Lucy and Todd

Owen Dudley Edwards – How David Cameron Saved Scotland

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on February 26, 2015 at 6:56 pm

Ahh – irony. That heady bourne from which no reader, or voter, may return unscathed or uneducated. And what was the natural home of irony, the modern fountainhead whence it sprang and continues to sweetly nurture us, if we will but open our minds and our hearts to its rich and scalding lessons? Why, the eighteenth century, of course, and, one might equally answer, Edinburgh. Edinburgh: the seat of the Scottish Enlightenment, which gave rise to the American and French Revolutions and a new freedom of political thought throughout the ‘civilized’ world; the home of Hume and Henry Cockburn. Curious that in the eighteenth century men like Joseph Knight were granted their freedom by other men like Dundas and Monboddo and both Boswells, and stranger still that in that same eighteenth century Scotland lost its independence and freedom to a ‘ruthless conqueror’, as Jane Porter put it.

How David Cameron Saved Scotland, and May Yet Save Us All is a brilliant feuilleton ostensibly addressing ‘our’ Prime Minister in the only language in which he really deserves to spoken to, since he, or his office, acceded to power in the eighteenth century, when Scotland lost its real identity and became just another part of the bland, struggling little corporation that is the United Kingdom. To address the Prime Minister in the language of the eighteenth century is apt – taking the debate back to the last time of serious ruction between the two nations. The book is a series of essays on the various stages of the Prime Minister’s ‘education’, all addressed to David Cameron in the language of a wily, flattering courtier. The larger question being examined is: who are these people who rise to power? What is someone who becomes a Prime Minister really aware of? What does he know?

The crucial, most daring and amusing chapter concerns itself with what David Cameron knows of Scotland. What does he know, for instance, about Cameron of Lochiel? What does he know of Keir Hardie and Cunninghame Graham? And what the hell does he know about the ancient and inalienable concept of political power in Scotland, specifically that it is given by the people to the monarch or the government, and not the other way around? Dudley Edwards goes into this fully, carefully, and cruelly, and the answer would appear to be that Cameron knows doodly squat. Is a Bullingdon Club-educated man, no matter what claims he can make for his Scots ancestry, is a Tory, qualified to be the leader of Scotland? No. He isn’t. Whatever he may ‘Vow’.

Satire can be scary. It’s a risky, almost unbelievable thing to assert that David Cameron is very intelligent, and that he is deliberately hiding it from us in order to accomplish his questionable ends. Edwards presents Cameron, on evidence, as something of a scholar of politics, guided as he was by some smart teachers at Eton and Oxford (Andrew Gailey and Vernon Bogdanor), although at several crucial junctures in his career he stopped listening to these men and went his own weird, obtuse and flabby way. It’s pretty amusing to think of Cameron as a guy who has the time to sit around reading books, although some modern leaders have done just that. Richard Nixon was one of the most astute pupils of modern political history, from all accounts. But that did not stop him from screwing up entirely and it didn’t show he was ‘intelligent’, whatever that means, and it certainly didn’t mean he wasn’t evil.

This book is full of hugely enjoyable, rageful insights which are beautiful and true: at one point Dudley Edwards asserts that Margaret Thatcher got the whole of her conception of Scotland from the seaside postcards of Donald McGill. There is little doubt that How David Cameron Saved Scotland is, and will be, the definitive, robust and necessary book on what happened to us all – or, to put it in a Freudian and more accurate way, what we did to ourselves – September last. Dudley Edwards kicks, as they would say in America, some serious Tory butt. And belabours Labour arse, too. This is the political book of the year, if we the people (apologies to Thomas Jefferson) will deign to read it in its properly cantankerous, hell-for-leather ornateness. Will it be read in England? Of course not. They don’t deserve it.


(This review first appeared in the National, February 23, 2015)



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

LEILA ABOULELA (author of Lyrics Alley, the Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Awards, and other novels, radio plays, and short stories – most recently, Aboulela’s “The Insider” was broadcast on Radio 3, November 2, 2013) [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 – winner of 2011 Aldeburgh First Collection Prize for poetry; Owhere, Templar, 2012; and Continental Drift is due out in April, 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.


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 (writer for Index on Censorship):  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; 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.


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 (latest poetry collection: A Twist of Lime Street; 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.


EFFIE CURRELL (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.



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