Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

May 2010 Issue 116

Nicola's Editorial


It’s recently dawned on me that I have quite a few completely new readers who might just appreciate a bit of background information about me. Some of you may be confused by my continual references to Ziggy, that’s my wheelchair, and also to Andy, who’s my partner. We live in Manchester, with our teenage son, Jack. Both Andy and I are writers. I’ve recently lost my sight – hence the continual reference to my being confused! For any more information about me, please see my new Weblog Without Boundaries.


I can’t believe that May is here already, not only because the past month seemed to whiz by but also because it’s so cloudy outside – not at all like May is usually! It was so dark this morning when I woke up that I thought it was still the middle of the night… what’s happened to the sun… is this simply the British climate? Andy thinks it’s something to do with the cloud of ash left by the volcano drifting across to us from Iceland… well, I’m not so sure about this myself. We’ll see if the cloud begins to clear and lift eventually. What do birds do meanwhile, because they must be affected and be thrown off course so that they’ll end up completely lost when they try to migrate. I wish I’d been near enough to the volcano when it was erupting to be able to feel the heat of it and hear the sound of it. What sound would it make? A roaring and crashing of rocks? Really scary… I just wish I’d been there.


The sad story of my infected tooth continues – and the way it looks now, seems to be set to end on a fairly tragic note. If you remember, half of my tooth had actually fallen off before the dentist agreed that it was infected and gave me antibiotics to clear the infection up. Well, ok… that was fine, but the remaining stump was actually rotten and had to be removed, a couple of different dentists told me this, but for some reason no one would do the job – I wished they’d just whip the damn thing out then and there and have done with it. but it’s all this farting around with signing consent forms and such like that I can’t stand. I have to go back to the dental hospital in a few weeks to finally have it removed which I’m very sad about. I wonder if I can keep the blackened piece of tooth and frame it perhaps?


Some weeks ago I spent a few days in the ancient city of York, which I remember so well from my old school days. I must have been on quite a few school history trips there, because the stone walls of the city are always associated in my mind with images of myself as a ten year old… but even then I must have been fairly much obsessed with going back in time, for I remember so vividly seeing the Viking museum and touching all the ancient stones on the walls. So I was very much looking forward to revisiting my old haunts and resurrecting the past in more ways than one. But the trip actually turned out to be somewhat less than a total success, due mainly to difficulties getting around with Ziggy, a problem I’m sure the Vikings never had!! I had hoped by now that at least a small portion of the city walls would be made accessible to me… but no, it’s a no-go area for Ziggy, as is Clifford’s Tower. This shouldn’t be so, surely by now these sights should be made accessible? But the worst was to come.


As I said, one of the main reasons for revisiting York was to go once again to the Jorvik Viking museum, so we joined the massive queue to get in, for it’s obviously a pretty popular place. I think the reason for this is that it’s underground, which I’d forgotten about, but there seemed to be no problem because there was a lift, but we were stopped before even getting that far, by an official person who said that it was the museum policy not to allow more than one person in Ziggy down at a time, and as there was already someone in Ziggy down there, sorry. No-go. We tried to book the lift for the following day – which was our last in York – but no success, so we had to go home disappointed. In fact I was more than disappointed, I was bloody furious! The old reason they gave was of course that I was a fire hazard… as everyone knows, I am likely to spontaneously combust the minute I get underground!! It’s so unfair, when there were hundreds of other people allowed in… but only one solitary person in Ziggy, so I wasn’t able to see if I could rekindle the old memories of the Viking village.


In fact there were only a couple interesting historical places that were accessible to me in Ziggy. Even The Shambles – part of a fifteenth century street, complete with cobbles – was very rough going for Ziggy. We searched for a plaque on the wall of one of the houses, saying that Guy Fawkes had been born there, as I’m sure I had been told at school, but we found no evidence of such a story, so perhaps I made the whole thing up. The nearby castle museum was actually ok for me, even though Ziggy couldn’t fit through the skinny doorway of Dick Turpin’s cell, once we got down into the dungeons… still, to actually be down there and get the feeling of clamminess and old iron doors was wonderful. Another great time trip they had upstairs was a Victorian shopping street, which included quite a few shops selling DIY medicines and other weird potions which must have gone down well as the Victorians were so much obsessed by their own health. In another shop – a toy shop, I think – there was a real shop keeper and customer actually moving… which was really exciting, like being transported to the past. Thinking about it now though, I found the dungeons more exciting – it almost made up for the Viking fiasco, but not quite. The castle museum is actually built on top of a seventeenth century castle, so the dungeons are actually straight out of history. Being close to such old places means so much to me, I don’t see any reason why I should be excluded from them in this day and age… it must be possible to make these places accessible with a few simple platforms or lifts. Perhaps I’ll start a new campaign for Ziggy access to historical sights.


The weather turned lovely and warm for a week when we got back from York, so that I was quite excited at the prospect of going down to my friend Sheila’s party near Wimbledon… Sheila herself had been quite nervous about packing all her guests into her house, but with it being fine everyone spilled out into their big garden. As Sheila’s husband owns a Chinese restaurant, there was lots of great food, including Chinese dumplings. Quite a few Chinese people turned up with instruments, and so had a sort of variety show in the back garden including Sheila’s son Daniel who played his flute… not to mention Sheila’s husband Shao Wei actually singing! It was a great party.


The good weather continued the following day so we went for a walk in the area of Wimbledon that I like best. It’s a piece of woodland surrounding a Buddhist temple, unbelievably peaceful, despite being situated in the middle of busy Wimbledon. The temple has several statues and a shrine where people can leave money, kind of like anarchy. Afterwards I wanted to go to Tower Bridge to try and get up to the walkway, which I had been told you could walk across. However the walkway was closed as it was after 5.30… so we went across Tower Bridge itself instead. It was actually excessively windy, so you weren’t aware of much else, and it was quite a relief to take shelter in a Bermondsey café afterwards, where we met a little girl who was in Ziggy… apparently she kept looking over at me and so Andy spoke to her as we left and discovered her name was April; she wanted to talk to me directly so Andy gave her the web address for RAW MEAT. So I’d just like to say hello to April if you read this! As I hope you do.


By now you realise how important it is to me to keep in touch with my readers, and so Andy’s been making some changes to my website in order that it should become more accessible, a two-way form of contact, so that I can respond also. So do have a look at the new site and feel free to leave any comments. It goes without saying that I would greatly appreciate it. This method of communication is particularly vital to me at this point, as it’s becoming more and more difficult to communicate with people face to face. I worry constantly about losing direct contact with people, especially readers of my writing, so please do respond with your comments to my novel The Spark, which I’m going to serialise on my new Weblog Without Boundaries.


Andy’s been hogging the computer a bit recently, busily writing one poem every day for some website or other, I’m sure he’ll tell you more. There’s a different theme every day, though the one poem of his that caught my attention, didn’t seem to be that closely linked to the theme – which was ‘Seeing the Light.’ It was the title that first captured my interest – Passing Clouds – which was actually the name of a brand of cigarettes they stopped making in the 70s – before my time, but I wish that I’d seen them. They sound dead weird, oval shaped, like a cross between a cigar and a cigarette I suppose. Andy described the packet to me which is apparently now something of a collector’s item, with a beautiful picture of a cavalier on a pink background. I love all the images in Andy’s poem of clinging decay – to call the poem simply an anti-smoking one would be a gross mistake, it’s much more than that. I think it’s wonderful, almost as good as his old nursery rhymes that he wrote for Jack nearly twenty years ago.


Both Ruth and I decided to go no further with Confessions of an English Opium Eater than the preface. De Quincey’s style of writing is so longwinded and complicated, that it takes all the pleasure out of reading it! I much preferred his brief appearance in Peter Ackroyd’s novel which we read a couple of years ago, The Lambs of London. This novel combined history and fiction in the same way as I’m doing in The Space Between – De Quincey appears briefly in the novel but doesn’t speak, which is probably just as well! Perhaps Ackroyd thought he’d said quite enough already – in the same way that I’ve done with Wilde, having him there without opening his mouth – makes a nice change… anyway, I thought The Lambs of London was a great book, one of Ackroyd’s best. So instead we decided to read a spot of sci-fi, and I remembered a book my Dad had lent me ages ago when I was raving about the film Blade Runner. It’s the book the film was based on, Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, I don’t wonder why the producer’s changed the title, far too long of course, in fact it might not fit across the screen! Even though we’ve only read a few pages, I’m immediately struck by the differences between the two, bits of the book have been left out of Blade Runner completely, though I can see why, too many good ideas for one commercial film.


Last weekend was a very musical one for me. Firstly I went to see my friend Jez singing her songs and playing her keyboard, along with a few other bands. I became rather confused by who exactly was playing as it was all so loud. I think I was right next to the speaker! This show took place just down the road from our house and Andy told me there was an anarchist commune involved somewhere, though whether they actually organised the event, I doubt somehow! You can go and listen to some of Jez’s songs on her website www.myspace.com/jezabellezza. The following evening we went once again to see the Australian Pink Floyd. They were every bit as impressive as one expects, in fact probably even more so, because they played most of The Dark Side of the Moon, which is one of my favourite albums.


Still no news so far on the application to the Jerry Far Trust Fund, even though I’ve been growing more and more impatient waiting and not knowing. Nearly six weeks have gone by since the deadline… I can only think that they must be dithering, making up their minds. I’m particularly hopeful this year because, if you remember, I got a phone call from the Jerry Far people asking for my doctor’s letter which I’d forgotten to include, and Andy concluded that we must be on the short list. So… watch this space.


Although I have actually begun Chapter 5, but I’m not quite sure if it will appear in this issue as I am not happy about the state of it as it now stands… so perhaps there’ll be nothing of The Space Between this month. I’ve not been doing much of it at all for the past month, and seem to be unable to muster up any enthusiasm as far as it’s concerned… which is bad news because I don’t want to do any of my characters the injustice of weakening them through my own inability to keep creative! Having spent so long building up each character and living with each one of them, now having come to know them so well to simply allow them to fade away into the distance is unthinkable – I just have to bring the novel to a conclusion, I’ve already accepted that and now I need to let the threads of the story come together naturally. It’s more difficult than I’d hoped, to do this when I feel so unenthusiastic about each individual piece I write, without allowing my characters to just fade into the background and become weak and papery so that no reader really gives a shit about them… which is what I fear may happen unless I finish The Space Between pretty soon.

My ideas for the next novel are still looking pretty shaky at the moment, as I’m dubious about beginning work on any more novels at the moment. But at the same time I don’t want to rule these ideas out… perhaps simply allowing ideas to form themselves into a novel will actually work, I’m not sure. The novel looks so far as if it will be divided into at least two parts, each being set in a completely different country – one, the Antarctic, with Captain Scott, who takes the manuscript unintentionally with him. The second part of the novel will be set probably in New Orleans, where Georges takes the manuscript and gives in to his wife who will then pass it on to somebody else… it eventually gets into the hands of the publisher John Lane in New York, which is where it turned up, according to history. These are just ideas at the moment and so need working on. I can’t say at this stage exactly what the structure of the novel will be, or even if it’s going to take the form of a conventional novel or take a completely new direction. Everything seems to feel so uncertain and ideas so foggy, that it’s beginning to worry me… I just wish that I could get some of my old spark back into my writing, because I feel that otherwise it’s going down hill pretty fast. I don’t really want to end on this note, but perhaps it’s not such a bad idea after all, to simply take a step back and end The Space Between.



Copyright Nicola Batty © 2010

As 1905 begins, the original manuscript of Wilde’s The Portrait of Mr WH has been given to Robbie Ross. Another copy has been made by Charles Ricketts, together with his partner Charles Shannon as a final publication from their company, The Vale Press.

CHAPTER 5: 1905

The lake in Hyde Park had been completely frozen that year, and now Charles’s nose was beginning to turn bright red as he hurried along the avenue towards his apartment. As he fumbled for his keys he could feel the chill air slicing against the skin of his face, causing the hairs of his red beard to stand stiff and cold like a piece of wire netting. His breaths were coming thick and fast; he pushed open the front door and bounded up the stairs, taking them two or three at a time, until he reached his studio. Immediately he went over to the bookshelf and rummaged around on it, then turned and left the room at once, his muffler still hanging loose around his neck and his overcoat still buttoned. On the top floor he entered Shannon’s studio without knocking, and stood there in front of his friend, who was just finishing off a painting. Shannon glanced up at Charles but didn’t seem surprised by either his sudden appearance, nor by his distress.

“Morning, Charles,” Shannon said evenly, wiping his paintbrush, “is something wrong?”

Charles stared at him wordlessly, struggling to control his breathing.

“Of course there is. I’ve just seen Robbie Ross in Hyde Park, and he told me the manuscript’s been stolen from him! You know, Oscar’s story… the original version, somebody’s stolen it – and I’ve just looked for our copy downstairs, and I can’t find it! You didn’t lend it to Kathleen did you? I thought you said she’d given it back.” Shannon turned away from his painting, laying down his paintbrush in a completely unhurried fashion. He didn’t meet Charles’s troubled gaze.

“How could you do that, Shannon? You knew how much that book meant to me!” Charles spoke through gritted teeth, clenching both his gloved hands tightly by his side as he took a step towards Shannon. “You had no right to lend it to anyone!”

“Don’t be silly Charles – calm down, please.” Moving away from his work table, Shannon took Charles’s arm in a reassuring grasp as he unwound his muffler with an easy grin. “Your over-reacting, you know… there’s no need to panic, Kathleen will give the book back when she’s finished… I’m sure of that. Why don’t you take your coat off and I’ll make us some coffee?”

Impatiently Charles shook his arm free, undoing his overcoat buttons with frantic movements.

“But how can I be calm when you’ve done a thing like this? I thought you understood… how much Oscar’s book meant to me, to both of us. I thought you understood.”

Shannon sighed heavily, examining his painting with a critical eye.

“Look Charles, I think you’re making too much of this. Kathleen will be coming back from Paris soon and she’ll bring Oscar’s book with her. Don’t worry so much… now, go along to the sitting room and I’ll bring us some coffee.”

Charles watched his friend amble casually out of the studio, leaving the door expectantly open for him to follow. But for several moments he could only stand and stare, feeling somehow cheated.




Welcome to Andy’s bit…


April, as I mentioned in the last issue of RAW MEAT is National Poetry Writing Month in America. Being a poetry blogger these days, I joined in the fun and wrote a poem each day for the duration. They weren’t the best poems I’d ever written, but the whole point of writing a poem a day, for me was simply to see if I could do it. You are welcome to have a look at them on my SweetTalkingGuy.. blog, but please leave a comment telling me how bad you thought they were.


Talking of blogs and blogging, Nicola has got a brand new Weblog called Without Boundaries, and every week she’s going to post an extract from the first novel in The Space Between Trilogy – The Spark. The Spark is a complete first draft, but Nicola is looking for critique, and any comments that you leave for her will be taken into consideration as she rewrites.


Jack hasn't written anything for this Newsletter for quite some time, but today I’m going to leave you a little link to a youtube film he made a couple of years ago in London with his friends Daniel, and Robert, and a guest appearance from Sheila, whose amazing birthday party we just went to. If you watch it, our Jack is the one with the blonde hair. The Escape. The best action film ever!

MORE FROM Urban Scrawl Andy in RM#117

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