Lucy and Todd

Atelier Accolades

In accolades on February 6, 2012 at 10:31 pm

LEILA ABOULELA (author of Lyrics Alley, Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Awards, and other novels, radio plays, and short stories): (from published interviews)  “Thanks to…..Todd McEwen, my writing tutor, whose belief in my work made me take myself seriously as a writer” –  Mslexia

“Thanks to McEwen, Aboulela found an agent and in 1999, her first novel, The Translator was published by Scottish independent, Polygon.” The Big Interview  –  New Books Magazine

NANCY GAFFIELD (author of Tokaido Road, CB Editions, London – winner of 2011 Aldeburgh First Collection Prize for poetry):  Todd and Lucy are that rare breed of professional writers who are outstanding at teaching. I highly recommend them to anyone who is serious about writing. Not only will you be given in-depth and critical feedback, you will also get practical help in learning how to get your working published.  Todd has been instrumental in my launch as a poet.

NEIL BUTLER (author of The Roost, Thirsty Books, Edinburgh, 2011):  Lucy and Todd will NURTURE your book – they won’t tell you what you should write or how THEY would write it.  They’ll help you make YOUR book the best it can be.  Which is a long way of saying they’re the real thing.  They’re not the friend who’ll tell you they don’t like your subject-matter or that they don’t get what you’re trying; they’re not your mum who’ll tell you you’re just brilliant: WHERE did you get that IMAGINATION from?  These are people who know how to write, they know what writing IS – so they know how you edit.  Todd edited my book and left me a book I’m proud of.  His cuts were fine plastic surgery, not butchery; his advice was practical (i.e., not ‘this is how I WOULD write it’ but ‘here’s a way to improve this’); he spotted the glaring errors that make it into every piece of writing that passes 140 characters.  Lucy gave me my cover quote – ‘It’s wonderful’ – (and meant it!).  One last thing.  They do a very good seminar, the only seminars I ever came out of feeling excited, inspired and not in need of a stiff drink.  So, tip: bring a pad and paper and scribble down the books casually mentioned, quiet-like, under your desk.  Trust me.

AARON SIMON:  Todd and Lucy were amazing mentors at Kent. With their prodding and encouragement, I was actually able to finish writing a novel and–even more amazingly–start legitimately rewriting huge swaths of text.

JAMES WRIGHT:  Todd and Lucy, as writers, readers and editors, helped me to trust and develop my ideas of fiction and have inspired the confidence to do my ideas justice and successfully write exactly as I aspire to. Their editorial support is artistically sensitive and, with the reader in mind, logically sound, so as not to lose sight of the essential narrative.

EMMA GLASS (author of Peach, Bloomsbury, 2018):  I would like to say that it is always such a pleasure to receive feedback from you. The response is always prompt, always honest. Even when I send long, intangible lines of random words with minimal punctuation, you always help me to find a focus. You read with such patience; guiding my rough chapters and shaping them, helping me to see through the creative fuzz. Observations always objective, practical considerations about the reader, about the narrative voice. But always, and most essentially enthusiastic and encouraging.

CHRIS BENNETT (author of Gravesend, Pleasant Publishing, 2018):  Truly wonderful! Fiction Atelier has not only polished my work but their feedback and guidance has improved my writing immensely. It’s a personal service that is tailored to each individual and Todd and Lucy are always available to help – just a phone call or an email away. I couldn’t have completed my novel without them.

NIK WILLIAMS:  Never erosive nor evasive, their editorial help offered constructive directions out of a manuscript tangled up by syntactical choices, pockmarked by plot holes and crowded by superfluous characters. I would recommend their services to any writer without hesitation.

KYLIE GRANT (Winner of the Unbound Press/Spilling Ink Review Holiday Flash Fiction Prize 2012 and author of The House that We Built – shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2011):  Todd McEwen and Lucy Ellmann were utterly wonderful teachers, editors, and mentors during my time at the University of Kent.  One of their many strengths is that they actively want to engage with your writing, both as writers and as teachers, giving you the freedom to experiment and create your own confident writing voice.  In encouraging you to read and question a variety of thought provoking, frustrating, beautiful and ultimately inspiring pieces of writing they improve the quality, depth and structure of your own writing. I honestly couldn’t have finished my novel without their enthusiasm, guidance and feedback.

RUPERT SMITH (Winner of the Bloomsbury Writing Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize at the University of Kent; his short story, ‘Fripperies’, was broadcast on Radio 4 in October, 2011):  Lucy and Todd were meat and drink to me whilst at Kent. I never dreamed that my writing would be invigorated in the way it was – suddenly I was urged out of my comfort zone, but at the same time I was never happier in taking the risks I took on the page to the extent that I almost forgot I was on a degree course. What was so revelatory was how the reading fed so appropriately into the creative process; works I’d never before come across (by writers I’m still exploring) were shoring up all the experiments I doubt I would ever have otherwise undertaken, and validating them.
Lucy encourages her students to think deeply about their craft, and I’m delighted to say that the generous feedback I received during her module ‘The Body’ was instrumental in helping me to strike out and complete what was to become my Radio 4 short story debut.
And Todd is just so supportive and wise: who can resist a tutor who asks, à propos of nothing, ‘What’s exciting you?’?  His tutorials are mini literary adventures: invaluable assistance with envisioning the writer’s journey alongside an uncanny bibliophile’s sixth sense in steering you towards your next feeding frenzy. I never shifted to the uni library so fast.

EDDIE GIBBONS (whose latest poetry collection, What They Say About You, was shortlisted for the Scottish Book Awards, Poetry Section):  If Todd and Lucy were mechanics, they’d work for Rolls-Royce or Ferrari. They are fiction engineers. Todd McEwen set me on the path to five published collections of poetry by instilling in me a belief that I could become good enough by building on my raw ability through application, study, editing and enjoyment of all these processes. But he didn’t stop there. Once he thought that my work was of a sufficient level he encouraged me to send it out into the world, where some of it got published in literary magazines. Not only that – he actually brought the editor of one of those magazines to meet me, whereupon he offered to publish my first collection. But it doesn’t end there. Todd and Lucy have inducted me into the wider world of authorship by introducing me to many luminaries of the writing profession, including Billy Collins, former poet laureate of America. Their tutorship and continuing friendship are things I treasure.

KRISTEN LOWMAN:  You won’t find anyone better than Lucy and Todd.  I can say this; I’ve attended some fine workshops, but I have never received such detailed, precise, thoughtful notes; some dealing with the story’s subtlety, some addressing the technical, all of them honoring and enhancing the story.  They also have a unique way of making me reach higher, without fear – it comes from their generous natures as artists, as professional writers.  After working with them, I find myself enthused, excited to get back at the story.  They pass on their joy, igniting my own.  Thank you.

SUZY ROMER:  I have never seen your editing in action and it absolutely transported me! It’s as if you touched my words with a magic wand and made them better.

Muscle — Alan Trotter

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on February 14, 2019 at 6:27 am

‘… He said that they were lucky if he didn’t take their little city from them and grind it under his heel. He said that a man who couldn’t at any moment point to a dozen necks he’d like snapped was a man without imagination who didn’t deserve to be in charge of a poem, let alone a city.’

It would be a clever reviewer who could discuss Muscle in the way that it should be discussed without spoiling it. What looks initially like an ultra-modern pastiche of the entire hard-boiled world, meaning every pulp novel ever written, good movies and bad, even whole ‘noir’ towns and people, turns out to be anything but that.

The plot, which is enormously dangerous to talk about, concerns some pretty lousy citizens and the depredations they practise on one another. There are two types on a train who might be Beckett’s Mercier and Camier, if they were hit-men. In between little assassinations, they discuss their calling with detached erudition:

‘Our own self-interest is not threatened,’ says Charles, ‘so the impulse that demands that society disapprove of our action doesn’t lash at us. If we punish ourselves, then we are holding ourselves to a higher standard than that to which society holds itself.’

‘And why,’ says Hector, ‘would it be reasonable to expect us to do that?’

The dialogue and the prose in Muscle flit effortlessly around the whole range of its sources and influences. Its prose is sullen, muzzy, droop-lidded. Some of it reads like a David Mamet play; there are undercurrents of Damon Runyon. There are utterances recognizable as pure Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. But Muscle’s inner logic, though highly poetic, is far superior to the junk in which it finds its origins.

There’s an unexpected side to this book, an element of pure, luridly coloured pulp fantasy, which Alan Trotter brilliantly locates as co-existing in the same time period with the elements of the crime fictions he’s playing with. What does a barely-educated thug do when he is tired of drinking, cards, and women – what does a thug read?

Which brings us to our sympathetic narrator, named Box. He is pure muscle, and assists a very hotheaded middle-level operator, represented in the text with the non-name ‘____’. Box and ____ are given periodic assignments applying pressure, or ‘easing the flow of regret’ as they like to put it. In a card game, Box meets Holcomb, a writer for pulp magazines, and one day while on stakeout, bored out of his mind, he reads one of Holcomb’s sci-fi stories.

At first he’s baffled by it, but then it comes to make sense to him, even to haunt him. There is something really unsettling yet amusing about a big bruiser like this, a truly dangerous guy, stumbling upon what may well be the only printed matter in this horrid town, or at least in this crumby neighbourhood, and finding it enlightening, even transformative: the only food for thought he will ever encounter.

Holcomb’s stories are about centuries, aeons, of intolerable waiting (which Box and ____ know something about) and finding a key to the nature of time. But not for a reason that is good. The stories are not sane, and it’s terrible to watch Box being drawn into their stupid way of thinking. At this point it’s like Jim Thompson has met HP Lovecraft, and they’re planning on getting married.

Things don’t turn out well for Box. He’s frustrated in love, and the business of beating people into various forms of pulp isn’t going too well. He begins to think that he can build a device like one in the stories, so that he can atone, sort out his existence. And it’s not a good idea, this horrible device that he wears on his head ‘like a nest made from refuse’. His own solipsistic version of some very dire events is loudly contradicted by Swagger, a detective, who thankfully for us retains some grip on reality, even as Muscle veers into other worlds, taking Box with it:

‘Swagger has grown so big there is no space in the room to stand, I’m pressed up against the wall. His tooth swings open like a door and I go inside the hot cavern of his mouth and his voice surrounds me.’

This is a remarkable, radical, historical novel. It’s as if everything bad about the 1940s and 50s is still circling the earth, another planet. You are practically strapped into a broken chair in a smoky, dingy room and forced to watch a writer at play, to watch his imagination, and what imaginations he gives his characters, zoom. How often do you get that chance?



(This review appeared in the Herald on Feb. 10, 2019)