Putting the Record Straight; READ AUTHOR'S NOTES Goodbye, Twentieth Century Incorporates Dannie Abse's First Volume of Autobiography and Brings His Life Up to the Present Day. It Includes a Moving Epilogue Which Brought Tragedy and Dramatic Change to His Life. but What Will His Son David Think of It?
Some time before 1974 I happened to be walking to the Ogmore-by-Sea Post Office when the bus on its way to Llantwit Major passed by.
I observed that it had no passengers on board. I thought how purposeless the driver must feel himself to be if the passenger seats continued to be unoccupied throughout his journeying - rather like an author who has no readers.
There have been poets of posthumous fame such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and Edward Thomas whose work was not published during their lifetime.
There are men and women who spend decades working on a novel without ever finding a publisher. Their 'bus' is empty.
I have been lucky to have readers. One of them, at that same Ogmore Post Office, shyly murmured to me, "I enjoyed your autobiography Mr Abse."
It is always gratifying to receive a sincere compliment.
The trouble was, at that time, I had not written an autobiography!
He had read my first novel, Ash On A Young Man's Sleeve, and because of its South Wales setting and characters he had, mistakenly, not realised it was a fiction.
Indeed, when that novel appeared as a King Penguin in 1982 readers could be further confused. For, on its back cover, it advertised itself as AUTOBIOGRAPHY and a Penguin editor spoke of "the author's reminiscence of his Cardiff family".
I thought that one day I would put the record straight. I had lived long enough to write truthfully about my family and about my life as a physician and as an author. For instance, I could write about an incident that had recently occurred that involved my young son, David.
A one-act play of mine was being staged in South London and I asked my six-year-old son if he would care to come with me.
Driving back, I asked him what he thought of my play.
"Only one thing wrong with it, Dad." "What's that?" I asked.
"It's boring," he said. Yes, I could write more about his response and what happened next.
I could also write about my first patient who happened to be completely insane; I could also tell the reader about my farcical meetings with Dylan Thomas and my famous encounter with T. S. Eliot at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
There was much to write about. In 1973 I had the time to do so, and a year later the first part of Goodbye, Twentieth Century appeared under the title, A Poet In The Family.
When the provisional paperback cover of it was shown to me, I shuddered.
There was a photograph of myself. It was flattering enough so I could not object to that; but beneath the photograph a quote from The Guardian had been printed.
This time, a blundering editor had reduced "a magnificently conceived work on the author's life" to MAGNIFICENTLY CONCEIVED. …