Monthly Archives: April 2013

Making the invisible visible

Whipple, Natalie 2Today’s blog comes from Natalie Whipple, the author of TRANSPARENT. This fabulous novel comes out in just a few weeks — and trust us when we say you won’t want to miss it! Aside from being a brilliant writer and Natalie is also a very talented artist. She even made a special drawing for today’s blog. Check out her thoughts in words and pictures below.

Hello! I’m Natalie. And this is my novel TRANSPARENT. We’re both really happy that Hot Key Books has decided to bring us (okay not me, just TRANSPARENT) to the UK! Of all the places overseas that I’d hoped to sell to, the UK was number one. First because you guys are awesome, of course, and also because half my family lives in New Zealand. Now they will get to see my book on a shelf, too, which makes me very happy.

TRANSPARENT will be coming to you May 16th, and that day will be huge for me because I’ll finally be a published author—something I’ve been trying to become for the majority of the last decade. Though it is my first published novel, it is actually the 10th novel I’ve written. And I had to write it twice to get it right, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as an author. It was worth it to be able to have this moment now, where my dreams have been realized.

And it will be a big day for you because you’ll get to read TRANSPARENT and love it and make it your own! At least I hope so. I think it’s a pretty awesome book. I might be biased, but how could you not love a story featuring an invisible main character? Fiona is still one of the most challenging and interesting characters I’ve ever written, and I’m so glad the world gets to meet her.

Fiona and Lauren

Fiona lives in a world where everyone knows about superpowers and mutations, and not everyone uses those abilities for good. Okay, most people don’t. Like Fiona’s dad, for example, who uses his addictive scent to control women and build a cutthroat crime syndicate. In the scene I’ve drawn for this post, invisible Fiona and her telekinetic mother are out on a job for said father. A job that will change the course of their lives.

I would tell you more, but I don’t like to spoil things. If you decide to pick up TRANSPARENT, I really hope you love it as much as I do. Thanks to Hot Key for hosting me today.


Let the characters be your guide

Today’s blog is by DJ McCune, the author of DEATH & CO, which comes out this week! Her novel tells the story of a boy named Adam, who is forced to go into the family business. That would be fine, except that the family business is escorting people into the afterlife, which seriously gets in the way of homework and teenage normalcy. When Adam gets a terrible premonition he realises that he must make a devastating choice, risking his life, his family and his destiny.

As you can tell, this is a rather character-driven story. So to celebrate her publication day, Debbie (DJ) wrote a bit about how these characters kept her going throughout the writing process.

There are lots of good things about being a writer. You can work anywhere. You can live inside your own head for hours at a time without anyone thinking you’re a nutter. Other people think it’s wildly glamorous (because they never see you sitting at midnight in mismatched pyjamas, muttering and cursing because the words won’t come).

But the best bit of all, by a long way, is getting to know your characters.

I love my characters. Every single one of them. It’s hard to explain how real they feel – writing a character into existence is as close as you’ll ever come to playing God. For me the main characters usually arrive first. In Death & Co. Adam was the first one to step onto the screen – sandy haired, awkward, funny, old beyond his years. His family appeared fast on his heels in varying degrees of vivid. Nathanial and Auntie Jo were explosively bright in my mind; Luc made me smile. Elise was thin and French and a chain smoking perfectionist – that was all I knew to begin with. And Aron and Chloe, although they play cameo roles in Book 1 are fleshing out nicely in Book 2.

DEATH & CO._cover

I love the rest of my characters too. I love seeing what they’re becoming as I write them; the qualities they possess that even I don’t know yet. I love Dan’s geeky enthusiasm and The Beast’s real nastiness and Melissa’s incredible kindness and resilience (that girl is in for a really hard time).

There are times when every writer will get stuck. It’s hard to explain that feeling of throwing yourself against a mental wall and bouncing back, bruised and battered. I’m fortunate enough to live beside a lovely beach and I can spend hours stomping along, snarling to myself that none of it is working!


Guess what? Often when I’m stuck it’s because I’m trying too hard to be clever. I’m trying to look ahead and put characters in places they don’t want to be. Instead of letting events unfold in their own sweet time I’m putting the proverbial rocket up them and frogmarching characters from A to B.

And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I realise this is what I’m doing. And that’s the point to stop and take a deep breath and go back to the basics: go back to the characters. What would they do in this situation? How would they deal with it? Instead of cracking an imaginary whip I hold up my hands, surrender and let them take me where they want to go.

I can’t wait for the launch of Death & Co. Most of all, I can’t wait for you to get to know Adam and his family, friends and enemies. I hope you love them as much as I do.

Check out our gallery of Death & Co. character profiles, and look out for Debbie’s book in your local bookstore this week!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dress your mummy like a mummy…and win!

Next week, THE TROUBLE WITH MUMMIES by  Fleur Hitchcock will be released into the hands of excited kids everywhere. In case you haven’t heard about this book yet, here’s the summary:

Sam comes home one day to find his family turning a little bit loopy – his mum is redecorating using hieroglyphics and his dad is building a pyramid in the back garden. He hopes it’s just a weird new fashion… but then the strangeness starts to spread. With the help of his friends Ursula, Henry and Lucy the Goat, Sam must save his town from rampaging Roman rugby players, hairdressers turned cavewomen, and a teacher who used to be a ‘basket of kittens’ but now wants to sacrifice the Year Ones to the Aztec sun god. As history invades Sam’s world, will he be able to keep the Greeks away from the Egyptians and discover the cause of the Mummy madness?


Hilarious, right? So to celebrate the release of this book, we are running an equally hilarious contest. We are challenging young UK citizens to dress their mummies (or willing family members) up like ancient Egyptian mummies! Prizes will be awarded for Best Effort, Most Creative Mummy, Cutest Mummy, and Best Overall Mummy. All winners will receive signed copies of THE TROUBLE WITH MUMMIES. Best Overall Mummy winner will take home a HUGE prize pack including a £25 voucher for the “mummy” and ancient Egyptian-themed goodies from The British Museum. See details below, and for full T’s and C’s, visit click here.

Dress Your Mummy Like A Mummy

Apps vs. eBooks: What’s the difference?

With all the whizz-bang things you can do with ebooks these days, and all the apps that are built to accompany print books, it’s no wonder that there’s a great deal of confusion about how these two things differ.

It's not an app, it's an ebook!

It’s not an app, it’s an ebook!

Since we started using iBooks Author to create our own enhanced ebook editions, we’ve fielded a lot of questions about whether our books are apps, or eBooks, or multi-touch books, or ePub 3 versions, etc. So, inspired by the wonderful, brilliant people at RSA Animate, I thought I’d try to help clear up the confusion around eBooks and apps with this little video:

(Warning: I am, as you will see, less than skilled in the art of drawing, so please excuse my crooked lines and weird angles)

Was that helpful? I hope so! Let me know what you think below.

The Digital Generation

EVIE Photo_Use.JPGOur guest blog today comes from Evie Prysor-Jones, who we met a few weeks ago at City University. As her MA in Publishing Studies at City University comes to an end, Evie (@Evelyn_PJ) is trying to spend less time reading young adult fiction and more time actually studying. She is a frequent tweeter, blogger and ponderer of the world at large and is pursuing a career in children’s publishing.

I was once told the Internet was in my blood. This thought terrified me not only because it reminded me of some twisted Charlie Brooker program, but it also seemed like an awful responsibility. If the Internet is in my blood surely I should know everything, know how to do everything, and have a built-in navigation system in my brain. My frequent wanderings around London have disproved that theory at least.

This comment, that I’m sure was meant to be off-hand and not designed to instigate a tirade of panicked thought, got me thinking about how much digital technology is in my life now. I have a smart phone, tablet, eBook reader and a laptop, and I NEED them all.

Sure, they look clever, but can they change a light bulb?

Sure, they look clever, but can they change a light bulb?

Most people of my age can swipe, type and discover things with alarming precision and speed. But I’m starting to worry this efficiency is wiping our common sense.

For example; recently my friend and I were on one of our many London strolls (due to our lack of inbuilt Google Maps) and decided the cold was too much for our shivering bones and we would get a taxi. She fumbled with her freezing fingers for the ingenious app on her smart phone that could tell her where the nearest black cab was. While she was tapping, I did something crazy – I stuck out my arm. It is getting to the stage where we expect technology to do everything for us, and when it doesn’t, we’re left stranded in the foolish position of realising the shortest route from A to B did not require a “slide to unlock.”


If this is happening to people of my age now, people who do actually remember a time before the Internet and mobile phones, then what is going to happen to those being born into it? In Hanna Rosin’s article The Touch-Screen Generation, she calls people like me ‘digital natives’. We pick up how to use technology very quickly because we’ve grown up with it to some extent. On the other side of the spectrum are ‘digital immigrants,’ who are coming into the swipe-and-tap world as complete strangers. But I am only the first generation of digital natives and I’m starting to worry that as time goes on, the next digital natives are going to be more digital than human.

Children are incredibly fast at picking up how to use things. Show a child once and suddenly they are swiping and tapping their way to taking over the world. Whilst I don’t believe digital means the end of books, and certainly think children can have just as much fun making mud pies outside, there is no point denying that digital is here to stay. And it’s us, the current generation of adults that are responsible for what digital products these techy toddlers are getting access to. It is our responsibility to create products which encourage children to do something creative.


Wonderful products like the Toca Boca digital toys (I especially like the Toca Boca Tea Party app), and websites like Hot Key’s own Story Adventure encourage children to use digital platforms to create their own entertainment. They get to have fun, they get to play and they get to access exciting content in brand new ways. It gets them thinking, inventing and most importantly, using their imaginations. This is critical, because if we expect the next few generations to solve problems and handle chaos, we better make sure they know how to think for themselves.

Creative thought is a survival skill in today’s society. I still stand by the belief that the best way to ensure we remain human is through a combination of playing with new technology, spending time with people and being chucked outside to make mud pies. Being a ‘digital native’ doesn’t necessarily mean you are just ‘digital’. You can have a million devices and still be a creative individual too. Perhaps having the Internet in your blood is too exclusive, but having technology at your fingertips is nothing to fear, you just need to think about it.

On First Love…

Do you remember your first love? I do. His name was Geoff – I was 12 years old and about a foot taller than him. But obviously that didn’t bother me at all because we were meant to be together…despite the height difference.

I’m thinking about first love as Dawn O’Porter’s novel Paper Aeroplanes comes out next week and we are EXCITED, as you can tell. A few weeks ago we had a chat with Dawn in front of the camera about various nostalgia moments from her own teen school years. And here’s the first one…On first love…

We’ll share more of the videos with you over the course of the week – coming soon…friends, frenemies, school, periods and the all important question of 90s food! Stay tuned for more and watch our twitter stream for the launch of Dawn’s new website…

Anyone brave enough to share their stories of first love?

Visiting other worlds to remember our own

Did you know that it’s Earth Day today? We hope you’re celebrating by doing simple things — remembering to turn off lights, unplugging “vampire” appliances when not in use, recycling more, wasting less, and of course…reading! Reading is actually a great way to save the planet, because the right book can completely change the way you think about the world. And after all, isn’t saving the planet really dependent on our ability to change the way we operate? So to get you started, here are a few recommended books for Earth Day:


The Cloud Hunters live in a world that is both familiar and very, very different to our own. They travel through the sky in boats, fighting flying whales and fearsome pirates so far, so different. At the heart of Alex Shearer’s story however is a lack of water. Something our world is becoming increasingly familiar with. Water is a commodity like gold and grain – and it’s only when it’s gone that you really understand how precious it is.

BOONIE Paperback

BOONIE takes you to a desert world, where the earth has been parched by an unyielding sun and water is society’s most precious resource. The desperate search for water has led to terrible abuses of power, and it is up to two brave children, JD and Aqua, to fight for the city’s childrens’ freedom.

THE LORAX is a classic tale of what goes wrong when we stop respecting our natural resources. You can even purchase it in a special recycled paper edition!

In THE GREAT PAPER CAPER, when trees start mysteriously disappearing from the forest, the forest creatures begin their search for answers. Could the abundance of paper aeroplanes littered about have something to do with this tragedy?

As the polar ice caps melt, polar bear sets off to look for a new place to live in THE JOURNEY HOME. Follow him as he meets a few other endangered species along the way…

This beautiful pop-up published by the Tate artfully illustrates the effects of deforestation.

Can you think of others? Add them to the list by posting them in the comments below. And let us know how you are celebrating Earth Day!