Monthly Archives: March 2013

Don’t be afraid of the dark

Last week, our intern Emily (@notoed) was inspired to write a blog about adult themes in children’s literature after reviewing notes from our Parent Parlour. Emily studies Fine Art at Loughborough University and is hoping to pursue a career in publishing after her graduation this summer.

Adult themes in children’s literature are nothing new. From allegorical tales such as those of Dr. Seuss, to historical novels such as GOODNIGHT MR.TOM by Michelle Magorian and WITCH CHILD by Ceila Rees (both of which I read and loved as a child) children’s stories that explore issues of war, politics, poverty, even genocide have always found their way on to bookstore shelves. But is this difficult genre beginning to over-saturate the children’s market, and how dark is too dark?


During my week interning with Hot Key Books, one of the tasks I undertook was typing up notes from a parents conference held by Hot Key. The message from the parents was unanimous; they were concerned about appropriateness of the reading material that was readily available to their children. These concerns have even bred the term ‘sick lit’, attributed to books whose portrayal of harrowing themes such as torture and emotional abuse might be considered explicit or gratuitous.

For myself personally, as someone whose favourite books as a young teen were about apartheid (the wonderful NOUGHTS AND CROSSES series by Malorie Blackman), and who as a late teen cut their hipster lit teeth on Chuck Palahniuk (seriously NOT suitable for kids!), I feel that relaying social commentary in children’s lit is both appropriate and effective –if- and it’s a big if – those themes are delicately handled.

A young narrator can often allow an author to approach difficult topics with innocence and a lack of bias that only exists in the young and un-jaded. Maybe there’s a sense of idealism there; if we thought like children, wouldn’t the solutions to our worldly problems seem so much simpler?

Books with adult themes have a huge cross-over audience; Hot Key’s own Maggot Moon by Sally Gardener has both children and adult editions, and I vividly recall my Grandma lending me her copy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon when I was 11 years old. I think that the ability to share the joy of books between families and across generations is something really quite special.


What I love most about children’s books that touch on adult themes is that they treat children like the intelligent and curious people that they are. Some of my favourite films are children’s movies that have the same kind of respect for their young audience; one being the beautiful adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze. In fact, I even gave a presentation on this film as part of my degree in Fine Art earlier this year.

In my experience working with kids in the past, I’ve often found that they have a huge capacity to cope with and understand difficult subjects, though of course, as with all things, there needs to be a line. There’s a big difference between tackling a difficult topic in an age-appropriate manner, and writing horror into children’s novels in an attempt to push the envelope.

What do you think about adult themes in kid’s books? Do you have any favourites from when you were younger, or any which you’ve read recently? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!


Bologna 2013: Thinking about design…

Spotted: This stunning Brazilian cover

Spotted: This stunning Brazilian cover

Bologna Book Fair is a wonderful showcase of beautiful design. From Pre-School and Board Books up to New Adult, the books here are presented to showcase the best work of their publishers.

There are classics like the Miffy books for babies and toddlers, rubbing shoulders with new and challenging jackets for young adults like Asylum by Madeleine Roux to be published by HarperCollins.

Classic iconic design

Classic iconic design


Prepare to be lost in…

And along the way wonderful examples of design that mark out their publishers as brave and innovative.

The Big Picture list to be published by our sister company Templar was the talk of the fair with one French publisher telling me that it was one of only two things she had seen during the week that really excited her. Great praise from Gallimard.

Beautiful picture books coming soon from Big Picture Press

Beautiful picture books coming soon from Big Picture Press

Tara Books from India won the prestigious Bologna Prize – Best Publisher of the Year for Asia.  Up against stiff competition, notably Kalimat in UAE, they were triumphant because of their stunningly beautiful books and their international reputation built by the hugely talented Gita Wolf. Their books are available all over world and are consequently treasured by readers everywhere.

Beautiful Tara Books

Beautiful Tara Books

It is never too late to learn and after four days of looking at other people’s inspired and thoughtful designs you realize that we have to absorb ideas and influences from around the world. Not only from wonderful books but art, product design, shop signs, graffiti … The list can go on and on.

Bologna is a place which allows you to really open your eyes to different cultural approaches to visual representation. I know I am going to try to keep my eyes open.

Bowling, group love-ins and metadata…

Last Thursday and Friday, a bunch of us went down to Chelsea Harbour for a Bonnier Group Love-in, including food, presentations and bowling, officially known as the Bonnier Manager’s Conference. This is an annual event where all the publishers in the Bonnier Publishing group get together and we all get an update on what our lovely sisters are doing.

And then we all lose all that sisterly love, just like in a real family, and battle it out on the bowling alley in the evening. Hot Key Bowling Report: Sarah Odedina is actually a secret bowling star, Emily Thomas wins the most enthusiastic member of the team ever and Jet Purdie was the one that actually scored most of our points (who isn’t surprised by that?). It all got a little serious at points I must say. For instance Autumn publishing took things VERY seriously:

Things got serious(ly competitive)

Things got serious(ly competitive)

But anyway, I digress. Being part of a group like Bonnier Publishing is great. Firstly – nobody takes themselves too seriously, and everyone is very approachable. Nobody is corporate. For instance – which other CEO would let themselves be caricatured and put right there on the website?

The Bonnier Publishing CEO Richard Johnson reading CEO for Dummies.

The Bonnier Publishing CEO Richard Johnson reading CEO for Dummies.

It also means though we have strength in numbers – we can share some functions like having a group sales and accounts team – but then also each company is decentralized which means we all have full editorial control and each have our own identities. Look out for our sister companies blog takeover in a few weeks time where you can get to know them all a bit better.

I was given the unenviable task of task of talking to the group about metadata. SAY WHAT NOW? I hear you ask. Well…metadata is how people find our books online, so it is mega important. But only to a data-geek I hear you say? Well here’s how I convinced people otherwise with a little video conversation…with a little help from

What can I say, apart from after that, metadata was certainly the word of the conference!

Bologna Day 2, in pictures

It’s day two of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and things are in full swing at the Bonnier stand. Hot Key and our sisters Autumn, Templar, Five Mile, and Red Lemon Press are meeting like mad with people from all over the world. Cait Davies has been kind enough to send us a few pics of the action. Here’s a lovely panoramic view of the Bonnier booth:


Basically, everyone at Bologna has a packed schedule:


Here is a shot of Sarah O and Jet looking quite smart:


Occasionally, there are a few moments to catch your breath in between meetings…

And it seems no matter how far you go from the office, certain things travel with you…

Even though its freezing in Bologna this year, Cait is happy to report that the food is still incredible:


If you want to check in with all the action at the Bonnier booth live, you can watch the stream here:

Make It Happen

It might be because I am now in full baby-mode, but I have been thinking a lot recently about who and how people are.

Some people are driven to do; other people aren’t. I’m a big fan of people who do — whatever “doing” that might be.

For example, today, the SCBWI-BI is launching a huge project to benefit its members, completely run by volunteers. One in particular is a wonder to behold: Jan Carr, who is running the project.

SCBWI British Isles Logo

The project is Words & Pictures, a collective blog of wisdom and positive energy from writers, illustrators, agents and editors in children’s books…

My involvement is minimal, I’ll be answering Ask a Publisher questions from members in a monthly column – but there is a huge network of other people that are putting in a small amount to achieve something big.

The entire SCBWI-BI organisation is run by tireless volunteers, and it is a thriving community, filled with people who do so many things: run conferences, set up schedules of events, run e-critique groups, run the Undiscovered Voices competition… People do it because they love children’s books and they love others who love children’s books.

Want to know the best part? This relaunch is being kicked off by comments from the original person who set up Words & Pictures, who is now a Carnegie shortlisted author. How is THAT for an SCBWI success story? (Congratulations, Elizabeth!)

The world needs much much more of this.

So, if creating children’s books is one of your passions, consider joining and volunteering for SCBWI. But if dancing in the rain is one of your passions, volunteer to set up a rain dancing group. The are bound to be others that like it, too. Or knitting. Or watching musicals. Or whatever you love – just DO IT. (Here’s the story of how Jan didn’t actually volunteer; she just did it.)

I believe that good things always come of being someone who does, especially with something that you love.

What have you made happen this year? Or, better yet, what is one thing that someone else has made happen this year that you are grateful for? Leave a comment below.

A quick trip around the (publishing) world

Question: Where can I go to visit Lebanon, New Zealand, United States, Brasil, France, Ireland and Finland, in that order, all in one day?

Answer: A book fair.


Well, OK, strictly speaking, I don’t actually ‘visit’ the countries, but I get as near as possible by visiting their publishers, whose books represent and carry the values of the cultures.  The Bologna Book Fair is 50 years old this year.  In 1963, its inaugural year, there were 44 exhibitors from 11 countries.  This year, on its grand birthday, there will be around 1,500 exhibitors from about 80 countries.

And it is now, in this week before Bologna, that I anticipate those meetings with ever-growing excitement.  Partly because I am going to be getting back in touch with friends with whom we do business.  People whose opinions I value and whose recommendations I follow when thinking about which titles to consider for publication on the Hot Key list.

Hot Key Books' catalogue, ready to meet friends from all over the world.

Hot Key Books’ catalogue, ready to meet friends from all over the world.

And partly because, in four days of walking around and looking at stands representing the publishing works of publishers  from all over the world, one gets a sense of the complexity and diversity of our business.  A sense of how incredibly important our production is.  It is thanks to all these publishers from all these countries that stories are read, listened to, shared, given, borrowed from libraries and enjoyed.  We are each part of the wonderful baton-handed business of creating readers.

A book fair is an opportunity to do business, find great authors for the list and find great homes around the world for our authors. It is also a truly affirming experience that reminds us that we are not in this business alone and that the trials and tribulations we each face we also share and that our success as an industry has impact on people all over the world.

The End is Nigh (HURRAY!)

If you’ve been keeping an eye on our blog recently, you might have seen Naomi talking about her preparations for the Bologna Book Fair on her ‘Day in the Life’ vlog. Well, Bologna is upon us, and today Naomi will walk you through her not-so-mixed emotions about saying farewell to all that preparation…

Bologna Schedules!

Bologna Schedules!

Last night, for the first time in about five weeks, I left the office at a normal time (6pm) LIKE A NORMAL PERSON. I didn’t arrive home with my mind still whirring about emails I had/hadn’t sent, invites I had/hadn’t RSVP’d to, hotel rooms I knew were definitely booked because I had checked them three billion times but was still convinced something would go wrong about. No, I arrived home at midnight, slightly wobbly on rose wine, because BOLOGNA PREP IS DONE. IT IS DONE.

Well, it is done for this year. And London is just around the corner. And then it will be Frankfurt before you know it. BUT FOR NOW – no more book fair schedules!

This year was a bumper edition – we had a record number of people going, so this meant organising from scratch three people’s schedules, plus coordinating and remotely organising two other people’s.  On top of that, things were complicated further this year as the Bonnier International Sales Conference is this week, meaning I had to get everything ready two days earlier than normal. But whatever.

Flights and hotels were sorted in October, but not everyone is arriving at the same time, so this meant making sure the various different dates were booked for the right people, and me and the travel agent getting ourselves thoroughly muddled on more than one occasion. FYI people – it doesn’t help when your professional name differs from the one on your passport…

Then came the appointments. A few very organised people were emailing in December with requests, but January is when it kicks off in earnest. Over the past two and a half months I have sent emails to hundreds of people requesting appointments, almost none of which were met with ‘Sure! Sounds good.’ responses – so then you enter the negotiation phase, where you try to find something that will work. I find you quickly get to know and empathise with a person when there is a mutual burden of organising book fair schedules connecting you – I had to ring someone else’s assistant this year to try to rearrange something and she greeted me (somewhat wearily) like an old friend.

If you’ve started emailing people, this means (hopefully) that you’ve got your blank template ready. For those that don’t know, book fairs are intense – REALLY intense – so although it is tough for me to organise them, I get that it will be horrendous for someone going if their schedule isn’t 100% correct – hence why I put the kind of effort into organising them that I do. Everyone’s days are divided into half an hour slots (starting at 9, finishing at 6) and then that day will be filled to the brim with these half hour appointments. They don’t get a break for lunch, and although the appointments stop at 6,  they will then usually be attending at least one drinks reception (usually two) before heading off to a dinner somewhere. SO, if something is wrong (time/location of the appointment usually) it throws a massive spanner in the works.

This means you need a very, VERY organised system of keeping track of what times you’ve offered to what people, where you’ve said the meeting will take place, and then whether the person has confirmed that meeting (ALWAYS repeat back what you’ve arranged in your final email – then if something goes wrong you know you were right!). I personally like to use Excel, as it means I can colour-code the hell out of it. Italics means appointment has been suggested but not confirmed, red means it is confirmed, orange means the person whose schedule you are organising has requested you keep the time free for something, yellow means ‘extra-curricular’ (drinks, dinners, etc.) and green means ‘travel/free time’. Everyone I do the schedules for knows my system now, and although they find the Excel spread sheet useful to look at as an overview, they also prefer to have a more traditional day-by-day breakdown on a Word document. This means re-typing out everything, but actually this is a good time to double-check all the appointments against your original emails – meaning really nothing should be getting through the net.

However, for all my complaining about them, there is a kind of manic pleasure to be taken in watching a book fair schedule grow from an empty Excel spread sheet into the packs I was distributing yesterday: brightly coloured manila folders with taxi details, flight details, hotel details, further taxi details, book fair passes (x2; one for the weekend and one for the week) the full Word breakdown of the schedule plus the overview and day-by-day Excel one, THEN maps for each of their personal evening schedules, with invitations attached. Plus these things organised into daily mini-folders, with copies of everything too, natch. Let’s just say this kind of thing really brings out the Monica in me.

So, it is with not much regret that I say – God’s speed, mighty Bologna schedules. Have a great fair and see lots of interesting books.

Please don’t be wrong.