Leaves drift unswept

It was the third anniversary of Roddy Lumsden’s death this Tuesday just gone. Such is the neglect of this blog that the last time I posted here was not long after the news of his passing.

Roddy was possibly one of the most complicated people I’ve ever met. (Scrap that: he was the most complicated person I’ve ever met.) Preternaturally talented, too. Incorrigible. Entertaining. Memorable. A beautiful, walking conundrum.

Roddy’s leaving was my first experience of loss in estrangement. It’s a confusing feeling. There’s bereavement, but also guilt. Guilt for the things not said, and guilt, even, for the sadness – as if you are not entitled to it, somehow. It was a very raw time. A long time since an event had left me like an open wound. How strange it is that someone can be so out of your life but so very much still in it. The world is a very messy place because it is populated by humans.

When I went to RcL’s funeral back in February 2020, I told people it might provide ‘closure’. Last week – and I can’t remember where I saw it – someone declared on some or other TV show: ‘Closure is for doors, not for people!’ It made me laugh but also seemed very poignant – the truest things are so often tragi-comic. Relationships that end don’t really ever end, I think – they’re an ongoing negotiation of memory and of the way in which you change and, hopefully, soften. Develop some compassion for people’s shortcomings and missteps – including, most importantly, your own. We all long to be beautiful dancers through life, but a lot of the time we come off a little more Elaine from Seinfeld than Mikhail Baryshnikov.

I’ve talked to Roddy in my mind a lot over these past three years. Relationships that end don’t really ever end. I’m so, so much older now than I was when we first met, in those heady days of the late 1990s in London, and Roddy has gone to light. Still.

Roddy touched many lives, and I know many people will be thinking of him very keenly this week. I am thinking of them, and of him.

Andrew Neilson was one of Roddy’s greatest friends. It is fair to say that he was one of those who knew Roddy by heart. He writes beautifully of Roddy here.


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Roddy—and youthful wonders

I go back in time, as I so often do: 2000 was my year of youthful wonders. Everyone ought to have a year of youthful wonders. In memory, it seems as if I spent all my time that year in the company of Michael Donaghy, Roddy Lumsden, John Stammers, and Andrew Neilson. It was impossible luck—just impossible. I was such an annoying little poetry sister to these great minds (even to Andrew, who was younger than me), but yet they took me seriously and wanted me to do well despite myself, and were so generous with their time, teachings, tolerance, indulgence, and affection. Michael was the beautiful magus of all the mysteries; John was on the brink of so much success and had scintillating swagger and wit; Andrew was the brilliant emerging poet and already remarkable critic, wise beyond his years in matters of poetry and so much besides… And then there was Roddy…

O, Roddy.

That year, Roddy published his second collection, The Book of Love. It deservedly attracted a Poetry Book Society Choice and a T. S. Eliot Prize nomination. Despite the excitement of such high-level recognition in his own career, he took it upon himself to mentor me, becoming my personal coach and business development man—God, what he didn’t know about establishing yourself as a young poet! I strangely can’t remember how it all came about that Roddy would bat for me as he did. But, still, it happened. And, in the autumn, he gave me a huge break when he decided to include me in Anvil New Poets 3. Only lightly paraphrasing the 1980s Kit Kat commercial, he left a message to this effect on my voicemail: ‘You can’t sing, you can’t play, you look awful… You’re going to be great!’ Which sort of sums up the enduring tension of faith/doubt he had in me—but somehow still makes me laugh as much as it did at the time.

Over the year of wonders, John and Roddy worked with me on my Eric Gregory manuscript. Roddy was enormously helpful in his critique—I am indebted to him—but even then we seemed to hold completely opposing views as to which were the best and weakest poems of the manuscript—and which subject matter I really ought to be exploring. Painfully and yet comically, when I eventually found out I had won a Gregory, Roddy made me read out the letter to him over the phone to ensure I hadn’t made a mistake, such was his disbelief! Looking back, I can’t help but sympathise with his incredulity. I feel it too, now.

Several years later, I published my first book. Roddy disliked it. He thought it was flawed and chaotic, heedless. And he was right. But your book is you, somehow. Flawed and chaotic, heedless—that was me. Still, his disapproval was crushing, even if he conceded I had selected a great cover image. I had always wanted to please him.

Not long after, we fell out, and that was that. I cried and cried. And I dedicated a lot of my days attempting to drive away memories of him. It almost became a form of meditation. But your love for someone doesn’t abruptly end with the ending of their love for you, and gradually I came to accept the inevitable: Roddy is threaded through my life—the joy, the laughter, the creativity, and the pain, and, yes, even the time that we were both mistaken for plainclothes police officers. You have to have it all, or you will lose everything. But how I wish things could have been better. How I wish we had mended it. I wish it so dearly. Time and tears, Roddy. Time and tears.

Nothing that has happened to me in writing would have happened without Roddy’s hand. I will always owe him so much, and I will always credit that, and I will always love him.

I couldn’t let you go, Roddy, without saying this. And now you have embarked on your awfully big adventure and we miss you and we send you all light and fair weather—at last—for your journey.

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Love again

After ‘something of a hiatus’ (that’s a euphemism for block, right?), I am back writing poems again. It’s been a long and painful journey back into writing from relative silence, during which I sometimes (often, always) questioned whether poetry was actually worth it anyway – not poetry as an art, but poetry as a creative project, for me. There must be other things I could do – indeed, maybe there are an infinite number of things I could do so much better. But you don’t choose what you fall in love with, any more than you choose whom you fall in love with. When it ends… You devise your strategies. You delete their number. You avoid the old hangouts where you know you will find them. You throw out all of the photographs (well, almost all of the photographs). You pretend not to care when you hear that they have moved on with other people, to another life. You act casual. You start to do that killing thing: you rationalize. They were not that great. You argued a lot. They had their faults, too many to count – too many to even begin to count. They caused you pain – you kept mental notes. They were untidy, thoughtless, chronically late for a date, bad with money. They often put you down. A number of your friends wisely disapproved. You’re better off without them – how can you not be? They were practically George Costanza. Something not good begins to grow inside you. You drain away the colour and nuance from the memory, which is a particular brand of self-medicating deceit the bitter become exceptionally skilled at. You look at others in love and happy and so casual, and you tell yourself, I give it six months. And yet, for all of it, you’re still counting down the days since it ended. The heart is stubborn, sonny, even if it’s mangled. She will not be told; no, she will not.

I’m not entirely sure what eventually led me back to what now feels more like a hotel bar in the late hours than kicking my heels in a lively student revue. There were false signals, a number of years ago, that things were beginning again, but they were shot down. What made it eventually come together? Of course, there have been critical losses of the kind common enough by the time you reach your 40s: people I adored, gone to light – or gone to who knows where; ideas of whom I might be or to where I might travel; lovely, imaginary vistas of life you accumulate through your teens, 20s… 30s… on which the black blinds are drawn, without any ceremony… This is the sort of oh!...tough shit (as a friend has it, shaking their head) that demands attention. And working out. Embracing doubt. So I got to it, because there’s a point in life where inaction is a terrible risk; its terrible risk outweighs the tyranny of the cursor, the possibility of humiliation. What started out as a strategy for healthy survival and making peace soon turned into the most surprising thing: love, again; fun, again. Even the painful stuff has had its moments of hilarity. I can laugh at myself. DEAR GOD. I CAN LAUGH AT MYSELF. Who woulda thunk it? Not to say life’s humbling doesn’t suck and involve tantrums of epic proportion along the way, but, in the end, it’s valuable. This is how change happens. This is how change asserts itself.

I’m approaching middle-age now. Hell, maybe I’m in it. Not remotely shiny. Sometimes it feels embarrassing writing again – or sitting in that hotel bar, if you will. BUT I CAN LAUGH AT MYSELF. And I am hopeful. Hopeful in more meaningful ways than first time around, when perhaps I cared too much about material rewards – for what these can possibly be – and hungered for acclaim to solve some then mysterious (now, not so mysterious) fault inside, to knit the wound. I’m still wrestling with this. The need for approval, the pat on the back, the permission… And, of course, we all are. But somehow these matters feel far smaller in the scheme, when you finally finish your second collection. For one thing, when people ask me if I’m writing, I can actually answer, yes – and tell the truth. Whatever happens next, and whatever the reception, it feels like an enormous achievement. All this, and pleasure, too. Which is to say, to anyone grappling with similar problems with writing: things can begin again – they so often do, particularly when the mess seems irrevocable. And love, as they say, is sweeter second time around.


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Last Wednesday, the news came through that the Welsh Books Council would not, after all, suffer an enormous cut. It was a wonderful moment for all who campaigned to reverse this decision. We are delighted for the Welsh Books Council and the publishers, and we admire them. They were tireless in their efforts, despite their fears for the future. Courage and tenacity are formidable things. Everyone should continue to support them now. So, buy a book! You can select a title here.

The cause was helped in no small part by all those who supported us on social media – thank you, if you were one of them. I think a special shout-out to Elin Jones, AM for Ceredigion, is in order. She proved her commitment to her constituents and to Wales throughout this whole process with energy, wisdom, and exceptional class. She matches those qualities with humility. The Society of Authors endorsed our campaign, proving itself, once again, a magnificent champion for writers and the health of literature at large. The Bookseller broke the story – and that proved to be a strong wind in our sail. The Guardian gave generous attention to this vital cause, by the pen of the excellent Alison Flood. Thank you all.

The Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism Ken Skates AM listened. He deserves credit for doing so. The art of leadership and the art of listening are indivisible.

It’s been great being a part of this, alongside the brilliant Angharad Price. She is a wonder. As for me, I’ve been reconnected with something I thought I’d lost long ago – I suppose a sort of reestablishment of faith in the possibility of what can be achieved by cherishing two important and interrelated things. Community still matters. Integrity still matters. We must be kind to one another. We must hold hands. We must speak up for ourselves, but also each other, always. (I think these may count as transferable skills.)

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I’ve left all social media for the time being, to free up some space in my life for work and some vitally needed solitude. If you want to contact me, please go to the Editorial page for my contact details. Au revoir.

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Cuts to Welsh Publishing

Many of you will have heard about the brutal cuts to Welsh publishing proposed by the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ken Skates AM. I have been very busy tweeting about this, as have my marvellous friends and colleagues – many authors, academics, and those who love titles published by our wonderful Welsh indies. I wrote a letter which was signed by well over 200 authors, academics, and movers and shakers in literature – signatories continue to come in. The brilliant Angharad Price has mobilized Welsh-language authors with her letter and achieved likewise – thanks to her for her great work and to all those who signed. We stand in total solidarity as writers. Welsh literary culture flourishes in both languages and deserves to be cherished and protected.

You might wonder from whence my passionate defence of Welsh publishing springs.

As a much younger woman than I am now, my debut poetry collection was published by Seren. Amy Wack, poetry editor for the press, walked me through the exhilarating process of preparing and publishing that collection; she held my hand every step of the way. She nurtured me and gave me confidence, and together we produced a book I felt represented what I was about, with a number of poems addressing my attempts to get to grips with my Welsh cultural heritage and who I really was. The book enabled me to live a life I could not have entertained when I first entered Michael Donaghy’s workshop group in 1998 as a rather dazed and confused soul at sea in London.

Later, I took on roles as editor at New Welsh Review and Parthian Books. Of course, such roles brought me immense joy, but they did not make me rich. Had I stayed outside of literature in career, I would certainly be a richer woman than I am now. Indeed, neither role paid more than my previous jobs outside of that sector. In fact, they paid significantly less. But, and forgive the sentiment, I wanted to put something back in. I wanted to be part of a community. I wanted to offer people the chance to enjoy some of the delight I had experienced in literary endeavour. Publishing can seem like a glamorous career. But it is crushingly hard work, being the invisible mender, as it were, and it involves long hours, significant stress, and no outrageous material fortune. Editors are the champions of literary culture. Their job description is complicated, as anyone who has benefited from their talents will know: grammar pedant, interpreter of dreams, therapist, literary critic, campaign manager, the best of friends. Beyond that, there are the designers, the marketing gurus, and the managing editors who work to killing deadlines and hold this fragile but vital operation together. They deserve our care and appreciation. They deserve our efforts to lobby on behalf of their interests and the vital public service they do in promoting our culture.

So here is a copy of the letter I wrote and many signed, on behalf of the talent of the future and their brilliant literary midwives.


Dear Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism

We are writing to express our dismay and grave disappointment at announced cuts to the Welsh Books Council budget, which will significantly impact on the publishing output of Welsh publishers. Under the adjustment, the Welsh Books Council will suffer a reduction of 10.6% in funding, equating to a financial shortfall of £374,000. This shortfall will be carried by publishing houses in receipt of publishing grants. For English-language publishers, this means a cut of £76,500.[1] We note that this latest cut follows a reduction in the budget of the Welsh Books Council which has occurred annually since 2011.

The proposed cuts will have a significant and deleterious impact on a vibrant, bold, and highly acclaimed English-language publishing industry, which, although undeniably small, has proved its merits over the past decade – and which has a wide reach beyond Wales. The achievement in the wider context should not be underestimated. Publishers in Wales and their authors work within a complex and precarious economy. Competing with major commercial presses based in London, and with slight remuneration for both staff and authors for their dynamism and excellence, Welsh publishers, and their authors and titles, have nonetheless achieved great things, against great odds. Books from Welsh publishers are not only remarkable for their content, but also for their stylish and professional presentation, which underscores credibility in the contemporary market. Books from Welsh publishers have also led to a vital reassessment of our heritage – we are thinking here most particularly of the achievements of Honno, which has introduced readers to an array of exceptional female voices through its Classics series, and the significance of the Library of Wales series, published by Parthian.

UK and international prize culture should not mean everything in artistic terms, of course, but Welsh and Wales-based authors who publish with Welsh publishers and enjoy such success are ambassadors for our nation. And in prize culture, Welsh publishers certainly punch above their weight. In recent years, Welsh publishers and their authors have been nominated for the Commonwealth Book Prize, The Dylan Thomas Prize, The Betty Trask, the Orange Futures Award, the Journey Prize, the Jerwood Prize, The Stonewall Award, with frequent nominations for the T. S. Eliot and Forward Prizes. Welsh authors publishing through Welsh presses have recently been shortlisted for the prestigious BBC National Short Story Award and the Sunday Times EFG Award. Notably, in 2011, Patrick McGuinness was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Last Hundred Days, while in 2014, debutant Jonathan Edwards won the coveted Costa Poetry Award for My Family and Other Superheroes. These two titles, both from Seren, elegantly demonstrate the commendable breadth of concerns of the English-language literary publishing output – a novel set against the fall of the Ceausescu regime and a poetry collection with its deeply felt roots in the heart of the Valleys.

Welsh publishers understand the demands of the modern age and a changing relationship to books, and they have developed their commitment to digital publishing accordingly: over 1,500 ebooks are now available through gwales.com. An impressive number by anyone’s measure. Beyond literary titles, Welsh publishers also platform popular biographies, sports books, and, crucially, children’s books – enabling reach across a spectrum of interests and enthusiasms.

The impact of cuts will mean that publishers must now publish fewer books. This is the reality of what the cuts mean to the industry. This presents Welsh publishers with agonizing pressure – on top of pressure which already exists – and agonizing choices. Fewer titles annually mean fewer chances for the possibilities of commercial breakthrough, critical acclaim, and prize culture, all of which consolidates brand. Fewer titles mean that talented authors may be denied breakthrough and the benefits of working with a small but supportive team of staff with high editorial and production standards, since publishers have to negotiate these cuts alongside forthcoming titles from those established authors already on their lists. There is a fear that many vital voices of the future may turn to commercial houses and that, over time, there may be a gradual erasure of Welsh subject matter, as up-and-coming authors ‘neutralize’ their output to better fit the template of metropolitan publishers. This latter point, particularly if cuts continue at this rate, is particularly concerning, because they will undoubtedly lead to a loss of cultural distinction and an erosion of Wales’s clear artistic place within the wider UK firmament. Cuts will also mean marketing for authors and author advances – already at critical level – will likely be affected. As writers, readers, and those committed to the advancement of literature, we would also like to emphatically register our solidarity with those working in the Welsh publishing industry and our very real fear that jobs are imperiled by these cuts.

Welsh publishing houses offer a vital space for Welsh authors to interrogate the matter of nation and heritage, to explore the increasingly complex notion of identity in the twenty-first century, and to understand themselves both home and away. For readers, Welsh publishing houses offer the opportunity to enjoy high-quality titles which may often reflect their own domestic concerns, even as such titles frequently promote Wales within an internationalist scheme. We believe the health of a nation can be measured by its commitment to its writers and to those who seek to platform artistic talent with passion and skill. Wales has a long and deserved reputation for achievement in its literary endeavour. Dylan Day would seem to make little sense in a context which sees the contemporary output of great writing from Wales so undermined and apparently undervalued by its custodians. Great writing from Wales speaks of cultural pride and ambition, which are the twin markers of any confident nation. We therefore strongly urge you to reconsider these cuts and the impact they will have – not simply over the immediate years ahead, but as a long-term political legacy. We understand that we live in a time of austerity, but believe that in such challenging times this most vulnerable but crucial platform for artistic enterprise should be especially protected. The publishing industry of Wales is now facing a cut that is approximately double that of other prominent bodies which provide services to the culture of Wales. This is unjust and amounts to self-sabotage.


[1] We further note that the cut to the Welsh-language publishing grant, also set at 10.6%, will amount to £187,000.






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Interviews with poets…


It’s fast approaching a year since I left this blog. A necessary hiatus. It’s been a busy but fulfilling time – and that accounts for a large part of my absence to date. I’ve been working on the Devolved Voices project, as part of a team investigating Welsh and Wales-associated poets writing in English since 1997 and Wales’ ‘yes’ vote. You can find out more about us here.

As part of the project, I’ve been building an archive of interviews I’ve conducted and filmed with poets for the project – musing on identity, belonging, emergence, and poetics. It’s been a fascinating process. And I’ve been enormously grateful for the generosity of our participants.

By the end of the project, we’ll have thirty interviews on the website – ranging from well-established poets, some way into their careers, as well as more recent poets. To date, we have uploaded interviews with Matthew Francis, Damian Walford Davies, Kate North, Meirion Jordan, Tiffany Atkinson, Jasmine Donahaye, Nia Davies, Rhian Edwards, Ian Gregson, Richard Marggraf Turley, Katherine Stansfield, Dai George, and Pascale Petit. More will follow shortly. You can visit the project’s website home here. And you can access the media page – with interviews – here.

I’ll be back on this blog soon, following the summer break.

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I am leaving this blog for a while. Actually, I have left it for some time now. So I guess this is a formality. Or ‘closure’. Or something. I am just too busy with work and family these days – in the very best sense. And I am writing again (if global warming doesn’t get me first – there will be a second collection). And I guess I simply favour Twitter and Facebook as a mode of expression these days. In a sense, this blog was always about giving some shape to random thoughts, attractions and enthusiasms which grabbed me. I prefer the shape of things to be more, well, disposable nowadays. And smaller. Also, social media allows for pedi-conferencing in a way that blogs simply don’t. Besides, other people are so much more interesting – and aint it the truth.

Despite the fact I have been a poor blogger in recent times, people have come. And it’s been nice to have them drop by. Bye for now– or see you on Twitter @KathrynGray.


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On realising one has not updated one’s blog in months

I’ve been neglecting this blog of late. It’s been an exceptionally busy time, and the days escape. I looked up and here we are. But, as they say, ‘I’ll be back.’

In the meantime, I’d like to give a mention to – and praise for – Josephine Corcoran’s And Other Poems blog. Yes, I’ve some poems on there. But, really, it’s just a lovely, generous concept of Josephine’s, featuring work from some terrific British poets. Aren’t some people just so constructive and lovely? Check. It. Out. 



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Muse Tuners

Glad to be a part of this great initiative – Muse Tuners. I am offering one-to-one mentoring in poetry publishing. As an experienced editor and practising poet, I can help you to shape a manuscript and take it to its full potential, as well as offering advice on placing individual poems for magazine and book publication. I can also help with troubleshooting on individual poems and sequences. I offer honest and supportive feedback, and there will be a strong emphasis on creativity and development for pleasure as well as purpose. I aim to help students enhance their critical and creative confidence. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, you can find details here.

Muse Tuners also offers other services, guaranteed to improve the quality and enjoyment of your creative practice from some wonderful writers and teachers. So, even if poetry publishing isn’t what you’re after, there’s much more again.

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