Author Archives: hotmeggyf

Seeing the World Differently: a celebration of reading and dyslexia

Last week, as part of Dyslexia Awareness Week, we hosted an event with Booktrust at the Free Word Centre around dyslexia, reading and education with a focus on the Maggot Moon Multi-touch edition.

Sally Gardner was in conversation with The Times’ children’s books critic, Amanda Craig, and Booktrust’s books and disability consultant, Alexandra Strick.

It was a fascinating discussion with a wonderful audience of people with direct experience of dyslexia. Check out blogs about the event from Alexandra Strick on the Booktrust blog, teacher trainer Anne Harding and digital publisher Nick Cross.

Many thanks for Sam at the Freeword Centre, we also have recordings of the discussion to share with you here.

Sally talks about where Maggot Moon and her dyslexic hero, Standish Treadwell, came from.

Sally discusses her experiences of writing with dyslexia, the importance of finding your own way of working and reflects on some of the great writers and thinkers, like Leonardo Da Vinci and F Scott Fitzgerald, who also struggled with dyslexia.

Branded ‘unteachable’ at school because of her acute dyslexia, Sally discusses her experiences of how the education system treats dyslexia, and how she thinks it can be improved to support all children who struggle to read.



Swizzfiggling snozzcumbers! It’s Roald Dahl Day!

I don’t think there are many people out there who don’t have great memories of reading Roald Dahl when they were young. All kids love to laugh, be scared and grossed out and Dahl’s books offer this in bucket loads. Some of my strongest memories from school are being read his books in class, relishing the horrible grandmother’s comeuppance in GEORGE’S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE and mesmerised by THE WITCHES – my mouth wide open in terror. At home I enjoyed all of his books, in particular the subversive REVOLTING RHYMES and DIRTY BEASTS and was fascinated by his autobiographies BOY and GOING SOLO – it was magical to see where many of his bonkers ideas had come from!

Now I’m enjoying sharing the books I loved with my daughters, devouring his books for younger readers including THE ENORMOUS CROCODILE, THE GIRAFFE THE PELLY AND ME and THE TWITS before moving onto his older books like THE BFG. We’re now currently reading MATILDA (we quickly decided THE WITCHES was still a bit scary – it’s one of the most sinister ideas Dahl came up with) and my eldest has been completely fascinated by it. She’s seen the film and listened to the audio book and now we’re re-reading it together in readiness to see the musical later this autumn. My youngest on the other hand was traumatised by Miss Trunchbull in the film and still runs from the room in terror at the very mention of ‘MATILDA’ crying ‘s-c-a-r-y’!! Roald Dahl has that effect on us all!

Here are some of Hot Key’s favourite Roald Dahl books:

Naomi Colthurst: ‘I really liked DANNY CHAMPION OF THE WORLD – I remember being enthralled by the idea of soaking raisins, splitting them open, filling them with sleeping pills, stitching them back together and then drugging pheasants. I was an odd child. I’m still tempted to soak and stitch back up raisins though – and I also loved the paper fire balloons Danny and his dad made.’

Anna Cunnane (our intern this week): ‘My personal favourite is THE WITCHES because I love the children transformed into hat stands and staring out from paintings on the wall in the first chapters. Also, the fact that the little boy remains a mouse (unlike in the film!) So sinister!’

Sarah Odedina: ‘One of my best holidays ever with my daughters was spent reading and rereading THE TWITS on a beach behind a wind break for a week in southern Spain. We had such a wonderful time sharing that book’

Sara O’Connor: ‘JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH – I love so many Roald Dahl books, but I picked this one because it is utterly bonkers and triumphant, an exceptionally accurate portrayal of what would actually happen if a peach was magically grown huge with a cast of insects inside.’

Sarah Benton: ‘Mine is THE TWITS and MATILDA. I’ve read MATILDA so many times…’

Emily Thomas: ‘JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. Spiker and Sponge are lurking still in the back of my mind, a long time after I first encountered them. They epitomise not just his incredible, delightful, dark imagination but his ability to connect with what stirs the imagination of his readers. Genius.’

Amy Orringer: ‘I think my favourite is ESIO TROT, because it’s about love and tortoises.’

Cait Davies: ‘FANTASTIC MR FOX!! I loved it when I was younger, the thought that animals could organise against the mean farmers blew my mind.’

Georgia Murray: ‘DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD. I loved loved this when I was a kid. I wanted to live in a gypsy caravan by a filling station. I loved the unorthodox life of the boy and his dad and the genius way they get the better of the local bigwig by putting sleeping pills in the raisins to put his pheasants to sleep. So clever and utterly heartwarming.’

Becca Langton: ‘My favourite (apart from Matilda OBVIOUSLY) is GEORGE’S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE because it sets such a wonderfully inappropriate example to children – old relatives annoying you? Mix up everything you can find from under the kitchen sink and sneak it into their cup of tea. Great.’

So what are your favourites? How are you celebrating Roald Dahl day?

Angel Dust Drawing Competition!

Have you ever been inspired by a teacher? It might be the one that pushed you to try something new, or went the extra mile to help you with that hated subject (was it Maths? Come on, it’s always Maths).

Sarah Mussi, author of ANGEL DUST, recently wrote a piece about her favourite art teacher for the Times School Gate column. It was the influence of one teacher that encouraged Sarah to express herself through drawing (and eventually go on to complete a BA and later an MA in Fine Art!) Now, theoretically we knew this about Sarah, just like we know she is a now a teacher herself; but when she brought in her A-Level art exam self portrait, we were amazed!

Her portrait got us thinking – let’s start a drawing competition around ANGEL DUST! The prize would be an original painting by Sarah, inspired by her book.  Sarah was up for it – she dutifully bought her paints and spent a weekend working on the picture. When she brought it in the office she was shy to show it – it had been years since she’d done any painting. She left it in the bag on my desk and we opened it once she’d left … and found the perfect painting!

So, now it’s your turn to get drawing and painting – we are looking for your angel pictures! You can draw it, paint it, make a collage… be as creative as you want. The deadline is 5 PM on 31 August, and all you need to do is post your entry to Sarah’s Facebook page – the lucky winner will win Sarah’s painting! Click here for all the rules.


Books, keys, tiny rooms and food: Hot Key’s first book festival

Hot Key’s first trip up to Edinburgh International Book Festival was a very Hot Key affair. Lots of book chat and eating with many wonderful librarians, publishers, authors, book sellers and other book loving folk. Even the hotel we were staying in seemed made for us – keys hanging in reception, and mini rooms the inhabitants of SHRUNK! would have felt at home in! (they were snug, not tiny really!).

Edinburgh International Book Festival is a magical place – Charlotte Square is transformed from an elegant Georgian square into a buzzing place full of raised walkways ferrying authors, publishers and the public between events, cafes and book shops bursting at the seams with books and activities for young children. Authors emerge from the Yurt (the green room) blinking into the sunlight (if you’re lucky!) and head off to entertain and inspire thousands of readers – young and old.

The square is a hive of activity with creativity happening on every corner. Here’s Illustrator in Residence Chris Riddell busy drawing an alien – hopefully not something he’s spotted in the square!

The first event I went to was with Sally Gardner and Celia Rees (chaired by Nicola Morgan) who spoke about their latest books, THIS IS NOT FORGIVENESS, THE DOUBLE SHADOW and MAGGOT MOON. They discussed the themes in their books and how they were written, and gave helpful tips about how to solve writer’s block and solve tricky problems – long walks or baths are apparently the best solution!

After a busy signing session we all went for a delicious Italian lunch at Cento Tre – here we are waiting for the food to arrive.

(Celia Rees, Sally Gardner, Louise Court and Rebecca McNally)

After Sally’s second event of the day we all went to relax and get ready for the Hot Key Dinner in another great Edinburgh Italian institution – Vittoria. And very delicious the food was too with wonderful company. (Viv French, Librarians from Edinbuargh Libraries, Eve from Waterstone’s, Julie from Blackwell’s and Mark Lambert from Scottish Book Trust).

The next morning the sun was shining for Sally’s event at Portobello Library where we waited with ‘will they won’t they turn up anticipation’ before 18 young people arrived to hear Sally talk about her books and inspiration – as well as her (beautiful!) shoes and dog Lottie.

After the event, we managed to tuck into more delicious food in a pub looking out over Portobello beach before heading back down to London.

Public/Private: how both sectors can learn from each other

Amy’s inspirational post yesterday describing her move into children’s publishing from the education sector has got us all thinking about the pros and cons of working in the public and private sectors and how they can learn from each other.

I have had the benefit of working for both sectors, moving from publishing to the amazing charity Booktrust and back again into publishing. The Bookstart Bear represents the perfect public/private partnership. Here he is carrying the Olympic torch!

Children’s publishers are a strange beast in the private sector. They produce wonderful, inspiring books to help children love books and reading and are well supported by teachers and librarians, but they are also a business with stakeholders who are looking for a return on their investments. The simple business of acquiring and selling rights in children’s books is not the most lucrative one and no-one who works in children’s publishing would say they are in it for the money, but it is nether-the-less a business run for profit which thrives on competition.

Charities on the other hand are not-for-profit, and generally run on a complicated mix of public and private sector money. Booktrust for example is funded by the government via the Arts Council and directly to run its book-gifting programmes including Bookstart, which prides itself on its public/private partnerships. Generally this means that publishers provide books at cost with some money for marketing with the government paying for the administration and distribution. The prizes normally rely on media sponsors and foundations such as the BBC, The Sunday Times, the Independent and the Roald Dahl Foundation.

This model is obviously vulnerable to changes in government (Bookstart was a project very dear to Gordon Brown’s heart) and sponsors – I saw Nestle, JLR, the Teenage Prize, Early Years Awards and Orange sponsorships all disappearing as priorities changed for the sponsors and foundations.

Back in December 2010 Booktrust was told from one day to the next that they would lose its £3 million funding of the schools programmes. With the power of Twitter, there was uproar from the public and authors rallied round to save us culminating in an amazing headline in the Observer on Boxing Day 2010 and rapid back-peddling from the government. Now Booktrust is campaigning to keep public money for their programmes with their Bookstart 20 campaign.

Now I have moved back into the private sector to join a brand new publisher – a very rare thing to find these days, but one full of passionate, experienced and knowledgeable people prepared to work differently to the rest of the industry, explore different models of funding by partnering with organisations like the Arts Council and most importantly work transparently, a very refreshing thing in the private sector.

So, over to you. Tell us about your experiences of working for the private and public sectors and how they can learn from each other.

School’s out for summer!

School’s out for summer this week and everyone who’s lucky enough will be hotfooting it to sunnier climes – but what will they be packing in their suitcase for their kids to read?

There are plenty of great ways to find book recommendations – join in the Summer Reading Challenge at your local library, check out virtual story sites Story Cloud and Magic Town or head over to Lovereadingforkids or Booktrust for some great suggestions and themed lists.

We will also be adding recommended reading lists on our new website, which is launching very soon – but for the time being here is a selection of top reads recommended by everyone at Hot Key Books for all ages – old and new – to add to your suitcase or download onto your e-reader.

Let us know yours in the comments below too!

Under 5
Avocado Baby by John Burningham
Friends by Kathryn Cave and Nick Maland
So Much by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury
Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
There’s an Alligator Under my Bed by Mercer Mayer
Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Beep Beep, Let’s Go by Eleanor Taylor
The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs

5-8 years
The Clumsies Make A Mess by Sorrel Anderson
The Dunderheads by Paul Fleischman and David Robert
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson
Fattypuffs and Thinifers by Andre Maurois
Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor Mccay
The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton
The Painted Garden by Noel Streatfield
Little Grey Rabbit by Alison Uttley

9-12 years
Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken
How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant by Elen Caldecott
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Back Home by Michelle Magorian
The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo
Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert O’Brien
Wonder by R J Palacio
Holes by Louis Sachar

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
Momentum by Saci Lloyd
Watcher Bee by Mary Melwood
Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness
Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
No & Me by Delphine de Vigan
Falling into Glory by Robert Westall

And of course we couldn’t leave off Angel Dust by Sarah Mussi and Insignia by S. J. Kincaid – great summer reads from Hot Key Books launching on 2 August!

My first comic festival – not scary at all!

We know you’ll all be eager to see the video of last night’s Women in Digital Publishing event which will up very soon. But whilst you’re waiting, here’s something completely different!

As you know we are really keen on graphic fiction here at Hot Key and delighted that an illustrated book (A Monster Calls) won both the Greenaway and the Carnegie Medals this year – congratulations Patrick Ness and Jim Kay!

As I blogged about before, I’m pretty new to the comic/graphic novel world and was curious to go to a comic festival to find out more, but felt a bit shy about it. So I decided to dip my toe in the water, and headed over to East London for my very first comic festival, the inaugural East London Comic and Arts Festival held at Village Underground in Shoreditch organised by Nobrow. Check out the amazing mural on the outside wall.

Inside the place was buzzing. The exhibitors hall was full to bursting with visitors and publishers, both large and small, including Random House, Self Made Hero, Nobrow and many others, all selling their graphic novels and comics at a discount with their authors hanging around their stands to chat and sign copies of their books. Heaven!

The event space was set up for the ‘Happy Sports Village Drawing Marathon’ organised by the great people behind Anorak magazine – where kids could create an Olympic inspired comic by cutting out images and letters. My daughter had a great time colouring, cutting and sticking to create her Olympic scene.

Next up were some brilliantly inventive animation short films and adverts created by the team at Nexus. One of the most entertaining was one about two funeral directors who’s hearse is flattened by a boulder and their comic/tragic adventure to get the coffin and corpse to the burial ground.

After a spot of lunch I caught the end of the ‘Tac au Tac 2012’ Drawing Relay Race with Luke Pearson – here he is busy drawing a fearsome duck beast ridden by an alien creature.

The highlight of the day for me was a fascinating panel discussion about the current poplar trend in autobiographical graphic novels. The panel comprised Simone Lia (Fluffy, Please God, Find Me a Husband), Darryl Cunningham (Psychiatric Tales, Science Tales) and Karrie Fransman (The House that Groaned) chaired by Becky Barnicoat from the Guardian.

The panel discussed why it was such a popular genre and key thoughts were that for autobiographical stories to work they need to think of the reader and tell them something about themselves – not just navel gazing. They also spoke about the ethics of using family and friends as subjects in their stories.

Karrie Fransman uses her family and friends extensively for her comic strips but consciously chose a non-fiction story for her first graphic novel The House That Groaned. She is now working on a reportage story.

Simone Lia’s first graphic novel was a fictional story called Fluffy, about a rabbit who thinks he is human and finds out he’s not. Her latest book Please God, Find Me a Husband on the other hand is a deeply personal about her relationship with God, which took her four years to write because it was such a difficult story to tell. She said that her next book will definitely not be about herself and like Karrie, she is next planning a reportage-style story about her community.

Darryl Cunningham used his own person experiences with depression and anxiety as well as his experience as a Psychiatric nurse to talk about mental health in Psychiatric Tales. Although he has been questioned by a colleague about using his patients stories, he has only had positive feedback from everyone who read them.

Everyone agreed that the author does have a certain responsibility to respect their family and friends privacy and in Darryl’s case his patients, and wouldn’t write about anything they would be unhappy about.

After the talk I hit the exhibition hall and spent lots of money on books (very difficult to resist) and even got to have a chat with the brilliant Hannah Berry (currently Booktrust Writer in Residence check out her blog!) who signed my copy of Adamtine and drew a scary picture!

Then I got to meet the lovely Simone Lia who was interested in attending the Drawing the Graphic Novel course despite the fact that her book is on our reading list! She also signed my book for me and did another picture!

I then had to head off to the Museum of Childhood to join my family so missed out on the rest of the programme but next time I’ll be sure to stay all day! This was a really great event full of friendly, passionate people – not scary at all!