Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Monday, June 07, 2010

June 2010 Issue 117

Nicola's Editorial


As it’s now the beginning of June, surely summer should have officially started… which brings us back to the eternal question: when does summer actually begin? If we go by the ancient Druids who said mid summer was the 21st of June, then the season should have started six weeks before - mid May. But then the schools must have it wrong by calling the Whit half term, Late Spring half term… though at the same time, there’s still plenty of blossom on the trees and no roses, it’s too early to be summer. So shall we strike a compromise and say summer must be here, at the beginning of June. Mind you look at the weather…


Yesterday we went to a garden centre and had a great time smelling all the different flowers. Although there were no roses (my favourite) I made a great discovery… yellow azaleas have a wonderful smell, very distinctive, that I’ve never been aware of before. Another lovely smell is wisteria, which has a beautiful name as well – it always makes me think of Tiffany, because I used to have a design by him called Wisteria in a book about Art Nouveau. Apparently wisteria are one of the flowers associated with Art Nouveau along with sunflowers and lilies, though I’m not quite sure why. Another great new smell was irises, even though I can’t remember what they look like… no matter, they smell lovely!


Occasionally it suddenly strikes me how fast time is passing… soon Jack will be seventeen, which sounds absolutely unbelievable. He seems to have changed his ideas slightly since he began work on his A levels – his main focus then was on art, if you remember last autumn’s Raw Meat. But he seems to have found art not as good as he expected for some reason, and so he’s developed his interest in music. He’s thinking of doing an apprenticeship in music production, which is something he’s done at school already and wants to do more of. He’s obviously decided to develop his creative talent in a different direction to the old paint brush and easel… perhaps he feels it’s a more modern direction? I’m not too sure of this myself…


A few weeks ago I actually parted company with my rotten half-a-tooth, and I don’t think I’ll forget the experience in a hurry. It was a truly horrific one, involving pliers – or something very much like that – and plenty of blood of course, which goes without saying. Despite having an injection before hand to numb the jaw, I was still totally aware of the hideous crack as the tooth actually said good-bye. The whole thing was so horrible I was too shocked to remember to ask if I could take the piece of tooth home as a souvenir. Still, the memory will haunt me for the rest of my days, I think.


Earlier I was talking about smelling flowers… I’m still working on the art of being able to tell the colour of the flower by its smell. I recently wrote a little piece called The Blind Side for the Writers Island web site, and this piece is on my website if you’d like to see for your self. Although it’s nothing to do with American football, which is what the film The Blind Side is about apparently, I’d like to think it’s a bit more interesting!! Andy called it a sort of prose poem… well, what ever. It’s great to be able to get feedback on my web site, instead of feeling like I’m talking to a brick wall… which is the case sometimes, I must admit. So please do keep looking and commenting!


I still can’t make my mind up about whether to bring out another novel on CD to follow Dry Rot – which is still available, may I just remind you. The next novel I’ve got in mind would be Killing Time, which is basically a story set in both the Victorian age and the contemporary one… it travels between the two times and plays with them. Jack the Ripper’s in there, and so is Oscar Wilde – not to mention Harriet, the east end prostitute. I suppose I’d call this novel very roughly speaking, science fiction-ish. It was a good deal more ambitious than was Dry Rot, and I worked perhaps too long on it, trying to get it right. But nonetheless, it is well worth the read. Indeed, a friend has called it “sensational,” so, we probably will publish it later this year.


I’ve become totally distracted from The Space Between this past month by a competition which some friends in Worthing told me about. It’s asking for a children’s story based on either the life or writing of Oscar Wilde, or perhaps a mixture of both. They seem to encourage as much imagination as possible, which makes the whole thing extremely tempting for me! Although writing for children is not something I’ve tried very much before, I feel quite confidant about it, in fact it’s a really welcome relief from having to do all this historical research and stuff for the usual things I write. The only other children’s story I’ve written was more than ten years ago and was a fantastic tale called Israel and the Caves of Light, something about Israel’s subterranean escapades with fighting a dragon, all for the love of a very disdainful heroine called Natasha. This story was accompanied by my own drawings of the characters… I wish I still had this, but I think it’s probably buried somewhere deep amongst the debris of my life. I’ve changed my mind several times already about the title of my new story… but I think I’m going to stick with this one, as I really like it. Writing this story makes me think of different colours, and sparkling jewels, everything very visual… which is a lovely feeling! For more about Catching the Light, please see Raw Materials in this issue.


The thing which continues to strike me about the book I’m reading, Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is how much it differs from the film Blade Runner, how much of it has been left out completely. Though I can quite understand the reason’s for this – the story is quite complicated, and so I think the director or producer of the film – whoever it is who decides such things – made the right choice in steering away from any thing to do with the androids, and the fake animals… even though all this is a lovely idea, it deserves it’s own space, perhaps an animated film in the Wallace and Gromit vein. But one of the similarities between the film and the book is the whole atmosphere and feel of the post-atomic deserted city, which is both sinister and disturbing. In fact it’s this bleakness about the film which stays with me even now… those giant adverts on the tops of the buildings in flashing lights, and the continual rain falling. Although you don’t get so much of this sense of atmosphere with the book, it’s still pretty interesting – although it can’t really be compared to Blade Runner, as I think they’re quite distinct.


It’ll be interesting to hear your comments on this bit of the first chapter… I’d actually like to continue with the rest of Catching The Light, especially because I don’t think it’s going to be that long. I really enjoyed writing it and find it all such a visual experience – I can see the whole thing happening in my head so clearly. I can understand why I illustrated Israel and the Caves of Light… it seems to be a natural partnership between children’s stories and pictures. I was a bit worried that the competition only asked for the first chapter, I wanted to get across an idea of what was going to happen in the story… still, I suppose it should make the judges want to read the rest.

Many ideas came to me as I’m writing – the inhabitants of the island being a human/creature hybrid to differing degrees… I was initially concerned about explaining this idea, but I don’t think this would be necessary when writing for children as they’re so much more accepting of anything out of the ordinary without demanding a rational explanation, though I have to be careful not to make my story too crazy. You can stretch the boundaries of credibility too far, and this is true for children as well as adults. I’m confident about mixing ideas from Dorian Gray with bits of Wilde’s life, as the competition seems to encourage this – I remember reading about Wilde writing Dorian Gray, and that he saw himself as appearing in all three of the main characters – the artist, Dorian and Lord Henry. So in my story I had no hesitation in making the character of the artist one legged, I’m only disappointed that he won’t appear in the first chapter! But I suppose the idea is that the judges will read the entire story off their own back because they’ll be so taken with it! That’s the hope anyway…

Before we became distracted by Catching the Light I was already distracted by one of my Still Lives. It’s called Tinned Sardines. This was a totally different kettle of fish from Catching the Light. So much so that it’ll be quite difficult to return to and finish off… although I’ve got to do that, I can’t leave it hanging. I’ve had this story in my head for about 18 months now, and knew that it had to be written, although I knew it wouldn’t be an easy or enjoyable experience, given the tragic nature of the story. It’s about the last few days of the lives of both the artist Modigliani and his partner, Jeanne in Paris. As soon as I read about his last days in his studio, I felt I had to share the story… don’t ask me why, I just had to. And I was right, it wasn’t at all an easy tale to tell. However I wanted to try to get some understanding of how Jeanne could possibly have been driven to kill herself when she was pregnant and already had a daughter by Modigliani. It seems completely unnatural to me to want to destroy Modigliani’s babies, which were surely the only remaining part of him. but as I wrote, Jeanne’s state of mind became clearer. I was originally going to call this story Love, Death and Tinned Sardines, but didn’t like this so much… I thought it sounded facetious, like I was taking the piss a bit, so it became just Tinned Sardines. This story will be included in my new collection of Still Lives.

So distracted have I been from The Space Between this month that I’ve not really given it a thought, but I’ve no doubt at all that it’ll be back by the next RAW MEAT. By the way, Derrick, thanks for your suggestion, Charles’s beard is going to be compared with a scouring brush instead of a piece of wire netting. Nice one!

So I hope you enjoy this first bit of the first chapter of Catching the Light. As it’s for a competition I would appreciate your comments and suggestions even more than usual.


Copyright Nicola Batty © 2010

In a land not so far away, there is an island in the middle of a massive peat bog that is said to be enchanted, because it is completely shrouded in mist and can only be reached by a small boat, and only sometimes. Most of the time the island isn’t there, and even the slim boats that are moored on the mainland to take you both there and back can not be seen. The peat bog itself is too treacherous to walk across – many people have missed their footing and been swallowed by the water – so the only way to reach the island itself is by the slim boats that are steered carefully across the bog by strange creatures, who are partly human and partly frog. They resemble frogs to differing degrees – some of the boatmen simply had a reptilian quality and colour to their skin, while others were almost completely frog like, with wide mouths set into huge, flat faces, never speaking, but just croaking from time to time.

If you’re lucky enough to be taken across the bog to the island, and actually feel the island’s solid ground beneath your feet, then you might be able to meet a few more of these strange creatures who inhabit the island, along with many children. The children are held by enchantment so that they are willing captives. They are controlled by the magician, who is also a giant – but a very friendly one, who’s name is Oscar. Everybody, all the people on the island, are quite willing captives, they come and listen to the magician’s stories, which is a truly magical experience, you can never forget it. As the children on the island grow up, they develop into different animals, though some of these changes are only very slight. Some of the changes overtake the child completely, so that there is little human left.

Although Oscar knew that he had magical powers, he didn’t want to be in control of the island, and so when the other inhabitants, the children and the animals, asked him to be their king he refused.

“No,” he told them, “you don’t need anyone to be in control. That would only lead to bad things happening.”

“But Oscar, we want you to be our king!” cried out a child who looked somewhat similar to a hyena. “You don’t need to control us, we just want you to look like a king, all covered in jewels and golden embroidery!”

“Well…. let me think about it,” said Oscar, turning away from the group of friendly creatures. As he did so he noticed a beautiful woman – she resembled a lovely young doe with great brown eyes and soft muzzle.

“Hello,” Oscar said to her, gathering up the hem of his magician’s robe so that he didn’t trip over it. “I don’t believe that we’ve met… what’s your name?”

The doe-woman blinked her long eyelashes demurely.

“ My name is Constance, I’m very pleased to meet you,” she said. “Will you really become our king?”

Oscar smiled slowly, taking Constance’s hand in both of his.

“Only if you’ll become my queen,” he said firmly.

A great cheer rose gradually from the inhabitants of the island, who were all assembled nearby waiting for Oscar to be begin telling his enchanted stories.

“Long live king Oscar and queen Constance!” they shouted, and burst into spontaneous applause.




Welcome to Andy’s bit…


I don’t know what Nic is talking about when she says summer hasn’t started yet, yes there’s been a lot of rain, but we’ve also had some beautiful days too. Nic’s herbs, that we grow in the back yard, are blooming! (thanks Sheila) In fact they’re doing so well that we’ve planted a few more this year and also some spinach. In the front garden, which gets slightly different weather than the back yard, we have four rose bushes, three of which have flowered and the forth, a yellow variety, has a few buds on it.


Nic has a new Weblog called Without Boundaries, and she has started posting some of her artwork there. This week she has put a Pre-Raphaelite picture which she copied in the early nineteen eighties from a Sidney Harold Meteyard painting I’m half sick of shadows. Also, as she mentioned above she has written a short prose poem called The Blind side for The Writer’s Island theme site. Another thing Nic is showcasing on Without Boundaries is her novel The Spark which is the prequel to The Space Between. She’s got half a dozen people reading it at the moment, but she would dearly like some feedback in the way of comments, and she is very open to critique.


As many of you know, we are interested in buying a Ziggy bike, so that Nic can go cycling. But it's a frusterating business trying to find one that we can trial. I actually managed to see one last Sunday at a local cycling club and we're going again next weekend to see if we can have a go on it, but I'm not too hopeful, because we've been let down before. We found one at Tatton Park a few years ago, but they wouldn't let us ride it, they made some excuse about insurance, and that was the end of that. Then a couple of years ago we found one in Battersea Park that was meant to be for hire, but they were too busy that day. Then there was a place at Dulwich that we saw advertised but when we got there they were closed. And on the story goes... Today we followed another lead to a company in Liverpool, but they didn't have any built up for us to see. They told us about another place in Manchester, but the building was deserted. I saw one on the internet in Florida and I e-mailed the guy and he told me that they hadn't sold any in Europe but he gave me the adress of a German company who made a similar machine, but when I found them they were bankrupt. Phew! maybe you can help?

MORE FROM Urban Scrawl Andy in July


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