else does all the hard work!! So this time I hope to be able to take part in sailing.


I don’t know what’s happened to May, which is normally so beautiful and warm. Judging from the last few days it looks like we are going to get a wee bit soaked sailing! Oh well, that’s half the fun I’m sure. While this climate might be okay for some people… for example it might encourage Jack to do some work for his exams which start next week - I’m pretty sick of it. If I could believe Andy we’ll be off to live somewhere warm in the next few years… I want us to keep moving from place to place to avoid getting bored!! We’ll start off going around Europe and then get some ferries to go to the Middle East and further… maybe we’ll even reach the South Seas one day. Who knows??


While we were actually in Tenerife, a sudden memory occurred to me out of the blue - what ever happened to that huge book my dad gave me about the French Revolution?? It was a very strange thing to remember amidst such surroundings - normally such memories are triggered by something that’s happened. But not in this case, for I haven’t thought of the book since it was given to me in hospital following Jack’s birth… it seems totally incredible that the book could have been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for 16 years!! Especially when I remember being so excited about the gift, because such people as Robespierre, Danton and Saint-Just at the time obsessed me - how could I possibly have forgotten about it?? When I think about the time at which it occurred, though… it becomes clear that I must have felt too daunted by my sight, which was beginning to give me real problems at this time. The book is such a massive one as well, I can understand not wishing to confront such a task!


This work of fiction by Hillary Manton is set during the French Revolution, and what we have read so far involves Robespierre’s mum dying following childbirth and the young Danton being gored by a bull! Gripping stuff… I’m keen to press on with it, even though it’s going to take quite some time… it’s even longer than Harry Potter, a real bible of a book. But there is a particularly interesting piece at the start about the mixing of historical fact and fiction, which must have influenced me in some way subconsciously, because this was quite a while before The Space Between. One of the reasons for my obsession in the early nineties was that I had just written a short story with the wonderful title Robespierre’s Jaw. I think the French Revolution in general was so full of incredible characters that it just has to be written about… I can only hope that Miss Manton does it justice. I have mixed feelings about Robespierre… although I think his ideals were admirable and even slightly anarchistic they went wrong and ended up going the other way - and so Robespierre and his sidekick Saint-Just were guillotined. There was a French film from the early nineties called Danton with Gerard Depardieu in the leading role I was obsessed to such a degree that I could follow the entire film without using the subtitles!! I must have watched it at least 30 times.


Another work of fiction, which greatly impressed me a couple of years back was Philip Pullman’s trilogy about different worlds, Dark Materials - you may remember me raving about him. So when Ruth and I saw that a play version of it was on, we decided instantly to go, even though I had misgivings about packing three books into two plays. Not only this, but also the sophisticated ideas for instance the demons perched on each characters shoulder or walking along beside them - and the Little People flying on dragonflies - such ideas as these demand a sophisticated form of animation or computer effects, to try and use glove puppets is just ridiculous. Anyway it was just as well that I couldn’t see how this was done because I would have wheeled out of the theatre I think! Added to this there were the usual problems with following each characters speech and knowing who was talking when and where. I still wonder if it will work visiting the theatre anymore…


I had a bit more luck with the two music events I went to recently. As before, the Australian Pink Floyd were wonderful, even though I wouldn’t say The Wall which they were covering is my favourite album by any means. I wonder what they will do next? Will they perhaps return in time to cover Sid Barrett’s early stuff?? I hope so. I was intrigued by the sound of going to see Elvis Costello and the Brodski Quartet at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall… I just couldn’t reconcile the image of Mr. Costello with such an established band! Even though I’d listened to his CD of string quartet stuff in an effort to become more familiar with the sounds of strings instead of electric guitars etc, I was still convinced that there were drums on stage! I just couldn’t imagine Elvis in a suit being politely clapped after each number. I just felt totally confused… I thought back longingly to the occasion when I had met Elvis after his show, only he’d been in such a bad mood that he wouldn’t talk to anyone!! These temperamental artistes…


I have major doubts about the wisdom of including such a controversial piece this month; I suppose because I was wondering if I might screw it up totally and so waste everybody’s time!! And even if I do scrap the idea I suppose it would demonstrate that The Space Between is a living working progress … not to mention a controversial one. Initially I wasn’t worried at all about giving Lucien Pissaro opium to smoke but it was Andy who warned me to be careful and watch what I said about such historical characters! I’m not sure if I totally agree with him on this one, for isn’t The Space Between a work of fiction? Anyway such worries seem to be a little irrelevant, for if the opium idea fits in with the story then history should bow before it. More to the point it seems to be my concern that this scene would seem out of place and exaggerated, not in keeping with the rest of the story so far. But … I think I’ve decided in the end that it should stay for the present, for I like the scene greatly! I don’t feel that in the circumstances it is out of place, two chaps smoking a bit of opium on a lazy Sunday afternoon with nothing else too pressing to get on with... I wanted to include opium in the novel for quite some time, ever since reading about Sherlock Holmes’s cocaine habit and also Lizzie Sidalls overdose of laudanum; both of these instance’s occurred during the Victorian period which seemed to be a time when opium was used in medicines, even being prescribed to children! So I’m touching my own whims a little… and I’m not totally confident that they’re going to work out at all, for I definitely don’t want the novel to suffer by sounding forced or contrived. So… I really don’t know if this opium idea is going to stay or not, and likewise the inclusion of Wilde’s character from Dorian Gray, Adrian Singleton. He is another idea from last year some time, when I suddenly thought that I’d like to involve another fictional character in the book – and as Wilde’s character has some knowledge of chemistry I thought well why not involve him with the opium thing? Once again, it’s all a bit foggy at this point, though I hope it will become more clear to me if not to you.

Gustave as a character, I like greatly and feel much more confident with rather than Lucien Pissaro. I don’t have to worry about casting aspersions on his character! Besides this, he is such a wonderfully enigmatic chap anyway – neither being one or the other in turns of sexual preference and also of course his belief in anarchism. For a while I was thinking about shifting the setting of The Space Between on this novel to France and using Gustave as a main character; there used to be in the Jura mountains an anarchist commune, but in the end I decided against doing this because it would involve such a lot of historical research I couldn’t face, also I’ve always shied away a bit from making The Space Between too closely tied to history; I want simply to use historical fact as a spring board for the imagination and not have to keep checking facts, days, places etc… all extremely tedious – this had to be firstly a work of fiction. I kept the novel based in London, and it seems to be working so far… though I’m still not at all convinced about the final novel, where there are also people involved like, Scott in the Antarctic, or is this stupid? I still can’t make my mind up.

MORE Raw Materials in RM#105


copyright Nicola Batty © 2009

The story so far… it’s 1903 and Wilde has died in Paris a few years ago, and supposedly his manuscript has disappeared with him. But actually the manuscript has turned up in London with Gustave, who knew Wilde in Paris; he has brought the manuscript over and has just given it to Ricketts, acting upon the advice of Esther Pissaro in whose house he lodges. It is generally thought that Ricketts will publish the manuscript as the final book by the Vale Press, which is soon to close. In the following scene set at the old house, which belongs to Lucien Pissaro and his wife, Gustave and Lucien are talking in the back garden.

Now read on…

Moving his hand with lazy, easy grace he drew a packet of cigarettes from the pocket of his shirt and took one for himself before offering one to Lucien. “Here … would you care for one of these? A friend of mine made them himself, I believe.”

Reaching out, Lucien took a cigarette, with a small smile. He nodded knowingly as Gustave lit both cigarettes and the two of them inhaled deeply, sharing the knowledge.

“Ahhh yes… your friend, you mean Adrian Singleton, who lives in … Blackfriars… or somewhere round there, anyway” said Lucien softly, his voice drifting as if completely free and unchained to reason. The cigarette smoke rose above their heads, mingling with the warm spring air beautifully. “He’s a doctor, isn’t he? He works at the London hospital?”

Gustave gave a slight shrug; the movement seemed to take a momentous effort of will.

I don’t know about that… Esther knows him better than I do”

“Of course.” For a while nothing more was said. Both men watched the clouds of smoke forming a seal between them, which could not be broken, could not be dissolved. Finally Lucien turned back towards the house, gazing up at the opposite windows as if to remind himself where he was. “Tell me Gustave,” he said at last, speaking with such ease and slowness that the words seemed to be stretched out like elastic, “tell me how you’re enjoying living here with us… you must think about it and take your time in replying… remember to give me an honest answer.”

“ye…es, of course I’ll be honest….. Lucien.” Gustave lay back on the grass and waved his hand slowly back and forth above his head; even though he wasn’t looking at Lucien directly, he was aware of his companions eyes floating not too far from him. He felt the silence between them stretch out like elastic, he reached out to catch the coils, twining them around his wrists and elbows. He felt his fingers clenching and unclothing, the muscles twitching and writhing like snakes… for a moment he was frightened and then instantly the opium dampened the sensation down. So that it formed almost a flat surface without bumps or any obstacles. He moved completely without any effort so that he lay quite still and watched himself moving. He opened his mouth to speak but no sound ensued from between his lips – only smoke. He could hear the words in his head but couldn’t connect them with language, which seemed far too rational an object to grasp at this time. Only his laughter emerged, followed by strange words… it didn’t seem to be in his voice and yet it was. “The time… I have spent here with you… has been so happy… I love to be here, I love both you and Esther, you are the best friends I have; now you see… I’m being quite honest…quite.”

Lucien laughed so that the sound of both their laughter formed a symphony which rose above their heads, binding them both together so tightly… so tightly. Raising his cigarette and holding it before his eyes, Lucien reached with his other arm toward Gustave and touched his shoulder lightly.

“I feel… I feel, you’re being wonderfully honest with me, my friend… thank you so much. Thank you so much.”

Gustave watched between half closed eyelids, the trails of coiling vapour disappear upon the air. He was aware of the sunshine behind the smoke, or perhaps was it in front of the smoke? For a moment the sunshine seemed to completely absorb everything, so that the smoke, the air, the anarchism, the talk of Oscar, everything was entwined completely. There was nothing he could do, so Gustave lay back on the grass and closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Welcome to Andy's bit!
If you don't know what I'm talking about you'll just have to clink~this~link! and be transported through Cyberspace to my latest bloggage! The American Sandwich is my poetic version of flash fiction. The idea of the game (I say game, because that's what it is) is to write a piece of poetic flash fiction in just 51 syllables. The trick, is to use three Allen Ginsberg style, 17 syllable American Sentences, and as few words as possible. Anyway...
I'm sure Nic read the book she's been blogging on about. I remember it very well in fact. It is a totally dog eared paperback book that looks like it's been dragged around the house, and it most likely has. When Nic got this book, she could still see to read, and I'm quite confident that she read it!
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