Monthly Archives: July 2012

We’re Moving! (Virtually)

For the past eight months, this blog has been the home to the majority of Hot Key’s online content. And for the past eight months, that’s worked pretty well. It’s been a bit like living in our first flat – tiny but functional. But now that we’re on the verge of releasing our first two titles, we’re ready to sell off our Ikea furniture and move into a real house.

On Thursday (or very soon after), we’ll move from this:

To this:

Quite an upgrade, no? Don’t worry, our blog isn’t going anywhere, it’s just getting its very own room in this brand new digital domain. We’ll still be posting daily about all the happenings at Hot Key Books. But now in addition to the blog, you’ll be able to browse all our titles, send questions to our authors, and download extra content to accompany the books.

And as if that wasn’t enough, we also have this feature where you’ll be able to build and share your own reading list. You can even purchase Hot Key titles direct through our site! That’s the digital equivalent of having a pool in your back garden!

We’re so thrilled to finally welcome you into our new online home, and we can’t wait to hear what you think about it.  If it gets messed up on your computer (we don’t anticipate it will), we want to know. If you have a good idea for content or an extra feature, send us an email. We can’t promise immediate change, but we do plan to keep improving the site. After all, our house is your house.


Which books do you re-read?

Rereading a book isn’t as simple as taking another look at a painting or watching a movie again because it requires commitment, and when you already know what happens at the ending, it seems like a very laborious task. So why reread books?

Who’s the most guilty of this? It’s the kids. Their favourite books become very familiar, particularly fairytales. I know I was guilty of demanding Cinderella pretty much every bedtime of my childhood simply because I yearned to be dancing away into the night with a Prince at the ball in glass slippers.

But this trait hasn’t left me as I’ve grown up. I find it so curious when you notice new concepts on a second read because there’s no rush to find out the ending. You find your attitudes have evolved-maybe you’ve grown to like one character more or you can relate to what they are feeling. There’s always that odd uncomfortable feeling when in unfamiliar territory but in a very familiar book. But the book hasn’t changed; it’s you who has evolved. This is where my intrigue began before writing this post, we change as people between reads so the books change too.

Recently I reread Pride and Prejudice and found myself looking for clues within the writing. When was it exactly that Mr Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth Bennet? What about the romance between Mr Bingley and Jane? It is as if knowing the ending gives the reader a more acute awareness. Perhaps all books should just giveaway the last chapter before the plot unfolds… Could be interesting. Nevertheless sometimes I feel more in tune on a second read, and there’s always that moment when you realise the tricks of the author and you feel as it is of great cosmic significance and the whole literary universe is folding in on itself and you’re in the epicentre.

So I ask, why do we reread?  I guess I’m notorious for it because I just love that feeling of knowing why the author has deployed this or that device because you already know how the books ends. To some books I feel a loyalty towards, to have and to hold and to read and to read and to read. And I guess also we are kids again, demanding princess stories at every waking moment. And oh how I would love to reread the treasured stories of my infancy.

My work experience at Hot Key Books has taught me one incredibly important thing; children’s stories are precious. I’d like to think that is because the heroes (and villains) of them become familiar that we aspire to be them and want to feel their presence again and again. So what Hot Key Books does is incredibly important; they don’t just publish books, they make old friends.

Laura Davis

Thanks Laura!

Isles of Wonder

Tonight, the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics kicks off for real. And I was lucky enough to go to the first rehearsal on Monday night.

(Nope, I’m not going to give anything away.)

At the end of my Monday post, coming down off a handmade weekend at Art in Action, I thought that the two events would be in complete opposition. But I was wrong.

Forgetting all the sponsorship nonsense and the British cynicism headlines, Danny Boyle is putting on a stunning show. It might start small, but it ends big and has enormous impact.

It also reminded me how many amazing things Britain has done on a global scale in terms of culture, both past and present. And I am so pleased to say that books and even specifically children’s books get featured in a big way.

Not entirely surprising because the wonderful Frank Cottrell Boyce is one of the writers involved and who came up with teh name of the event “Isles of Wonder”.

And no matter how grumpy Brits get about ceremonies like this (the Royal Wedding… the Queen’s Jubilee…) from my American standpoint, you guys really know how to put on a good show.

Plus, there really were thousands and thousands of British people that lined the streets to see the torch, so I know that, really, you all love it.

So, World, enjoy the show tonight. It’s going to be WONDERFUL.

Old Slates, New Tablets – Same Difference?

It might feel as though we have done quite a few blogs recently on education, but it’s such an important subject to us, and there is just so much to talk about!

At one of our recent meetings, Sara O’Connor mentioned that during the July Children’s Media Conference it was reported that three schools in the UK now exclusively use electronic tablets to teach, and that South Korea, India and Turkey are launching initiatives to give all children access to tablets.

This got me thinking about how children used to be given slates and chalk to learn on. Much like the electronic tablets, you would be given your own slate, be expected to take very good care of it, and then hand it back at the end of the day. Also, just like electronic tablets, slates were considered an expensive break-through in learning technology – a revolutionary way for children to learn to read and write.

I don’t doubt that tablets are a really useful tool for children who don’t find traditional methods of learning accessible. However, (and although I’m all for children having access to technology – especially children who might not get that access at home) I am a bit concerned that old-fashioned hand-writing might suffer if we’re only teaching our children to type – or to write using their fingers on a touchscreen. We already know we don’t send letters like we used to and I wouldn’t be surprised if one day hand-writing becomes completely obsolete. Also, I am a bit concerned that if we become completely reliant on computers, we are tempting some kind of SKYNET future. ALSO – how will kids throw notes to each other in class if there are no notebooks?!

But that could just be me being a fuddy-duddy – what does everyone else think? Is handwriting dead – and should we therefore adapt our teaching to reflect that – or should we make sure our kids still know how to use a pen and paper?

Public/Private: how both sectors can learn from each other

Amy’s inspirational post yesterday describing her move into children’s publishing from the education sector has got us all thinking about the pros and cons of working in the public and private sectors and how they can learn from each other.

I have had the benefit of working for both sectors, moving from publishing to the amazing charity Booktrust and back again into publishing. The Bookstart Bear represents the perfect public/private partnership. Here he is carrying the Olympic torch!

Children’s publishers are a strange beast in the private sector. They produce wonderful, inspiring books to help children love books and reading and are well supported by teachers and librarians, but they are also a business with stakeholders who are looking for a return on their investments. The simple business of acquiring and selling rights in children’s books is not the most lucrative one and no-one who works in children’s publishing would say they are in it for the money, but it is nether-the-less a business run for profit which thrives on competition.

Charities on the other hand are not-for-profit, and generally run on a complicated mix of public and private sector money. Booktrust for example is funded by the government via the Arts Council and directly to run its book-gifting programmes including Bookstart, which prides itself on its public/private partnerships. Generally this means that publishers provide books at cost with some money for marketing with the government paying for the administration and distribution. The prizes normally rely on media sponsors and foundations such as the BBC, The Sunday Times, the Independent and the Roald Dahl Foundation.

This model is obviously vulnerable to changes in government (Bookstart was a project very dear to Gordon Brown’s heart) and sponsors – I saw Nestle, JLR, the Teenage Prize, Early Years Awards and Orange sponsorships all disappearing as priorities changed for the sponsors and foundations.

Back in December 2010 Booktrust was told from one day to the next that they would lose its £3 million funding of the schools programmes. With the power of Twitter, there was uproar from the public and authors rallied round to save us culminating in an amazing headline in the Observer on Boxing Day 2010 and rapid back-peddling from the government. Now Booktrust is campaigning to keep public money for their programmes with their Bookstart 20 campaign.

Now I have moved back into the private sector to join a brand new publisher – a very rare thing to find these days, but one full of passionate, experienced and knowledgeable people prepared to work differently to the rest of the industry, explore different models of funding by partnering with organisations like the Arts Council and most importantly work transparently, a very refreshing thing in the private sector.

So, over to you. Tell us about your experiences of working for the private and public sectors and how they can learn from each other.

And you may ask yourself, how did I get here?


In year five, I wrote an aspirational short story about becoming a famous biochemist and curing cancer. In high school, I took an introductory psychology course to get a head start on my career as a therapist. As a journalism major at Indiana University, I could clearly envision my life as a top political correspondent for the New York Times. It turns out I was completely wrong about all of my career futures. And I couldn’t be happier.

My first job out of university was teaching English to a few hundred year nines in south-east Los Angeles. The school was the third largest middle school in the entire US, with nearly 4,000 students. Most of my students were reading at least two years below their grade level. Reading for fun wasn’t a big thing for most of these kids. “Reading time” tended to elicit groans, all the books were “boring.”

So along with aiming to dramatically increase my students’ reading levels, I also took aim at the boring-book association. I filled my classroom with every book I could get my hands on, from illustrated pet-care manuals to graphic novels. I voraciously read young adult fiction, and made a habit of “selling” my weekend reads to my students every Monday morning. I eschewed the textbook and used The Republic of East LA by Luis Rodriguez and Thirsty by MT Anderson to teach reading skills. After a few months, I felt a shift in my students and my classroom. I felt triumphant when Eduardo, one of my most at-risk students, asked to take his copy of The Republic of East LA home with him over the weekend. Later when I visited Eduardo at the one-bedroom apartment he shared with his six family members, I noticed the only books he had on his shelf were his assigned textbooks and the few books he had nicked from my classroom. I was overjoyed to let him hang onto those.

When you see first-hand the transformative power of children’s literature, it’s hard to stop reading new titles in the genre. Even though I left my classroom after two years, I kept reading young adult fiction. I still felt responsible for recommending new books to the young people I met through my other education-related jobs.

When I moved to London and had a chance to pursue a brand new profession, it didn’t take long for me to decide on children’s publishing. I wanted to help make the books that I hoped would one day get stolen off a teacher’s shelf.  I wanted to push the boundaries of what we could do with narrative, to create apps that teach kids to read while they reading a book they love.

And here I am, a year after moving to London, after ten months of work experience all over the London publishing world, in my brand new role as Hot Key’s digital coordinator. I am so thrilled to be here, working with such amazing people just days before the first two titles are set to launch. I can’t wait to get started on all of the exciting projects already in progress here, and I am excited to start working on some brand-new ideas. Years ago, I couldn’t have anticipated that I’d be in this role, but perhaps it’s time for me to recognize that it’s passion, not foresight, that steers my professional course.

Art in Action – beautiful things, shared

I had never heard of the Art in Action festival until the lovely Fleur Hitchcock told me about it. Her husband, Ian McKay, is an amazing automaton toymaker and was displaying in the market tent. As soon as I realised how close it was to me, I decided to have a (mostly) screen-free day out in the sunshine yesterday.

Ian McKay’s automaton boats

The festival, which goes on for four days, features hundreds of artists demonstrating their work, inspiring eager crafty people and selling some of the most stunning, hand-made treasures I’ve seen.

I watched demonstrations of etching, print-making, sculpting, wood carving and I even took one of the practical classes: making a bug box with dovetail joints.

Yes, I cut myself within two minutes of starting to make the box – on the vice grip rather than anything that was actually sharp – but I did make my very first dovetail joint. (See if you can tell which one was mine and which was the teacher’s demonstration.)

Hosted at Waterperry House & Gardens, near Oxford, this event literally buzzes with collaboration, sharing and supportiveness.

Everyone was sharing techniques and tips, giving away the “secrets” of their trade to random passersby. They all said that it took discipline and practise, but they were not afraid to share what they learned. I believe they were doing it for the collective good, knowing that even if everyone has exactly the same tools, creativity means that different people will produce different things.

There was the incredible Penny Dann there, demonstrating how she does all her roughs sketching on her iPad using the Brushes app, and once approved by her publisher, Nosy Crow, then she prints out the sketches, traces and goes to digital-free colour artwork.

It’s very like what we are trying to do at Hot Key – be open about what we do, show the workings, share the results. No one can do exactly what we can do, because every book is different and every author is different.

It’s better for everyone if books do well, if more and better books get read by people. The craftsmen at Art in Action were so willing to share their working that the cabinet above had the plans posted up on the wall beside it:

The stunning Puck cabinet is part of the amazing One Oak project (click the picture for that website), which follows the life of a tree.

(Click here for a big version of the plans.)

I will most definitely be at this festival next year, and will hope that we can get an authors/publishers tent at Art in Action so we can have authors doing live writing and editors doing live editing – and even some demos of digital projects?

On a completely different note, this evening I’m going to the technical rehearsal of the Olympic Opening Ceremony. I wonder if it is possible for the two things to be farther apart on the spectrum of openness and sharing? Still, hoping Adele makes an appearance!