Author Archives: hotkeyblog

We don’t need no…age restrictions

GabbyToday’s blog is by Gabby Smith, an incredible fifteen year-old who has blogged for us before, and spent a week with us as an intern. While Gabby was interning, the discussion came up about age-banding and age-appropriateness of books. Below is Gabby’s opinion about the effect of placing age restrictions on books.

One of the most pointless things someone can ever do is tell you not to do something. This is, quite simply, because less than a second later, you’ve already decided to do just what they told you not to. The temptation is nearly always far too sweet to be ignored. So, when someone puts an age restriction on anything like a movie, some music or a book, you immediately want to watch it, listen to it and read it. It’s human nature. We cannot help it, just like a moth being drawn to a flame.

But temptation is only half of it. At the end of the day you will do what you want, when you want to do it, and nobody can stop you if you have the right amount of motivation. It is terribly annoying to spend time dodging rules to get what we want, but in the end, we get it. And at least half the time, the actual content isn’t even particularly harmful. But people nowadays always seem to have a ‘cover your back’ reflex. It’s a reflex which can often ruin my day.


Instead of age-banding, Hot Key put key rings on the back to indicate what’s inside.

As an avid reader all my life, age restrictions have somewhat been the bane of my existence in the literary world. Booksellers were constantly telling me that I couldn’t read ‘x’ paranormal book because it was ‘scary’ and it had 16+ plastered all over it. Instead they sold me, a nine year old at the time, ‘Class A’ by Robert Muchamore, a book full of sex, drugs and gritty action. I mean, seriously? I couldn’t read a fantasy book about faeries with crossbows even though it was all blatantly made up, but I could read a shockingly realistic book that changed how I saw the world forever (it was good, by the way)? Surely a book that represents some of the issues that are actually happening in the world today is more ‘scary’ than a book that that has elves fighting dragons on great mountainside battlefields (not that I don’t love that kind of stuff, for I am essentially a fantasy/paranormal girl at heart). This is every young reader’s really, really, annoying problem.

Books are mislabelled all the time, and it seriously impacts young peoples’ reading skills and awareness. Parents won’t buy books for their children which are labelled above their age, which just makes the children resort to secretly getting the books they want behind their parents’ backs (ever wondered where that massive Kindle bill came from? Yeah, sorry about that).

This is why Hot Key Books are so refreshing for a sixteen year old reader like me. No age restrictions means it is far more likely that I will pick up the book, which means far more readers for them. It’s as simple as that. I can read a book far younger/older than I should be and not have to worry about people telling me that I shouldn’t be reading it because no one can tell the difference.

It’s frustrating because buying books above/below your age really just shouldn’t even be a problem to begin with. It’s even been scientifically proven that everyone has their own mental reading age that has nothing to do with your actual age. Anybody remember that game Brain Train on the Nintendo? My reading age was at least twice my age whereas my Grandmothers was half of hers. Anybody remember Matilda? I’m pretty sure she read a whole library before she was even ten years old, and who knows what those books contained? People should have the freedom to read what they want and educate themselves. If kids they read something they find disturbing in a historically accurate book, so what? They’ve learnt something about a country’s past and how bad things really happen to good people. Even if it were a fantasy book, almost any situation can be stripped down to events that happen in real life. It can even potentially save your life, as you’re far more aware of your surroundings.

So parents, you may want to think twice before you restrict the books your children can read. You’re definitely not stopping them from reading them, as we are far more resourceful than you may think. Instead of deterring us from reading books you don’t think are “appropriate,” you are most definitely stoking the fires of our rebellious streaks. And at the end of the day, I’m sure you don’t want to deal with the consequences. Just think, when your kids sneak out late at night, because that’s what ‘x’ did in that book all about parents who age restricted books, you’ll be the one who has to go and pick them up.

What do YOU think about age restrictions on books? Leave your comments below or tweet us your opinions (@hotkeybooks).


Love Your Local: Loop yarn shop

Mariana PodmoreToday’s blog is from Mariana Podmore, Sales Assistant to the Foreign Rights team at our sister company Red Lemon Press. As well as loving books of all shapes and forms, Mariana loves knitting and today she blogs for us about her favourite knitting supplies shop: Loop. You can find her tweeting at @marisantanapod.

I started knitting and crocheting when I was about 19, but when I moved to London about 3 and a half years ago my knitting ended up being put to one side – I had no needles or yarn, and knew nowhere to get them! When I finally just had to get back to it, it was Google who pointed me in the direction of what quickly became my favourite local shop: Loop.

Loop shopfront jpeg

Loop is located in Camden Passage, a lovely pedestrian street filled with quirky cafés, furniture shops and well known for its antique shops and market. Location is definitely part of the shop’s success: Loop is surrounded by other similar shops – one of a kind, independent, cosy and designy-looking. Loop mainly sell very special yarns: imported, hand dyed or with something extra, as well as beautiful needles, buttons and even scissors. For many of their suppliers they are exclusive UK retailers.

lovely window shot-157

As well as great product and location (ok, those are VERY important) the other thing I think that Loop does so well is creating a communal environment: knitting is a communal activity, it’s the kind of knowledge that is usually passed on from person to person, and done along with friends, who help and encourage each other. And of course you can only knit so much for yourself – inevitably everyone you know will be getting a knitted gift!

fair image

That community spirit is well reflected at Loop, with a cosy sitting area, as well as a big table for people to work together. They run workshops and courses with famous designers and knitters. They provide a free swift and ball winder for anyone who needs it (trust me – this is important!). And they have the knowledgeable staff that is indispensable in a good crafts shop – you need to be able to ask them for advice, and at Loop they are always willing to sit down with you for a few minutes and help you figure out where you went wrong with your project and just answer any kind of question (including going online to help you check something you forgot about the project you’re working on!)

So, in the spirit of asking questions, I did a little Q&A with owner Susan Cropper about what makes Loop so special:

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about how the shop started?

A: I opened Loop in 2005 as I was passionate about knitting and textiles and I could not find any shop in London that reflected what was going on in the knitting community. There has been a huge explosion of gorgeous hand-dyed yarns, natural fibres and beautiful patterns and I just wanted a place that people could go to to see these things as well as offer a great variety of knitting classes and things made by independent designers working in fibre.

Q: I know I love the shop, but what do you think makes Loop special?

A: I think the passion that I have for colour and texture and all things to do with knitting comes across when you walk in the shop. I never stop trying to find more beautiful and useful things for the shop. We also have terrific dedicated staff who are excellent knitters and crocheters as well as being lovely.


Q: What are some of your strategies to make the shop visible to the world and to keep customers coming back?

A: Well, we have a beautiful website and blog. We send out a newsletter every week and that lets people know about what is new in the shop, events coming up and other interesting bits. We also often have a free pattern on the blog that people can download.

We have a huge following on Facebook and Twitter too and a group on Ravelry. All of these things keep our customers aware of what’s going on in the shop whether they are in London or Tokyo.

Q: Do you and other local shops organise together to keep the area relevant and encourage more customers to come by?

A: A little bit. Camden Passage organises some events a couple of times a year, but it is a very active area anyway with loads of interesting shops, the antique markets and cafes.


Q: You sell your products online as well, how has online shopping affected your business – did you feel a big increase in business, or is it more about making the shop visible to people in the online world, who will then come and visit you?

A: Both really. Our online shop is very important to us so we can offer yarn and books to people that are often hard to find in other places.


So unleash that inner-knitter and go pay them a visit! You can find Loop at 5 Camden Passage, Islington, London, N1 8EA and online on: and

Meeting Maureen, a GOLDEN opportunity!

Today’s blog is by Charlotte from the fabulous Stoke Newington Bookshop. Charlotte is a big Maureen Johnson fan, and had the chance to meet the woman herself last month at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival! Here’s how it went down…

I found out about Maureen Johnson through another author, John Green. The first book of hers I read was 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES and was hooked from the go. Her writing style is comedic, detailed and all round entertaining. When I found out that she was coming to the Stoke Newington Literary Festival to promote the publication of her book THE KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD, I have to admit I was extremely excited.


As daughter of the Stoke Newington Bookshop owners and volunteer at the festival, I subtly suggested to my Mum that I thought it would be a good idea for me to work the event. Having someone who knows the books could really help and I just happened to be free that weekend. My subtlety was like no others, so soon I was packing up boxes of THE KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD and heading to the venue.

Before the event started I was given the opportunity to meet Maureen and Sarah Rees Brennan with whom she was doing the event, and I obviously took it. My plan was to be confident, cool and casual. I’m pretty sure I was shaking when I shook their hands but that definitely didn’t take away from my confident, cool and casual approach.  Neither did stumbling on my words and talking about giant disco balls. I wished them good luck and went to hide behind my bookstall at the back of the hall.

Sara Manning, me, and Maureen!

Sarah Rees Brennan, me, and Maureen Johnson!

If asked to describe the event in one word, I would undoubtedly say it was hilarious. They told anecdotes about how they had started writing, other authors and their families. Questions were asked and answered with off-topic chatter, but the audience didn’t seem to mind. Maureen and Sarah were incredibly entertaining and the event was everything I’d hoped it would be.

We started with a table full of books, and by the end we had almost no stock. THE KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD sold the most, as it was Maureen’s newest, and it definitely deserved it. It is a fantastic novel written in Maureen’s iconic style, with humour and emotion laced throughout.

If you missed the event at this year’s literary festival – bad luck you missed out; but you can still read the book!

Head over to Stoke Newington Book Shop or your local indie to celebrate Independent Booksellers Week and grab a copy of KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD!

Favouring FRIDAY on a Wednesday

Today’s blog is from Charlotte Morris, another amazing Independent Bookseller who can be found at The Book House in Oxfordshire. Charlotte picked FRIDAY BROWN by Vikki Wakefield as her staff choice for the summer, and here’s why she chose it…

This summer my staff choice is FRIDAY BROWN, the heartrending new novel by Vikki Wakefield. From the very first page, Friday grabbed me by the hand and pulled me along on the tsunami of her journey – a definite contender for favourite book of 2013.


How far would you go to outrun a curse you aren’t sure you believe in? Named to avoid a tragic fate, Friday was raised on the open road of the blistering Australian outback and her mother’s hazy campfire stories. But when her mother is the latest in a long line of women in their family to drown mysteriously on a Saturday, there seems to be nothing left to do but run. Friday sets out to the city determined to find her father. Lost and alone, her plan soon derails and she finds herself trying to stay afloat, surrounded by dangers and haunted by her memories, stumbling onto a train platform that changes her life forever.

It is the endearing Silence who captures your heart from the moment he appears at the train station. He scampers through life with an ageless quick fingered agility, rescuing Friday in her time of need. Mute but with a loud personality, the ferocity of his love and Silence’s loyalty and determination is just as likely to lead him into trouble as out of it.

He leads you to the powerfully seductive clutches of Arden, a girl who collects runaways like modern day Lost Boys, except far from holding on to the innocence of childhood, Arden’s children are forced to grow up fast and face the harsh realities of living on the streets. Together they form a found family, bound together by their individual circumstances and dark pasts, tangled in Arden’s web. Friday can’t help but follow Arden and her gang as the need to endure leads her ever deeper into murky waters.

Follow Silence and fight for survival with Friday in this scorching, fast-paced psychological thriller that will leave you gasping, but reluctant to fetch a glass of water. Vikki has written a dazzling story filled with unforgettable characters and death defying twists.

With writing so vivid you can feel the heat of the campfires and the outback sun burning you as you read, Friday Brown is a story of revenge, justice, myth and identity. But with a cast full of liars, be careful what you choose to believe. Friday’s band of misfits leave marks on their surroundings, lingering on in the mind of the reader long after the final page. In a world of inescapable adversity, the threat of an ancient curse pales in comparison to the horrors of surviving everyday life, and tragedy strikes when you aren’t careful.

Drink some water, grab some tissues, prepare to feel your heart race, and make sure you read Friday Brown this summer.

“No more tears now, I will think upon revenge.”

And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, check out what THE BOOK HOUSE is doing for Independent Booksellers Week and for a fun summer promotion:

One lucky customer will win a rare illustration drawn exclusively for The Book House by Helen Craig, the author of Angelina Ballerina. This competition has been running through June, and the winner will be announced on Friday. To enter, just buy any of Helen’s illustrated books and write your name on the clipboard, and we’ll put that name in a hat for the prize draw!

We’re also celebrating the long lazy days of summer with our special summer reading scheme. Every year, The Book House selects top titles from new releases and smacks a gold star sticker on the back of the book. Buy any combination of three gold star titles and get a £5 Book House voucher to put towards your next read. (No expiry date on the voucher and the scheme runs until the end of August.)

From the YA books I’ve asked to include FRIDAY BROWN and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, and there are lots more to choose from! Hope to see you at The Book House soon!

Check out THE BOOK HOUSE on Twitter and Facebook too!

Head in the clouds, book in the hands

Happy day 2 of Independent Booksellers Week!

Today’s blog comes from George Hanratty, manager of the magical, award-winning Tales on Moon Lane children’s bookshop in Herne Hill, south-east London. Here she reveals a guilty pleasure of  Independent booksellers – working out what book suits which type of customer – as she reads THE CLOUD HUNTERS by Alex Shearer.

THE CLOUD HUNTERS was sent to me with the very first set of Hot Key proofs over a year ago; I thought it sounded great but amidst a growing pile of ‘must-read’ proofs, it ended up languishing in my to be read pile. Out this week in paperback, it seemed like the perfect excuse to move it right to the top of said pile!


Christien lives on Sovereign, one of an unknown series of islands floating in the sky spread over thousands of miles – the remnants of a long ago destroyed planet earth. The skies all around are filled with Sky Fish, trader ships and Cloud Hunter boats – traveling wherever they can to find clouds to convert into water – this world’s most valuable resource.

Christien is fascinated by the Cloud Hunters, a fascination which only grows with the arrival of Jennie at his school – beautiful, mysterious and bearing the ritual scars particular to Cloud Hunters. Enthralled with Jenine and her family, he longs to join them on their adventures and finally gets his wish to travel with them, encountering an adventure the likes of which he never expected. At its heart, THE CLOUD HUNTERS is a classic fantasy adventure but is given depth by the fantasy world Alex Shearer has created – a world spread across the disparate islands with all the complexities of our own: religious intolerance, warring nations, environmental issues and prejudice in all its forms.

THE CLOUD HUNTERS is a novel that is perfect for hand selling. It is ripe for discussion and so I will be recommending it endlessly to teachers and librarians.

But then comes the favourite part of my job, and the part that I suspect all Independent Booksellers love, reading a book and figuring out which of my regular customers it will be perfect for: those with a fantasy and/or sci-fi interest are obvious choices, but then there are those who love books with a strong female heroine, or the avid readers who always want something a little different. I’m also adding the members of my children’s book group (see our events page) to this list, as THE CLOUD HUNTERS is being added straight to the pile as the next book we will be discussing.

The amazing Judith Kerr will be visiting Tales on Moon Lane on Thursday 4th July at 4pm as part of the celebrations for her 90th birthday and IBW. For more information go to:

GRINNY: A new old favourite

It’s a huge week! Not only is it July pub week, but it is also Independent Booksellers Week! To celebrate, we’ve invited a few fantastic independent booksellers to write about our books publishing this week, and to let us know what they’re up to for IBW.

Today’s blog is from Katie Clapham, who helps run the fabulous Storytellers Inc. in Lancashire. Katie writes below about discovering the newly republished classic GRINNY for the first time. Katie also shares a bit about the activities for she has planned for IBW, so make sure you drop by Storytellers Inc. if you’re in the area!


For some, that name recalls a deep-seated fear from the depths of their youth, wedged somewhere between an inexplicable worry about the threat of UFO’s and that natural repulsion that some old ladies just seem to incite.

‘You Remember Me’ is both Grinny’s hypnotic catchphrase and the name of the story’s stunning sequel. Actually, Grinny, I don’t remember you at all. Grinny isn’t a book from my childhood – but it’s a book I’m hoping I can invade other people’s with, so I’m delighted that Hot Key Books are reissuing it for a new audience (me included!) including both stories and an introduction from the lady of the hour herself, Malorie Blackman.


These two short stories offer a strobe of disturbing violet light that basks in that original fear of aliens – namely that they’re intent on world domination. Turns out they are, but they didn’t bank on Timothy Carpenter and his dramatic sister Beth trying to stop them. Twice!

The set-up in both stories is fabulously chilling; Grinny invites herself into the Carpenter household as their Great Aunt Emma, then reveals herself to be something quite different after a series of seriously suspicious events, while the second story moves into the future to see Tim and Beth battle the follow-up attack, this time led by a glamorous celebrity that seems to have captured the nations’ heart (and minds! Arrghhh).

Reading it today, it feels like quite a retro idea but its delicious simplicity makes it quite radical and refreshing in amongst today’s offerings. No one’s looking to make friends (or date) the aliens, this isn’t science fiction that is heavy in theory or technology and like all the best sci-fi, it raises real questions about our society – questions that remain important 40 years after they were written.

I don’t read a lot of science fiction – it too often leads into fantasy territory that I struggle to stay interested in, but I’d happily read more from Nicholas Fisk after this. The text is smart, snappy and funny. Even the format – a diary/letter style (with Fisk himself featured as a correspondent) adds another layer of interest. I can’t wait to sell this horrible little gem in my shop; GRINNY and YOU REMEMBER ME, I certainly will now!

What are you doing to celebrate Independent Booksellers Week?

Here at Storytellers, Inc. we’re celebrating Independent Booksellers Week with a series of events including two author visits, parties, games and offers.  We are delighted to have the IBW Collectibles available in-store including the recent Carnegie winner, Maggot Moon. You can read our full schedule of events on our website and we’ll be posting updates throughout the week on our blog where you can also view our IBW poster series.

We love any excuse to shout about indie bookselling so we’re thrilled that for one week the whole country could be listening. Bookshops on the high street are really important and its exciting initiatives like IBW that can energise booksellers and book buyers everywhere.

What are your memories of Grinny? Share them below or tweet at us using #grinnymemories.

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!