Author Archives: hotkeyamyo

Love Your Local: Pistachio and Pickle…and the best cheese toastie on earth

Just a bit north of the Angel tube stop on Liverpool road lives an amazing little delicatessen/cafe/food shop that makes my heart sing (and my stomach rejoice) every time I visit. It’s one of those places that makes you proud to live in the neighborhood. Everything they make or stock is hand-picked and absolutely delicious. And it’s not crazy foams or some air-spun wasabi that makes it so — it’s all about good, local ingredients.

PistachioAndPickle Exterior

If you haven’t been to Pistachio and Pickle for their weekend brunch special or their newly-added afternoon tea, it’s time to change your plans this weekend and head over there. No matter what you order, you’ll be delighted, from the most beautiful simple plate of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon to the adventurous brunch specials.

On top of that, the owners, Steve and Matt, are two of the nicest, friendliest people around. Plus, if you get in at the right time, you will get a personalised puppy greeting from their sweet dog Cooper.

Cooper, the official Pistachio and Pickle morning welcoming committee.

Cooper, the official Pistachio and Pickle morning welcoming committee.

It’s also just a brilliant example of a local business done completely right. So I asked Matt and Steve to answer a few questions about P&P, and what they think can be done to reinvigorate local business on the high street.

Q: What made you decide to open Pistachio and Pickle?
A: We’re huge foodies, and have spent years cooking for our friends and families.  So we decided to set up the the supper club and then from there we took the plunge and gave Pistachio & Pickle a permanent home.

Q: How did you decide on the location?
The location found us! We were looking for premises and as soon as the property details came through we knew Barnsbury was the place to be. It has a great sense of community and we wanted to be be part of it.

Q: Where did the name come from?
A: We thought long and hard about the name, we originally set up as a supper club and our favourite course was the cheese course – and we always made our own chutneys and pickles. This got us thinking about calling ourselves something & Pickle….we eventually came up with the exotic and rather expensive Pistachio & Pickle.

Coffee and a smile...

Coffee and a smile…

Q: You guys seem to know everyone who comes in the shop, and everyone seems so at home in there. How did you make that happen?
A: Over the past two years, we have spent nearly every working minute serving our customers, listening to what foods they like and getting to know them all. Most of our customers are regulars and we know their coffee and their name.

A bit of cheese perhaps?

A bit of cheese perhaps?

Q: You seem to source your ingredients from a lot of local, family-run businesses around town. What motivates you guys to choose local products?
A: We make sure our products have a sustainable origin and we are able to tell our customers about it – they set us apart from our competitors.


I’ll take one of everything, thank you.

Q: There’s a big concern right now around the loss of local shops on the high street. As a successful local business, what do you think can be done to solve this issue?
A: High streets are the centre of a community, and they can brings jobs and vibrancy to the area which benefit everyone. High street rents can be extremely high however, and there should be more support for small businesses to set up. Customers also need to be motivated to shop in independents, so we see it as our job to provide the hand-sell experience which differentiates us from other retailers.

Q: What is your favourite item on the breakfast menu?
Steve’s favourite brunch is our current special – pork and apple eggs benedict with salbitxada. Matt enjoys the brioche French toast and yoghurt with fresh fruit pot.

Yummy and carefully selected stock of Monmouth Coffee, Tea Pigs tea, The Relish Company jams, and lots of other goodies!

Yummy and carefully selected stock of Monmouth Coffee, Tea Pigs tea, The Relish Company jams, and lots of other goodies!

Q: What products are you most excited about right now that people have to try?
A: We’re most excited by our new British farmed charcuterie. We’re now selling air-dried ham in the style of parma ham but from Worcestshire, bresaola style beef from Dorset and salami from Kent.

Q: How on earth do you make such a delicious cheese toastie? Seriously, I would eat it three meals a day. 🙂
A: Our cheese toastie is our signature sarnie and is our biggest seller – the real secret is using good mature cheese, spring onions and a secret ingredient, which I can’t tell you about or I’d have to kill you!

Don’t forget to follow Pistachio and Pickle on Twitter, and tweet us your pics when you visit P&P!


How can I help?

One of the really interesting things that constantly came up in last week’s celebration of Independent Bookseller’s Week was the wonderful depth of knowledge and care that so many booksellers show.

And this got me thinking about customer service in general, especially in the context of a recent event put on by Flamingo called “The Future of Shopping.” The researchers at Flamingo studied how the decline of the high street affected real shoppers, and also how real people shop — both online and offline. What they discovered was no surprise to me. Bricks and mortar shops cannot just be suppliers of goods anymore — they need to give people a reason to come in. As the Flamingo study said, ” The future strategy for the high street is clear: become a retail destination or turn those empty retail spaces into something more useful…”

A critical part of becoming a “retail destination” is customer service — a somewhat rarely-assumed part of the customer experience here in the UK. The general lack of good customer service in the UK came as a shock to me when I first moved here. And what’s even more shocking, is that people are actually really bothered when they get bad customer service, but then they don’t seem to do anything about it. Why. WHY? I just don’t get it. So, I sat down with Sarah B, who is also frequently appalled by bad customer service, to ask her about this curious aspect of British culture.

AO: Sarah, as a UK citizen, can you please explain to me why there isn’t an over-arching expectation of good customer service?

SB: I don’t think there isn’t, but I think that our expectations are lower than they are in the US. I certainly recognise that every time I go to the States, I remember how pleasant the shopping experience can be.

I do think it’s a sensibility thing too, I know lots of people that find people offering them help offensive.

AO: Really? Why?

SB: Because of the natural British way of keeping things to yourself, a lot of people don’t like interacting with people while shopping.

I suppose that once you’ve experienced great service in that kind of environment, you start to appreciate what’s possible in a shopping experience.

AO: What do you mean by pleasant? Is there something about American shop service that sticks out for you?

SB: Politeness! A proactiveness. I find that in many UK shops, only if you’re confident enough to ask do you get service. In America, they are absolutely there to help you the moment you walk in the door, and this country, they’re hoping that you don’t ask.

AO: OMG, that’s how I feel too! I do feel like sometimes when I walk into giant chain stores, they are extremely put-out if I ask where something is. Which is weird, because I want to spend money in their shop. And that somehow doesn’t enter the equation. Why is that?

SB: I think it’s all down to what that staff thinks they’re there to do — at a lot of big stores, they don’t treat staff very well, they are just there to stack shelves and take money. The staff don’t have a share in their store’s success. They are not invested in going over and above their job description.

AO: But OK, so my question is, that in the standard job description for a cashier, let’s say, don’t you think provide excellent customer service generally included?

SB: Certainly was where I worked. I worked in a small, family-run department store as an assistant on the perfume counter. We had really strict standards of customer care. One of the main things I remember is not being allowed to talk to my colleagues if there was a customer in sight. We also were trained to engage with the customer and know our regular customers by name.

AO: About how often would you say you receive good customer service? And along those lines, when you receive good customer service, do you revisit those places?

SB: I would say about 20 percent of the time, to the extent that when I receive good customer service, I am over the moon about it. I’m generally quite loyal to the places which give me good customer service, so every time I go to those places I would be very surprised if I didn’t have a good experience.

AO: Share please! Where are you finding this wonderful experience in London?

SB: I have been quite lucky in that I used to live in Stoke Newington, which is a hive of small, independent retailers and restaurants. It’s such a competitive environment and there’s so much choice in terms of restaurants that service is something that sets people apart. There was an absolutely fantastic butchers and green grocers that I really miss now that I am no longer in the area. A Saturday walking down the high street was a generally lovely experience because there was such an interesting and diverse mix of retailers. And that’s something that’s quite hard to find these days. Shopping is no longer about browsing, but getting what you need and getting home as quickly as possible.

Even though I no longer live close to Church Street, I have already found a new favourite place in my new neighborhood. It’s a place called Coffee7, where they are a real community focused coffee shop. They have this program called Suspended Coffee where you can buy a cup for yourself and one for someone else who can’t afford a coffee. The staff are lovely. The first time I went in there, the woman behind the counter just struck up a conversation with me about the area.

On a bigger retailer scale, I’m a huge John Lewis convert. I just feel like they generally do everything they can to help you in-store and online to help you get what you need. And that leads to continued, repeat purchasing.

AO: What does good customer service look like to you?

SB: Being helpful, I’m quite an impatient shopper now, and I quite like to be able to ask someone if they have something rather than having to wander around. And I would expect that person to know or to be able to find it. Otherwise, I might as well order it online. What I’m looking for is, “We don’t have that, but we have this instead…”

When you are looking in a larger chain store, and if they don’t have something, they used to call another branch to find it. That seems to happen less and less these days. Office shoes is actually good at this — they can look up sizes and styles in any store (or you can do it yourself online).

AO: Thanks Sarah!


Following on from our celebration of wonderful Independent Booksellers and motivated by our love for good customer service, we are launching a week of blogs devoted to shops in our area that are doing it right. We’re calling this week LOVE YOUR LOCAL WEEK. All week long, we’re going to be talking about the shops in our area that we love, and that love us back. At the end of the week, we’ll post a map of all the shops we mention so you can go visit too.

And we want to hear from you! Does customer service matter to you? Are you more inclined to buy things in bricks-and-mortar stores which provide you good customer service? Where have you received excellent customer service (please tell us, we want to visit!)?

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.

Geeking out at The National Archives

A few weeks ago, I set out to go to The National Archives to do a bit of research for our latest enhanced ebook project. It’s going to be a non-fiction companion to THE QUIETNESS by Alison Rattle, which is the Victorian-era story of two girls from very different families who ultimately get entangled in the dark world of baby farming. Fortunately, because this book is set in London, and because the Victorians were obsessed with paperwork and their brand-new police force, there was a plethora of material available for perusal in The National Archives.

If you’re coming from central London, getting to The National Archives is quite a journey. A pretty direct journey on the overground, but about an hour nonetheless. There’s a sort of strange path between the archives and the train station, one that takes you through a residential area, and (if you get lost like I usually do) through a strip-mall parking lot. But if you follow the signs, you eventually end up here:


If you’ve never been to The National Archives, there’s a fairly lengthy bureaucratic process you have to complete before you can start your research. Now, because I used to work for a bureaucracy and I’m pretty used to getting my fingerprints scanned every time I come back to the UK, I had thoroughly prepared all my documents before I went to the Archives. I even brought extra IDs and called to make sure I had the right proof of address in hand.
But the documentation is only the beginning.

In order to get your “reader’s ticket,” you have to take a 15-minute tutorial, complete with periodic quizzes, about how to use the archives. It’s useful information actually — it helps you understand how to handle big old books and ancient text scrolls. Once you complete the quiz (with passing scores of course), you get cleared to move onto the next step — the final document check. At this phase, a nice staff person checks your ID and proof of address, takes your photo, and voila! You’ve got your fancy reader’s ticket!


My National Archives reader’s ticket, now one of my most prized possessions.

And now the real fun begins. Because once you have your reader’s ticket, you have access to the millions of primary source documents stored in the archives.

And I can tell you, it’s totally, TOTALLY worth it.

In a single day, I held letters written by convicted baby farmers, the original report on Amelia Dyer’s execution, a wanted poster in near-mint condition (it’s going in the iBook!), and Victorian police reports, all written in a nearly indecipherable long-hand.

19T Wanted Poster

From The National Archives, just one of the cool things you’ll find in The History Behind THE QUIETNESS iBook!

It felt humbling to touch these documents, like someone had given me the keys to a time machine just because I answered some questions on a computerised quiz correctly. It was an oddly emotional experience, several steps beyond reading about baby farmers in a book. I know I’ve waxed poetic about archives before, but this research experience was intense, both because of the subject matter and because of the quality of material I was able to touch.

And I’m curious — have you been to the archives? What did you find? What was your experience?

Telling Stories…About Stories

Amy Orringer blogs about attending The Story Conference, a day-long conference all about telling stories. Here’s a quote from their website, “The Story is not about theories of stories, or making money from stories, but about the sheer visceral pleasure of telling a story.”

I think I heard somewhere that your brain really likes being surprised. Not scared-suprised, but delighted-surprised (it must’ve been RadioLab, as that’s where all my knowledge of neuroscience comes from). And when your brain gets all delighted-surprised, it absorbs more, enjoys more, and ultimately leaves you with that warm fuzzy feeling.

So even though my day started off quite badly last Friday (see boot zipper malfunction below, that was on the bus, with no emergency shoes in sight), I definitely drifted away from The Story 2013 on a pink fluffy cloud of happiness.


Full disclosure — I had no idea what I was walking into. I did check the web site for details after I purchased my ticket, but at that time, there wasn’t an agenda posted. Even if there was, I’m not entirely sure it would have prepared me for the day. The agenda we did receive as we walked in was printed on the opposite side of a bag of high-quality Witches Brew, a special blend of tea specifically commissioned by The Story from the Hoxton Street Monster Supply Store. Proceeds from the day went to benefit the Ministry of Stories, the secret organization behind the Monster Supply Store, so it was fitting that we’d be greeted by their products.

TheStory2013front TheStory2013back

It’s hard to talk chronologically about the day, because it wasn’t really organized in any linear fashion (that I could discern anyway). It was just a bunch of really talented, interesting people telling stories about how they tell stories. So to make sense out of my jumble of notes and taking a cue from this brilliant blog, I’m just going to give you my top five moments of the day:

1. Laura Dockrill – So this woman walks up on stage, with her crazy colourful hammer pants, and her black tied-up collared shirt, and shiny stars stuck on her face, and her hair doing something which can only be described as messy-chic. She has a book in her hand, and I think, yay! A reading! She gives us the speil to bring us up to speed on the plot, throws the book down, and starts “reading.” Only she’s not reading her book, she’s acting it out, with all the requisite voices! She gave a great interview afterwards as well. She said that the reason she approaches her readings with so much, let’s say, “energy,” is that she wants to show kids that they can be writers too! Writers don’t have to be old and wear glasses. She also said it was important for kids writers to make kids feel like they are important and listened to (we all fully agree with that one here at HKB).

2. Alecky Blyth — There’s really no good way to describe the kind of thing that Alecky has created. It’s basically a new way of putting on a play, one where the actors are basically fed their lines via earphones — but they’re not regular lines in a script — they are recordings of actual people, responding to a police incident in their neighborhood. Here’s a little taste:

I am so glad this production is doing another limited run at The National Theatre. This is obviously something best seen live!

3. Ben Boucquelet — One of the things that always annoys me about listening to artists speak is that it always feels like they just woke up one day and produced something brilliant. Ben however, did not downplay the blood, sweat and tears which went into making his ridiculously funny cartoon show The Amazing World of Gumball. He made it clear that Gumball was, and continues to be a labour of love. He showed us different phases of the process, even side-by-side with the final product at some points. He encouraged us to embark on our own absurdly difficult creative endeavors, just as long as we really, really love what we’re working on.

4. Michael Please — I might be a bit biased towards anything to do with stop-motion video, but I think even the average visual arts appreciator was awestruck by Michael’s work. Michael is a brilliant stop-motion animator who made a film about the relative value of time. Take a look:

5. Fiona Romeo — Before last Friday, if you’d asked me about the top 10 museums to visit in London, the National Maritime Museum wouldn’t have made the list. But after listening to Fiona Romeo, the director of the museum, explain how she approaches the exhibits, I’m putting in the top 3. She talked about how museums are inherently about telling people stories, and exhibits should be designed accordingly. OK this is not a shock, but what was fascinating is the way Fiona described designing exhibits so that people could experience the narrative the the way they felt most comfortable. Whether you want to take a deep dive or just dip your toe into the information, you could still walk away with a story.

If you can believe it, this is only a teeny tiny taste of the amazingness of the day. I walked away feeling excited about the stories we could tell at Hot Key Books. Not just the ones that our authors write, but the stories behind, beyond, and beside those stories. What I realised is that even though we (as in, humanity) are incredibly practiced at storytelling, there are always new ways to do it, just as long as we are willing to put on our crazy pants, stick earphones in our ears, play with clay, animate the inanimate, and redesign the regular.

(And here’s another blog about The Story conference, comparing it to attending the Brit awards… verrry interesting.)

The Anatomy of a Book

As a relative newbie to the publishing industry, I’m constantly picking up the industry jargon. It’s a part of every industry, and publishing has some crackers. Reading through contracts is an excellent place to start learning the lingo. You can learn about “3/5ths prevailing royalties on deep discounts” and “volume form editions.” On the sales and marketing side, the list of important terms to know include “shelf talkers” (the little card things that sit on bookshelves to draw your attention to books) and “POS” (Point Of Sale = fun things we make for booksellers to put in their bookshops). Of course there are also “proofs” and “blads,” which are different printed editions of books which are printed before the final editions are made.

But it wasn’t until Tristan Hanks, our production controller, came to me with a request that I realized there was a whole bucket of terms I had completely missed. Tristan needed me to take some pictures of the “head and tail bands” of a book. “The what?” I asked. “The head and tail bands,” he replied. “These things,” he said, pointing to the fuzzy pieces of fabric at the top of the hardback book.


And then it hit me — I have no idea what to call most of the physical parts of a book. Sure I knew a bit about endpages (those are the extra pages before and after the actual book text), but that’s it! And I figure, if I don’t know, there must be other people who don’t know. So I (nicely) muscled Tristan into doing a few videos, and explaining the anatomy of a physical book. (Forgive me my spotty camera work here, our camera doesn’t have a steady zoom)

Video #1 covers the basics:

And this video delves a little more into things we can do to our books to make them look pretty:

I hope that was fun! If you have any questions for Tristan about books, finishes, or anything related to production, feel free to post them below.

Giving thanks…for librarians!

A screen shot from the enhanced edition of A WORLD BETWEEN US.

When we first set out to make an enhanced edition of A WORLD BETWEEN US, we knew we had a gigantic task on our hands. The book was already so brilliant by itself — how were we going to be able to find pictures, audio, and video to match the story and accurately bring out the incredible history of the Spanish Civil War? We needed help, and lots of it.

Fortunately, the author, Lydia Syson, helped us collate a sizable list of experts, oragnisations and people around London who would provide us with great background and insight. Richard Baxell, Jim Jump, Marlene Sidaway, Paul Preston, and Angela Jackson were instrumental in providing us with interviews and source material. David Rosenberg brought a unique casualty list to our attention, Jim Neugass shared his images of his trip to Spain, and the Strawberry Thieves shared their music. David Lomon, the last International Brigades veteran in London, was kind enough to provide us with a first-hand account of the battle.

And even though these people gave us a mountain of amazing material, we knew we needed more. We needed pictures and letters and posters — we needed our readers to see what it was like to be a part of the International Brigades. That’s where the archives stepped in — librarians and archivists from all over the world helped us gather dozens of images for this enhanced ebooks. Some even dug deeper into their archives to make sure we had the perfect pictures. So as people across the US sit down to reflect on what they’re thankful for today, I wanted to convey my utmost thanks to the libraries and archives who helped us out:

And to say even MORE of a thank you, the first two librarians to comment on this post will get a free code for the A WORLD BETWEEN US enhanced ibook (you must have access to an iPad to use it).

Here are the links to these amazing places:

J.T. and Molly Murphy Collection from the Communist Party Archive and Microform Academic Publishers

University of Warwick Library

Working Class Movement Library (University of Salford)

University of San Diego, Mandeville Special Collections Library

Bishopsgate Institute

Tamiment Library at New York University

LSE Archives