Lucy and Todd

Julian Stannard—What Were You Thinking?

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on May 3, 2016 at 9:47 am

‘I had not realized how much one could look at a tree and hate it.’ This is a book of playful, moving poems with an almost excruciating self-deprecation. It’s lyrical, real, wistful, and then sometimes it barks like a dog you can’t completely trust.

There are strange happenings, ancient and modern. The poet’s bedsheets emigrate to Poland. Mothers dress their children in tutelary clothes so they can carry uncooked Christmas turkeys the weight of the baby Jesus across heaths. Sheep wait for the writer to speak to them, to give them ‘something they can pass around themselves’. A teenage wheelie bin that writes poetry gets blown by the wind to Paris and his mother goes berserk.

Mothers are much in evidence. On the phone, the poet tries to be breezy with his. She senses he is lighting a cigarette and scolds him; he can then ‘hear her frowning’. She goes on to use the word ‘alakefic’ which he affects to understand. If you look this word up, you will encounter claims on very dodgy-looking etymological web sites that it is RAF slang, but one might equally guess Stannard made up ‘alakefic’ and planted references to it on the web. Such are the thoughts you will think while reading this.

‘Imagine a castle defended by poets. How easily we capitulated!’ This from a poem about a certain well-known writers’ retreat not a million miles from Edinburgh. As in all such places, the quality of the experience is determined by whom you are thrown together with and how good the food is. For amusement there’s something proposed called ‘Scottish roulette’, which involves dangerous amounts of porridge. ‘One night I met the American poet on the stairs by candlelight. How much self-hate can there be? she asked. I said, There can always be a little more.’

Stannard has spent much of his life in Genoa, where, he writes, there is always something to find out, and you can lose your way twenty times a day. The wonderful section ‘The Street of Perfect Love’ addresses Italy, and love. It hasn’t worked out too well maybe: ‘Someone had taken an axe to my life.’ Dragging a Christmas tree through the city streets he starts to feel alarmingly Biblical and it’s very funny and sad.

Most of these poems are a page in length, but they’re packing heat. They read like memoranda from the future, from someone who’s got slightly worse luck than you do. ‘Burlington Arcade’ is a terrific riff on the luxurious late capitalism that will choke London to death. In a longer piece, about hell, the writer opines it’s like public school. You get free towels, cover versions of the Pet Shop Boys and occasional amyl nitrate (actually, what’s he complaining about?). ‘As a rule I find damnation’s good for the figure’. But the problem with this particular hell is that there are no women, and he finally guesses they must have their own inferno – with plumped-up pillows and pot-pourri. Hell as Laura Ashley.

TMcE

This review appeared in the Herald on May 2, 2016

PRAISE FROM WRITERS WE HAVE HELPED

In accolades, Our Students Vouch for Us on May 30, 2014 at 11:40 am

LEILA ABOULELA (novelist, playwright and short-story writer; Caine Prize winner; author of four novels: Lyrics Alley, which was Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Award, Minaret, The Translator and, more recently, The Kindness of Enemies; Leila’s plays have been broadcast on BBC Radio and her stories published in Granta and the Virginia Quarterly Review; her work has been translated into 14 languages):  [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 (poet; Tokaido Road, 2011, CB Editions, won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize for poetry, and is now an opera; Owhere, 2012, Templar; Continental Drift, 2014, Shearsman):  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.

EDDIE GIBBONS (poet;  author of A Twist of Lime Street, 2013, Red Squirrel Press, and Roughly Speaking, 2014; his What They Say About You, 2010, Leamington Books, was shortlisted for Poetry Section of the Scottish Book Awards):  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.

NEIL BUTLER (short-story writer and novelist; author of The Roost, 2011, Thirsty Books):  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.

PETER BERCZELLER (novelist and essayist; author of Doctors and Patients: What We Feel About You, 1994, Macmillan, and The Little White Coat, 2014, Metroverlag):  I was first attracted to Fiction Atelier by their clever ad in the London Review of Books. Indeed, as I quickly found out, individual therapy beats group therapy by a mile. Lucy does not provide tough love; her gentle nurturing made my novel “Max: The Anality of Evil” into a much more coherent work. What’s more, Lucy provides tender after-care. Her interest does not end with delivery of the edited product. She is always available for subsequent musing and shmoozing, a welcome antidote to the fluctuating self-esteem which is every writer’s lot. I am only sorry I did not meet her earlier. My previous books would have vastly benefited from her sure guidance.

GREG KLERKX (novelist and journalist; author of Lost in Space, 2004, Pantheon; his first novel, The Emissary, 2014, was shortlisted for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award):  I was lost in the proverbial wilderness with a new novel when a writer friend recommended Fiction Atelier…oh lucky man me! With each comment and point of advice, Lucy showed that she cared about my novel the way I cared about it, and she was as exacting about improving it as ever I might be. Her insight and skill had a profound, positive impact on the book, and I’d work with her again in a heartbeat.

KYLIE GRANT (short-story writer, novelist and critic; 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; winner of Wise Words Fiction Prize, 2014; reviewer for The List, Scotland):  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.

EFFIE CURRELL (novelist and short-story writer; author of short story collections published by the Kreol Institute in the Seychelles, and a children’s book published by Macmillan Caribbean):  So many things keep pulling me away from writing, and sometimes it would be easy to abandon a story that no-one will miss if it’s not told. So, as I sit to write sans publisher, sans book deal, sans contract, sans any of the things that I – perhaps naively – imagine help writers to feel that they are not suffering from delusions of talent, I am glad that I am at least an apprentice at the Atelier.

KYRILL POTAPOV (novelist, playwright and short-story writer; winner of the first Bloomsbury Writing Prize, 2009, University of Kent): Lucy Ellmann is probably the reason I’m still writing, against all odds and temptations. She gave me the confidence and direction that I needed as a young writer and helped to provide the right literary contexts for me to be able to place my writing in a wider tradition and to broaden my pool of writing mentors. Six years later I have completed my first novel and Lucy has been there for me every step of the way. Her input has ranged from loving encouragement to comprehensive commentary on editing strategy. She has shown me a far more suitable direction for my first draft, and with Todd’s input has revealed dimensions and possibilities in my writing I certainly hadn’t considered. Several people have read my manuscript but only Lucy has provided me with a vantage point from which I can see the work as a whole and feel empowered to do what’s needed to make it good.

MARY HONG (short-story writer; teaching literature and creative writing at Webster University, Leiden):  Lucy and Todd are sympathetic and rigorous readers, exactly the kinds of qualities that make a good editor. After several years of writing and struggling to figure out how to take my short stories to the next level, Lucy and Todd’s detailed, insightful comments and patient responses to my many questions opened up new avenues for me to explore in my stories, making them richer and deeper. I found the process of working with them immensely satisfying and stimulating and look forward to sending them my next story.

RUPERT SMITH (short-story writer; winner of the Bloomsbury Writing Prize, 2010, and the T. S. Eliot Prize, 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.

AARON SIMON (short-story writer and novelist; author of short stories published in Danse Macabre, reviewer, and preliminary judge for the 2014 and 2015 Endeavour Awards):  Todd and Lucy were amazing mentors at Kent, guiding me along the path of making my writing more engaging and less, well, amateurish. With their prodding and encouragement, I finished up a first draft of a novel, vastly improved my ability to get ideas down on paper, and figure out what makes a decent manuscript. They have the supremely rare skill of being able to give feedback with a human touch, connect with you on a personal level, and give you outstanding feedback without crushing your fragile little writer ego. (And don’t try to deny it. It’s the same for all of us.)

JAMES WRIGHT (short-story writer):  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 (short-story writer):  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 (short-story writer and novelist):  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 (journalist and short-story writer, now writing for Index on Censorship and openDemocracy):  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.

KRISTEN LOWMAN (playwright, short-story writer and novelist):  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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