Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

October 2009 Issue 109

Nicola's Editorial


Quite suddenly it seems that autumn has descended upon us, bringing not only a nip in the air but also the imminent approach of Dry Rot on CD ROM, which will include the screenplay. I’m pretty excited about finally getting my writing together in a readable format. Particularly important to me is the fact that it’s going to include a beautiful cover, done by my dad. I’m in my element designing the cover and fancy lettering but it’s quite another thing to have to battle with my website to make the changes necessary to advertise Dry Rot. I think I’m going to enlist the help of my brother, Steve, who’s something of a computer expert. I suppose the good thing about this is that the CD ROM will be a bit of a family enterprise, not one but three Batty’s being involved. Andy has confidently given the date of publication, as December the first… so that’s when we’re aiming for. Although I’m a bit nervous about taking the plunge into self-publishing, I do feel that now is the time, otherwise people are never going to get a chance to read my stuff, and as that is the whole point of my writing novels, it’s unthinkable that they should simply disappear unread. After all, what do I have to lose by publishing them myself? So I’m going to go for it. Wish me luck.


By choosing to publish Dry Rot as the first of my novels on CD ROM, I wanted to do something quite different from The Ziggy Collection. Though I wrote Dry Rot so many years ago, it’s still definitely the favourite of my novels, it’s simultaneously funny, disturbing and contentious. I feel that it’s worked more successfully than some of my later novels, which are much more ambitious and complex – perhaps because it has such a simple structure and it’s very powerful and dramatic. Also on the CD ROM I decided to include my screenplay version of the novel, which was written some five years ago. Because Dry Rot is first and foremost a visual work, it was a natural progression to adapt it for the screen, although a local TV company hummed and harred over it for some time, they never accepted it in the end – so I’ve still got to wait until someone actually films it! But even so, the images of dry rot creeping up the stairs and contaminating the morality of Father Byrne are still strong in my mind.


Although one of the earliest ideas for Dry Rot involved Catholicism, it was with some hesitation that I decided not to use the anti-religious element to advertise the novel. I felt that it was beside the point and decided not to make it into the major issue of Dry Rot, though it is one of the big themes in the story. I remember originally writing the short story back in the early eighties, and having to do loads of research into the Stations of the Cross as each chapter is named after a different station. In this way Dry Rot is certainly about Catholicism.


Like so many of my novels, Dry Rot began life as a short story. While I was still a teenager I was intrigued by my uncle’s descriptions of the dry rot he had seen attacking an old church – he was a DIY enthusiast – and that’s where the original idea of writing about dry rot came from. So then, the link between dry rot and Catholicism was born from conversations with an old friend who happened to be brought up a catholic and dry rot became a metaphor the decay of the priests soul. I suppose that I could say that there are similarities between the conception of Dry Rot and that of the Portrait of Mr WH, which came from conversation between Wilde and Robbie Ross. Anyway, that’s how the bones of the book came about, later it is was rewritten as a short novel with additional characters – notably the exotic Mary.


My dad’s been busy working on a cover design, which he’ll also use for the poster hopefully. We both talked much about this design, so that I feel involved with it… it’s very important to me to have a striking cover design – particularly for Dry Rot, as it is a visual story. Although I was thinking that Jack would help, he said he was too busy with school artwork, so I got my dad involved instead. Jack’s actually been accepted straight onto the A-level art course without his GCSE – the school were so impressed by his art portfolio. So Jack’s now started his A-levels at Parrs Wood, fifteen minutes away, and seems very involved with all his subjects. He is also doing music and media studies.


I just wrote a short story, which was based on an incident I read about in the Beatles book. I’m not quite sure what the title is going to be… perhaps Eleanor Rigby. The true incident of a bloke being kicked to death at a Silver Beatles gig was my inspiration for this story, much embroidered of course. By the way, the Silver Beatles was the original name of the band. My story is set in 1960. The Beatles are in my mind at the moment as I’ve just got tickets to see The Bootleg Beatles once again. I was so impressed with them last time, particularly by the ambitious, more complicated stuff, which they tackled fearlessly… I hope they do so again.


What better way to wind up this month’s Raw Meat than with the French Revolution? This book by Hillary Mantel (A Place of Greater Safety) is still going on, at the moment we’ve reached 1792 and amazingly, King Louis is still alive… he wasn’t actually guillotined until near the end of the revolution. It interests me that maybe his death signified that things had gone too far; everything went down hill from there. Robespierre was also guillotined as was Danton and Desmoulins. The book seems to concentrate on these three main characters as they form an intriguing triangle. The story also is embroidered with other minor characters, particularly women who you don’t usually hear anything about in history. I find it incredible that I still feel the same great amount of sympathy for Robespierre as I did when I wrote my short story about him, Robespierre’s Jaw, twenty years ago. I do think he was essentially a very good man… perhaps to good… corrupted by the power that saw the disintegration of his high ideals. Anyway, read the book yourself and see what you think.


It’s strange to think of how The Space Between has obsessed me for all these years… it’s kind of like another world that has been built inside my mind, and to leave it incomplete is absolutely unthinkable. No matter how much I get distracted by various short stories – which are much easer to write – I’ll always return to my novel, simply because it needs to be finished! Although I’m thinking about putting other bits in this chapter (1904) I’ve not quite decided… at the moment I’m sticking with developing tensions between Ross, Freddy, Jack and Harriet. I only decided recently to bring Harriet into the conversation – I just felt that it seemed natural that she should be particularly angry with Ross. Then I thought it was an exciting progression of things to put her job on the line. I still haven’t quite decided what exactly will happen to Harriet… but I’ve always liked open endings!

It’s always been a bit of a headache to keep on about this bloody box without the connotation becoming contrived; still, it was essential so that in the other books it should be obvious as a symbol of Jack and Freddie’s split. I’m still keeping on with a few more pieces set within the Ross household – I want to develop the tension and claustrophobia still further before moving on. I had an idea the other day of yet another piece to write following from this one, which I originally thought was going to be the last. However the novel has proved itself once again to be a truly living form… a sort of fungus, I suppose, rather like a dry rot. … see, I’m totally obsessed! But seriously, this tenacious nature of the novel is one of my favourite things about it – it can’t be left at this stage, no matter how distracted I’ve become by writing various short stories and trying to advertise Dry Rot. Such things are very important to me, but I’ll always return to finish The Space Between.

One thing I’ve been distracted by are short stories for my forthcoming, Still Lives. A collection of short stories that I’ve already got and others I’m yet to write - a couple of them are still in my head! I think that self publishing is definitely the way forward for me now, otherwise people aren’t going to be able to read my stuff until I’m dead and buried! And I have no intention of letting that happen.


It’s now 1904 and Wilde has been dead for a few years, and supposedly his manuscript has disappeared along with him. But recently the manuscript has been given to a friend of Wildes, Gustave who’s come over from Paris. Gustave has handed the manuscript onto Ricketts; and the Vale Press have printed one copy which is still in Rickets possession. Ross still has the original manuscript which he keeps in a locked box which has given to him by his boyfriend, Freddy. Freddy was up until now Jacks best friend but has split with him because of Ross. Harriet, Jacks mother is angry about this.


The two men kissed briefly, then Freddie spoke in a quiet voice, as if afraid to disturb the air that stretched magically between them.

“I suppose it must be extra special because it’s in Oscar’s handwriting… and so a part of him, a real memory.”

When Ross replied, his voice sounded slightly gruff, maybe trying to cover up his emotions.

“Yes, maybe you’re right, but you know… more important than that is that you gave it to me, that’s more important because it’s real. You and I are alive now, and so is our love.”

Ross and Freddie stared at each other steadily, feeling the entire world around them shrinking rapidly to enclose the two of them within it, drawing them closer and closer together to leave outside anything else. Suddenly Freddie scrambled to his feet, backing away from the sofa, his eyes fixed on the figure by the door. He didn’t speak, but no sound was necessary. Ross got to his feet calmly, as if resigned to the fact of her presence there, it seemed almost inevitable that she should be there, she should have heard the words just promised.

“Harriet… you entered like a ghost. How long have you been standing there?”

“Not long,” she answered, setting her face into a grim mask which was hard as marble. “But long enough to hear your intentions… you’ve made it quite clear that you don’t care at all. You’re inhuman, you’ve got no feelings at all. I can’t believe how long I’ve known you… I’ve known both of you, and yet you could turn round and do this, do a thing like this, to Jack… because it’s Jack you’ve hurt so much that he’s going away. He’s leaving me, leaving everything… and who is there to blame but you? It’s your fault, your fault Robbie Ross…”

“Harriet, please… calm yourself.” Ross reached out his hand and tried to touch her shoulder reassuringly, but she stepped back to get beyond his reach. She allowed the tears of fury to flow over her face. She clutched the edges of her apron manically, as if trying to tear pieces from it. when she spoke again her voice was steady but still filled with venom.

“How could you do a thing like this to both me and Jack after all this time? I trusted you… I thought you were such a good man, but I was so wrong.”

Ross realised that it was no good to try and soothe her. He shrugged slightly as he turned away.

“I’m sorry this is how things have worked out Harriet, I really am. I didn’t intend to hurt anyone; least of all you or Jack, but all I can do is apologise.”

The silence that settled then was more terrible than the shouting had been a moment before. Then Freddie’s voice broke it.

“Harriet, you mustn’t blame Robbie completely… it’s partly my fault, it’s just the way things have happened, I’m afraid… like Robbie, I’m very sorry for Jack. He’s still very special to me. I never wanted to hurt him and I’m very upset that he’s going away like this. I never wanted any of this to happen, but you mustn’t blame Robbie.”

“Why shouldn’t I? He’s obviously the one to blame for all this, so don’t try and defend him, Freddie… there’s no point.” Her voice was now steady, tightly controlled; she stood still, aware of the heat of the small dying fire. Her hands were clenched at her sides and could hear her own voice rising slightly. “This is all a game to him – can’t you see that Freddie? I’m afraid you’re going to get hurt just the same way, because Robbie Ross doesn’t care who he hurts.”

“I think that’s quite enough, Harriet,” Ross interrupted, stepping forward as if to prevent Harriet’s words from touching his young friend. He held up his hand as if to strike Harriet but didn’t, his expression was rather filled with sadness than anger. “You can stop right there – I think you’ve said quite enough now… will you please leave us?”

Oh don’t worry – I’m going.” Harriet stared at Ross icily, aware that a little way behind him, Freddie stood silently, his head bowed, as if trying to take refuge behind Ross’s body. Harriet looked wildly about her, wanting to cause Ross some actual physical pain; it was a feeling she had never had before and it frightened her so much that she quickly turned away and strode out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
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