Author Archives: hotkeycait

Writing Tips from Yangsze Choo

Choo, YangszeYangsze Choo’s debut novel THE GHOST BRIDE is an intricately woven tale of seventeen year old Li Lan, weaving together traditional Malayan folklore and superstition with ghostly happenings. With so many different layers to the story, we thought who better to run the #WritingClinic this week? Here are a pick of Yangsze’s top writing tips and answers to some of your questions that came in on Twitter  – catch up with the whole conversation here on Storify!

The best writing advice I can give you is to write what interests you. If you’re feeling ‘meh’ about your subject, it will show.

Do you have a target word count each day?
Graham Greene wrote 300 words a day, so that’s my minimum, but I try to shoot for 1000 – but there are many days when i don’t make it to 100 words. 500 is more realistic!

What do you prefer: writing on a computer or paper (or maybe even a typewriter)?
Having a computer has spoiled me for paper, though I didn’t get one until uni. Now I can barely write without it – I think it’s something to do with how words look visually on the screen. Plus you can move them around!

The bad part about writing on the fly is getting stuck… I really admire people who can plan out their entire books!

How do you conceptualise everything involving the afterlife? What research did you do?
It was very fun “research ” – I read a lot of Chinese ghost stories when I was young, and also historic traveller’s accounts of British Malaya. Most of it came from listening and group up in Malaysia!

Who is your favourite character in your book?
There are lots of old grumpy Chinese people in my book – I’d have to say the Hainanese cook! I liked him so much that I want to put him into another (unrelated) book.

Listen to music. Certain pieces of music will put me in the right place/ setting. I listened to a lots of classic Chinese erhu music when writing THE GHOST BRIDE – it immediately puts you in a certain time and era.  The music creates a backstory for some scenes that weren’t even in the book, but I imagined as part of the character’s lives.

Which Chinese ghost stories did you enjoy the most?
My favourite Chinese ghost story is “The Painted Skin” about this demon who wears a woman’s skin. She takes the skin off at night – totally creepy and addictive!

Do you have any writing tips for budding teenage writers?
Yes! Keep writing, and take your writing seriously. Don’t dismiss your own work because you’re young.

Read good writers, but only those who appeal to you. Don’t force yourself to read ‘classics’, look out for books that you adore and can’t help reading. And feel free to write fan fiction or create similar worlds. I loved Isak Dinesen when I was young an I wrote many stories in her vein. Later I developed my own style but studying Dinesen’s (and authors like Yukio Mishima and Haruki Murakami) prose helped me grow as a writer.


Thanks everyone that joined in yesterday! Follow Yangsze @YangszeChoo and find out more about THE GHOST BRIDE on her blog!

Love Your Local: Look Mum No Hands!

Look Mum No Hands

If there is one shop that covers our local needs (beyond those already taken care of at Sublime), it’s the brilliant Look Mum No Hands. It’s a workshop! It’s a cafe! It’s a bar! It’s a gift shop! It’s a place to borrow an adjustable wrench/ bike pump  from in times of need! AND they sell really tasty cakes, which is great because there’s a real shortage of cake here in the office.


Located just around the corner from HKB HQ on Old St, we’ve almost equalled numbers of bikes fixed to lunches eaten in this buzzing shop. There’s space to sit outside (a rare treat in EC1), delicious pies, great beer and friendly staff. And in an office of keen and occasionally accident prone cyclists, what could be better!

Bike Gang

Naomi, Georgia and I – staple bike gang members on the way to Nigel McDowell’s launch

(If you’d like to join the HKB/RLP bike gang, please apply to @HotKeyBooks. Suggestions for a snappier name welcome, bottles of prosecco not necessary).

They also run some brilliant events, exhibitions and classes – including a bike maintenance workshop for the totally clueless (hello!). Find out more here.

So grab a book and head here for breakfast, lunch or dinner – you don’t have to cycle there, but you know, it helps.

“The picture’s over. Now I have to go and put it on film.” ― Alfred Hitchcock

It’s quite boring, admitting that you enjoy going to the cinema. If you’ve heard someone say it before, it’s with a note of apology, as if to say ‘I wish I had taken up sky diving’, or ‘I barely know you and definitely can’t tell you about my love of alphabetisation’.

But genuinely, I LOVE going to the cinema (even three years working in one hasn’t put me off). As with reading a great book,  film can transport to places you never expected, affecting your predispositions and transforming your opinions in ways you might never have expected. And cinemas, just like the book industry, are grappling with new technology and pushing boundaries every day to keep us entertained and excited. Much like a beautifully bound hardback or ebook, the sheer range of how you can explore the latest releases is kind of astounding – the film itself might move you on big screen or small, but it’s the cinema (much like the publisher) that decides how this story will reach you.

Whether you prefer boutique and carefully curated, quick and easy or crazily innovative, there’s something for everyone out there. Here are a pick of some of my favourite cinemas (and cinema experiences)…

Rooftop Cinema Club


Last night, I saw Amelie on a rooftop in Hoxton – a BBQ, a clear(ish) London night’s sky and director’s chairs with blankets on made watching Amelie all the more like a magical dream.

ODEON Holloway


Originally a theatre, this gem was destroyed by a V1 Rocket bomb on 8th November 1944. The beautiful surviving features give everything a wonderfully dramatic air – even Haywire, officially the worst film I’ve EVER seen at a cinema, didn’t seem so bad in these surroundings. Actually I lie, it was total dross

Prince Charles Cinema


Showing the coolest films you’ve always loved, PCC is all about the experience – go catch a comedy there, and laugh at whatever new is on the sign!

Hot Tub Cinema


Err, could there BE a better medium to watch a Will Ferrell film?!

Salisbury ODEON


This Fifteenth-century building has let the modern world develop around it – there are tapestries on the walls, and a suit of armour in the foyer!! I saw Harry Potter there and felt like I was ON that chessboard with Harry, Ron & Hermione.

Do you love or hate the cinema? Have any recommendations for me? Leave a comment!

And here’s some more words of genius for the road: “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”  ― Alfred Hitchcock

So true.

Litter Vigilantes


In Elon Dann’s CLOCKWISE TO TITAN, the three heroes scour the brutal Institute for rubbish in order to make the equipment they need to break out and survive the wild journey ahead of them. Just like his teenage protagonists, Elon too spends a lot of time picking up litter and sifting through it, pondering its origins and potential uses. Today’s blog is about his findings…

Most people who see me probably assume I’m ‘on a scheme’. Or serving out a court order. The oldest young offender in town…I don’t blame them.  I can’t be from the council, not working on a weekend.  And I do look a sight, with my stick, my bag, my filthy overalls and a reflective safety vest shredded to fuzz by the need to dig deep into scratchy hedges.  My vibe is a janitor / scarecrow / wino three-way splice.


But I’m not planning to escape, and I’m not a scheme. I’m on a mission. Well, an errand: volunteer litter picker. The badge says ‘warden’, but that makes me sound like I have a peaked cap and the authority to shake my fist at kids (pesky kids) and confiscate footballs.  I favour ‘litter vigilante’.  A maverick, I work by my own rules. Any route.  Any day. See this stick, discarded fag packet? This is a Helping Hand Litter Picker 940mm, the most powerful extended reach gripping tool in the world…

I began litter picking (not to be confused with pitta licking) when walking one day to Tesco with my wife and my son, still in his pushchair. Funny, the connections you make.  I saw all the cans and the crisp packets  dripping from a particularly well-adorned hedge, fumed at the unutterable ugliness of it all, and snapped back to a visit I’d made years before to the Checkpoint Charlie museum in Berlin.  One of the escape stories described there was of a group of East German pensioners who dug a tunnel to the West. Months, it took them.  Even when they’d broken through to freedom, they refused to depart until they’d enlarged the tunnel sufficiently for their wives to walk along it without stooping. They absolutely refused to permit their loved ones to emerge with bowed heads, looking as if they had anything to be ashamed of.  I love that story; gets me every time. Anyway, I saw the way my wife turned away from the litter, saying she didn’t notice it.  Orbs, she didn’t.  She saw it, she hated it, she accepted it as another of life’s belittling belches in the face, just as I did.  And I thought: no one has the right to make my wife turn away in disappointment and disgust. That’s my job.

P1040158After the shopping, I went back with my gardening gloves and picked it all up. Three visits, it took.  I joined the Duckworth Worcestershire Trust, and they issued me with my picking stick and the comforting knowledge that there were scores of other local people who felt the same way and were Doing Something About It. I could have bought a stick on ebay for a fiver.  The support of a group is good, but a stick is essential. Without a stick, you’re a nutter, scrabbling around in the dirt. Slipped discs and TENS machines await you. With a stick, you’re hobo erectus. You’re a professional. Actually you’re a volunteer, but you feel like a professional.

Common questions for the volunteer litter picker:

I bet you get loads of hassle. Loads. Every week I get gangs of up to two people swaggering up to me. ‘You’re doing a lovely job!’ they scream, their faces contorted into masks of unreasoning hatred. ‘Thank you so much!’ the heartless fiends will call out as they depart.  In truth, I get lots of thanks, and in ten years the complete catalogue of hassle is three counts of ‘Oi! Ya missed a bit!’ one ‘Get a proper job!’ and one ‘HOW BIG’S YUR WILLY?’. That last was a little scary because it was shouted out by a massive youth through the passenger window of a car that screeched into a lay-by ahead of me for no reason other than to pose that query. Unable to think how best to respond, I raised my picking stick and clacked the grippers in a manner I hoped went over as comically boastful but in no way suggestive of any desire to take the matter further. The car drove away. Weeks later, as I was picking in the steaming July heat, the same youth stopped me in the road and passed me a can of cold lager. No mention of my willy was made.

Besides, I can never really be scared. If I ever was attacked (and why should I be?), I’d need only to open my bag. It’s not the dog mess that honks the worst, it’s the beer tins. The beer attracts the slugs, the slugs die, the smell is…funky.


Trash or treasure?

I bet you find loads of money. Yes. I now manage an investment fund portfolio standing at over £800 million made up entirely of coins worth 50p or less.

The real figure is less than ten quid in eleven years. Plus my hat, one pair of jeans, a fleece I gave to charity, and a pristine copy of ‘The Smartest Giant in Town’ by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Hah. The irony.

If you tidy an area, doesn’t it encourage people to drop more litter? The opposite. People drop litter where they see litter. Once cleaned, areas pretty much stay tidy.  Oddly, I have never once seen anyone drop rubbish. Never. Apart from when they approach me and drop it into my bag, and even then, they ask very tentatively beforehand. ‘Alright if I…I mean, can I actually…cheers, mate, nice one.’ Can’t imagine why they think I’d object. What else do they think I might be doing, taking my bin bags for a stroll?

Droppers must do it in the style of Great Escape prisoners disposing of dirt down the insides of their trouser legs, or sneak out at unpopular hours of the morning specifically to festoon verges with Wotsits bags, two litre bottles of Diamond White cider and Yazoo milkshake cartons. Similarly, I’ve never seen people pin up or remove those ‘Happy 40th Birthday Shamir / Daz / Fido’ placards and balloons you find tied to roundabout chevrons and bollards.  The dirty work must all be done by inhabitants of a crepuscular demi-monde, driving around in Ford demi-Mondeos.

No. Wrong demographic. My own trash-analysis leads me to believe most litter originates from heavy drinkers and school age kids. You draw your own Venn diagram, but neither group should be driving.

I recycle what I can, I bin what I can’t, I keep what I feel for.

The toys I always wash and house. That’s my rule – if it was loved once, it’s safe. I’m a lanky, latter-day Bagpuss more than a Womble or a Borrower. So if your kids have mislaid  a dolly with one arm, a wooden rhino, a cyberman’s gun, a car with a Lego brick stuffed inside, ask me. I might have it.

And if you’ve a can of cold beer to hand, I’ll be very grateful. Just don’t ask me about my anatomical dimensions.

CLOCKWISE TO TITAN is out now – find out more about Elon on Facebook and follow him on twitter

Edible Art Class

Some of you might have seen the deliciously gruesome edible prints that we sent out with THE SAVAGES book proof:

meat sheet

They were made by the awesome people at Animal Vegetable Mineral, who we bumped into at Eat Your Heart Out last year. After sampling their creations I was pretty curious as to how they made these treats, so jumped at the chance to take part in an Edible Art Class!

You heard me correctly. We made art, and then ATE IT.

There was lickable life drawing, with apple flavoured pens on edible paper…


Delicious, but a reminder that I really, really can’t draw.

Chocolate model making (continuing with THE SAVAGES theme i made a chocolate skull – which mysterious disappeared before i got it home. Ahem.


Lickable graffiti – the below is meant to be a key, in case you couldn’t guess (I wouldn’t blame you).


Edible paint by numbers – delicious! Each paint tasted different – red is strawberry, yellow is pineapple, blue is rhubarb and black is caramel. Delicious! I went a bit off-piste with my dog painting, but it still tasted delicious – kind of like trifle!!






We had a blast – thank Tasha for a brilliant night! Follow AVM on twitter to find out when their next class is – guaranteed delicious-ness.

Bringing South African Fiction to the UK

As we may have mentioned before (loudly), we are in the brilliant business of finding wonderful new authors, creating beautiful new books and recommending these books to readers. Our books come from all manner of different countries around the world, and in some cases we are responsible for bringing a story to the UK for the very first time – always exciting!


This month, it was South African author Edyth Bulbring’s A MONTH OF APRIL-MAY that made its UK debut. It’s a one-eyebrow-raised account of a teenager’s trials and tribulations as she navigates a new school, a new family situation and a whole new way of life, set in the city of Johannesburg. First published by Penguin South Africa under the title MELLY, MRS. HO & ME, it was Edyth’s voice and April-May’s attitude that excited editor Sara O’Connor when it first landed in her inbox…

“April-May says it like it is. She’s the girl I wish I could have been when I was a teen, and the girl I definitely wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of. Yes, the story is set in South Africa, but it doesn’t feel foreign. The slang words could just as easily be British slang (as an American in London there are often phrases that I need a glossary for things like “bodge job” and “wangle”). This book is just an hilarious story about a girl trying to settle into a new school, and convince the most goreous guy she’s ever seen that her name is really Bella and that he should be her Edward.”

When buying books from outside the UK, there are always small edits to be considered – maybe we should change some slang, or in the case of American books, the spelling – to ensure that it was right for a UK audience. It’s a tricky balancing act between readability and keeping the cultural essence of the book intact. South African slang is a huge feature of APRIL-MAY, so instead of Anglicising the speech, we decided instead to include a glossary…


Hands up who already knew some!!

What we love about reading is its ability to transport us, and it’s that feeling of discovery that we want to share with people. Equally, telling people about your city and culture is as exciting – it’s the same feeling when, far away from home, you meet someone from where you grew up. We are lucky enough to share that feeling with Edyth, and here some South African readers want to share it with you too:

“…every time I had a chance to read, I didn’t hesitate to take it out. It hooked me because it’s soooo real. Please, Edyth, keep writing!”

Danii Ferreira, 14 years old

 “I would definitely recommend this to any reader who wants an insight of what school life is like for some people in South Africa! (a society that is divided economically).”

Aisha Setipa , 15 years old.

 “…you get to live out startling experiences through the character without actually experiencing the consequences yourself. I think every schoolchild can relate to this book as it explores universal issues relating to authority, school and divorce.”

Emilie du Toit, 14 years old

 “a witty portrayal of the bursary student April-May February, and her feats of vengeance against her substitute teacher and arch-enemy Mrs Ho. It is sure to bring forth a chuckle from all readers. I also loved that it gives such a fascinating insight into everyday Johannesburg life.”

Juliet Markantonatos, 14 years old

I enjoy the sense of humour and I think others from other countries will enjoy this too. It really tells the reader about school life, and Jozi school life in particular.”

Siobhan Mahlaule 14 years old

Objects of Our Affection

It’s that time of year again, when the shops are stuffed to bursting with sickly-sweet cards, fluffy cupids and heart-shaped chocolates. Yep, it’s Valentine’s Day, and although we are supposed to be directing our affections toward someone rather than something, we can’t help but get distracted – there are some lust-worthy objects hitting the shops that are dragging our eyes away from those heart-shaped chocolates. Here’s a few beautiful things that are capturing our attention this week…

Coralie Bickford-Smith designs the most lust-worthy jackets around, and these delicious-looking books from Penguin’s Great Food collection are no exception. Swoon at the mouth-watering colours and intricate patterns – and possibly the delicious food described too. Maybe.


Spotted yesterday in Foyles on the Southbank were these eye-catching array of Don DeLillo covers from Picador. The pop of colour on the inside covers? J’adore!


THIS IS AMAZING. Suck UK have ensured that not only will you never lose your page again, but you will have a tiny book-house on your bedside table. Dare I say it? Cute. Possibly cuter than Clooney*.

Book Stand

What beautiful things are distracting you this Valentine’s week?

*After watching the BAFTAs, we can confirm that nothing is cuter than Clooney.