Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Monday, September 07, 2009

September 2009 Issue 108

Nicola's Editorial
I was truly glad to see the end of the summer this year- it’s been a really bad August for me, full of things going wrong, general stress and worry. The last day of August was even worse than usual, being on the bank holiday… I’ve always hated bank holidays. This one was even worse than usual - I just hope September is going to be better! It seemed to rain continually throughout August, making me long to go away… which never happened, for one reason or another. To make it worse Jack was having a fun time in Canada where it was both hot and eventful. Added to this, bad things kept on happening… Ben, my Mum’s old dog finally died after it seemed that he was going to recover. The last thing I feel like doing now is celebrating my birthday.
We’ve just returned from a supposed holiday near Edinburgh, camping in a national park. Jack backed out at the last minute, which I was extremely pissed off about, because I thought it would be a good time for us to spend some time together as a family. But no, Jack had other ideas. So Andy and I went alone - but when we arrived at the campsite it was just getting dark and we were both so fed up with the travelling that we decided to look for a Travelodge instead. Andy couldn’t face battling with the awning at that point, which he’d never done before. The nearest Travelodge, which wasn’t full, was Gretna Green, and so we stayed there. I told Andy that we could get married in the morning… but he didn’t take me up on it. So the entire Scottish trip was a bit of a disaster - even as we drove home via the Lake District, the rain fell without ceasing. Really depressing.
It was actually quite a new experience to be heading north… I remarked that we were getting nearer the North Pole, and you could feel the temperature dropping! But on a more positive note, on the motorway we passed a giant metal statue of an angel, which Andy said was called the Angel of the North. He also described it as “looking rusty” … I found it extremely difficult to visualise, as I’ve never seen it. Apparently it was made by the same chap who did the statues in the sea on Crosby Beach, just outside Liverpool. These half submerged statues remind me of the inside cover of Pink Floyds Wish you were here, which shows a wonderful statue of a person diving into the sea where only their legs and bottom can be seen! The fact that the water surrounding the statue is motionless seems surreal… the captured moment frozen forever.
To make a change from my moaning on about summer, Jack has been having a more positive time. Not only has he been away to both Poland and Canada, but he returned to learn that he’d achieved some success with his GCSE’s. He didn’t fail any and even got some A’s… so it’s congratulations to him. He needs to stay on one more year at school to study for his Art… I think he’s looking forward to concentrating on just the one subject, which he’s pretty excellent at. Perhaps I’ll use his talents to illustrate the cover of Dry Rot when it comes out at Christmas. I feel rather spoilt for choice with this, as I also have my Dad’s talents at the ready…
I apologise for this edition being a bit on the short side - but what can I do? I don’t want to keep on moaning, and I’m sure you don’t want to listen to it! I can’t even distract myself by going on about the French Revolution, as is my wont, as we haven’t been doing much reading of A Place of Greater Safety lately. It’s now seventeen-ninety and the Bastille has fallen; Hillary Mantel seems to focus on a few historical characters such as Robespierre, Desmoulins and Danton, but includes less known figures in the way of their wives, friends and even king Louis himself! I’d say it’s quite patchy… there are really exciting bits, but some of it quite tedious. But I have no doubt at all that we’ll finish it, even though it is a pretty hefty volume. And hopefully when I come to write the next issue, it will be slightly more positive than this one. Apologies again.
The good thing about the disappointing summer I’ve had, is that it meant I’ve had a lot of time to think about The Space Between and the direction in which it’s going. I still haven’t made any definite conclusion about the exact composition of the third novel, only that it’s not going to be set in the Antarctic and feature Scott because I don’t think this would fit in with the rest of the trilogy, it would make the whole thing look pretty silly. But I do want to take a step away from London and particularly Wilde, though exactly how I’m not sure. I’m just going to continue with The Space Between and see where my ideas lead me. I’m not even sure at this stage if the trilogy will in fact remain a trilogy; The Space Between itself is going so well that it may prove impossible to fit all the years into just one more novel. I suppose there’s nothing to stop me from making it a series of novels… for the moment I’m just going to keep writing and see what happens.
The extract I’m going to share with you this month, is similar to the last in that it’s also set in Ross’s house. This was a deliberate move to heighten the tension of the situation within the Ross household with Freddie, Ross and Jack. I wanted to keep the action focussed for these first few months of 1904, to get across that quite a few events happen to the same characters around this time, so I didn’t want to break off the action and pull back and get the reader distracted. I think it’s always a danger with this sort of story with different historical characters etc. I must admit that I’m quite upset with this Ross/Freddie/Jack story at the moment and just want to get it all down before I carry on with the other characters as well. It’s good to spend time with Jack, as I don’t seem to have done that much with him by himself, and the breakdown of his friendship with Freddie is such a major disruption to his life that I felt he should definitely be at the centre of these next few sections of the story. As well as Harriet, of course… as I was writing this piece, Harriet herself actually came into the story and I suddenly saw the way it was going to lead. I hadn’t intended this at all but it seems pretty obvious to me now that Harriet’s employment is going to be put on the line because of the situation between Ross and Jack.
I think the most difficult thing I’ve found about writing the Edwardian Jack was that I can’t imagine how a fourteen year old boy would react to such an emotionally stressful situation,.. Particularly if I must remember he’s a working chap and so almost grown up, but does that mean he wouldn’t think like a teenager? It’s difficult for me as he’s a boy which I have no experience of being!! So I’m writing these next few pieces at quite a rapid pace while I’ve got them in mind – I don’t want to lose any of the tension and claustrophobia I feel by setting all the extracts in the same place, I just want to get across all the emotions felt by all the characters and to build up the crisis within these few months. This year (1904) seems to be a good place in which to put the major focus of the entire trilogy, because when I think about it, that’s exactly what it is, I didn’t realise that it was going to come here, in 1904, but it has.

As 1904 begins, the only known copy of Wilde’s manuscript has been given to Robbie Ross, following Wilde’s death. Ross has put the manuscript inside a box which his new friend Freddie has made him. The following scene take splace in Ross’s kitchen where Harriet works as a maid.
Copyright Nicola Batty © 2009
“Answer Mr Ross’s bell, would you, Harriet?” called Cook, raising her voice to be heard above the sound of the whistling kettle. Harriet looked up and stared at the jangling bell on the wall but made no other movement, for she had only just sat down. Mrs Ross had been taken by the idea of cleaning all the curtains in the drawing room. It was heavy work, lifting and scrubbing all those drapes, and Harriet’s legs and arms were aching. The last thing she needed at the moment was to face Mr Ross and Freddie once again. She glanced across the table at the other maid, the new girl who had only recently started.
“Jane, will you go? I’m exhausted.” Harriet smiled feebly as she watched the new maid get to her feet eagerly and turn to go. Harriet stared at the cup of coffee. She could feel Cook’s eyes upon her and she felt uncomfortable, for Cook knew the situation. But neither one of them spoke as the kitchen door closed, leaving them enclosed in the steam and warmth from the range which wrapped itself around them, smothering any further need for conversation. Harriet could feel her eyes closing as her mind drifted into obscurity, vague thoughts occurring to her, but totally disconnected, like dogs chasing their own tails. She was aware of the dark garden outside the window, and the iciness of it, but she couldn’t tell if it was actually snowing or not. Perhaps she slipped into a doze, for quite suddenly she realised that somebody was knocking on the back door. She got to her feet slowly, still feeling half removed from all this, and opened the back door. She stared blankly at the small figure on the doorstep, allowing the sharpness of the late afternoon air to bring her back to her senses.
“Jack!” She cried, flinging her arms around the boy. He seemed awkward, perhaps a little embarrassed. “Where have you been? You’ve been gone for weeks.”
“Yes, I know… did you get the money I sent for Christmas?”
“Yes, but I’m not interested in that. Come in, you must be frozen… where have you been all this time?”
The skinny young child she felt she had once known, now seemed almost unrecognisable, stepping out from the darkness into the bright kitchen in a fresh guise, that of a working young man. His face seemed to Harriet to have changed, not only a little older but also more serious and perhaps a little sad. It seemed a great effort for him to smile; he eased himself free of Harriet’s embrace and stepped back, glancing quickly over Cook, who smiled in greeting but said nothing.
“Yes… sorry about that,” he said awkwardly, without meeting Harriet’s eye. “Didn’t Freddie tell you? I sent him round.”
“Freddie didn’t say much – just that you’d left suddenly and had gone to America.” Harriet stared at her son, feeling exasperated. “Jack, what’s happened?”
Jack removed his coat and draped it carefully over the back of a chair. When he turned back to his mother, his smile had faded.
“Freddie was right, I had left suddenly, but not to America… I was still in London, in Whitechapel. I’ve been staying with Georges for the past few weeks.”
Harriet shook her head in confusion.
“But… why didn’t you come back here?”
“I couldn’t,” Jack said, “I just couldn’t, that’s all.”
Cook suddenly cleared her throat sharply, turning away from the range and taking her coat down from its peg.
“Harriet, will you watch these potatoes? I’m just going next door.”
Harriet nodded silently and watched her leave, wondering if tact had inspired her departure. As the door closed behind her, Harriet took Jack’s hand and pulled him closer to her.
“Jack, will you tell me what’s happened?”
“Oh… Freddie…. we’ve just fallen out, that’s all. I just don’t want to see him here, that’s why I haven’t been over.” The boy fell silent but Harriet waited patiently for him to elaborate. “Or Robbie Ross. I don’t want to see either of them.”
Harriet said nothing, for what could she say? She simply squeezed both Jack’s hands together, covering them completely with her own.
“I know,” was all she said.
“I thought… I thought he was my special friend!” Jack suddenly blurted out, his words tripping over each other as tears welled in his eyes. “And I was meant to be his! But no… I’m not as good as Robbie Ross. I’m not clever like he is… I don’t have such stuck up friends and I don’t have so much money. Who am I, after all? Just Jack, a nothing.”
“Don’t say that – that’s stupid.” Harriet hugged the boy, hoping to smother his words and thoughts out of existence. She held him tight, her own thoughts turning bitterly to Ross and Freddie… the intimacy between them filled her with sudden, sharp venom that was almost tangible. She held Jack there, saying nothing. He raised his face and heaved a great sigh, which seemed to wrack his entire body. His expression was troubled, rather than angry, though his fists were clenched tightly into balls. When he spoke again, it was through gritted teeth.
“I knew things had changed between us when I came back home at Christmas and saw him making a box. I knew then it was all changed. He spent so much time making it, all those little designs… everything especially for him, even his name, Robbie Ross on the front… obviously for him. That’s when I knew things had changed.” He fell quiet and Harriet made no effort to break the silence… she let it expand like sponge between them, cushioning the sharp edges of the situation. Eventually Jack raised his hand to his face and rubbed it vigorously, as if wiping away the sadness he felt. “So… I went to Whitechapel, and I’ve been there ever since. Georges has been a good friend to me. I’m going back to America with him soon. I don’t want to see Freddie or Robbie Ross again… not ever.”
Harriet gazed at the boy levelly.
“Well… won’t you just… wait a bit longer before making any decisions? Just wait… things might look a bit brighter in a few months.”
Jack shook his head slowly, smiling slightly, though there was no humour in it.
“I don’t think so… though the ship won’t be leaving just yet, so I’ll come here to see you again, don’t worry. It’s only Freddie and Ross I want to avoid… not you.”
He fell silent again as the door was opened by Cook, who nodded and returned at once to the stove. Jack took his jacket from over the chair and put it on, every movement slow and deliberate as Harriet watched him closely, she was aware she was losing her son. She reached out and gripped his wrist tightly.
“When will you come again?” She said quickly, her voice edged with panic. “You mustn’t leave without saying goodbye… promise me.”
Jack hugged his mother and then pushed her gently away.
“Alright, I promise.” Then he turned and left allowing the cold darkness outside to intrude.
More from The Space Between in October.
Welcome to Andy’s bit!
Hi, sorry I missed last month, but I’m back now!
Our little trip up to Scotland had to be curtailed, rather sooner than we had hoped. First of all, Nic had a bit of the slippy cushion syndrome, and we had to keep on stopping the van every fifteen minutes or so to reseat her. So by the time we arrived at the campsite, in the grounds of a country house, we were both exhausted and I didn’t think it was possible for Nic to sleep in the van or in a tent, so we carried on driving, and after many more stops, we found a motel, that just happened to have a room left.
As many of you know, Jack has finished school now, but he’s going back in September, to the sixth form, to take an Art GCSE. We were very pleased with his GCSE results, as he got a couple of A* and some other A’s too. So, Congratulations Jack!
I shouldn’t think many of Nic’s readers would be interested in the antics of my alter ego, Doktir Nairobi, but I’ll tell you anyway, that I’ve started posting a new story on my Nairobic’s blog. You can have a butcher’s hook, by clinking this link.
MORE FROM Urban Scrawl Andy in October.
Go To College Online