Lucy and Todd

Buckley and Mailer–Kevin M Schultz

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on July 17, 2015 at 11:44 am

Do you remember Norman Mailer? He had big ears and used to bully people, especially women, at parties and on TV. You might have mistaken him for an elephant seal. He wrote novels in which bigmouthed guys bullied people, especially women. Having begun as the sort of writer who gets your attention by throwing up in your lap and then running away, his career ended badly, with novels like Ancient Evenings, in which we got to hear what sex was like 6000 years ago. His insecurities were astonishing; he wanted to be reincarnated as ‘a black athlete.’ Maybe the Egyptology helped with that?

Have you heard of William F. Buckley, Jr? Maybe. He was an arch conservative and a television wunderkind. He had a show, ‘Firing Line’, on which he debated the great and the good of the Sixties, Henry Kissinger and Hugh Hefner and Gore Vidal (who was Buckley’s real nemesis, not Mailer, and who, weirdly, gets barely a mention here).  Buckley was the pet of impressionists, especially David Frye, who used to roll his eyes up into his head and flash his tongue in and out like a lizard, hissing out pretentious Yalie phrases out like ‘ex officio’. Schultz is a bit better on Buckley than Mailer (who comes across as almost indescribable): “Buckley … seemed like a breath of fresh air for America’s conservatives. Finally someone was fighting the good fight – and doing it without looking like a hate-filled kook.” Different times.

Buckley and Mailer are both long dead and, on the strength of this history, not very interesting. Surprisingly, Buckley is the one whose ‘legacy’, to use a word beloved of ex-presidents and ex-prime ministers, is the one that may be actually be a legacy. Meaning that he left some thought around. Mailer was a novelist, admittedly a prize winner and, with the lack of anyone else around, ‘the most important writer in America’, according to Schultz and himself, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone reads him today. The ‘lyrical’ passages we’re treated to are more than enough – what a goofball.

What develops pretty rapidly is that the two did not have a ‘friendship’. It was more of a nodding acquaintance punctuated by infrequent public debates. By the time you read the very small amount of correspondence between them that Schultz deigns to quote, which consists of deep thoughts like ‘Hope to see you’ and ‘Glad to have you back’, you will be wondering how the author can claim it was a friendship at all, let alone how it could ‘shape’ something. The Sixties weren’t shaped by anything.

There is some entertainment value, at least as regards Mailer (Buckley was sort of a wit, though he wasn’t funny.) It’s amusing to read about Norman’s miniature city, which he built in his flat out of Lego bricks. This began when he decided to run for mayor of New York City. Mailer seems actually to have believed that he was studying architecture and urban planning in doing this: “Each Lego brick represents an apartment. There’d be something like twelve thousand apartments. The philosophers would live at the top. The call girls would live in the white bricks, and the corporate executives would live in the black.” Nice vision of society. So maybe it’s good that he didn’t get elected.

Schultz fails to provide any quotations which justify the two men’s reputations for rhetoric. It’s strange, but the only passages in this book that seem useful or memorable are the words of others. As regards the general pickle that Sixties America was in, here is Paul Potter, the president of Students for a Democratic Society: “What kind of system is it that disenfranchises people in the South, leaves millions upon millions of people throughout the country impoverished and excluded from the mainstream and promise of American society, that creates faceless and terrible bureaucracies and makes those the place where people spend their lives and do their work, that consistently puts material values before human values – and still persists in calling itself free and still persists in finding itself fit to police the world?” Neither Buckley nor Mailer ever said anything remotely this accurate, stirring and demanding, or, if they did, it is not quoted here.

Buckley and Mailer does remind us that there used to be a being known as the ‘public intellectual’. These folk no longer exist. Their brief existences were subsumed and then snuffed out by celebrity culture, the loss of any serious broadcasting, and, by now, the internet. Schultz does a good job in demonstrating how this happened, and how fragile and misunderstood was their notoriety. People began to be horrified by Mailer, who, incredibly, conceived a kind of lurching respect for Richard Nixon; Buckley ultimately demonstrated that he was a very unenlightened kind o​f conservative (constantly insisting that whites were indeed a more developed race), though he didn’t have the chops for what became today’s ultra-right brainless rodomontade.

One gets the feeling that the strongest connection between Buckley and Mailer was that they both roomed in the same hotel in Chicago during the notorious, violent Democratic Party convention in 1968, and watched the riots unfold mostly from the safety of their windows. For all their talk about ‘morals’, these two never really had any, as is demonstrated by this over-long book. The heck with ’em.

TMcE

(This review was first published in the Herald on July 11, 2015.)

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:  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:  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.

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