Author Archives: hotkeysarahb

Maggot Moon: your first time…

The many faces of Maggot Moon, including the original manuscript.

The many faces of Maggot Moon, including the original manuscript.

Today is a very special day – we have just found out that Maggot Moon has WON the Carnegie Medal. We are completely delighted for Sally, and proud and a bit overwhelmed really. Did you know Maggot Moon was only the third book we published as Hot Key Books, and one of the first we acquired?

It got us thinking about the first time we all read Maggot Moon – many of us at different times, some of us not working for Hot Key, some of us just being offered jobs – thinking about how we felt, that first time. Could any of us then imagine what impact this book has had? What a journey we have all been on with Maggot Moon. I’ve been collecting some memories from the team here and one thing was clear – we all knew from day one it was something special.

Here’s what we remember, what about you?

Sara O’Connor, Editorial Director, Print & Digital
“When I first read it, I was stunned. It felt rebellious, controversial. I knew that it was the kind of book that would rock the boat — and it has in all the right ways.”

Jet Purdie, Art Director
“Sarah Odedina, asked me to generate ideas for Maggot Moon while I was busy renovating my home. Covered in dust and debris, my girlfriend read it aloud while I demolished a wall. Looking for cool scenes to illustrate for the cover I called out “Stop!” whenever something interesting happened and my girlfriend kindly highlighted a section in the the manuscript. To my girlfriend’s annoyance we stopped lots as there were plenty of cool scenes – any of which could have made a great book cover. We found Maggot Moon sad, scary, funny and inspiring. We loved the way Standish viewed the world through his different colour eyes, misinterpreting stuff because of his dyslexia. We loved the way Standish ‘frick-fracking’ swore without really swearing. We loved the Croca-Colas and the pink Cadillac. We loved that Standish was willing to risk all and attempt to take-on the evil totalitarian bad guys.”

Meg Farr, PR Manager
“I vividly remember finishing Maggot Moon on the train on the way back from a sales conference last spring and being blown away by it – that ending! It was always a clear prize winner for me and thoroughly well deserving of all the praise and accolades it’s getting – it’s a book everyone should read!”

Kate Manning, Sales & Marketing Director
“This is a quote from an email I sent to Sarah Odedina in September 2011 having just read Maggot Moon after being offered the job to start Hot Key in the January: ‘If this is the standard of the first ever Hot Key book, then this is definitely going to be the best job ever’

Cait Davies, Sales & Marketing Executive
“I was sat in my parent’s house, thinking (panicking) about moving to London for a job I still couldn’t believe I’d been offered. Then MAGGOT MOON pinged into my inbox… and I was lost. Completely absorbed by the story, I couldn’t think about anything else. Standish, the Motherland and Hector felt so real right there in my childhood bedroom – MAGGOT MOON had me gripped like only the best books can. And when I finished the last page, I wasn’t so worried anymore.

Olivia Mead, Sales, Marketing & PR Assistant
“I was working as a bookseller when MAGGOT MOON came out. There was already this buzz around it, even before the proof arrived, that became hard to ignore.  And then the proof came in. It sat there looking so subtle and understated, my colleagues and I didn’t know what to expect. My manager George took it home that night, came in the next day and just said: ‘It’s even more than you want it to be’. At the shop we were supposed to take an hour’s lunch break but we always cut them short. When it was my turn to go, George handed me the proof and said, ‘You HAVE to take the full hour’. I came back in and she just had this look on her face, saying ‘I know!’. I think everyone who reads it just knows how original, special and extraordinary MAGGOT MOON is.”

Emma Matthewson, Editor-at-Large
“As I turned the last page of Maggot Moon I felt so sad, yet at the same time so empowered. Two such emotions should be contradictory, but in Maggot Moon they are not – which shows what an extraordinary book it is.”

Sarah Benton, Head of Marketing
“I never read manuscripts on my computer. Well, never until I received Maggot Moon. I had just been offered the job at Hot Key and was at home one weekend before Christmas. I opened the manuscript and thought, I’ll just read a bit, and then put it on my Kindle. I read the whole thing right there and then on my laptop, on the sofa that afternoon and was breathless by the end. I re-read it a few months later while working on the iBook and even second time round I was blown away. Every time Sally reads even a bit of it at an event I want to rush to re-read it, and there are so few books that have that kind of draw.”

Ruth Logan, Rights Director
“I remember exactly where I was in the house, reading the typescript, lying on the floor.  I didn’t know what to expect but right from the beginning the most beautiful and resonant phrases and images were there in front of my eyes: “a breeze in the park of the imagination”; words are “sweets in the mouth of sound”,;“I don’t have a snowflake of an idea” ; “one thing bled to another”.  There were so many that I had to write them down.  And then there was Standish himself  – a hero of or perhaps FOR our time – his absolute sense of what is right. I want to graffiti his name on walls everywhere because he represents such a luminous vision of humanity. STANDISH LIVES (ok!)  Thank you for writing this, Sally.”

Sarah Odedina, Managing Director
“When I first read Maggot Moon I was literally electric with excitement because I knew within the first few sentences that it was extraordinary and I was so excited to keep reading.  I read it as an ordinary reader and was thrilled.  I remain thrilled when I look at it again now.  It is a wonderful original and utterly transfixing book that will be thrilling readers, young and not so young, well in to the future.”

Please do share your “first time” with us below, and congratulations again to Sally for such a fantastic achievement. We are all absolutely over the moon!


Living (rooms) through history

Following on from Becca’s brilliant blog yesterday about history’s personal stories (and great dressing up!), the museum I’ve chosen to blog about also has a somewhat domestic setting.

As much as I’m obsessed with personal stories through history, I’m also extremely nosy when it comes to houses (who isn’t?) and I’m a sucker for a historic house to wander round. Seeing through the keyholes of houses through history has always fascinated me. How did people live without electricity? What was a parlour used for? What would it have been like to have a bath in a tin in the kitchen? No central heating? Please! Domestic history, for me, is almost more interesting than the big events.

So imagine my delight, when a few years ago I realised I had a wonder of a museum that allowed me to indulge my obsession, right on my doorstep, and see front rooms through history of everyday people like us.

Exterior of the Geffrye Museum - photography Richard Davies

Exterior of the Geffrye Museum – photography Richard Davies

The Geffrye Museum is (perhaps) a little-known museum in London, mainly because, until recently, it wasn’t part of the tourist trail. It is in East London, just down from Dalston and I used to peer at the building from the bus on an almost daily basis, never having been in, but when I finally did, it instantly became one of my favourite places.

By entering the building from one end, you start your journey from the 1630s “hall”, transition though to various “parlours” up to 1790, then into the “drawing room” and finally into the “living room” up to 1998. You see how furniture, decoration, wallpaper, art and even entertainment has changed in our front rooms and how the space has gone from being formal and private to being relaxed and social, also referenced in the evolving of the name more towards the “lounge”.

When I first visited it was December, and I was delighted to find that they had set each room up as it would have been for Christmas – showing the first room where Christmas trees had become widespread, leading right up to the tinsel period. I remember being inspired by the 1965 room with paper chains, and promptly went home and adopted a similar look in my own living room.

Who remembers this look?

Who remembers this look?

What I love about this museum, is that it is showing normal lives, normal people, and how we are all, without realising it, part of history. The 60s room triggered memories of my own grandparents’ front room, of furniture that had then passed down to my parents, which in its time was the “height of fashion” – and then became part of my family history. And then, mirrored in a museum. How many other people had that table, that unit, that lampshade? How many other families shared the same memory of this particular “look” for their living room? It felt like a living museum, a shared history, telling a story through the most simple of things, the room in our houses that we now perhaps take most for granted.

I think it’s apt that I wrote this post last night, while staying with family and sitting in their living room (we are waiting to move into our own). With the TV on, a few us with feet up on the sofa, reading papers, being on phones and laptops. And I can’t help but think how many years until the living room setting I describe becomes part of history and we maybe adopt some other set up, or use for this familiar room. Who knows? And that’s why history and museums can be so exciting, as I’m already thinking, when will the Geffrye add a new room? What is the next living room marker deemed historic?

East London living room, circa 2013. (With cat included)

East London living room, circa 2013. (With cat included)

So, I urge you to make the trip East if you are in London and haven’t discovered this place yet. I hope you come away as inspired as I continue to be by this special little (totally free) museum about our very ordinary front rooms.

Throwing Paper Planes…an ode to a friendship

As I’m sure you won’t have failed to notice – Journalist, documentary maker and TV presenter Dawn O’Porter has written her first YA novel, which officially came out yesterday.

Paper Aeroplanes

There is so much online chatter about this book due to Dawn’s career so far, and this has been amazing for us as a new(ish) publisher to see. Sure, it’s felt pretty glamorous for us to be listening to Dawn talk on the radio, or TV, or in magazines about a book we publish.

But, all this aside, besides all the hype and chatter, we have a book. And a stunning book at that. A story, of a friendship. If you’ve ever been a teenage girl – and I have – you will remember how genuinely crap you can feel sometimes, how all over the place your emotions are, how friendships can feel so fragile and how those first “loves” take over your life. When I first read Dawn’s novel, I went on a massive nostalgia trip – all those feelings I’d put away came rushing back. I tell you now – I’d never want to be a teenager again!

When we were thinking about Paper Aeroplanes, and how to get across those teenage feelings, we thought of music. How many times did I close the door to my bedroom and play music so loud to wallow in teen angst? I can only imagine what my parents thought to me singing at the top of my voice to Whitney Houston over and over again. *hangs head* So, when we discovered The Bookshop Band, and heard their songs about books, we thought – what better thing? We commissioned an Ode to a Friendship, for Renee and Flo, and when I listen to this, it takes me back to my teenage years. And it made Dawn WEEP. (Honest).

So – here is the WORLD PREMIERE, of Throwing Paper Planes, by the very, very talented Bookshop Band – we hope you enjoy it…and go on, wallow a little.

On First Love…

Do you remember your first love? I do. His name was Geoff – I was 12 years old and about a foot taller than him. But obviously that didn’t bother me at all because we were meant to be together…despite the height difference.

I’m thinking about first love as Dawn O’Porter’s novel Paper Aeroplanes comes out next week and we are EXCITED, as you can tell. A few weeks ago we had a chat with Dawn in front of the camera about various nostalgia moments from her own teen school years. And here’s the first one…On first love…

We’ll share more of the videos with you over the course of the week – coming soon…friends, frenemies, school, periods and the all important question of 90s food! Stay tuned for more and watch our twitter stream for the launch of Dawn’s new website…

Anyone brave enough to share their stories of first love?

Win afternoon tea with Dawn O’Porter


This May, we are taking a trip down memory lane and revisiting our teenage years, with journalist and TV presenter, Dawn O’Porter’s first novel Paper Aeroplanes. We’ve already reminisced over our favourite 90s treats (in tuck shop form below at the launch party) and pretty soon we’re all going to be sharing stories of first crushes and getting our first periods… (really…)

Tuck Shop

Can you tell we’re excited?

But anyway, for the more classy lot of you out there, we thought we’d bring things up to date and feed our excitement with a little pre-order competition. You, and a friend, could be acting all sophisticated over afternoon tea with Dawn O’Porter at the Fashionista Tea at the Berkeley Hotel in London – ooh fancy…All you need to do is pre-order the book before April 21st and tell us you have done to be entered.

Find out more by visiting the below site:

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 10.56.13

And if you need convincing about Paper Aeroplanes, hear about the book from our publisher Emily below:

All the things I loved about Dawn’s column, about her documentaries, about her, were there – in what came to be entitled PAPER AEROPLANES – the story of a friendship.

Dawn doesn’t flinch from describing the horrors of having your period round at someone’s else house when you’re fifteen; the freakish body hair that you’re convinced is yours, and yours alone; your excruciating dysfunctional family; the strange and contradictory mass of feelings you have at all times; the curiosity, yet wariness of boys (and of sex in general); the hideous misery of falling out with your best friend; the knowledge that though your life stretches out, tantalisingly, before you, you have absolutely no clue what to do with it.

PAPER AEROPLANES is every teenage girl’s experience. You will read it and weep, and then you will laugh, and then you might weep some more.

And we, are off to think again about Wham Bars, Wotsits and Fredos. Good luck with the competition!

Bowling, group love-ins and metadata…

Last Thursday and Friday, a bunch of us went down to Chelsea Harbour for a Bonnier Group Love-in, including food, presentations and bowling, officially known as the Bonnier Manager’s Conference. This is an annual event where all the publishers in the Bonnier Publishing group get together and we all get an update on what our lovely sisters are doing.

And then we all lose all that sisterly love, just like in a real family, and battle it out on the bowling alley in the evening. Hot Key Bowling Report: Sarah Odedina is actually a secret bowling star, Emily Thomas wins the most enthusiastic member of the team ever and Jet Purdie was the one that actually scored most of our points (who isn’t surprised by that?). It all got a little serious at points I must say. For instance Autumn publishing took things VERY seriously:

Things got serious(ly competitive)

Things got serious(ly competitive)

But anyway, I digress. Being part of a group like Bonnier Publishing is great. Firstly – nobody takes themselves too seriously, and everyone is very approachable. Nobody is corporate. For instance – which other CEO would let themselves be caricatured and put right there on the website?

The Bonnier Publishing CEO Richard Johnson reading CEO for Dummies.

The Bonnier Publishing CEO Richard Johnson reading CEO for Dummies.

It also means though we have strength in numbers – we can share some functions like having a group sales and accounts team – but then also each company is decentralized which means we all have full editorial control and each have our own identities. Look out for our sister companies blog takeover in a few weeks time where you can get to know them all a bit better.

I was given the unenviable task of task of talking to the group about metadata. SAY WHAT NOW? I hear you ask. Well…metadata is how people find our books online, so it is mega important. But only to a data-geek I hear you say? Well here’s how I convinced people otherwise with a little video conversation…with a little help from

What can I say, apart from after that, metadata was certainly the word of the conference!

An Ode to Sara OC (inspired by Carly Rae Jepsen)

As some of you who follow us on Twitter, or have been in to see us recently, will realise – Sara O’Connor, our queen of digital, and editor-extraodinaire, is leaving us today, to have her second baby. Since we started Hot Key, she will officially be the first person to leave us – albeit temporarily – so needless to say, we are finding it hard to say goodbye. So, Amy and I thought, what better way to say goodbye, than in the form of song. And what better song, than this take on last year’s classic pop song…so enjoy, Sara and all, here’s “Go have your baby!” (Click play below, then scroll through the lyrics)

Sara OC sad rejections

You are our digital belle
You’ve got a story to tell
We look to at the helm
And now your on your way

Can you stay just one more day
Blogs and iBooks are OK
We aren’t trying to say
But please don’t go away

Your stats are glowing
Story Adventure growing
Ebooks in the knowing
Where you think you’re going Sara?

Hey, we will miss you
And this is crazy
But don’t you worry
Go have your baby!

It’s hard to think about
Hot Key without you
But don’t you worry
Go have your baby!

Hey, we will miss you
And this is crazy
But don’t you worry
Go have your baby!

All the work you’ve done
Will keep us busy
So don’t you worry
Go have your baby!

You take time over your books,
Authors love the way they look,
You gave more than you took,
You’ve such a key role to play

Your videos are fun
You’re always on the run
It’s like we’ve only just begun,
But you have to go away

You are always knowing
Which way the winds are blowing
We’ll try to keep things going
Where you think you’re going Sara???

Hey, its like we just met you,
And this is crazy,
But we’ll be okay,
So go have your baby.

It’s hard to say bye,
To you lady,
But we’ll be okay,
So go have your baby.

Hey, its like we just met you,
And this is crazy,
But we’ll be okay,
So go have your baby.

And all the Hot Keys,
Will miss ya digitall-y,
But we’ll be okay,
So go have your baby.

Until you come back into our life
We’ll miss you so bad
We’ll miss you so bad
We’ll miss you so, so bad

Good luck Sara! Come back and see us soon with cute baby in tow. It’s been amazing.