Monthly Archives: June 2013

Writing advice from YOU: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

All over the world, young writers are sitting down in front of their computers, preparing their submissions for our Young Writers Prize (or at least we hope they are!). So, in order to support all these bright young minds across the globe, we asked you for your best writing advice! Here’s what you said:

Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 12.18.43Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 12.22.38Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 12.23.18Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 12.23.49Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 12.23.37If you want to add anything, please post it below! And best of luck to all you YWP hopefuls out there!


Writing Advice from Dawn O’Porter

How do you start writing fiction when you’ve been writing short non-fiction your whole career? Dawn O’Porter had to wrestle with this when she sat down to write her first novel, PAPER AEROPLANES. For all you writers out there (and especially those who are working on their Young Writers Prize submissions right now), here’s her advice for breaking through the writing barriers and getting your ideas out:

Paper Aeroplanes

Do you have a writing routine? Share yours below!

Writing Advice from Julie Mayhew

Today’s writing advice comes from RED INK author Julie Mayhew. Below, she talks about the importance of setting deadlines.

Fortunately, if you’re hoping to enter the Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize competition, we’ve set the deadline for you! Your first 4000 words plus 1-page synopsis is due to us on July 22nd. Get writing!


Do you set your own deadlines? How do you keep track of your work? Leave your advice in the comments below!

Writing advice from Nigel McDowell

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? We posed this question to a few of our authors, and we’ll be posting their video responses this week to help all the Young Writers Prize entrants get their writing in top shape!

Today’s advice is from Nigel McDowell, author of TALL TALES FROM PITCH END. Click on the book cover below to learn more about Nigel and his amazing work!


How to Win a Writing Contest

This advice should be good for any writing contest, but is specifically in celebration of our Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize, supported by Kobo. We’re hoping to find talented writers from 18 to 25 writing fiction for children 9+ and all we need to start is the first 4,000 words of a novel. So, they have to be the best 4,000 words you’ve got!

If you want to win the contest, it’s simple, really:

1. Have a great opening line.
2. Have a great opening page.
3. Have a great opening chapter.

Okay, I admit, that is easier said than done. So I’ve put together some tips and examples that might help inspire you.

1. Have a great opening line.
First impressions do count, so give us something interesting to open. Don’t start with people being bored, just waking up or with unimportant or non-essential details. Be specific to create something vivid. Try to hint at the whole book in your first line. Show what’s different about your book from the very first moment.

Some of my favourites:
“The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.”
Dogs learning to talk? I’m intrigued. There is also a touch of character here, learning that the narrator has a dog but isn’t all mushy about it. Plues the subtle but effective “yer” and “don’t got nothing” give a great sense of the voice.

Cover of Maggot Moon by Sally GardnerMAGGOT MOON by Sally Gardner
“I’m wondering what if.”
This is a great example of hinting at the whole book in one line. “What if?” is one of the central ideas of the story and something so essential to the main character. It draws me because, as a reader, I’m also wondering about this book and what it could be.

TALL STORY by Candy Gourlay.
“Rush hour. So many armpits, so little deodorant.”
Speaks for itself, really! It sets up the tone of this charming but funny book.

Peter Pan book coverPETER PAN by J M Barrie
“All children, except one, grow up.”
An iconic first line, that encapsulates the core of the book. Right away, I’m desperate to know all about the exception to the rule – and also kind of want to be the exception to the rule.

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
I read somewhere (deliberately forgot where), how could a series with such a boring opening line do so well. Ridiculous! This opening line is bursting with character. I don’t need one single other detail about the Dursley’s to know who they are – their surname, their street name and “thank you very much” creates such a strong feeling about them.

HOLES by Louis Sachar
“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”
(This is my favourite book ever, so I had to include it, even though this list is getting long.)

2. Have a great opening page
My advice for the best opening page is to introduce us to a great character – preferably by what they do/are doing, rather than what they look like or what the setting looks like. We shouldn’t meet them by being told what is happening TO them, but by seeing what they are making happen, be it good or bad.

Some of my favourites:
MILLIONS by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a great place to start looking at character introduction. We get a glimpse of Damian’s brother, but also such a charming introduction to quirky Damian and his obsession with the saints.

We first meet the terrifying Jack, but an even better character introduction is to Bod. The pages of him as a baby is one of my favourite character introductions ever, as he ingeniously and adorably escapes. I love him so much from that opening that I will go anywhere he goes from then on.

VIVIAN VERSUS THE APOCALYPSEIn one of last year’s winners, VIVAN VERSUS THE APOCALYPSE, by Katie Coyle, there is a delicious sense of controversy in the prologue. It reads like an official statement, but the deliberate wording “a kingdom called Florida” and “listened to rap music” makes a mockery of it and the character behind it. As I read it, I already knew that I wanted someone to rebel against him.

(Note: For the non-Hot Key books, you can “search inside” on Amazon to peek at the opening pages, if you don’t own the book. And for Hot Key Books, you can download the opening chapter on our website!

3.Have a great opening chapter.
The first two points are quite narrowly focused, but this is big picture thinking. For a great opening chapter, make something really interesting happen in chapter one. DON’T save it for chapter two or three. The essential “arrive late, leave early” rule should apply. Come to the scene as late as you can to make sense and get out as quickly as you can when your point is made.

In THE WIND SINGER by William Nicholson, the fabulous opening chapter has the main character’s littler sister, PinPin, failing her “testing” spectacularly by weeing on the Chief Examiner. I can see the world without it everbeing described with lengthy set up. I know exactly what I need to know to understand at the moment I need to know it.

CLOCKWISE TO TITANCLOCKWISE TO TITAN has the such a sense of movement and action, with the three friends escaping the Institute, along with great characterisation. It sweeps you along the opening scene, hinting at the past and the future of the story. Read the opening page in this PDF sample.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
The opening chapter brilliantly sets up everything that Katniss is about to lose. It has such a great last line, too, when she loses it. We see how strong Katniss is (the lynx!) and how tough she has it.

BOONIE PaperbackBOONIE by Richard MassonA winner of a different contest (Undiscovered Voices), the opening scene is simply stunning. You immediately feel for JD and hate those who he must fight against. With a strong voice and wonderful visuals, reading this sample will definitely inspire you!

Do you have any tips to share? What has really helped you focus on a great first 4,000 words? Or what are some of your favourite opening lines?

And GOOD LUCK if you’re entering. Take your time and make it awesome.

The Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize and the tipping point

Today’s blog is by our editor Emma Matthewson. Emma has been editing fiction for young readers for many years, edited the Harry Potter series while she was at Bloomsbury. Below, Emma talks about the need for fabulous fiction for young people ages 9 to 12 and our Young Writers Prize.

Before reading this, could you (if you care to)  cast your mind back to your very favourite book as a child, and by this I mean the first time you fell in love with and felt completely immersed in a world… Perhaps too you had a special place to read… maybe it was under a tree in summer, with the dancing leaves above dappling the page… maybe it was when you dragged your book out of your school bag as soon as you got into the car for the journey home, not even hearing the questions about how the day went, BECAUSE YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT AND HAVE BEEN WANTING TO KNOW ALL DAY.

For me, my special place was a big, squashy, rather-uncomfortable-because-it-was-tickly-on-bare-legs armchair that was, nevertheless, my favourite reading place.  The chair was in my bedroom and was covered in red, swirly almost paisley patterns. It was huge, and squashy, and it would swallow me up.

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader -- The Book

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader — The Book

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader -- The Movie

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader — The Movie

This chair was vividly brought back to me recently as I was settling down to watch the opening film credits of C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and the elegant book illustrations by Pauline Baynes appeared on screen. In an instant, in an absolute moment I was sucked back to the aforementioned armchair, greedily turning and turning the pages of the Narnia books, oblivious to the world outside. (It has only just occurred to me that the cinema seats had the same scratchy material as the armchair, which might have helped towards my swooping journey back in time). No matter.

My rambling point is that somewhere as a child on your reading journey, you reach a tipping point. You finally get beyond the challenge of working out how to read, and the endless reading schemes, and you reach the heady shores of being a free reader. And then, before you know it, you are swimming in the thrilling oceans of reading what you want. (Really? I can?). And that is such a lift-off, a dizzying, shooting into space, all engines going. My memories of Narnia have stayed with me through decades. Ditto The Lord of the Rings, which I read five times, and once again on my honeymoon. (Yes, extraordinarily, I am still married).

This sudden spurt, this tipping point, might happen at any age, it might be 8, 9, 10, 11, it doesn’t matter. But, almost inevitably, you remember it, and that memory stays with you as you reach adulthood. Given the right books, the right reader will be hooked – and there is such a richness of writing today for this stage. Roald Dahl has been the kickstarter for so many children, likewise Jacqueline Wilson, Eva Ibbotson, Philip Pullman and of course J.K. Rowling, amongst  many, many other fine writers.

It was such a privilege to edit the Harry Potter books, to work and walk alongside  the characters, the themes, the plotting, the humour, all interwoven amongst the bigger, overarching themes, all so brilliantly conceived by J.K. Rowling.  Editing Harry Potter also brought something very important home to me: the best writers of the best stories, of stories that have longevity, have no qualms about including the big ideas: bravery, friendship, treachery, fear, faith, truth, love.  Also, perhaps, chocolate, jellybeans, poltergeists, pheasants, river journeys and unicorns. That is the marvel when writing for readers who have reached their tipping point. There is a sudden, surprising opening for rich, varied, important storytelling. To be the first to open the door to this brave new world is a precious opportunity.

The Hot Key Young Writers’ Prize launched today, and we are looking for storytellers who can open doors to new worlds for our readers. We welcome entries for the 9+ and 13+ age-ranges. Perhaps the 9+ age-range is sometimes seen as the quieter, shyer sister compared to her more sophisticated 13+ sibling? But there is so much to write about for our 9+ readers, such rich material. Remember the tipping point! Rich, funny, varied, magical, contemporary, please enter – we want them all! We cannot wait to read them.

The Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize is back!

The 2012 prize winners, publishing this September - this could be you!

The 2012 prize winners, publishing this September – this could be you!

Calling all young writers! Entries are now open for the Hot Key Books Young Writer’s Prize competition, supported this year by Kobo! If you are between the ages of 18 – 25 and have a story to tell to young readers, this competition is for you. For more information, click here to visit the Young Writers Page 2013 page and here to watch a video about the prize.

Hot Key Books Managing Director Sarah Odedina has written a blog below about why we chose to do this prize, in a world full of wonderful literary prizes…

Why another writing prize?  There seem to be an abundance of them, so what is different about ours at Hot Key Books?

When we were first planning to launch Hot Key Books, one of the things we very much wanted to do was publish fiction with real child and young adult appeal.  Books that would quench the reading appetites of lots of different sorts of readers, with lots of different sorts of interests. We were ambitious to publish books that really spoke to those readers from writers who had something new and exicting to say.

In thinking about the prize, we also very much wanted to encourage young writers.  Writers who were perhaps still reading the sorts of books we want to publish or had very recently stopped.  We are also very aware of how hard it is to get noticed as a young writer, without an agent and without any track record. So we wanted to offer aspiring authors the opportunity to have dialogue and interaction with a publisher.

The prize is simple in its ambitions.  To publish new, unpublished un-agented authors between the ages of 18 and 25.  Young writers who might find it hard to get their work noticed in the slew of submissions to agents and publishing houses and who are still learning their craft.  That is also why we reserve the right not to publish a winner, but to work with the best authors to help them learn the process of editing and the particularities of improving their work.

Hot Key Books is a list that aims to communicate directly with our readers and our authors and to make sure that there is dialogue between authors and readers.  The prize is another way in which we can build the dialogue and encourage young writers and readers to see the world of books as something that they can be involved in and in which they have a legitimate voice.

Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize is a way for us to share our knowledge of publishing and to encourage young writers as well of course to find great new talent for the list.  Our first year resulted in two great books being published.  We very much look forward to seeing what this year holds.