Lucy and Todd

Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page


In accolades, Our Clients 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.



Orfeo–Richard Powers

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on May 7, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Peter Els, an avant-garde composer, is on the run, as are many men in American fiction these days. He was beginning to have trouble understanding music, and what he decided to do about it was to become a home bio-engineer. He wanted to alter bacteria for the purpose of recording his music on it: “the one durable medium”. When he makes a clumsy phone call to 911 about his dead dog, he gets a visit from the police, who are startled by his suburban Pennsylvania laboratory and report him to the security services. “Bio-punk” doesn’t go down well with the Department of Homeland Security.

Els has had the kind of career you can expect when you write serious music: it’s been heard by the few (with one infamous exception, a grand opera that scandalized the musical world). He’s spent most of his career as a teacher, and in the course of various disillusionments and periods of self-exile he has fallen in and out of love with several interesting women (the novel is very good on love), and also with music.

The subject (and method) of Richard Powers’s Orfeo is music, particularly some great achievements of modernism: listen to this music while reading the book, or perhaps you might hear the novel in the music later. There is a searing account of Shostakovich’s dealings with Stalin. And in a virtuoso passage, which would make a wonderful short film, Powers takes Steve Reich’s Proverb (a piece that sets a text by Ludwig Wittgenstein: “How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life”) and recounts its effect on a lot of different people in a sloppy midwestern coffee shop. It’s a kind of Edward Hopper kaleidoscope of American types.

Powers makes you ‘listen’ to a lot of music on the page, ingeniously anchoring several major pieces to aspects of the story. He dazzlingly describes Olivier Messiaen’s composition and performance, in a concentration camp in 1941, of the Quartet For The End Of Time, one of the most haunting pieces of 20th-century music: “The end of the End, when it arrives at last, comes as a solo violin above piano throb. Pared back to its essence, the melody abides, burnt pure in the crucible of the war. Out of a cloud of shimmering E-major chords -the key of paradise – the violin hints at all a person might still have, after death takes everything.” Orfeo is an audacious attempt to write about music in a new way. It’s not described, but performed for you on the page. It works.

As he flees erratically towards Arizona, Els reflects on his life (“I wanted music to be the antidote to the familiar”) and what the government thinks he’s done. The battle is really over the soul, not germs, and there’s a sense of very recognisable 21st-century dread: “To call any music subversive, to say that a set of pitches and rhythms could pose a threat to real power … ludicrous. And yet, from Plato to Pyongyang, that endless need to legislate sounds. To police the harmonic possibilities as if there were no limit to music’s threat.”

Thomas Bernhard, in one of his many bursts of intense irony, wrote “music will eventually destroy absolutely everything totally, mark my words”. He was talking before the digital age, about the proliferation of music and the cynical uses of it, and predicted the avalanche of meaninglessness that’s proving our undoing. Now along comes Orfeo to underline him with a flourish. “The world’s bounty has overflowed,” reflects Els, “and the young are washed away in it. Human ingenuity was doomed from the first, to do itself in with abundance.”

Orfeo is a disquisition on what a suspicious government can make of culture and the sinister connections it randomly draws between one element of a citizen’s life and another.

In that case, you might wonder, why not make the story about an idea, about music itself, and dispense with the middle-aged ‘terrorist’ and his Breaking Bad-style lab? But Richard Powers handles the sensational well, and this is a sensitive, thrilling, brainy book. If we must have car chases, we must. It’s America!



(This review appeared in the Herald, May 3, 2014.)

Into the Whirlwind–Eugenia Ginzburg

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on May 7, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Sometimes one could wish that there was a little of shelf of books that everybody in the whole world had to read, just to get a license to be human: John Hersey’s Hiroshima, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and the works of Saul Friedlander. Maybe Tristram Shandy, Don Quixote and The Canterbury Tales so as to give ourselves a little credit on the plus side. Not that we really deserve it. Into the Whirlwind belongs on this shelf.

Eugenia Ginzburg was born in 1904. By the 1930s she was a historian and linguist, in Moscow. She was also a wife, a mother, and a loyal, contributing member of the Communist party. Many of the ordinary intellectual workers of the Soviet Union believed implicitly in socialism, and that its future could and would be delivered by the Communist party and Joseph Stalin. One day in 1937, Eugenia was telephoned at home by a party member in the police – whom she knew – and was asked, politely, to come to his office and answer some questions. Just a formality, he assured her. It would take perhaps an hour.

She didn’t quite know it, but the wave of purges orchestrated by Stalin had already begun, though Eugenia and her husband Paul knew of colleagues who had been removed from their posts for fishy-sounding reasons. As they walked together towards the jail where the commissar had his office, Eugenia and Paul grew apprehensive, but told each other that the policeman’s request couldn’t mean much. Paul said to her, ‘We’ll expect you home for lunch.’ Eugenia went inside. She never saw him again, nor two of her children. At that very moment she walked, as she says, ‘with the boldness of despair’, into the whirlwind.

Gone were the telephone manners. The commissar had turned rabid. He screamed and spat at Eugenia, accusing her of disloyalty and treason, of conspiracy with a Trotskyist colleague. He demanded she surrender her party membership card, a moment which broke her heart. She was then taken down into the jail. She would be in prisons and labour camps for the next eighteen years (she was not ‘rehabilitated’ until 1955.)

Part of Ginzburg’s academic work involved study of the Crimean Tatars and their language. Suspicion had been growing in high circles about the Tatars and their supposed links with Germany. Eugenia had no knowledge of this paranoia – her only crime was to study the hapless Tatars (chillingly, in the current Ukrainian crisis, they are being victimized again). She had contaminated herself by association, Stalin took a dislike to her field of study, and that was that. She could never again be considered a reliable worker, let alone a trusted member of the party she had put all her faith in.

What happened to Eugenia in the system of the Gulag, you must find for yourself. It is one of the harshest, most touching, most moving books you will ever read. Her account of a journey across Russia on a train with hundreds of female prisoners is staggering.

In the Butyrka prison where Eugenia was first taken, an astonishing way of singing news from one cell to another was established: she called it, with her often poetic turn of phrase, the ‘operatic radio’. These women made brave and sometimes futile attempts to remain feminine: each prisoner managed to hide a bra in her cell where it could not be found in the frequent, demoralizing searches. Stockings that were falling apart were mended with fish bones rescued from putrid soups.

Ginzburg kept herself sane by reading poetry (books were not always prohibited) and she is a profoundly humane and powerful writer. Such is her aplomb – it seems funny to use such a word but that is what she had, along with humanity and guts – that one of the most astounding realizations that comes to you in the course of reading Into the Whirlwind is this: after all that happens to her, when Eugenia finally arrives at a prison camp, her privations have barely begun. She had to tell the rest in another book.

All this happened in Europe a mere seventy-five years ago. It happened to a person exactly like ourselves, a happy, confident, hard-working teacher, because in the society in which she lived there was nothing to stop the delusions of the government of the day from being imposed, as rational policy. One of the hundred imperative reasons to read this book is so you may ask yourself how safe you feel from such a calamity. Into the Whirlwind depicts the terrifying motive force with which a respectable and earnest life was destroyed by the state, in the twinkling of an eye.




(This review appeared in the Herald, April 26, 2014.)

NB Unfortunately there wasn’t room in the Herald for me to mention the striking endpapers (and bookmark) discovered for Into the Whirlwind by redoubtably design-conscious Persephone: where the fabrics chosen for many of their books range from chintzy to Modernist to seed-catalogue coziness, the Soviet design used in Ginzburg’s book is a stark, almost electrically frightening design by an unknown worker of 1930, with a suitably chilling name: ‘The Five-Year Plan in Four Years.’ (TMcE)