Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

March 2010 Issue 114

Nicola's Editorial..


I did intend to begin work on this issue yesterday, but my plans were thwarted by a vital electricity cable getting somehow severed, which resulted in a power cut that lasted all day and night. It made me realise how dependant we are on electricity… there was no computer, no cooker, no heating and no lights. The whole atmosphere was very reminiscent of the seventies when darkness came… eating sandwiches by candlelight, wrapping ourselves in blankets to keep warm. Also I suppose it was worse for me because it meant that I couldn’t use the lift, so I was stuck in my bedroom all day which was no joke. Thankfully the electricity’s back on today, so normal service will be resumed and hopefully this issue won’t be too late.


Yesterday seems to have been pretty bleak all round, for Jack was ill in bed for most of the day. He didn’t specify what exactly was wrong, though he obviously did the right thing in just sleeping off the sickness. His recovery must have been quite remarkable because he later disappeared off to his friends… and we haven’t seen him since. I hope that the rest of March is not going to continue in this vein… I was glad to see the end of February this year, which seems to have gone on for ages and ages, where as it normally seems to be a very short month. But 2010 has been bleak and black all round so far… each winter day dragging by and never seeming to end. I should look forward to the spring… but it seems so damn long in coming that I’ve almost given up. I suppose it’s more difficult to imagine the crocuses and snowdrops in the park when I can’t see – I just feel the bitter cold!! But all this is to depressing… so let me change the subject quickly.


So then, I’m continuing to keep my mind fixed on the South Seas, specifically Tahiti. The application to the Jerry Farr Trust fund has got to be in this month so I’ve been working on that with Andy, who’s every bit as excited about the idea as I am! We’ve just found out about this deal which includes a flight to Tahiti and ten days stay in some grass huts. The good thing is that they’re all Ziggy friendly, so it’s all okay for me. This deal also includes a three day trip to Hiva Oa, the island where the artist, Gauguin, is buried. There’s also a Gauguin museum there, I believe. Hiva Oa sounds really beautiful and I can understand why Gauguin went there… apparently the sand is black because it’s volcanic, and the island is covered by mountains – so whether I’ll be able to actually visit Gauguin’s grave we’ll have to see!! The stay on Hiva Oa is at some lodges which are all ok for Ziggy – unbelievable in such a remote place! Although I suspect these lodges will be geared towards wealthy Americans, I shouldn’t really complain, I should just make the most of this such unreal situation!! Hiva Oa is actually three hours flight by small plane from Tahiti itself, which I never realised. Apparently Gauguin must have sailed there towards the very end of his life… he died aged 54 of syphilis, as all great people used to do.


I’m not sure if I told you in the last issue, that Ruth and I had actually come to the end of the epic A Place of Great Safety by Hillary Mantel. As the ending of it was focused on Danton’s trial and the conflict with Robespierre, I felt that we just had to watch the film, especially after I’d been going on about it at such length. I was slightly nervous about playing my old video once again after all these years – it’s twenty years old and I suspected the film might be played out, after I’d watched it so many times. I was also worried that I might not be able to follow it, but this was no trouble – not surprisingly really, when I consider how many times I’d watched it. I could remember almost every scene in great detail – there were even a couple I’d forgotten about, but could pick up when Ruth reminded me. It was amazing to be able to become totally involved in the film, just as well as if I could actually see the action. I still would call the film one of the best, and definitely the most memorable, about the revolution. I’ve got only one criticism – that Gerard Depardieu’s Danton comes over as a little too likeable a chap, which is perhaps inevitable, as the actor himself is such a hero! But in reality Danton was involved in some very shady business deals, and so was a bit harder than Depardieu portrayed him.


Still on the subject of films, I hear that Tim Burton’s new release is a re-make of the Alice in Wonderland story. This is one of those films which makes me really wish I could still see – I’m going to have to get someone to do some detailed describing!! I loved Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and so can imagine that his Alice will feature several sharp blades – not only the Red Queens cries of “off with her head!” I don’t know if the film includes animated characters as well as real people, but I do hope so. I have vivid memories of Jan Svankmajer’s Alice in which many of the characters were animated puppets, dolls, toys and even fossils… absolutely wonderful. Alice herself was played by a little girl, of course – when she grew bigger, she became encased in plaster like a mummy, and when she shrank she became a tiny china doll. The Mad Hatter was a wooden puppet and the March Hare was a scruffy toy rabbit in a Ziggy! I hope that Tim Burton also carries on in the same imaginative vein – I’m sure that he will.


Now that we’ve finished our French Revolution saga, Ruth and I have turned our attention to Into the Darkness, Laughing by Patrice Chaplin. This is a sort of biography, and a sort of art history book. In a nutshell, it’s about the relationship between the artist Modigliani and Jeanne Hebeuterne. Apparently Jeanne already had a baby by Modigliani, and she was eight months pregnant with a second, when the artist died. Jeanne didn’t feel she could go on alone, and so jumped out of her parents fifth floor apartment window. Of course the book includes a lot of biographical facts about both of them, in order to be able to understand the intensity of their passion. It seems that Jeanne herself was pretty highly strung and quite reckless, and so her reaction to Modigliani’s death becomes more clear. Jeanne modelled a few times for Modigliani, and I myself painted a copy of one of these pictures. My painting has that same sadness about it, because it was the last painting I ever did and so it’s especially meaningful to me.


In a slightly different vein to Modigliani, I’m also reading a biography of Eric Clapton, one of my many heroes. So far I’ve learnt several interesting facts which I never realised; for instance, Eric Clapton was born in Surry, where as I always thought he was American! But when I think about it, I’m not surprised, he’s far too good and interesting a character to be American! Another amazing thing about Eric’s family history is that he was brought up by his grandparents, and believed that his real mum was his sister right up until he was about five. He was further confused by having a brother who he believed was his dad – the whole thing sounds like a totally confused jumble. It seems that his mum was only sixteen when she had Eric, and so it must have seemed a natural thing to do – to cover up such a fact in the nineteen forties. If you thought Eric’s mum was pretty young to be having a baby, apparently his granny was only fifteen when she gave birth in the nineteen twenties!! Strange really, to think that near by Ricketts and Shannon were living their lives…



Just to remind you that my novel Dry Rot is available from us, as an electronic book on CD ROM priced £3.95. Don’t forget that the CD is presented beautifully, with a cover illustration by my dad based on my own design. If you want to see a sneak preview then take a look at my website www.nicolabatty.co.uk where there’s a full page advert. Although I wrote this novel so many years ago, it still remains my own personal favourite: It is dark, powerful and disturbing… well worth a read anyway! The novel is accompanied by the screenplay version, written ten years ago.


I hope you don’t get too confused with this issue’s extract which comes straight into the middle of a scene… actually I think you should be able to pick up the story, having met Kathleen some time ago. I wanted to bring her back into the limelight. I’ve now decided that she’s going to play an essential part in getting Wilde’s manuscript to the South Pole. Although I still have slight reservations about this idea seeming too incredible… I keep reminding myself that this is fiction after all. Ever since I first stumbled upon the fact that she later married none other than Scott of the Antarctic, I just was unable to overlook such a coincidence. Ever since the birth of The Space Between almost ten years ago, I’ve been plagued by Antarctic visions of ice and snow, I’ve even read Scott’s diaries, such was my obsession. Then I discovered the vital link between Shannon and Scott – Kathleen, of course. So it seemed quite natural to follow this link in the form of the manuscript. I don’t think that Captain Scott himself will actually be aware that he’s carrying the manuscript – I want it to be buried in the snow… lost without a trace… and perhaps nobody was aware of it. I’m not quite certain about the details yet, I’ll just see how it goes.

I had difficulty writing this scene because I was aware all the time of the sexual conventions of the Edwardian period, coupled with the little bit of Kathleen Bruce’s biography that I read – she seems to have been a rather independent Lady, certainly not one hankering after a husband. At the same time both Shannon and Kathleen were of course human and good friends, so why not… I also struggled slightly with making Shannon’s giving of the book to Kathleen believable. After all he knew that the book really belonged more to Ricketts than himself. I’ve made his action a result of the heat of his passion.

While I was reading the relevant bit in Kathleen’s biography, I happened to notice that she had recently visited Wilde’s hotel where he’d died a few years earlier; she’d been given several French novels from Wilde’s bookshelf. What was interesting about this was that she had no idea of the actual reason for Wilde’s prison sentence… such a thing would not have been generally reported in the news – even ten years after it had actually happened.

I’m actually having a little break from The Space Between at the moment – though I will have to return to it before I forget it! I’ve become a little distracted by beginning work on one of the Still Lifes stories. I’ve had this story pretty much thought out in my head since last summer – so it’s high time to get it set down. So far it seems to be working out pretty much as I hoped. I don’t want to go into too much detail at this point, but it’s vaguely about the 18th century Captain Cook. It came as a great relief to write something in the first person again, which I find much easier and more natural than the third, which instantly distances the action from the reader, although there are situations when this is necessary, I definitely don’t want it to be the case in Hervey’s Island.


Copyright Nicola Batty (c) 2010


Wilde has died in Paris a few years earlier, and apparently his manuscript has disappeared. But before he died he gave a copy to Robbie Ross, who was keeping the manuscript safe in a box made by his boyfriend, Freddie. However, Harriet stole the box from Ross when she left his employ, intending to give it to her son Jack as a reminder of Freddie, but Jack wasn’t interested in owning it, so he and his friend Georges threw the box in the Thames, after removing the manuscript and taking it with them. Meanwhile there’s another copy of the manuscript which was published by the Vale Press. As far as Ricketts knows, the book is still on his shelves, but Shannon has lent it to his friend Kathleen Bruce. The following takes place in Shannon’s studio in West London, Kathleen has arranged to come and model for Shannon when Ricketts is not around to disturb their passion. As this extract begins, they have just slept together for the first time.


“You know, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately… maybe you feel too young, but I definitely feel old… and it’s not just that, either. I want this to change. All the male world with Rick… I don’t want to be a part of it anymore. I want you as my wife Kathleen… I want us to be artists together, and our children.” He shook his head slowly, closing his eyes as if afraid of making contact with hers. “I have no intention of braking my friendship with Rick.”

“Well I don’t know about all that, Charles,” Kathleen said, sitting up and beginning to look round for her clothes. “I don’t think Rick would be very happy about sharing you with me.”

Shannon sat up slowly, watching Kathleen carefully as she dressed.

“Perhaps not. But I think the time has come for a change. I want something more… something more than just men.”

Kathleen gave a nervous little laugh, making quick, sharp movements of her hands.

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that… you’ve got plenty of lady friends.”

“Yes, but…” He got to his feet, beginning to put on his own shirt and trousers. “I just want a different life now, Kathleen. A life with you.”

Kathleen pulled on her skirt and buttoned her top and turned away and picked up her satchel from beside the chair. When she turned to face him, there was a hurried, flustered look about her that told him their conversation had ended.

“Look, Charles… let’s not say anymore. I have to go now, I’m afraid – but before I do, here is the book. I’m not finished yet but… I’ll have to borrow it again some other time.” She took The Portrait of Mr WH from her satchel and handed it to Shannon. He stared at the cover blankly before replying.

“Wait Kathleen. Take this with you to Paris… I don’t want it here, you should take it. Please.”

“Well, I though Rick wanted it?”

Shannon shook his head definitely, moving over to the table and picking up a pen. Dipping it hastily in the ink, he scribbled across the title page; ‘To Kathleen, to seal our promise to each other, Shannon, August 1904’.

He stood back, gesturing with a dismissive nod of his head for Kathleen to take the book.

“Here… this book doesn’t belong solely to Rick, it’s just as much my

property as his. He made that quite clear to me… so I’m choosing to give it to you. Please take it.”

“It’s quite complicated,” she said reluctantly, pushing the book in her little bag and fastening the buckles carefully. The bag felt very heavy, although the book itself was merely a slim volume. Her eyes fell upon Shannon’s charcoal sketch on his easel. She stood there for quite a while, examining it with an artist’s eye, a critical eye, not tainted with emotion at all. No memories came flooding back, unlike Shannon when he looked at it.

“It’s quite lovely,” she paused, “but I don’t like the way my arms are flung out… it looks as if I’ve been posed by somebody else. Not natural at all. Apart from that, it’s beautiful. Thank you very much, Charles.” She gave him a squeeze as she passed. “Thank you for everything… I won’t forget it in a hurry. I’ll write to you soon – and see you when I come back to London this time next year. Goodbye!”

She closed the studio door quietly behind her, leaving Shannon alone with his thoughts. It was sometime before he could will himself to draw back the curtains and allow a little light to fall upon his sketch. He studied it with a dull sadness growing over him, aware that the sculptress wouldn’t be his…
Welcome to Andy's bit...
After a slow start to the year, time is starting to speed up once again. The days are becoming noticibly longer, and everyone is talking about and planning their holidays. Nic is still dreaming about Tahiti and Hiva Oa, and she also wants to go to Paris to do some more research for The Space Between, and to try and visit Modigliani's studio, which I believe has been incorporated into a boutique hotel, in recent times. An interesting fact, and I'm not sure if Nic knows this, but the studio in Montparnasse was on the floor above Gauguin's studio. Gauguin having been there a good twenty years before Modigliani. Phew! Small world!!!
One of the things I've been doing recently is trying my hand at the Syllable Sestina, It is a very addictive form and tons of fun to play. The only problem is that I'm not sure if I'm actually doing it right. I've posted a few examples of the form on my Proper Joe's blog .
There's an Online magazine entitled Wags Revue which I'm told means Web-mag. Anyway, they're having a Syllable Sestina competition, and perhaps foolishly, I sent them a few samples of my work as an entry. I haven't heard anything as yet, although the closing date was only the first of March. Which reminds me, I once sent a poem to a magazine and the rejection slip came back marked: THIS IS NOT POETRY!
More from Urban Scrawl Andy in April.

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