Monthly Archives: October 2015

Penned In by Graeme White

Penned In by Graeme White

Bristol author Graeme White has published his first book, Penned In. It is available on Kindle.

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

Updated: New plans by the local council now suggest that 17 libraries will be closed. See one petition .

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.

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.