Essay Fiction

Some would argue that no genre is more fictitious than a biography

So said Carlos Ruiz Zafon – it is the lead quotation at the beginning of Book I. In an interview recently published in Poetry Wales, the poet Tim Relf says: “I don’t believe any of us are reliable narrators of events, even to ourselves. My latest collection Same Difference returns to that idea in various forms: how our life is what the novelist Julian Barnes refers to as ‘the story we have told ourselves’.”

I have tried, in The Dark Trilogy, to blend the story that I have told myself about myself, about my life, with an older history that might have been mine. Once. I have dived into the depths of one of my poems and surfaced with far more than I had dreamt was in the lines. ‘Retrospective’ – the poem in Mostly Welsh (Y Lolfa, 2019) that became ‘Dark Ashes’ – was avowedly autobiographical of a part of my life but I never wrote a second, older, life into those lines. Or so I thought! In taking on the role of my own editor and critic in Books I and III of The Trilogy, I allowed the possibility of there being more behind the 326 lines of the poem than I had been conscious of. A second story. A second – older – life. So there are two biographies in Book I. And at least one of them – the one to which Book II adds – is true.

But memory is a curious thing! As some past event is recounted for the first time a small fact – the colour of a dress or the positioning of a piece of furniture in a grandparent’s house – might be added, perhaps hesitantly, doubtingly, in error… but in the very act of speaking about the event that erroneous image is cemented into the memory – fixed to the extent that on subsequent retellings the blue dress is there, in the picture, as your mother stood in front of her parent’s sideboard. And now there is no question in your mind that you are describing things as they really were! An autobiography is the curated sum of our imagined memories.

In The Lady in the Van, Alan Bennett wrote “You don’t put yourself into what you write; you find yourself there.”


The Dark Trilogy: Agon

So, a beginning. The agon, that conflict of my personae, that conflict of my characters. Today the wind has been blowing from the west and the rain, which has kept me from the little garden surrounding my cottage for the past week, continues on and off: then it was sunny… As I drove slowly along the country roads towards home, through the leafy shades, between the high hedges and patches of sunlight, past hamlets and villages, my mind ran back to the many times I had passed this way before. Times almost half a century ago when …


Enough said!

Can’t really fault their advice so I thought I would pass it on!

Fiction Poetry


If you read about me on the back cover of The Dark Trilogy, you will discover that once – for some ten years or so – I sailed the seas:

Sailor and librarian, navigator and researcher, teacher and trainer, and—always—a traveller: Chris Armstrong has had three careers, working as a merchant seaman…

Book II of the Trilogy explores my first faltering years at sea: young, innocent, at sea in more ways than one, working on a ship where it seemed that everyone knew so much more than I did! I once wrote a poem about joining my first ship:


The London mist wets the docks and the decks
of my first ship on the day that I join;
I am alone at the rail: there are barges, a tug

of loneliness in my chest. This sea,
the sea in the docks, is dirty brown
rainbow oily, scummed with ship droppings,

a lone plank of timber floating like a lost
surfboard – I think of the sun on Gower waves.
I left home young and immediately

uncompanioned by strangers,  was lost
to all they knew, drowning in the isolation
of my new-learned bewilderment

wondering if I shall ever know the pleasure
of girls’ bodies as their talk suggest they do.
Loaded, this ship is as empty as my soul

Book II of The Trilogy – a play for voices – begins: 

Imagine: This is how it begins… It is early Spring, it is afternoon: dismal dock drizzle hazes everything beneath each yellow damp lampglow and dulls the docker din and the winch whine as cargo is loaded. A smell that is a mixture of the salt sea, old oil, steam, old and filthy dock water, smoke from the barge tugs, sweat and stale beer is held down against the ground by the wet mist…

They have travelled by train, by underground and finally by taxi to get here: his mother and his father guiding him for the last time – guiding him through a geography he does not yet know. All of his life, they have guided him, directed him, helped him, pushed him, and now their time is at an end. Neither the boy nor they have recognised this change… 


Welsh Rapper Wins International Poetry Book Awards

Rufus Mufasa was announced overall winner of this prestigious competition in Pontypridd today.  Judged by Welsh writer, poet and environmental activist John Evans.

Second place went to Australian performance poet Caroline Reid for her book, ‘Siarad’ and Jenny Rowbory came third. It should be noted that Jenny’s book is the next big push in her Herculean fundraising attempt for life-saving surgery in the US, which is not available to her in the UK.
Competition judge John Evans said,

“The quality of the work produced by all the entrants this year was of a very high standard. Today sadly, poetry has largely become an art form firmly tied to an establishment elite and academia. Arts Council’s circulate precious public funds among a small group of people to write, publish, review (always positive), and win their prestigious sounding awards. Meanwhile poetry book sales are shockingly low given the money spent, the work is ignored outside of this cosy arrangement, and the public are either disengaged or denied access to the wonderful world of poetry. While judging this competition, I was delighted to discover that despite all of this people throughout the world are finding their own voices, creating their own publishing and performing scene, and are exploring all of the possibilities of this exciting form of writing. Poetry is reborn. It has been taken over by people of all ages and backgrounds who want to express themselves through verse. The three winning poets were perfect examples of this growing phenomenon. 
“First place went to Rufus Mufasa, poet, performer, MC and mother, with her outstanding and highly original autobiographical collection. Second prize to Australian writer Caroline Reid, herself another very talented performer and wordsmith who through verse also takes us on a journey through life. In third place is Jenny Rowbory, a young girl struck down by a rare illness (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) which left her bedbound, and who has spent the following years staring at the ceiling while waiting for life saving surgery. Jenny’s poems are heart-breaking, yet her work is also inspirational, and encouraging – it is the work of a remarkable woman and another hugely talented writer.”

Event organiser Dave Lewis added,

“The Poetry Book Awards is a fantastic contest and we’ve received some fantastic poetry books from all over the globe. Past winners have included some fabulous writers, namely, Jocelyn Simms, Jenny Mitchell, Anne Walsh Donnelly, Fiona Perry, David J Costello and Kathy Miles and our list keeps growing. Congratulations Rufus, Caroline and Jenny who are now added to that roll of honour!

 “Whilst all our winning books are terrific we can’t not mention the plight of Jenny Rowbory, our third place winner. Her story is truly tragic and has already been covered by the BBC. More recently Lee Mack, Rob Brydon and David Mitchell’s tour ‘Town To Town’ raised a massive £16,317 that was added to her GoFundMe total. Please read her story on her webpage.”

Fiction Poetry

Introducing Trystan Lewis, poet

The Dark Trilogy cover

In The Dark Trilogy, Trystan Lewis the poet, my fictional alter ego, has his work and his life examined through the critical lens of his scholarly friend and editor. Trystan’s scholarly childhood – lifelong – friend knows him so well! So well that in explaining the poem at the heart of the story he puts Trystan’s life and his writing under a microscope! As only he could! And he finds that there is so much to tell… as you will discover in the partly fictional autobiography that makes up the first book of the Trilogy.  And in analysing the poem and setting it amongst other poems by the poet – many of which, including some unpublished works, are quoted in the book – the scholar also finds a hidden story, one that the poet did not realise he had told. So the book holds two life stories displaced by several hundred years, histories which interweave and come together in the Welsh mountains in the present day.

Fiction Poetry

It all started with a poem…


     he met a force


            it held him

… and wonder drained the world of substance

            re-arranged the pages of his book to give more radiant

                                                                                    a reading…

It is about a life: the poet’s life, my life… and as The Dark Trilogy would have it, my lives.


What inspires you to write? they ask

This is such a difficult question! There is no definitive answer. 

All that I can say is that both of my books, all of my (as yet unpublished) short stories and all of my poems would never have come into being without some hook to hang them on. Some germ of an idea. That may sound obvious, but I mean to say that I cannot manufacture an idea and work it up, it has to slip into my mind unasked!

I find it impossible to start with the idea that today I will write a poem. Or a short story. Instead, something will trigger a thought and I will know that I need to be at my desk. The Dark Trilogy came into being because, I began to feel after rereading it post publication that one of my poems – an obliquely autobiographical poem – Retrospective, published in Mostly Welsh – needed some explanation; and my current work began after I read a sentence that resonated with me in an article about James Joyce! 

I rarely plan a story line or a plot – or indeed a poem – I allow them to grow symbiotically, naturally. Lots of revisions and editing, of course, but the story or poem writes itself – almost without any conscious thought. I once wrote a piece, Kamel Daoud, Black Dogs and Writing

It’s so right and yet so wrong! Kamel Daoud, the French-Algerian writer and journalist – describes perfectly the experience, his experience of writing and I instantly relate to it but at the same time his imagery upsets me because somehow for me it just doesn’t work – the idea of a dog inside my head pushing my thoughts – my unthought, subliminal, subconscious thoughts – out through my pen or keyboard onto the page is a little disturbing; I think, because of the association of dogs running wild, running amok, with madness. Is there such an association or is that just me? I don’t know. I’m not going to look it up. It is what is there for me.

So how would I put it. I think it is one of the more difficult things to describe. I rarely plan a piece of writing – even this piece of writing – beyond the initial idea, the hook on which the piece – or the poem – hangs. And beyond that I have to treat prose and poetry separately – although the same lack of consciously planned structure or planned plot is true of both. Perhaps it is just more true of prose. Often the hook is no more than the title and then a first sentence or line, and we’re off. I type as fast as the words come to my mind and somehow know when I have mistyped and return to make the correction before plunging on. Of course there are pauses for thought, but they are rarely for planning or story construction. And of course when I come to the end of a section or the end of a poem, I re-read it, go back over it and make changes – a better word, a reversal of syntax for better emphasis or for a smoother run of words as it is read. But the body of the work just ran onto the page through my fingers at the keyboard.

I do not know what is in my head throwing words at my fingers as fast as they can leap over the keyboard. Like Daoud’s dog, something leaps across the world collecting ideas and facts – and let’s not pretend there is no Internet, sometimes I check on facts or the correct usage of a word that the dog – let’s call him that for the moment – has sent me. But so far in this piece I have paused at each paragraph and once mid way through the second paragraph for my dog to catch his breath, otherwise – without pause for conscious thought – I have just typed. I do not understand the process, I suppose, any more than Daoud does – inspiration from a divine animal, he says, and I can live with that idea although suggestions of the divine are perhaps a bit heady for me! I think I prefer his image of being a translator, an instrument, of my head being someone else’s fingertip. There are of course more pauses with poems, particularly if they are to rhyme – a perfect rhyme doesn’t always come easily – and there are far more changes – for balance, for sense, even just to make a rhyme work. As I approach[ed] the end of a long work of quasi-fiction, a Trilogy, which I began without any real idea of how the story line would mature, I have to confess that the third book is taking more thought, more conscious thought, and there have been moments of editorial correction to the earlier volumes to ensure continuance. But my uber-dog, ubermensch maybe, still has control! The fingertip is still pressing down gently. (I just went back and changed the word ‘arrogant’ to ‘heady’.)

Anyone who has read my poems will have come across nautical imagery, so perhaps I can suggest that the idea – the hook – the anchor – gets dropped into the waves and the disturbance immediately causes a splash – the first sentence, line or verse – and then an endless flow of ripples back towards me to splash onto my empty beach. Each ripple another set of words – I use that phrase to avoid the word, ‘thought’ – that flow out onto the page. Other ripples reach the other bank and come back to me at an angle slicing across my wake to disturb the flow.

So there we are: I have a pond in my head. Is that better than a black dog. I think so!  


Actor, Emily Blunt – interviewed by Robin Parker in the Radio Times (5-11 November 2022) – said: “It’s interesting how Hugo [Blick] writes. He doesn’t start out with a clear roadmap – the story sort of reveals itself to him as he writes.” (Speaking of the writer-director of the new BBC2 Western, ‘The English’).

So perhaps it is not such as unusual way to write!

Essay Poetry


When I told this story to a friend, he responded with the unexplained and, I thought, unhelpful comment that a lot had been written about coincidences, and I suppose he may well have been surprised when – immediately – I did not understand his thinking or recognise the link… or he may have realised that I had simply not got that far on in the volume he had recently given me – Paul Auster’s Collected Prose. Some days later – I could see why he had spoken as he did.

There is a whole section of short essays in which Auster recounts a number of strange, linked events – maybe two or three meetings, letters or telephone calls – that were all completely independent but at the same time were linked by a place, a person or, in one case, a song – his daughter singing and moments later a slip of paper fluttering from a new book with the first line of that same song, and nothing else, written on it. Having read these, I cannot pretend that my own single coincidence of timing is so remarkable, but nevertheless no other single word describes the almost magical juxtaposition of timing and relevance.

I was sitting at my desk – this desk – composing and typing a new poem. I always compose at the keyboard, although somewhere at the back of mind I am conscious that it is not the romantic image of a poet scribbling in notebooks replete with crossings out and corrections that people imagine… but having written this way professionally for so long, I find that I compose as easily, type faster than I could write and can make corrections or changes of order so easily on the fly that anything else would be simply too pedestrian. On this day, I was writing a short poem that reflected a mood caused, I suppose, by the fact that I had been confined to my cottage for about five weeks due to Covid-19 that was sweeping through country after country and with, in my mind, echoes of a podcast about the Beat Poets – Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso.

The poem, my poem, was called Corona Sutra, and to anyone who knows Ginsberg, the title and the last line, a direct quotation from him – ‘The gray Sunflower poised against the sunset’ – will be familiar. I had reached a couple of lines from where I expected to end and was just beginning to search my mind for a word or phrase that would perfectly describe new – fresh – life emerging from oceans when my iPad, which was also on my desk, pinged. I have on it an online dictionary that I use from time to time to check meanings or to find an alternative – a better alternative – word and the software is set to display a word of the day, most of which are entirely unremarkable – I think I have only followed up to discover a new word on half a dozen occasions over the years. But this time, as if it had been following my typing, with all its pauses for thought and correction, with the greatest attention, it presented me – precisely in the second I paused – with the word I needed… a word I probably would not have considered although I was sure that I had heard it used before. Not immediately able to remember but feeling that I should know its meaning, maybe I even had some premonition, I gave in and followed the link. The word was ‘ylem’ which means the initial substance from which all matter is said to be derived. Reader, I used it! How could I not have done so? Here is the poem.

Corona Sutra

And when in that world dusk
The last Adam has
His Eve despaired
And weeps to lie beside her
In civilisation’s arid dust –
Will he still hear each ragged breath
Yield to time’s dull pressure
Will promises of redemption
Still echo empty above the void
And will his fading mind despair:
Those mighty kingdoms of the world
Laid low by national pride
Those peoples who might
Destiny have thrust aside

And as the dry winds barren blow
Or some ylem sea-splashes to a desert shore
Will there be yet a God
Watching over the wasted land
Or did he only on Adam’s passing in memory leave
The gray Sunflower poised against the sunset