August 2009 Issue 107
Sorry to start on such a depressing note… but this weather is really beginning to piss me off. Somebody said that the lovely couple of weeks we had in June was all the summer we will be getting this year; at the time they said this I thought “good grief, that cannot be true!” however as each grey day follows another grey day with the sun only intermittently breaking through… I’m beginning to think they’re right. We’ve just booked to go camping in Scotland in a few weeks… now all we need is the weather to pull itself together. Perhaps even a bit of sunshine and some warmth would be nice, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much as it will probably rain all the time. Who’d believe it was August, supposedly the hottest month of the year? And still the rain keeps on falling…
THAT SEASIDE RESORT
Ok, that’s quite enough of being so negative. I’ve just arrived back from a great few days in Worthing, that place made so famous by Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest. Although the guesthouse where Oscar penned his play has been demolished, there is a plaque to mark the spot I believe. Worthing itself is a lovely place, which I actually much prefer to the busier and livelier Brighton. There’s still a lovely Pier at Worthing and also a stony beach where we sat in the sunshine for a few hours. Yes - it was actually fairly sunny, even though there was a ridiculously strong wind for most of the days. Once again I fell in love with Worthing as I did last time I visited with Andy. My favourite spot is on the end of the pier where it’s so peaceful; all you can hear are the waves and (in this case) the wind.
THE ROMAN POPPY
Whilst in Worthing we met up with some friends, who took us to the near by Roman town of Chichester. It was a pretty windy day anyway, but on the coast it was even worse… but at the same time the wind wasn’t unpleasant or cold, and at least the sun was out. I was greatly impressed by the beautiful stone Norman Cathedral - complete with steeple and gargoyles all the way around. Even more impressive was the floor inside, where you could see through the glass covering to the ancient poppy mosaic from the original roman site. Beneath the glass was also the bottom of a stone pillar… I thought it a wonderful experience! Even though the Norman Cathedral had no glass in the windows and was quite plain, it also seemed to be full of great, sweeping arches and high ceilings… almost gothic in style. Outside the cathedral was the Bishops garden, which appeared very much like it sounded - that is, formal flowerbeds. Our friend Alison (who was acting as tour guide) told us that the Roman walls surrounding Chichester date from about 10 AD…, which is presumably, when the original Roman building was constructed.
The wind was even more excessive when we went to Brighton the next day, and so we dived into a café for fish and chips… much as any other person would have done. I remembered visiting Brighton about twenty years ago to see my sister, and the only place I remembered was the Brighton Pavilion… so we went back there because the wind was less strong as it was slightly inland. I was immediately taken by Brigitte’s description of the regency building, with all different shapes of windows and lots of towers and domes. Andy told me later that the Pavilion had been completely restored… which explains why I didn’t remember it being so beautiful! I liked also the gardens which I thought were particularly anarchic, the flowers and trees being mixed up together… also including a fish pond with lovely Lilly pads and strange grey fish with whiskers which Brigitte said were catfish. I believe George IV had the pavilion built for his mistress when he was a wayward regency prince.
Back in Worthing, we went round to see my friends Steve and Alison once again. Steve is a photographer who I met originally in Woolwich some twenty-five years ago… he was sent round by the National Student to take a photo of me being a vampire! I had recently written an article for the magazine, on my trip to Transylvania. I must have been reading Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor at the time and was going on to Steve about the novel; he was infected by my enthusiasm to such a degree that he went round London taking photographs of all seven Hawksmoor churches, which I still have on my wall. Steve and I were also talking about our mutual friend - Steven Fry, who Steve photographed some years ago. He gave me a copy of the photo, which shows Mr. Fry with a stuffed cat - this photo hangs in the National Portrait Gallery and is I suppose one of Steve’s claims to fame!
POLISH SALT MINES
While Brigitte and I were in Worthing, Andy, Jack and Jack’s friend Dan went to Poland… Which I don’t want to say too much about, I’ll leave that to Andy. However I was particularly intrigued by Andy’s description of the salt mines there, where the rocks were all white like ice. I think that must have looked pretty ghostly and surreal, rather like the mountain in Transylvania where everything was coated with snow so it resembled a wedding cake. According to Jack everyone in Poland is very good looking… though whether or not he means by this that they’re well dressed or fair of face I’m not sure. Jack and Dan are off again next week to Canada for more adventures. I’m going to try to get Jack to write something about them for Jacks page… any assistance you could give with this would help, as I think he’ll take more notice of you than me!
LAST WORDJust before this issue goes online the sun seems to have made a sudden return into the sky… I just hope it’s going to stay there for our camping trip? It was good to have it around for a while, as it should be awesome by right. We’ve just been down to my mum’s yesterday, and she told me that she’s booked a flying lesson for next week, which she is quite nervous about but mostly excited! Do you remember, when this was mentioned six months ago… mum’s birthday present from all her kids including me!! I hope it all goes well though, I’m sure it will.
More News from Nicola in September...
As I’ve now reached the end of chapter 3 and also 1903, I’ve now got a clearer idea of the entire shape of The Space Between and which characters are taking the lead, so to speak. It seems clear that this whole novel will cover only a few years more, where as originally I intended it to go up to 1912 … but I don’t think it will. Which means that I need to focus on something other than the singing of the titanic. I don’t know if I mentioned the titanic sinking before… but it had always been the central focus of The Space Between, and to have it shifted to another novel is a bit of a major rethink! Notice that I didn’t say major disaster (because it’s not) – I’ll still include it in the trilogy somewhere. I think I’ve decided not to move the action of the third novel to the Antarctic, although that’s still tempting because of the coincidental link with Scott through Kathleen. But I’m too afraid of making he third novel too wacky and not in keeping with the rest of the trilogy. Also there are so many threads going strong in The Space Between that I want to develop – particularly with Freddy, Ross and even jack in America. And of course there’s also the wonderful stuff about opium and the Pissaro’s, and also Adrian Singleton. So I have easily enough material on my hands for another novel…. Which I don’t even know at this stage what to call or even where to base the action… shall I keep it in London or shift it to make a change? I’m always of wary of making things too surreal and crazy just for the hell of it … which I think will loose me readers and credibility.
Writing this novel without my sight is proving to be a totally new experience… simply dictating the material without being able to read it or see how much you’ve written makes an incredible difference to the way I used to type, which was such plain hard work that I was always very aware of how much I’d written. It’s totally thrown the years and intended shape of The Space Between. Where as I was thinking of using each chapter to cover a year I think this is going to be blown completely and I may now resort to including a couple of years in one chapter. The Space Between seems to be moving so slowly through the years that I‘m still wondering where exactly to end it … whether to bring Captain Scott and his marriage to Kathleen into it all.
Another major decision I’ve made recently about the trilogy is that I’m definitely going to publish it myself, or should say we’ll publish it ourselves… because of course this will be a joint effort between me and Andy, Rather similar to Charles Ricketts and Shannon’s bonfire!
THE SPACE BETWEEN
copyright Nicola Batty © 2009
The story so far… As 1903 draws to a close, Wilde has been dead for three years and his manuscript has supposedly vanished with him, but back in London another copy has been found by Charles Rickets which he has published himself by The Vale press. In the following extract, which takes place in the printers forge, Charles has made the decision to end The Press. Now read on…
Moving the first couple of founts from the top of the tower, Charles paused only very briefly before throwing them on the fire. The pain he thought he would feel as he watched his hours of laborious industry dissolve away into a river of molten metal… this pain was only a dull ache within him, which could easily be overcome. He was only aware of the difference of these actions now as opposed to his childish burning of the wooden founts before… this was real, this was a thoughtful action, a shared action. This was not just the end of the Vale Press but also the end of his own fears that Shan would leave him. Charles took down a couple more founts from the sack truck and threw them on the fire again. He glanced across at Shan but couldn’t see his face at all, he was completely shrouded in blackness. Charles felt a vague sense of unease creep over him as the strange chemical smell filled his nostrils. Does he know, does he realise what his means? Surely he does… Moving slightly towards Shan, Charles gripped his hand compulsively; Shan didn’t draw it away, so they both stood there motionless for several moments, watching the fire consume their artistry. They worked together: Shan threw the next fount on the fire, and Charles the ones after. They worked silently, without saying a word to each other. When there were only a few founts remaining on the truck, Shan spoke to Charles in a quiet voice.
“You know Charles, we forgot to bring Oscar’s book to throw in the fire… that’s where it really belongs.”
Charles smiled, very slowly, shaking his head firmly, although he knew that Shan couldn’t see his movement.
“No… I’m glad we didn’t, because this has to be a joint agreement, something we both share. Don’t you see, I want the book to stay with me, for Oscar’s sake.”
Removing his hand very carefully from Charles’s, Shan threw the remaining few founts onto the fire with such a slow measure grace that they seemed to hang suspended impossibly in the air for several seconds before falling upon the coals. Standing back, he caught Charles’s eye for the first time and smiled widely. Throwing his arms suddenly around Charles, he hugged him so closely that Charles felt their two bodies become molten and flowing like the metal had been, and the river flowed away across the coals.
“Very well then, Charles… as you wish, so it shall be.”
The two of them stood, clasping each other’s hands, watching the fire as it died very slowly away.Look out for another extract from Nicola’s work-in-progress-trilogy in September.