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.”