If you were to look at the frontispiece to Killing Hapless Ally, you’d see the disclaimer: it’s a work of fiction; no-one real in it and so on. However, there is also a statement that the book is based on episodes in my own life. More is true than a reader might suppose, because you never can tell what occurs in the interior life of another person or within the hidden confines of home. The key thing, though, is that ‘Ally’, Alison, the protagonist’s alter ego, was pretty much real for me. I heard her as a voice, glimpsed her as a shade beside me, as part of myself; I watched myself become her in order to feel more accepted, and I saw her both as myself and as yet another person to hate and pour scorn. It was complicated, the notion of my allegory coming to life.
I have had people write to me and ask whether I thought I was schizophrenic or had a personality disorder and I suppose I can see why the question might be asked, but it was more that, for me, the person I tried to be didn’t work, because it wasn’t me. She was the voice in my head; alternative me. Lots of people weld on what they think is a socially acceptable self; perhaps I just did it in a more complex way – and of course, I also had a gallery of imaginative friends and of course I had a lot of mental health problems and extremely poor coping strategies in the face of stress. But I had The Books: their authors, stories and characters to help me build and re-build. I wasn’t alone.
So, Ally, or someone like her, had been living with me for over thirty years until….well, you’ll have to see what happens in the book! When I wrote it, I gave her a more detailed life and a more delineated character and so she got to hang around, larger than life, while I drafted and re-wrote and finished the book.
Oh – she and I had been together a long time. And I realised that this was why such a creature was a good subject for my book. I breathed life into her and wrote her more fully into being, didn’t I? I lived with her for the longest time. Now, I am doing it with someone else. He’s called ‘Almost’ and he is a lad from the sea and the estuary and the islands of Pembrokeshire. An ‘Almost, down there, kind of kid’. Except he’s not. If you have read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, you will have a little inkling of what my fluid, adventuring soul might get up to; he isn’t constrained by mind, or time, or identity or even gender; he goes to some extraordinary places and ends up, Forrest Gump-like, in fabulous and terrible and curious places. You don’t know about mermaids called Nerys and Dilys and Elleri? You will. I’d watch out, because these girls can get out of the sea and up the Cleddau estuary and wreak havoc and the truest of love and adventure. And they are hungry for sex and blood. I want to tell you who Muffled Mfanwy (of Killing Hapless Ally) was before she was constrained, by grief, never to speak again. To show you how ‘Almost’ ends up involved in the Melanesian Cargo Cults, where they revere Prince Philip (they do) and what on earth that has to do with Pembrokeshire (okay, I might have made that bit that up). It is certainly a strange story: I am not sure I would know how to write anything that wasn’t. And did I say the book’s biggest influence is Dickens’s Great Expectations, which is probably my favourite book?
So Almost is hanging out with me. Telling me how he got his name, what he planned to do with it, what he’s seen, what he’s missed and -oh!- how he’s loved. I want to ask him if he transcended his name; if he wanted time to stop. Who was the lady from Lawrenny Quay that he could never leave – and where, Almost, did the mermaids go, and why was the sea part of you, Almost, and why did you cross each one, but always come back to the night-world of the quay and the mud and the winking yachts and the lady in the stained raggedy dress who watched from the window of the big old house and she who you loved and loved best?
Almost reassures me that he will tell me all that, but only after I have made him a second breakfast because he’s famished after his global sojourns. And when I have done just that and he has begun to speak, I can start writing his story again.