Congratulations if you have stuck with me through this marathon – we have today reached the final, the 30th, short story in my collection When I Am Not Writing Poetry. Welcome to ‘A Writer’s Life’.
Once I had an uncle – before he died in Africa when I was a toddler – and once he had a fiancée. This long short story – almost a novella – tells the story of neither of them: it is a fictional account of the birth of a writer: the birth of this writer. It blends fact and fiction, places with which I have been familiar throughout my life with other imagined homes, and real characters with imagined characters. It is an account that interweaves some elements of real lives with an awful lot of fiction. It is a story…
When the news reached him he was sitting at his desk and did not immediately take in the full import of what he heard. He had been constructing, if that is the right word, another version of himself that would suit the narrative he had in mind (his initial plans were rarely on paper), a version that would be him in all but name, have his history—or a version of it—but a figure from which he could distance himself in order to look down on, to judge, his actions. At once him and a remote almost alien figure. It would be a tricky balancing act. As he stared at the blank page it occurred to him that he needed the familiarity of his life but did not want his readers—would he ever have readers?—to recognise him in that history. He wondered what he was hiding from… or perhaps he was not so much hiding as disguising his need for a real life as his source. He thought that if he was to be his alter ego, he must be the writer or poet born in Wales that he had never been: perhaps a miner for a father and a teacher as his mother. A father who read avidly in the Institute every night, often returning home late—probably when they threw him out and closed up—to too little sleep before another hard day beneath the ground. It struck him as absurd that, at work, his father was often a few hundred feet directly below his mother, and he wondered if either of them had ever had the same thought.
If he was turning his father into the educated, albeit self-educated late in life, parent he wondered if too he was robbing his mother of the education that she had never pursued.