Monthly Archives: May 2013

DO judge a book by its cover…you may be pleasantly surprised!

LauraLaura (@lauracholawka) is a Philosophy and Theology graduate who originally trained as an Early Years Professional. She has recently made the move to London from Manchester to pursue a career in publishing. She also writes a blog about her adventures in publishing and reading, which you can check out by clicking here.

A little background first, if I may.

I’m Laura, I’m 24 (and as such a little older than your average intern, I fear) and as a result of a whirlwind series of circumstances that make my life sound more like a romantic comedy than I’m entirely happy with, I decided to haul myself half way across the country to begin a new career.

I used to work with children, mostly the under-two’s, which was fantastic, albeit a bit sticky. I’m a self-confessed book nerd, and various other types of nerd as well, and publishing has always been the little dream career that was in the back of my head, pushed aside in the name of practicality.

But about six months ago, I decided that the time had come to find out whether or not I could do it. It has taken lots of research, a ton of hard work and just a little bit of bravery to even get where I am now, but I have found that my week here at Hot Key Books has proved two things:

  1. I have reasonably good instincts; a career in publishing is DEFINITELY right up my street.
  2. No matter what your working environment, everyone loves cake.

I don’t want to bore you by descending into giddy overstatement, but I have LOVED working here. My confidence in my own abilities has risen immeasurably thanks to everybody’s support. Let’s face it, I’ve never studied or trained for this kind of job until the last few months, it is just something I thought I would be good at, and was sure I would enjoy. So far, so good. (Unless, of course I’ve had everyone tearing their hair out and they’re all just too lovely to say anything.)

In preparation for my week here, I obviously had a good nosy around the titles Hot Key have coming out, and one in particular caught my eye. Not the kind of book I normally would have picked up, Paper Aeroplanes’ beautiful cover art drew me in, and Dawn O’Porter’s familiar name piqued my interest.

Paper Aeroplanes

It has been a bit of a resolution of mine to read more outside of my usual fantasy/adventure comfort zone, and Paper Aeroplanes has helped to prove why that is such a good idea. Set on the island of Guernsey in the 1990’s, the book follows two fifteen year old schoolgirls, Renee and Flo, as they forge a friendship of the kind you can only have in your teens. The girls help each other through family dysfunction, broken relationships and the cringe-inducing ravages of puberty, revealing a story that is poignant, insightful and so shockingly true to life that I kind of hope my mum never reads it.

Paper Aeroplanes is a shining example of the power of this variety of YA fiction which allows us, as adults, to look back on a time when we were so convinced that our problems couldn’t get any bigger, and a tampon was the most embarrassing object anyone had ever encountered. The book dragged me straight back to that brick wall in Greater Manchester against which I had my first kiss (no gory details-sorry) and brought forth a comforting wave of nostalgia which will stay with me for a long while.

So, what does the future look like for Laura Cholawka, publisher extraordinaire? Well, first, I need to find a place to live, and then I need to find a job. You’d be forgiven for thinking I should be panicking, but I’m taking it one step at a time. The skills and experience I’ve gained this week, not to mention the fun I’ve had, mean that I am itching to get my CV out there applying for lots of exciting positions, and I’m sure I can find at least one vacant room in London…wish me luck!


Write Ideas Piece #2: Daughter of Reprisal

Today’s young writer is Niqi Simmons, who also participated in the Platform/Lift Write Ideas program.

Write Ideas group shot_low res

Niqi, age 15, attends Islington Arts and Media School, where he enjoys English, Spanish and P.E. He wants be a published author one day.  He has so many ideas, but this is the first novel he’s endeavored to put on paper. When he’s not writing, you can find him riding his bike or listening to music inspire. His other artistic endeavours include learning to play the acoustic guitar. He lives with three generations of women, and he’s the youngest and only male.


Chapter 1

Nicola stood in front of her wardrobe mirror, applying her make-up and adjusting her school uniform, symmetrically aligning her blouse with her jumper. She made sure she was attractive, yet decent, letting the hem of her skirt rest slightly above her knee like most other girls at school did. She wasn’t like most of the other popular girls in school but she tried her best to fit in. No need, seeing as she didn’t even hang out with them. She hated them. They were so loud and annoying. She wasn’t shy, but she tended to be the quiet one most of the time.

The weekend had just passed and she was making an extra effort to get back into the swing of the school routine. She recited her timetable as she didn’t want to feel unorganised for the day. Neither did she want to be late, but she was quite a fast walker anyway, and she lived very near to the school.

She saw her digital clock in the mirror: 8:35 am. She jumped and grabbed her pre-packed bag and ran downstairs.

“Bye mum!” Nicola exclaimed.

“Bye honey, have a good day at school!”

Her mum, Suzann, sat at the dining table with her head sinking into her palm. A bowl of cereal sat beside her getting soggy. Her voice was gravelly and dull. She wasn’t the bundle of joy she once was. Everything had started to change since Nicola began her teen years. But it was Nicola’s father, Adrian, who was at fault. How could he have managed his job, his marriage and his parenthood for so long and then switched all of a sudden?

Nicola’s best friends, Natalie, Lauren and Rebecca, awaited her outside the school gates.

“I think she’s going to be late today,” said Lauren.

“No she isn’t. I can see her running towards us,” said Rebecca.

Nicola skipped over to her friends like a fox. “Hey everybody.”

“Hey Nicola!” they said almost harmoniously.

“I hope I’m not late. Becky, do you have the time?”

Rebecca pushed up her sleeve and checked her watch for Nicola. “It’s 08:48; we have a couple minutes to get to registration.”

“Hey Natalie, are you in my class for maths?” asked Lauren.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Did we get any homework on Friday?”

“I don’t know I wasn’t in that day.”

“Oh faeces! We do,” Nicola interrupted. “We were supposed to complete the test paper we were given in class and I haven’t done it. Ms. Martin is gonna flip!”

“Haha. Chillax. She said she wasn’t gonna be in today because of some course thingy she had to do,” said Rebecca, putting Nicola’s worries at ease.

The four girls entered the classroom prior to the bell and sat in their usual seats at the back of the room. Their form tutor, Mr. Smith, sat idly at his desk playing eighties music from his laptop. Registration was only ten minutes long, so people would usually chat after Mr. Smith took the register, but today was different. Apart from the quiet whispering of a few students, the class was almost silent. An unfamiliar face sat at the desk nearest to Mr. Smith.

“Hey, check out the new guy,” whispered Lauren, whilst nudging Natalie and Rebecca.

“Wow, he’s so hot,” said Natalie. Nicola’s eyes were already fixated on the new guy, and she bit her bottom lip in awe.

“Okay class,” Mr. Smith began his intro. “We have a new student in our form and he’s a little shy, so I’d like you all to make him welcome. Everyone say hello to Doug.”

“Hey Doug,” they said in unison.

“I need someone to show Doug his way around the school for today. Who would like to volunteer?”

Out of several other hands, Nicola’s hand shot up like a bullet. Her friends looked at each other and giggled.

“Who’s that at the back? Nicola? Okay Nicola you’re going to be a guide for Doug today.”

“Yes sir,” she said.

She swung around on her chair and saw her friends trying to suppress their grins.

“Well you seem keen,” said Natalie.

“Love is in the air,” Lauren sang as she wiggled her eyebrows tauntingly.

“Oh shut up,” Nicola snapped in denial. “Everyone is looking at him, not just me.”

Everyone was looking at him and it made him feel a little uncomfortable and self-conscious. Just a little though.

“Okay guys and girls,” said Mr. Smith. “Make your way to lesson please, I’ll see you at PM registration, have a good day!”

Doug delayed putting on his coat and bag, so he could speak to Mr. Smith. Nicola waited outside for him. When he had finished talking to Mr. Smith, he headed for the door. Nicola peeked through the glass window in the door. Her heart skipped a beat every step closer he got to the door, but she took a deep breath and smiled. “Hey Doug,” she said, greeting him, as he stepped out of the classroom.

“Hey,” he replied timidly.

“My name’s Nicola. I suppose you haven’t got a timetable yet, so come to my lesson. I’ve got maths.”

“Urm… okay. I was just talking to sir about my timetable and getting it next week so… yeah.” Doug smiled sheepishly and followed Nicola to her class.

Maths was on the second floor of the other school block so she hurried there with Doug just on her tail. “Is this your classroom?” Doug asked.

“Yep,” she replied.

Although it would’ve been normal for Nicola to let Doug in first seeing as he was the new student, Doug pushed the door open from behind her and let her in instead.

“Ladies first,” he said.

“Aww thanks.” As she walked in, she looked back and smiled for a little bit longer than was considered usual. Some students, including her best friends, caught a glimpse of the romance and stifled a chuckle.

The cover teacher peered over her glasses. “Why are you late?” she questioned sternly in a strong European accent.

“Sorry miss. Mr. Smith said I have to take Doug here to my lessons, because he’s new and he doesn’t have a timetable.  I had to wait for a couple minutes whilst he talked to sir after registration.”

The teacher’s voice softened. ”Fair enough. Take a seat over there,” she said pointing to the two available seats on the other side of the classroom.

To keep reading, click here to download chapter 2, and be sure to leave a comment for Niqi below!

Write Ideas Piece #1: HOME

Today we’re bringing you the first of several pieces of  writing from teens who participated in the Write Ideas program. Click on the links for more about Write Ideas and Platform/Lift.

Morgan McManus-Lee, age 16, currently studies her GCSE’s at Highbury Fields School. She is really interested in poetry and magazines. She has an addiction to Vogue. She also enjoys drinking tea and buying shoes. She lives with her mum, dad and baby brother Silvans. She was the peer leader for the All Change Write Ideas project.


‘There’s no place like home’
What is home?
Is it somewhere you feel safe
Or loved
And somewhere that when you’re absent you’re truly missed?

I can’t find mine.
Can’t define it
Lost, lost, lost
What is home?

You tell me.

The pen is mightier than the mobile

This year, we have been working closely with the fantastic Platform youth hub in Islington, building an author-led creative writing programme for young people aged 13 to 19 called Write Ideas, which runs every Tuesday evening in term time. Two fabulous authors, Sarah Mussi and Sara Grant, have helped the young authors along their journey from first draft to publication.

To celebrate the culmination of this programme, we will be featuring three of the students’ pieces on the blog starting tomorrow. Today our blog is from Sarah Mussi, who spent a bit of time reflecting on the experience.

When teenage writers pick up a pen with the intention of becoming writers they certainly mean business. And if those teenagers come from Islington and know there is an author-led, community-based, publishing-industry-supported venture for them to take advantage of; hosted in a state of the art venue; then not rain nor snow nor GCSEs (even!) will stop them from attending.

Last week saw the culmination of just such a venture. On Tuesday night, two authors and the young writers’ group from the Write Ideas writing programme presented their writing to the world!   They performed at Platform on Hornsey Road as part of the Islington WORD13 festival, and I was there!

Yes, I was one of the very privileged authors who worked alongside this amazingly dedicated group of young writers, and I was thrilled to be present to applaud their projects at the Express Yourself event last week.

And what’s more, I was there at the beginning too!

I first met the young writers of Islington at the launch party. Along with Meg and Livs, from Hot Key Books; Sara Grant, a fellow author from CWISL (Children’s Writers & Illustrators in South London) and member of the Edge writers’ group; youth facilitators from Platform, stakeholders from the community and Key Coordinator of the Write Ideas & All Change Arts project, Rachel; with them all, I signed up for the journey.

From then on, fortified throughout by delicious (and amazingly huge) cup cakes (with marshmallows and sprinkly bits – O YAY!), we met – through wind and hail – every week for two months! We brainstormed ideas, crafted plots, drafted chapters; we edited and critiqued them. And we set about preparing a presentation of each piece for a culminating evening of celebrations.

And I can’t tell you what a BUZZ-ting and a WOW-ting it was! Stories of disappearances, of explosions, of teenage first love, of families in crisis, of home and of being lost – all came together in that evening of readings and questions and talks and reflections.

Working with such dynamic, enthusiastic and creative youngsters has reminded me exactly why I write for the Y.A. audience. They have an eye for detail, a natural feeling for suspense, a straightforward kind of genuineness, they have all the energy of being young plus the integrity of age: in fact they are totally awesome and fun and quirky too.

So fresh from working with them – and refreshed by their take on life, I think I better get back to my laptop and make sure I can write some thing BOOM and WOW and SO SICK too!

Because like they say, it’s totally worth switching off the mobile for!

So long, fare thee well, pip pip, cheerio, I’ll be back soon (for tea and cake)

All great stories have a beginning. Where we meet our hero and discover the task or problem. The middle is where all the excitement lies, a great cacophony of action and triumph. And then, finally we reach a conclusion, an end, the finish.  Turning the final page, reaching the last line where paper meets board and the dance of black and white fades to silence. Which is a roundabout way of saying, that I am on the end papers of my time at Hot Key Books and Red Lemon. I’m terribly sad to be saying goodbye after a quite incredible 18 months, and really very reluctant to put this particular story down. But. Most great stories don’t end on the final page. They continue in the reader’s head or in conversation, in reading groups, the playground, the bus. Sometimes they have sequels.

Moshi Monsters Sheet

I am excited to be opening up my career: part 2 – where I can’t wait to start work on the Moshi Monsters Magazine. So from a place where stories lie at the heart of everything – to somewhere exactly the same (but a bit more furry).  At this point, if I were on the Xfactor I would get a hastily put together montage of pivotal moments. From when I first walked in the door to when I made Cheryl Cole cry with my first audition to when the public voted me out…  Unfortunately (or perhaps very fortunately) I don’t quite have the technical no-how for this, so I’ve recreated the idea with a very short compilation of my ‘best bits’. (or rather some songs that I love and will find any excuse to shout about….)

The best of all the bits!

The best of all the bits!

Working at a place like Hot Key Books has been a huge learning curve – when I look back at where I started, a youthful twenty three year old with big dreams and a memory like a sieve I can’t quite believe how much I’ve learnt. The intricacies of Biblio for a start. But  meta-data! P&Ls! Pub schedules! Invoicing! The best bit about being an assistant is that you get to really get under the skin of how a business ticks while occasionally getting to do some unbelievably exciting things….

The Story Adventure

Sometimes publishing can seem a bit removed from the real world. You hope and cross everything that the books you send out there will make an impact – but it’s a lot of guess work. And then something like The Story Adventure comes along and you get letters like these from kids who have discovered how wonderful writing can be – I’ll be looking out for their names in Waterstones in 10 years time!

The Young Writers Prize

From very young writers to ones who are a bit bigger – but just as undiscovered. Working on this project was such a joy – from having over 350 entrants, sifting through them all and coming out the other side with two fabulous authors – I can’t wait to see their books flying off shelves later this year. Katie Coyle and Joe Ducie are both names to watch.


THE RIG 300dpi

The Blog

Being creative is at the heart of what I love about this job. Getting to think outside of the box and put  my (often strange) thoughts down on (virtual) paper. I’ve been really lucky to get some great responses to some of the blog posts I’ve written – and have actually taken one idea and set it free in the pastures of Word Press. So for anyone who enjoyed our Boy Meets Girl meets Books series of blogs, you can now follow our progress on a dedicated blog! Find us at where we have May’s choices and April’s reviews.

The People

HKB is the very special company that it is because of the people who make it. I couldn’t even start to say how much I have loved working here without sounding like I was making a long and weepy Oscar’s speech. So I’ll do a J-Law and keep it brief and very cool, by just saying that every single person here has a real passion for stories, an understanding of what makes books great, and a  touch of magic. That’s the only way to explain how such exciting things come out of such a small team…


The very early days!

The Final Word

It’s really hard to be articulate when you want to say everything. Instead I’ll leave it to Tim Minchin and Matilda…


Language: Obey the rules!

Recently I wrote a blog post about how language flourishes and – sometimes – becomes beautiful when we adapt the rules we are taught.

On the other hand, there are some language rules that we really, really feel strongly about and that we – not just as editors but as human beings – will always fight the cause of. (Avoiding sentences ending in a preposition is not one of mine, evidently.)


My pet grammar rule is the correct use of ‘that’ and ‘which’ and it’s one I’m often correcting in text because it is so little understood and therefore frequently misused. The rule to remember is:

‘That’ is never preceded by a comma, but ‘which’ always is*.

And that is because of the subtle difference between the two words, which is beautiful and useful. See:

1/ She picked up the envelope that was on the table.

2/ She picked up the envelope, which was on the table.

The first implies that there are several possible envelopes, but only one was on the table: the information following ‘that’ defines that particular envelope compared to others.

The second gives no information about whether there are other envelopes, but purely offers extra description about the envelope in question: it was on the table. Because it is additional information, it follows a comma. (That is another good rule of thumb for helping to decide when to use a comma.)

I surveyed the Hot Key and Red Lemon staff to find out what really fires them up when they see language rules disregarded. (And added some further comment in italics…)


Sara OC, Editorial Director: Exclamation marks MUST be used sparingly. Especially in children’s books; writers do tend to go crazy. Also, dialogue tags should not be illogical:

“I love you,” Jenny smiled.

MUST be:

“I love you.” Jenny smiled.

You cannot ‘smile’ words.

Sarah Odedina, Managing Director: Being the result of a 1970s radical comprehensive education I have little idea what makes for correct, or incorrect use of the English language.  All my ‘editorial’ responses are on what sounds right for the character or the book.   I know you shouldn’t start a new sentence with ‘and’ but sometimes it just sounds right! I suppose I do dislike it when an author uses the same phrases or sayings or terminology over and over again.  It happens.  It is easy to take out and to change.  But I wonder why someone doesn’t notice that they are repeating themselves…

I argued for starting sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’ here. I think repeating phrases and terms is something all writers fall into at some point, but spotting them is one of the editor’s responsibilities – along with urging changes.

Cait Davies, Sales & Marketing Executive: Their, they’re and there!

Mixing up these spellings is a language crime: they all have different meanings and are not interchangeable.

Georgia Murray, Editor: APOSTROPHES!!!! Particularly when used in a plural. (And also multiple exclamation marks.)

More on this coming up…

Livs Mead, Sales & Marketing Assistant: Your and you’re. And its and it’s. It’s so simple I don’t understand why people can’t remember the difference. (I’m now paranoid my apostrophe usage is wrong).

And yet people do get it wrong, frequently – and possibly out of a paranoid panic about getting it wrong. But don’t panic!

‘its’ = possessive; ‘it’s’ = ‘it is’

‘your’ = possessive; ‘you’re’ = ‘you are’.

When in doubt, keep apostrophes for contractions. I know, it’s confusing because you add apostrophes to make other nouns possessive, but think of ‘its’ and ‘yours’ already holding a sense of possession. They don’t need apostrophes too.

Megan Farr, PR Manager: One pet hate is apostrophes in dates – like 1920’s.

This is like a secret grammar rule that very few people know. Unless you’re talking about something belonging to the 1920s, you don’t need an apostrophe. Remember: if in doubt, keep apostrophes for contractions.

Tori Kosara, Editor, Red Lemon Press: Less/fewer! If I cared a bit less about this common mistake, I would have fewer headaches when editing.

‘Less’ should only be used when talking about unquantifiable amounts (‘less confusion, ‘less anxiety’) and ‘fewer’ when the amount IS quantifiable (‘fewer grammatical errors’, ‘fewer editorial headaches’).

Alexandra Koken, Editor, Red Lemon Press: Excessive use of exclamation marks is a pet peeve, especially in younger fiction and speech. They almost makes me want to mark up ‘Calm down’ in a side note! Plus, too many commas are a bore. 

This is a popular pet peeve!!!!!!! (See: it is quite annoying.)


Now, I know that grammar comes more easily to some people than others, but an aversion to grammar rules needn’t hold you back. Last word from our lovely Editorial Assistant Becca, who sadly leaves us today:

Becca Langton, Editorial Assistant: I’m useless at grammar and punctuation and have been told off SO many times for it. I am particularly bad at differentiating between you’re and your. Not great but I blame the dyslexia. BUT! I am really persnickety about of and off. I think it’s because it’s the one rule that I can actually remember!

And that’s why putting together a book requires input from people with so many different expertise: a writer with a brilliant voice and an excellent story to tell can do all the spelling mistakes and grammar crimes they want, because there should always be a diligent copy-editor and proofreader to mop them up and give the text a polish before sending it out into the world.

A key aspect of working closely with fiction is finding the delicate balance between these rules and the writer’s own adapted rules.

* There are exceptions to this rule, but not when used in this context.

** See, here you don’t need a comma before ‘which’. It’s an entirely different context.


The facts behind the fiction: our new iBook!

For a fiction publisher, we’re pretty obsessed with non-fiction. Especially when it comes to our historical fiction books. We could just let them stand on their own, as they are brilliant stories in their own right. You don’t need to know everything about the Spanish Civil War to enjoy A WORLD BETWEEN US, just like you don’t need to know anything about baby farming to fall in love with THE QUIETNESS. Our authors enable you to time travel without ever getting in the Tardis.


But we feel that part of our job as a publisher is to bring you great stories that don’t end with the last page. Once you start to pull back the layers of history which inspired these great stories, it’s hard to stop. Over the past few months, we’ve told you a bit about all the places we visited to gather information for our non-fiction companion to THE QUIETNESS. We felt compelled to create something special for this book, because the history is so fascinating, so local, and so recent. THE QUIETNESS is set at the end of the Victorian period, only 140 years ago. Now, sure, 140 years isn’t exactly yesterday, but it’s really a mere blip in the timeline of British history.

Throughout our research, we were constantly amazed at how people lived in London during this period. Alison says one of the reasons she is so drawn to write about this period is because of the extreme darkness that lies beneath the polished veneer of Victorian life. It was supposed to be a time of beauty and chastity and propriety, but in fact, it was overrun by ugliness, poverty, and oppression. And who wouldn’t want to learn more about that?

So we’re opening the door for you just a little further. After you’ve enjoyed THE QUIETNESS, you can continue your journey through Victorian London through maps, photos, and original police reports. We’ve collected video interviews from experts at The Foundling Museum and The Old Operating Theatre, and there are even excerpts from Martina Cole’s LADYKILLERS program about the notorious Amelia Dyer. It’s all yours to explore, on your iPad, for only £0.99.

If you’re already familiar with our iBook editions (yay you!) you might notice that this one is a bit different. Instead of sitting the content next to the text of the book, we’ve condensed it all into a 40-page iBook. You can think about it like the bonus disc in a special edition DVD. Here’s a little preview of what you’ll see:

To celebrate the release of this book, we’re offering the ebook on Amazon and Apple and the paperback from our web site for 1/2 price! Plus, if you email us ( your receipt, we’ll enter you into our drawing to win one of 10 free copies of THE HISTORY BEHIND THE QUIETNESS!

It’s only for the iPad right now, but one day we hope to make our enhanced content available on many more devices. If you do download it, please let us know what you think!