Penned In by Graeme White

Penned In by Graeme White

Bristol author Graeme White has published his first book, Penned In. For now it is only available on Kindle and only the first part can be bought. The rest is coming up soon.

Penned In is one of the first books I edited and and it has to be one of the most quirky and fun books yet.

Where do you think magic really lives? Do you think it lurks in isolated and ancient areas away from our sprawling cities? If so, you’d be wrong. Magic exists, is aware of us, and connects to our world by the last thing you would consider but no doubt own.

Join Steve as he finds out the truth to a question he certainly didn’t ask to have answered, and as his life undergoes a complete upheaval in New City; an unoriginal name for a more than unique metropolis.

I’ve known Graeme for years so when he asked me to take a look at his book I was a bit cautious. It’s not easy to tell friends what you really think of their writing. It may sound a bit cheesy but I loved the book from the start. When the main character Steve thinks the best way to deal with his problems is to take a nap but then finds himself on a subway train that is incredibly futuristic, I knew there were some quirky and fresh ideas to come.

A lot of the story is so unexpected and curious that it’s hard to explain. There’s a mix of Douglas Adams combined with YA and fantasy genres. I liked it and I hope you do too.

Review: Magisterium by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

The Copper Gauntlet A boy about to turn 13 coming home from a school in which he learns magic sounds a lot like Harry Potter but don’t be fooled like I was. Within the first chapter of Magisterium, the first book – The Iron Trial –  there are twists and turns and a lot of colour which had me surprised and curious.

The writing is readable and the story consistently manages to surprise but not in a an-over-the-top way.

What the publishers say:

In the Iron Trial, the first book, Callum Hunt has no idea what he’ll come up against in the Iron Trial but if he passes the test he’ll become a student of magic at the Magisterium. All his life, however, Call has been warned against magic and even though he tries to stay away, he fails.

Now He must enter the Magisterium and it’s even more sensational and sinister than he could ever have imagined.

What I thought:

The tone is sent by the prologue which ends in a bit of an unexpected twist and makes the book very hard to put down after that. In the story, Call is 12 and a bit cheeky a bit naughty, a lot sarcastic and not exactly your lovely Harry Potter type character. He has the potential for using magic by drawing on the four elements: earth, fire, air and water.

The background is set out amongst the action so it doesn’t slow down the story much. In fact, all the elements of the story aim to progress the action and are never there just for the sake it. The writing is concise but descriptive and the tangents aren’t really tangents.

I liked it and was happy to move on to the second book: The Copper Gauntlet.

What the publishers say:

Call is now about to turn 13 and has returned from Magisterium victorious. He is now a mage in his own right – a Copper Year student. He has friends; he feels at home in the winding tunnels of the mysterious magical school.

But Call hides a terrible secret.

His soul is not his own. His body is a vessel for a powerful evil mage, wielder of chaos magic … murderer.

Salvation could lie in the Alkahest, a mysterious copper gauntlet. But it is a dangerous object, with a violent history. It could destroy everything Call knows and loves … and release the evil in him.

What I thought:

After a few months of reading nominees for the Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize I thought I would find this a little too casual for me but I really enjoyed it. This is a character and plot driven novel which gathers pace and then speeds things up even more. The scenes are short and instead of sticking to the same theme they then change.

I thought it was a bit risky starting with a character who was ‘evil’ as such but things aren’t quite how they seem and a lot of humour about the Evil Overlord goes a long way. I found it entertaining. I even liked the Star Wars hints in there, especially with the latest one coming out soon. In Star Wars, in case you didn’t know, the father and son follow similar paths with both having a similar flaw – wanting to rush things and not waiting until they finished their training.

See if you can spot something similar in Magisterium.

The Copper Gauntlet is the second of five Magisterium books by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Holly Black is a prolific author with a few sets of books out there. She has just sold her latest trilogy The Folk of the Air to Hot Key Books and has previously written the Modern Faerie Tale series, as well as co-authoring The Spiderwick Chronicles and Magisterium.

Libraries are not wishy-washy cultural ‘love of books’ havens

I wrote this a few months ago when I was Books Editor at a regional magazine. I thought it was pretty strong in terms of its wording so was reluctant to publish but now re-reading it, it doesn’t feel strongly worded enough. Bristol is very lucky to only have one library close out of 27 and I say this because I am an avid reader of Public Libraries News and the devastation across the UK is just incredible. I urge you to read it and see exactly what is happening as the Conservative government devastates public resources.

What makes me even angrier than the government destroying our libraries is the wishy-washy cultural claptrap that fiction authors come up with at times like this. They focus on the beauty of literature and how it inspires the soul and how readers are better educated, perhaps, and that libraries are important because every child can find something that speaks to them in the pages of fiction.


Fiction is cheap. If you want fiction you can go to a charity shop and pick up a book for 50p. Fiction is wonderful and delightful and feeds the soul – perhaps – but it misses the huge role that libraries play in our democracy.

Do you know how much non-fiction books cost? If you were told you had cancer and you wanted to read about it in more depth and were thinking of buying a medical textbook, you would need to pay over £60. Books on science, politics, law, construction, engineering, anything that requires learning and education. Fiction is lovely but cheap. Knowledge is essential and unaffordable.

So I’m sick of people talking about how their grandfather used to take them to the library where they spent wonderful moments and decided to write more fiction so more children could have wonderful moments. The true crime of our libraries shutting down is the full-frontal assault on democracy and knowledge. The government is destroying sources of information. They are taking away the power from citizens of educating and informing themselves. What gets left afterwards is the mass of elite-owned media which so far have been supporters of the government.

The following shows just this when you consider how anti-Corbyn they have all been, including most importantly, The Guardian, even though it claims to be of the left:

“Other than that, we’ve got three London boroughs making waves. There’s a lot of action, notably from Unison, about Barnet’s proposal to cut library services and almost half their library staff in the process. Amazingly, the Shadow Chancellor comes out with a fulsome note of support for the protestors. That’s a real, very real, change from pre-Corbyn days.”

The following is what I wrote months ago. I didn’t expect to ramble on so much in the preamble and have probably said all I wanted to say. My point is that people talk of libraries as a privilege but they are not a privilege. They are an essential part of a functioning democracy. To call them a privilege is to allow them to be destroyed because in times of (manufactured) austerity all we can afford are the basics. Well libraries are the basics. They are the bare necessities and if you listen to fiction writers you will soon start believing that maybe they are not necessary after all.

The ‘cultural fiction narrative‘ is a decoy. Ignore it and remember that when you need information you won’t be able to afford it. If you need your soul to sing with the passion of someone’s artifice, you’ll probably find it at your local charity shop.

Anyway, here is the piece:

My bibliophile uncle who loved books so much that he rented another apartment for all of his, died recently. He was a lawyer.

He didn’t just find his cultural self and soul through middle of the range commercial fiction or classic literature that was published within the last couple of centuries. He found knowledge, information and education. He had the basis of culture.

Fiction makes up less than half of what a library can offer and it’s not until you need to learn about your history, the government, medicine, health or anything that requires a Dewey decimal number that you realise not every book costs around a fiver.

Libraries seem a privilege because they are associated with culture and entertainment but you have no idea what a privilege access to information is until you lose it.

At your local library, for £3.50 you can borrow any book published in the UK, including textbooks. Textbooks that can cost over £100.

I don’t begrudge fiction and I don’t think it’s just entertainment because it comes in large print, on ebook, in audiobooks (downloadable on my phone) , out to prisons and as part of a mobile library. It isn’t the fiction you can pick up at oxfam, it’s access and format and resources.

The necessity and privilege of being able to read Marx and Locke an John Stuart Mill is not greater than finding magic in Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl but taking away education and information is devastating to society. Taking away the fiction which describes and relates the magic of us to everyone is taking away a sparkle and lifeline from a certain section of our city.

When those consulting on our libraries look at the benefits to the city they consider everyone but not everyone has any interest in the library.

The weakest and most vulnerable have nowhere else to go because everywhere else requires some form of payment.

There are others who don’t need free books, access to daily newspapers and magazines or who have any interest in book clubs or readings or literary walks. They can afford access to information no matter what the cost and the library is not for them.

For lovers of libraries there is always a story of love and connection and access to the rest of the world through books. The stories seem personal but they are only individual in the sense that we divide public goods and share them amongst each other. We all benefit individually when we all grow culturally and as a society together. When it all breaks down we all lose as a society and more importantly grow in our isolation. This is exactly what Thatcher was talking about when she said there is no society there are only individuals.

Together we hold the safety net for the weakest, apart we protect only ourselves. We can only grow together. You take away our libraries and next you take away our power as citizens.

You think I’m exaggerating but I come from a family which houses its books in a flat of their own. The libraries in Bristol aren’t confined to one person- they are all of our mistress. Open access for all. Now that’s love.

Pumpkin spice latte season

As pumpkin spice latte season approaches and I continue to avoid Starbucks I thought it was time to get on with making my own coffee.

I followed the following recipe from but it basically comes down to the following:

1 or 2 tablespoons of pumpkin puree (can from Waitrose)
1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar
1 cups soy milk
1/2 tea spoon vanilla extract

mix them all up and heat them by either steaming with a frother or in the microwave.

Add a shot or two of espresso.


Homemade pumpkin spice latte. It only takes two tablespoons of pumpkins so freezing the rest. #coffee

A photo posted by Joanna Booth (@stillawake17) on

Book Surgery: editing services

August 31 is the six year anniversary of Ephemeral Digest. In that time I have been a book reviewer, Books Editor and a writer. My first job after six years of university was as head of documentation at a software company. I read through style manuals and wrote and organised help text and testing documents. 13 years on and I am still copyediting work on magazines, for charities and for corporate and personal clients.


As a Books Editor I receive self-published books that I just can’t review or write about because they lack professional editing. I decided two months ago to offer editing services so that I wouldn’t have to be tempted to provide unsolicited criticism.

I have obviously not being offering my help loudly enough because I continue to receive manuscripts that I just can’t promote. I am therefore setting up a service to not only provide editing services but also a book surgery to help authors understand how to unlock their potential

Right there.

The biggest problems I have encountered are, in no particular order:

  • Poor cover designs
  • Mistakes in the text – whether spelling or grammar
  • Holes in the plot
  • Weak and inconsistent characters
  • Incoherent and irrational structures
  • Dialogue that isn’t believable and isn’t consistent
  • Police and other services’ procedures that aren’t accurate

I can help fix all the above or find you someone who will.

At the end of each month I will present a Book Surgery that assesses one piece of written work and offers advice on what to do next. To apply, email with the subject Book Surgery. You can also fill out the form at the bottom of this page.

For a professional editing service, I offer the following:


I will check your text for spelling, grammar, understanding, and consistency.


Whether you are working on a fiction or a non-fiction manuscript, I can provide feedback on what will make your work even better. Before you send anything to a publisher why not have a professional pair of eyes check that everything is in order.

Use the following form to ask for the Book Surgery, sample edit or a quote. Typical cost is £100 for 20,000 words. Sample edits are free.

What I look like

I read someone’s post about how they hated having their photo taken and it reminded me of how I felt about my appearance.

Actually, it reminded me of how I felt about other people’s.

I saw a documentary about the smallest man alive a while ago and he met the tallest man alive. Both were so beautiful and kind and loving. How could anyone not love these people? They deserved love. If they deserved love, I deserved love.

I saw another show about burn victims and there was a little girl just four years old who had most of her face burnt terribly and was writhing and screaming in agony in the hospital. What kind of person would not love that little girl more than anything? She deserved love.

There was a man who because of cancer had no nose. Who was I to worry about the size of my nose?

Another man had his jaw smashed off in a car accident when he went flying through the windscreen.  He had to wear a prosthetic so as not to provoke the responses of horror from others. How arrogant and shallow would I have to be to worry about any problems with my jaw?

I cut my hair as short as possible to donate it for wigs for cancer patients and as it grew out the appearance niggled at me. I then saw a woman on Instagram with no hair due to chemotherapy. She looked amazing. If I could love her and her appearance then why would I worry about mine?

It made me realise I was very grateful for my hair.

The bigger thing I realised was that I was not interested in hearing from anyone about my appearance because if they could judge me, what would they say about that four year old girl? What about the littlest man in the world or the woman without hair?

That’s my standard. Those people deserve to be loved and if people can judge me then they are judging those beautiful people who have gone through so much, too.

I’m not here to judge others’ appearance, I’m just passing through.

Being positive and offering editing services


Almost two years ago now, I started to hunt for every book / fictional work that mentioned or was set in Bristol. I turned this into the Best Bristol Novel search. It turns out the best way to do that was to become the Books Editor of a magazine. Since I only write about Bristol authors or relevant Bristol fiction, I overwhelmingly come across more and more Bristol novels.

I also come across novels that could do with some editing. A friend book blogger tells authors that she only accepts professionally edited works but I often get sent books unsolicited so I don’t have much choice. I can’t find it in me to send back criticism or what I feel would be good advice, because however well-intentioned, it still feels like spreading negativity.

Instead, I will focus on what I can do, let people know that I offer editing services ranging from copy editing to story structure suggestions.

If people feel they need some help with their writing then they can contact me at for a quote or some advice. This isn’t just for Bristol writers and sending me your manuscript doesn’t mean that I will write about you. This is a service I am offering so that when I receive something full of mistakes I won’t have to point them out. (Aside: Would you point them out?)

For a wider range of what is available to writers, also check Book Helpline (Disclaimer: with whom I occasionally work**) for a comprehensive description of what they offer in story advice and text editing.

Unsolicited advice

Now here is some unsolicited but relevant advice: If you are going to send your writing to an agent or a publisher then check with a professional about whether it needs some editing. It doesn’t have to be me but it should be someone. Don’t ask your friends or your writing group as they are more likely to be nice to you. If you send me, or any editor, work that it is self-published and riddled with mistakes or bad writing then it will be a wasted chance to get reviewed or to get coverage in the media.

There is a lot of competition out there so don’t waste your opportunity to get published professionally.

For a quote, contact me at

** For who afficionados, Sentence First has some good news.

Animals we use

I thought I had posted this as a draft but alas my iPhone app published it instead. Apologies for the randomness. I was at breakfast a few weeks ago and couldn’t help but notice that all items, even in veggie-friendly places, overwhelmingly rely on animals.

every single breakfast item relies on animals  


Crocheted rib cowl

Not sponsored and even though I mention brand names, there are no affiliate links or anything of the sort

I’ve not written much about any type of craft recently but thought I would mention this new crocheted rib cowl that I’m making for the second time.

I started to crochet less than a year ago because I was looking to make a baby blanket and I wanted to make one like the ones my friends Kimberlee and Mouse made for their babies. I couldn’t find any knitting patterns that were similar and then discovered Granny Squares. It was a bit of a revelation. Well, for the next 11 months or so, I didn’t know there was more to crocheting than Granny Squares. I bought lovely yarn and made many. At some point I moved on to another project and part of the reason was that my baby had arrived and her wonderful auntie Jenny had already crocheted her a perfect blanket herself so I wasn’t as motivated as I had been.

Lois's baby blanket from Auntie Jenny

The granny squares are still unjoined but I learnt to love crochet.

I have found that it’s easier for me to crochet than knit because the project isn’t as likely to unravel. When I’ve crocheted enough, I take out the hook, pull the loop to make it longer, and put it all away for another day. With knitting, and especially lace knitting, there is so much that can go wrong and with my sleep deprivation and lack of energy, I just couldn’t find it in me to make some of the more creative stuff.

Crochet seems to be more comforting, mindless (depending on the pattern – see Sophie’s Universe) and quicker for me.

Unlike with knitting, where I already knew some of the basic stitches, I found crocheting harder in terms of learning the physical process of it. There was a proper learning curve with in-built frustration and lots of repetition required to perfect / learn the techniques. I could create a chain with no problem but then making the magic circle was incredibly tough for me and also learning how to hold the yarn with the right amount of tension.

I used two books I borrowed from the library and plenty of YouTube videos. I still couldn’t do a magic circle until I found a new technique from one of the most amazing CALs (crochet a long’s) I’ve ever been part of and read. Hours and hours of work have contributed to this tutorial for the Sophie’s Universe project. Also, this Facebook group of crocheters is genuinely the nicest group I’ve belonged to. There is rarely any arguing at all and the members spend a lot of time supporting each other and praising everyone’s work. It also represents a hell of a lot of countries.

So here we are to the mindless but great crocheted rib cowl:


Crocheted rib cowl in Skeino

Finished rib cowl in Skeino


I had some luxurious and beautiful yarn by Skeino that I wanted to make sure I used up so I found something that I thought would be easy and that I would wear. I mainly scrolled through Pinterest while nursing Lois.


yarn skein

Skein of Skeino from Yarnbox March




Half-way through the Skeino crocheted rib cowl

I am now making the same cowl but with Manos del Uruguay yarn from the Clasica range.


boxed yarn

Manos del Uruguay yarn, Clasica, from Yarnbox April shipment


Crocheted rib cowl in Manos Clasica


Half-way through crocheted rib cowl in Manos Clasica

I’m not sure it’s turning out as nicely so will see. I may even try to find a different pattern but so far the actual crafting itself is nice.

After writing this I remembered a competition that Deramores had for blogging about a trend and the chance to win £500 worth of yarn. The competition is now closed but there are six blog posts about different trends and the rib cowl is one of the ones written about – crocheting that looks like knitting. If you’re interested, the blogs are here. They seem to be great crafty blogs too.

The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds and how men get to speak while women stay silent


The following are some thoughts after seeing the show:

I have just watched the Secret Life of 4 Year Olds which is based on observation over two weekends, each six months apart, observing children. The men with PhDs, who said they had never been able to listen to children like that before (this group of children wore microphones), were the only ones who commented on behaviour while the female teachers were not shown expressing any opinion even though they had a lot more contact with children this age. This felt one-sided. 

The children were fascinating but I won’t comment on their behaviour. 

Channel 4 describes the show as follows: 

 This documentary follows 10 four-year-olds as they meet at nursery, exploring how children make and break friendships, share, stand up for themselves, and find their place in a new social group.

Dr Paul Howard -Jones is from the University of Bristol and one of two educational neuroscientists who observe the children from behind the scenes by observing the action on monitors. The show cuts away at regular intervals to the two male scientists reacting to the children while watching them and listening on headphones. 

Jones said :”Even though I wasn’t interacting with the children, I found myself becoming incredibly involved, emotionally, in the narratives that were developing for each individual child.”

The other scientist was Dr Sam Wass from the Cognition and Brain Science Unit at Cambridge University.

The two women who do interact with the children are “highly trained teachers” and their profiles are not posted on the website and their opinions are not sought. 

 The questions I have about this show 

 1. How much of children’s  behaviour is copied from their carers? 

 2. How can the scientists draw conclusions from the children’s actions without seeing how their carers behave? 

3. Do the teachers agree with all the conclusions?

 4. what do the teachers have to add about individual children and group behaviour based on their experience and education?

5. What do they think about the limitations and benefits of filming  children over such short periods of time?