Raw Meat .. Nicola Batty's Newsletter.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

April 2011 Issue 127

Nicola's Editorial


As usually happens around this time of year, we seem to have taken a dramatic leap in to spring… the change has not been gradual at all. Suddenly it’s mild enough outside to actually go for a pleasant stroll around the park without risking frostbite or some such thing. Indeed the blossom on the trees, which has such a beautiful smell, is out, so that the whole park seems to be filled with this complete spring white blossom scent. With the time change as well, it’s so much lighter, it makes me think of the coming summer, which I’m really looking forward to. If only Manchester could get caught in some sort of climate shift so that it would become surrounded by rainforest and always warm, of course… though I don’t think this is very likely.


Andy’s old printing computer has been busy these last few weeks, not to mention Andy and Stan, printing out more copies of my fairytale. If you haven’t ordered your own copy, you may do so by emailing me. I’d also welcome your comments and reactions to the story when you’ve read it, so please do leave them in the comments box. I would be particularly interested to hear comments from any children… I’m still not sure that I’ve managed to make it equally open to children and adults. I’ve just been approaching the Oscar Wilde Society with Catching The Light, which I think will be of particular interest to them. I think we’re also going to take some copies down with us to Lower Shaw Farm, where we’re going to stay with Sheila at Easter.


A few weeks ago I started writing another short story in a similar vein to Catching The Light, which has been in my head for six months or more. Though it’s based on actual historical events and people involved with the gunpowder plot, such as King James, Guy Fawkes and Robert Catesby, it’s also very much a work of imagination. One of the major difficulties has been with avoiding making it too political or religious, while keeping it based in the actual historical climate of the early 17th century. I’ve been trying to work out a way of embroidering all three colours of the Irish flag – green, white and orange – into the appearance of three angels – each one of them representing a different colour. As you can imagine, this is a pretty difficult task without making it too political. I want it to remain a story above all things… it’ll take all the pleasure away from both writing and reading it by making it too closely tied to historical fact. Of course I could say exactly the same thing about The Space Between, as I would say that’s the main thing that’s become clear to me recently through writing it.


Perhaps this is where my idea for getting a tattoo came from, though I don’t know if the leader of the gunpowder plotters actually had a tattoo, but he has in my story, and it would have been quite possible to have a tattoo in the seventeenth century, so I think I’ll use this in fireworks. I remember reading that when Robert Catesby was shot by soldiers, he died clutching a locket with the Madonna’s picture in it – I didn’t want to bring Catholicism into Fireworks at all, so I’m trying to show this visually in orange, green and white… I’m not quite sure if it works, so perhaps this is why I’ve been having such problems with the story – I want to lift it above all those tedious, realistic situations, which is why I’m using angels perhaps! Anyway, my fiction gave me the first spark of a change in colour and design for myself.


Since losing the ability to see colour, colours have not become any less important to me, in fact they’ve become more so. I’d like to be able to tell approximate colour by other senses such as smell, and also by the amount of light still visible to me. It’s also possible I think, to be able to get the feel of colour… if you imagine being in a totally red room it would feel different from being in a totally yellow room. It’s interesting to realise how much colour is a concept in the mind, rather than just a physical sensation. I remember going to visit a medium in a room completely decorated in shades of blue and purple… both of which are high frequency colours that supposedly attract spirits and induce a higher plane of consciousness. In this way I don’t feel that colour has lost any of its meaning to me, in fact now it’s more important than ever. To be surrounded by plenty of colour is essential to me now as without it I’m totally in the dark!


Talking about psychic wavelengths, I still believe there’s some sort of telepathic communication between twins… and recently an example of this came to light between my twin sister Suzanne and myself. Suzanne writes poetry, and she sent me A poem she had just written about her own experiences within the foundations of our childhood house back in Cheadle Hulme. I was amazed by this as I’d just written about exactly the same thing, which you can read on my weblog if you’re at all interested. Suzanne captured the same feeling of fascination in the dark recesses in the cellar wall, and the burning curiosity of the child wriggling into the foundations as I did, hopefully!

It cane as a surprise to me to discover that Suzanne had also shared the experience of the foundations with me as I never realised… I had thought that my insatiable thirst for underground exploration was something that was absolutely my own… but it just goes to show that with twins, there’s always some special form of communication between them. If you’re curious to read Suzanne’s poem, I’ll ask her… so keep your eyes peeled.


With this wonderful spring weather we’ve been experiencing lately, I decided to go to the Peak District National Park once again for a spot of Ziggy Cycling… surprisingly Andy was also enthusiastic, and so off we went with Brigitte. If you remember back to the autumn of last year we bought our own Ziggy Trike which was intended to be ready for the road by the spring… but it’s obviously going to take a lot more work than Andy at first thought. As it’s a double seater it looks like the entire seat needs replacing by a single Ziggy which is quite a big job – however Andy is quite positive about it still! In the meantime, the Ziggy Bike at the Peak District was a perfectly adequate ride even though Brigitte said that the gears weren’t working which made it somewhat arduous to go uphill… though it was still lovely to feel the speed going down the other side.


When I visited Chester Zoo last week I was particularly impressed by the newly opened Butterfly House which reminded me very much of The Eden Project which I visited last year with Andy in Cornwall. I didn’t really notice any windows in the Butterfly House though I imagine they must have been just like ordinary windows with glass – whereas the Eden Project was in a massive greenhouse. But the two buildings were both recreations of a tropical rainforest complete with a river and waterfall – and of course Butterflies, at least in the case of The Butterfly House. I could imagine all the beautiful insects flying freely around, in the same way as did the bats in The Bat House also at the zoo. I wonder if such places are becoming more popular – as these days people want a closer contact with the animals… I wonder how far this is true?


Still talking about the zoo – I was trying a new experiment there , telling what animal it was by the smell which was actually not so easy a lot of the time. It was easy to tell the Tapir’s which have to be the smelliest creatures in the zoo… also The Monkey House had its own distinct smell as did the Giraffes. I’ve also discovered recently that white blossom has its own smell which is also quite strong and distinctive… this surprises me because other white flowers have generally no smell or at least a very subtle one. One of the best things about summer is the abundance of interesting smells carried by the breeze… I’m looking forward to this one’s arrival!


I’m actually feeling quite excited about The Space Between, because my vague ideas about the ending seem to have come together and gelled into a solid form… or at least something semi-solid, a fairly squishy substance but still completely pliable. I’m also very excited about going on to write the next few pieces which will include Kathleen’s first meeting with Scott, which will be a major focal point of the novel so far. I’ve been doing some research, but not too much, I’m very cautious about finding out too many facts about Scott’s early career in the navy, which he actually joined when he was just thirteen so that by 1906 he was quite high up and a bit of an old hand at commanding sailors. It’s essential to get some idea of his character and also to make an educated guess at what it was that drew these two together, for there must have been some vision in Scott, which I think must have appealed to Kathleen’s artistic nature, as well as being a scientist. as Scott also had a driving obsession with the Antarctic, it must have been really exciting to bear witness to. From reading Scott’s journals, some of his character came through – he was obviously a bit of a worrier, as well as being a natural leader. He seems to have been an interesting chap, one of the people I really wish that I could have met, particularly because he must have attracted Kathleen, I think he was obviously something more than a scientist. I chose to make their initial encounter take place in this year, 1906, even though I’ve read that they didn’t meet until 1907. Still, who’s to know such things for sure? Anyway, it suited my work of fiction better this way, and fiction always has the upper hand.

Back to this instalment, which is a conversation between Freddie and Robbie Ross. It takes place at a restaurant in Kensington; though they have been chatting about Freddie’s acting career, here they move on to Robbie’s memories… I wanted to make my novel go back into itself by mentioning the prologue of The Spark – I hope my readers will remember that far back! Robbie then goes further back in his mind to an instance taken from Killing Time, which is set in 1888, when Jack the Ripper was on the prowl. Our first encounter with Harriet takes place in Killing Time and so I wanted to refer back to my own fiction from another fictional world, hopefully not making it too confusing! It was somewhat tricky to make Robbie recall so far back in his memory while still not making obvious contradictions in history such as making him wander around in Whitechapel before he’d been known to meet Wilde! So certain facts had to be bent a little… but as I’ve already said, such is the beauty of fiction. I’m not so afraid of doing this now with The Space Between… whereas I was always too careful, perhaps, with The Spark. This is the major difference between the two novels – I’m much more satisfied and also excited about The Space Between, as I feel it opens out into fiction much more naturally. I hope you’ll agree when it’s complete, which shouldn’t actually be too distant a point…



Copyright Nicola Batty © 2011


By 1906 there are only two copies of Wilde’s The Portrait of Mr WH left in existence; one of these has been taken to America by Georges on board a ship – this is the original manuscript that was previously in the hands of Ross and Freddie, kept in a special box that Freddie made. The second copy is with Kathleen – Shannon gave her this copy without Ricketts’ knowledge. The following scene takes place in a restaurant in Kensington where Freddie and Ross celebrate Robbie’s birthday.

Now read on

CHAPTER 6 – 1906

“Back to important matters, like champagne. Drink up, this is a celebration, after all. And we should treat it as such. As Oscar always used to say, a birthday’s not a birthday unless you have champagne.” He watched Freddie raise his glass carefully to his lips and take several long sips. The taste of champagne was obviously a new one, but one which he enjoyed; looking up at Ross with a broad smile he cleared his throat before speaking in a tentative voice.

“You still miss Oscar very much, don’t you? I feel as if he’s almost still alive… still with us, you remember things about him so vividly they’re almost real.”

Mmmm.” Ross gazed thoughtfully at a point just over Freddy’s left shoulder, without actually appearing to be able to see anything, for his gaze was unfocused, but definitely not an empty one. Raising his own champagne glass and making it sweep gracefully along the same line of motion that Oscar followed many years before with Bosie by his side. Ross took several mouthfuls of the liquid, savouring it upon his tongue before allowing it to slide away down his throat… every movement of the swallow was so vivid and tangible to him, in exactly the same way as his memories of Oscar had become now, sitting here at this restaurant in Kensington with Freddie. Shaking his head very slowly, Ross’s eyes became clouded as his memories became clearer and sharper. “It must have been when I very first met Oscar, because we were both so young… back walking in the woodland with him. In… I can’t remember, was it Oxford?” Frowning, he shook his head again. Freddie said nothing, waiting patiently for him to go on. “It must have been summer, anyway, the trees all around were so green… and then the golden light falling through and dappling everything below to make it seem completely unrecognisable… there, I think, Oscar first told me his ideas of the story he was going to write. That was the first spark, the ideas we mulled over together and banded back and forth almost as if we were playing a game of tennis with them.”

“And so… what was the story, Robbie?” Freddie asked finally.

“That was the beginning of The Portrait of Mr WH… which you’ll remember, Freddie, though I suppose it was a few years ago that you read it. I wonder what’s become of it now?”

“I thought you said Harriet took it for some reason?”

Raising his eyebrows, Ross shook his head and then shrugged.

“Well, I don’t know, but it looked that way. I don’t really want to believe such a thing of Harriet… I always thought I could trust her… it was almost as if we were old acquaintances. Do you know what I mean, Freddie? Déjà vu I suppose… something like that.”

“Go on,” Freddie prompted, after a long pause.

Once again, Ross’s eyes became unfocused and clouded with memories, memories that reached even further back into his consciousness. When he spoke at last, his voice was heavy as if weighed down by the recollection of time gone past.

“When I think about Harriet the first time we met, I feel almost outside myself, as if I was looking on and watching the scene taking place from afar: it was at a music hall, or some such place, the carpet was thick beneath my feet as I stood with Oscar and talked about… many things, I don’t remember.” Ross made an impatient movement of his hand, clearing away the debris before continuing, “Killing time and such, all these memories are fixed in my head still, so real even now that I know they took place so sharply… even though they’ve now become so far away and distant that I’m not sure if it was really me there at all. Looking back on it now, I wonder if I’m making the whole thing up, even if it’s just something I’ve read in a book somewhere.”

He fell silent. After a while Freddie touched him lightly on the arm, causing Ross to start violently.

“Sorry,” Freddie apologised. “I only wanted to say that maybe it was a play you’d seen at the theatre you were remembering, something like that anyway. it was not really Harriet then, do you think? Maybe just an actress.”

Ross nodded slowly, then he smiled and shook his head.

“No, that can’t be right, because that was Oscar, I’m quite sure of it. So that would follow then… that must have been Harriet we talked to on the balcony at the music hall. The memory is quite clear in my head, but… it just doesn’t seem quite real. Ah, I can’t say more.”




Welcome to Andy's bit...


It's April again and for me that means NaPoWriMo which stands for National Poetry Writing Month. It is of course an American thing and the idea is that you write a poem a day for the thirty days of April. In my case I'm posting them on my SweetTalkingGuy bloggage. If you do visit me there, please remember that it's just a bit of FUN!!!


Nic mentioned Ziggy cycling in her editorial above, and I just want to let you know that her Ziggy Trike which is actually an Indonesian Rickshaw is almost ready for the road. All the mechanical work has been done and I only need to repaint the frame and bolt it all back together again. On a sadder note, we've just found out that several thousand pounds worth of Ziggy Bikes have been stolen from the athletics track at Manchester's Wythenshawe Park.

More from Urban Scrawl Andy in RM#128


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