Author Archives: naomihotkey

Top Ten Things You Never Knew About Publishing (Probably…) But Were Afraid To Ask

Hello! So I’m Naomi, the Editorial Assistant here, and I’m going to tell you some of the top ten things that you probably don’t know about publishing, but might be afraid to ask. As this blog will hopefully illustrate there isn’t a single person in publishing that didn’t know the answers to some of the ‘basics’ when they started out, so don’t be ashamed! And please tweet or comment with any further questions you might have! No question is too ‘obvious’, we promise.


1) “What is the difference between copy-editing and proofreading?”

OK – a manuscript usually goes through three stages of editing. The first stage is quite sweeping – general points about the story that might need a bit of work, such as: ‘Hey, that character is great, we should see a bit more of them!’ or: ‘We’re not sure this scene really works… maybe if you re-work it like this (insert X, Y, Z) it might help the narrative flow a bit better.’ The second stage is a copy-edit – this is a more nitty gritty edit, where a copy-editor looks out for things like clarification issues, like: ‘Hmm on page 34 it says that Bob’s favourite colour is blue, but on page 76 he says it’s red… which one is it?’ or: ‘This sentence structure is a bit confusing, can we rephrase it so it reads…’ and so on. Editorial fact-checking, if you will. Stage three is proofreading – and really a proofreader should only be looking out for the last few tiny mistakes – mainly typos, and last final checks that all the names all spelled the right way etc. – but they can also add in comments that a copy-editor might (like sentence restructuring etc.) which is where the confusion between the two can begin! However, a proofreader usually wouldn’t suggest how things could/should be spelled (e.g. all right vs. alright) as those things would have been decided by the author and the editor. However, they SHOULD be checking that the spellings are consistent!

Didn’t know that? Don’t be ashamed! Neither did Editor-at-Large Emma Matthewson as a beginner: “I didn’t have a clue what copyediting really was…”

And (personal confession coming up) for most of the time I was applying for internships/jobs, I had no solid idea what even ‘copy’ was. I mean I had an idea but if you’d quizzed me… (Friends: it is the text. That is all. Text = copy. Why can’t we just call it text?!)


2) “How do books actually get into bookshops?”

Not my area of expertise so much, but Kate Manning  (Sales & Marketing Director) had this to say on the matter:

  • So the raison d’etre behind a sales department is to get the right book into the right hands, that’s how things sell – no point in piling them high somewhere if they’re all going to be returned.
  • Each sales channel has its own type of books it will sell, and it’s own way of buying. From the supermarkets  who are centralised – one buyer choosing for the entire estate, and concentrating on bestsellers – through to Indies [BLOGGER’S NOTE: ‘Indies’ = Independent Booksellers!]  where the bookseller chooses what will fit their individual shop and looks more at range.
  • Each buyer sees hundreds of books a month, so you need to make sure yours stand out – finished jackets, metadata (very important! You need an ISBN to buy!) and certain titles need proofs to get people behind them.

So it’s pretty complicated. Proving this, here are some ‘confessions’ from professionals:

“I didn’t know that some bookshop promotions were paid for – I always thought the chart in WHSmiths and Tesco was genuinely ranked by bestsellers. Unfortunately, it isn’t…” (Sarah Benton,  Head of Marketing, Print & Digital)

“One from a child’s point of view: I didn’t know that more books existed than the ones on offer in my local bookshop. (Would that that lovely local bookshop still existed…)” (Jenny Jacoby, Editor)


3) “Erm I’ve heard a lot about ‘Advances’ – what are they, and are they anything to do with royalties?”

An advance is a sum of money, paid to an author when they get a book contract. You get one agreed sum of money, which is then usually split into three separate advances – one is paid on signature of the contract, one is signed when the manuscript has been ‘delivered’ (i.e. all the edits have been made) and then the final one is paid when the book is published. However, (and this is the bit not many people know) an author will not earn ANY royalties, until we (the publisher) have earned back in book sales what we paid them as an advance – hence the term; ‘Royalty Advance’. Unfortunately, lots of authors might never earn any royalties, which Mariana Podmore (Sales Assistant at Red Lemon Press) only realised when she started dealing with advances herself:

“I didn’t know that authors can go YEARS without getting any money from sales, and then when they finally do earn the advance out (if they’re so lucky) they only get paid every six or even twelve months. How weird would it be to get paid only every six months?”


4) “How long does it take for a book to be published – from acquisition to publication date?”

A long time, usually. It really depends as we can acquire something that for whatever reason has to be rushed through to production, but I would say the minimum amount of time we can manage to produce a book in is six or seven months. Alternatively something might get bought that we know will need quite a bit of editorial input, so we schedule it for a later date. Or we schedule it quite far in advance in order to give it the best chance of standing out on our list.

Mostly the Editorial team work around a year ahead of ourselves, but it’s often more. Ideally, we present titles to Sales & Marketing nine months ahead of publication (this means we have a manuscript, which may or may not have been copy-edited at this stage, and at least a rough idea of what the cover is) and Sales & Marketing usually work on books six months ahead of when they publish – by which point we should have a finished jacket and hopefully a complete manuscript. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way!)


5) “Good grief! What’s with all the acronyms?”

Ah, acronyms! Every industry has their own, completely-incomprehensible-to-the-outsider set of acronyms, perfect for throwing at unsuspecting interns and visitors. Publishing is no different, as Cait Davies and Sarah Benton found out:

“ALL the acronyms… GBS, TBS, DDI, FOB, DDU (I still don’t really know what DDU stands for. Something production-y…). Thank god for Google!!” (Cait Davies, Sales & Marketing Executive)

“I remember in my first job being asked to make some “generic POS” for an author – spent a while trying to figure out what the hell that meant…” (Sarah Benton, Head of Marketing, Print & Digital)

So what do they mean? Here are some of the acronyms you are most likely to come across if you are doing an internship:

AI/TI – Advanced Information Sheet/Title Information Sheet: A one page document that Editorial and Sales & Marketing put together that tells booksellers/the world everything they need to know about a book.

GBS – Grantham Book Services: A book distributor that takes a  publisher’s (not all – other good distributors are available!) books from the warehouse where we keep ‘em, to the bookstores that order ‘em.

TBC/TBS – To Be Confirmed/To Be Specified: “Err… We haven’t quite worked out what’s going on there yet… to be confirmed!”

POS – Point of Sale: A really fun pack of stuff that Sales & Marketing put together, with lots of goodies related to the book – e.g. stickers, bookmarks, postcards etc. for booksellers to have and distribute.

P&L – Profit & Loss evaluation form: This is a fairly complicated but very important process that all books we are interested in acquiring go through. Basically, we put in our costs at one end (jacket finishes, typesetting costs [BLOGGER’S NOTE: typesetting = the process of getting a novel from a Word or basic PDF document into the thing that you recognise as a book], external proofreading costs etc.) and then Sales & Marketing put in the amount they think the book can sell in at the other (your ‘profits’) and what comes out at the end influences the number we can offer an author as an advance.

WTF – A true Hot Key Books staple, and as we all know, it stands for: ‘Where’s The Fudge?’


6) “Illustrated Books – The Author and the Illustrator work together… right?”

Nope. Usually not, as Red Lemon Editor Tori Kosara discovered:

“I was pretty sure that authors and illustrators worked together in the same office (like they were work colleagues) and knew each other really well.”

Or as Meg, our Publicist puts it:

“People don’t realise that normally for picture books, the text comes first and the publisher finds the illustrator – they often never even meet each other…”

Weird eh?! But true. I had also imagined that all picture books were made by friends, but apparently not…

7) “Authors have agents?!”

Sigh! This is my personal confession. I had NO IDEA that authors had agents until I did an internship and was like ‘waaaahh?’ Yes, authors have agents, in much the same way that film and sports stars do. And publishing agents do a very similar job to agents working for film stars – they submit your work, they tell everyone what a fabulous writer you are, and they will work as hard as they can to get the best deal for you and your book. Agents will also make sure that a contract is good for an author, and they’ll also negotiate the terms of that contract – including things like realistic delivery dates for the manuscripts. Agents do take a cut of any earnings an author might make (including royalties) but the amount will vary, and I would certainly say it’s worth it.


8) “How is a book actually made?”

We’ve already covered that fairly extensively in our blog about the Clays factory visit HERE – but it’s really not an obvious process, which lots of people in the office didn’t know:

“ I didn’t know how a book was printed – i.e. in large sheets with the pages then cut up and bound together – which is actually good to know as it corresponds to how books are thought through editorially –  i.e. picture books are normally 32 pages, and the extent [BLOGGER’S NOTE: ‘Extent’ means final number of pages, folks!] can massively affect where a book is placed age-category wise.” (Meg Farr, Publicist)

“My favourite thing I first learned when I started working was what the number line on the copyright page meant. Especially because in the old days (when I started) the printer would physically scratch off the lowest number from the number line on the printing film each time it reprinted.” (Jenny Jacoby, Editor)

That little number there!

“Six years in and I’m still not entirely sure what ‘repro’ means, but I probably should! They make our proofs and generally make sure that our files are print-ready and that all the colours are right etc. Its short for reprographics house, but for years it was just a prefix to  ‘deadline’! I.e.: ‘We need to get these files to repro immediately!’ or: ‘Christ, there’s no way we’re going to meet our repro deadline! Let’s go plead with Dom for an extension…’” (Katie Knutton, Designer at Red Lemon Press)

“I remember once asking a rather revered senior editor who terrified me at the best of times what a ‘Signature’ section was in a book. I thought it was where the author signed their name not that it was one ‘part’ a book. I went the colour of beetroot at the look she gave me…” (Emily Thomas, Publisher)

[BLOGGER’S NOTE: Me again – a book is divided into sections of pages, between either 8 pages or 16 pages depending on the final extent of the book, and one of those sections is known as a ‘signature’. Also – it was EXTREMELY mean of Emily’s boss to do this to her – no one should ever make you feel stupid for asking questions when you’re an intern or in an entry level job (or ever, really)]

9) “Trade publishing versus… what exactly?”

You might hear the word ‘Trade Publishing’ being bandied about from time to time. But what does it actually mean? Surely all publishing is for trade… right? WRONG as Red Lemon Editor Alex Koken will tell you:

“For YEARS I didn’t know what trade publishing meant! I sort of assumed there was one type of publishing, the one where the books are made…  It’s OUR type of publishing, i.e. where we sell to bookshops. Non-trade is academic, scientific, technical and medical (STM), B2B (business to business), and clubs (I think)…”


10) “I’m applying for jobs, but I don’t really know what the chain of command is…”

This is actually quite a common problem, as how can you know what’s an appropriate level to apply for before you work somewhere and you can figure it out for yourself? I will stick to Editorial here, but if anyone has a department they are specifically interested in just tweet us/comment below and we’ll fill you in!

Secretary – Lots of Editors start out as Secretaries, where you prove your admin capability so you can move up to:

Editorial Assistant – Also an entry level job for some people (me included) but it will depend on where you apply. Lots more admin still, but also a bit of author care and you provide more specifically editorial-based support. See my previous blog about it HERE if you’d like to know more!

Assistant Editor – You should be getting to do a lot more editorial tasks now, such as low-level copy-editing and proof-reading, and also helping to manage the manuscripts into production more carefully. You’ll also probably be writing a lot more copy (that word again! Remember it just means ‘text’) for things like covers and the AIs. However, you will still be doing quite a lot of admin.

Junior Editor – More editing, less admin! Although you will never, ever be completely rid of admin.

Editor – Hurray, you’re now editing books! This will mean lots of copy-editing, and also more extensive editing too, like what we talked about in point one.

Commissioning Editor – Yikes. Not only are you editing your own books now, you are also buying them! Agents will send you manuscripts, which you will discuss with your team and see if it’s right for your publishing house to acquire them.

Senior Editor – You are probably responsible for team-members now, including the more junior staff.

Editorial Director – You pretty much run the whole Editorial department, but you’re still acquiring and editing too. You answer to…

The Publisher – This person is basically a kind of Creative Director. They run the business side of things as well as solely the Editorial stuff, and they are ultimately responsible for deciding what kind of list the publishing house will have (i.e. what kind of books are we buying?) as well as managing a large team.

Managing Director – The Boss. Basically. Our MD Sarah also does a lot of editing and acquiring, but I am told this is unusual for an MD. Luckily, in a publishing house of our size, she’s able to keep on doing what she loves whilst running the show!


And that’s it! Hopefully you’ve found some of this enlightening, and if you have any further questions about anything just ask! Also, we’d love to hear from our fellow publishers about questions you might have been too afraid to ask when you were starting out in the industry.

And, in case, you needed any further encouragement, here is Sara O’Connor (Editorial Director, Print & Digital) with a cautionary note on how you should ALWAYS ask questions if you’re not sure about something:

“Always be certain to ask which is the bulk trash pile of boxes and which is the bulk mail boxes pile. Trust me, you do not want to mix those up.”


The End is Nigh (HURRAY!)

If you’ve been keeping an eye on our blog recently, you might have seen Naomi talking about her preparations for the Bologna Book Fair on her ‘Day in the Life’ vlog. Well, Bologna is upon us, and today Naomi will walk you through her not-so-mixed emotions about saying farewell to all that preparation…

Bologna Schedules!

Bologna Schedules!

Last night, for the first time in about five weeks, I left the office at a normal time (6pm) LIKE A NORMAL PERSON. I didn’t arrive home with my mind still whirring about emails I had/hadn’t sent, invites I had/hadn’t RSVP’d to, hotel rooms I knew were definitely booked because I had checked them three billion times but was still convinced something would go wrong about. No, I arrived home at midnight, slightly wobbly on rose wine, because BOLOGNA PREP IS DONE. IT IS DONE.

Well, it is done for this year. And London is just around the corner. And then it will be Frankfurt before you know it. BUT FOR NOW – no more book fair schedules!

This year was a bumper edition – we had a record number of people going, so this meant organising from scratch three people’s schedules, plus coordinating and remotely organising two other people’s.  On top of that, things were complicated further this year as the Bonnier International Sales Conference is this week, meaning I had to get everything ready two days earlier than normal. But whatever.

Flights and hotels were sorted in October, but not everyone is arriving at the same time, so this meant making sure the various different dates were booked for the right people, and me and the travel agent getting ourselves thoroughly muddled on more than one occasion. FYI people – it doesn’t help when your professional name differs from the one on your passport…

Then came the appointments. A few very organised people were emailing in December with requests, but January is when it kicks off in earnest. Over the past two and a half months I have sent emails to hundreds of people requesting appointments, almost none of which were met with ‘Sure! Sounds good.’ responses – so then you enter the negotiation phase, where you try to find something that will work. I find you quickly get to know and empathise with a person when there is a mutual burden of organising book fair schedules connecting you – I had to ring someone else’s assistant this year to try to rearrange something and she greeted me (somewhat wearily) like an old friend.

If you’ve started emailing people, this means (hopefully) that you’ve got your blank template ready. For those that don’t know, book fairs are intense – REALLY intense – so although it is tough for me to organise them, I get that it will be horrendous for someone going if their schedule isn’t 100% correct – hence why I put the kind of effort into organising them that I do. Everyone’s days are divided into half an hour slots (starting at 9, finishing at 6) and then that day will be filled to the brim with these half hour appointments. They don’t get a break for lunch, and although the appointments stop at 6,  they will then usually be attending at least one drinks reception (usually two) before heading off to a dinner somewhere. SO, if something is wrong (time/location of the appointment usually) it throws a massive spanner in the works.

This means you need a very, VERY organised system of keeping track of what times you’ve offered to what people, where you’ve said the meeting will take place, and then whether the person has confirmed that meeting (ALWAYS repeat back what you’ve arranged in your final email – then if something goes wrong you know you were right!). I personally like to use Excel, as it means I can colour-code the hell out of it. Italics means appointment has been suggested but not confirmed, red means it is confirmed, orange means the person whose schedule you are organising has requested you keep the time free for something, yellow means ‘extra-curricular’ (drinks, dinners, etc.) and green means ‘travel/free time’. Everyone I do the schedules for knows my system now, and although they find the Excel spread sheet useful to look at as an overview, they also prefer to have a more traditional day-by-day breakdown on a Word document. This means re-typing out everything, but actually this is a good time to double-check all the appointments against your original emails – meaning really nothing should be getting through the net.

However, for all my complaining about them, there is a kind of manic pleasure to be taken in watching a book fair schedule grow from an empty Excel spread sheet into the packs I was distributing yesterday: brightly coloured manila folders with taxi details, flight details, hotel details, further taxi details, book fair passes (x2; one for the weekend and one for the week) the full Word breakdown of the schedule plus the overview and day-by-day Excel one, THEN maps for each of their personal evening schedules, with invitations attached. Plus these things organised into daily mini-folders, with copies of everything too, natch. Let’s just say this kind of thing really brings out the Monica in me.

So, it is with not much regret that I say – God’s speed, mighty Bologna schedules. Have a great fair and see lots of interesting books.

Please don’t be wrong.

Urban Legends

This week is National Storytelling Week, and so I thought it would be a bit of fun to do a blog on my favourite urban legends. They’re a bit weird, but the best urban legends always are!

1) Dick Whittington and his Cat

Not just a pantomime starring failed TV stars! Richard Whittington was a real man, who really did become Mayor of London three times, but as for whether the Bow Bells really did call him back to London, or whether his cat was the basis of his fortune (it ridded a sultan’s palace of mice, apparently) is more the stuff of legend. You can see a memorial to Dick’s cat on Highgate Hill – not bad for a fictional moggy.

Photo Attributed to Julian Osley

Photo Attributed to Julian Osley

2) The Corpse on the Tube

I can’t tell you the number of times I have been told this story by someone who knows someone who knows someone who this actually happened to: the friend of a friend of a friend was on the tube late one night, and there was a person asleep opposite them. They noticed they didn’t seem to be moving much, and just as they were about to see if the person needed help, the person sat next to them stops them and says: “Listen mate, I’m a doctor, and that person’s not sleeping. They’re dead.”

But why would there be a corpse on the tube?! And why wouldn’t the doctor want to help? It makes no sense.



3) Old Mother Red Cap

This one is a particular favourite as it’s a legend local to me – Jinney Bingham, or ‘The Shrew of Kentish Town’ / ‘The Crone of Camden’ lived in a cottage where the The World’s End pub now stands in Camden. Hers is a pretty grim legend – her parents were hung as witches when she was a child, and after giving birth to an illegitimate daughter at sixteen she slipped into poverty, and, allegedly, witchcraft. If she was a witch, it didn’t do much to help her, as she was eventually found dead and so stiff that the undertakers had to break her bones to fit her into her coffin. Before she died though, she made this one prophecy: “Before the good folk of this kingdom be undone, Shall Highgate Hill stand in the midst of London.” Jinney now allegedly haunts The World’s End – which probably suits its heavy metal patrons just fine.

Photo Attributed to Duncan Harris

Photo Attributed to Duncan Harris

4) Banksy vs. King Robbo

This one puts the ‘urb’ in ‘urban’ – this is a fun legend that is best depicted here, but in a nutshell, Bristol-based graffiti artist Banksy majorly annoyed London boy King Robbo when he ‘wallpapered over’ one of Robbo’s Camden pieces. What ensued is a hilarious and witty tit-for-tat graffiti argument, but with plenty of legend along the way – it’s not known if the two artists were battling themselves or whether it was their ‘teams’, and whether or not King Robbo is even still alive is much in debate.

Photo Attributed to Matt Brown

Photo Attributed to Matt Brown

5) The Dog in the Suitcase

Similar to ‘The Corpse on the Tube’, I’ve been told this one so many times that now I just interrupt people when they try to tell me it. The legend goes thusly: a friend of a friend of a friend was asked to look after a neighbour’s beloved dog for the weekend. Unfortunately, the dog dies (exactly how is a matter of some debate). Friend panics, and rings the local vet to see if they can destroy the dog’s remains before the neighbour returns (friend plans on telling neighbour dog ran away) – vet says fine, but you’ll have to bring the dog to me. Friend has no car, and doesn’t want to get a cab (considering the next part of this story – WHY?!) so PUTS DOG IN SUITCASE and gets on the tube. Obviously, the dead dog is heavy. So, when friend gets out of the tube and is trying to heave the suitcase up the stairs, a kindly stranger offers to help. Stranger picks up suitcase – and runs off. Friend is left gawping on platform… but is presumably quite relieved, as the dead dog is gone.


Thus concludes my favourite London urban legends – and if this kind of thing is up your street, you might want to consider picking up a copy of Alison Rattle’s The Quietness when it comes out in March. Based partly on the life of notorious Victorian baby-farmer (read: baby-killer) Margaret Waters, we will be bringing out a bonus-content e-edition of the book, which will include all the facts behind the story. Also, let me know what your favourite urban legends are – and whether you’ve heard any of these ones yourself!


Great Expectations for Adaptations

This blog may be a bit controversial considering it will be going our to hoards of all y’all book lovers, but has anyone ever considered that sometimes… SOMETIMES… the film is better than the book?

I went to see the new Les Miserables film this weekend, and I LOVED it. I’m a huge, huge fan of the stage musical, and so I was expecting to be a little under-whelmed in comparison, but I can safely say it’s just as good – and Anne Hathaway’s performance of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ trumps anything I’ve seen on stage, just based on sheer emotional intensity. When I was 15, my school play for that year was Les Mis. I was cast as ‘Prostitute 3’ and ‘Grantaire’ (one of the students – the one that’s always drinking), and this sparked a huge obsession with everything Les Miserables related. Naturally, this lead me to try and read the original Victor Hugo book, and wow, was I let down. It’s long – REALLY long – and un-bel-iev-ab-ly slow. There are a million characters and subplots that do nothing except gum up the narrative, and worse, there is no singing! Also my two favourite characters (Enjolras and Eponine) are barely featured – but hey, there is a 30 page description of the Paris sewer system, so it’s not all lose-lose. I have no qualms in saying that not only is the stage and film adaptation better than the book, the online fan-fiction is a MILLION times better than the book. If not a little weird in places.

So, I’ve been thinking about a few more cases where (I think) the adaptation beats the original. Here’s my top three:

1) Apocalypse Now (adapted from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad)

A school book I LOATHED due to its horrendous racism and general sucky colonialist excuse-ism. I know it’s of its time, but I don’t have to like it. Pace is again an issue here, and not even the beautiful new Penguin Classics cover can convince me to give this another go. The film, however, is one of my perennial favourites.

2) The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

God I’ve tried to like this book. It should be so up my street – parties, glamour, romance, deceit, – but somehow, I prefer to see Robert Redford act out all of these things rather than have boring old Nick whinge on about how awful his fabulous lifestyle is. I’ll be very interested to see what the new adaptation is like too.

3) The Crimson Petal and The White – Michel Faber

This is a bit of a fib, as I actually also love the book, but the BBC’s recent adaptation was just stunning. It was so well done, trimming fat where fat needed trimming, without ever losing any of the story’s power, detail or momentum. I was personally VERY glad they chose to remove some of the book’s more shocking scenes, as there is definitely some things I’m happy to leave to my imagination.

4) Any and All James Bond Films – Ian Fleming

Has anyone ever read the books? Could they really be better than the movies??

And how about you — have you ever found yourself aghast after seeing a movie adaptation of a novel, either because you loved it so much or hated it completely?

Gender, Gender, Everywhere

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock recently, you’ll know that here at Hot Key Towers we’ve been wildly celebrating the fantastic news that Sally Gardner’s MAGGOT MOON has just won the Costa Children’s Book Award. There’s obviously been lots of press about the awards recently, and one of the key things people have been talking about is that for the first time ever, all of the winners are women.

This got me thinking a bit. Would we all have been quite so surprised (even if it is nice surprise) if all the winners had been men? Why is an award’s list dominated by women so newsworthy? There is a general assumption  that Children’s and YA fiction authors tend to be female, but a) I’m not sure that’s really true, and b) if you were to look at the statistics relating to the gender of prize-winning Children’s and YA authors you certainly wouldn’t think so.

A lot of the credit for this blog should go to this Lady Business blog – they’ve done an amazing round-up of all the stats surrounding the main Children’s and YA prizes, and looked at the proportion of male, female and male & female protagonists in prize-winning books, and the proportion of male and female authors who won.

Surprisingly for an industry apparently ‘dominated’ by women, female authors won 56% of the awards looked at, compared to male author’s winning 42% of the time. If women really do dominate Children’s and YA fiction, wouldn’t we expect them to be winning significantly more awards for it?

Male vs Female Authors

When it comes to prize-winning protagonists, the boys clearly lead. 49% of prize-winning books have a male protagonist, compared to female protagonists (36%) and male & female protagonists (15%).

Male vs Female Protagonists

This is a bit alarming to me, but – Strident Feminist and graduate of an MA in Gender Studies though I may be – ultimately I suppose, I have to ask myself whether these gender divides really matter to the people that matter – i.e. the children and young adults reading the books. People are always saying ‘ooh boys won’t read books with female protagonists’ – but can you really say the success of something like THE HUNGER GAMES is down to only girls buying it? Similarly, Hermione Granger was recently voted ‘Best Film Role Model’ (OK, OK, it’s for FILMS but it’s based on a book people) in a poll voted for by children and teens – Harry himself didn’t even make it into the top ten.

Hunger Games

So what do you think? Should we be trying to increase the presence of girls (and women) in prize-winning fiction (heck, fiction more generally) or does it not matter? Also were your favourite characters growing up usually boys or girls – and did you care? Let us know!

All credit to Sara O’Connor, the Lady Business blog and this very interesting article in Publishers’ Weekly for sparking off this debate in my head!

Red Ink vs. Kentish Town – A Musical Love Story

Few things thrill me more than when I read a book, or watch a TV program, and there is SOMETHING FROM MY REAL LIFE IN IT.

Imagine my delight then, when I first read Julie Mayhew’s unbelievably wonderful RED INK, and discovered that my own dear and beloved Kentish Town features quite heavily in it. Not THAT heavily, I grant you (the book is mainly divided between Crete and East Finchley) but old K-Town has a pretty significant part to play in the plot. I’ll say no more, but when you read it, you’ll know.

Anyway – Julie has prepared a playlist on Spotify (here) which is designed to reflect the mood of the book as it progresses (kind of like a soundtrack) and I thought perhaps you might like to listen to it whilst going on a ‘Features of Kentish Town Virtual Walking Guide’. So, come with me now on a journey through time and space (but mainly North London), and have a listen whilst you go:

1) ‘One Big Family’ – templecloud

A great and moving song choice – perfect for looking up at the HMV Forum! Just look at its fabulous Art Deco exterior.

So Art Deco!

So Art Deco!

2) ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ – Slow Moving Millie

As we get nearer to Christmas, this is surely a pertinent song choice. And, luckily, you have a great chance of getting what you want if you visit the Kentish Town Pound Stretcher! Funnily enough, this bobby dazzler of a shop is also featured in Imelda May’s song ‘Kentish Town Waltz’. Kentish Town: inspiring a generation.


3) ‘Zorba the Greek’ – Mikis Theodorakis

If you are in the mood for Greek food, look no further than The Phoenician Mediterranean Food Hall. They do a stunning range of baklava, cheese, mezzo and every sort of olive you can imagine. It is also compulsory to hum this song as you browse – fact.


4) ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ – Astrud Gilberto

There are few landmarks more famous in Kentish Town than Rios – but maybe ‘infamous’ is a better word… Errrm, it’s a naturist spa. Let’s skip over that detail,  and enjoy its joyous 80’s facade instead (look at those palm trees!), whilst listening to a bit of Astrud Gilberto and imagining we’re in the REAL Rio, not the (let’s face it) slightly grotty North London version.


5) ‘La Valse d’Amelie’ – Yann Tiersen

Julie has included a lot of the Amelie soundtrack in her playlist (one of my favourite albums! More me real life stuff!), so if you’re in the mood for some whimsy to match these magical tunes, perhaps you’d like to pop in for a pint at The Pineapple – a beautiful pub nestled in amongst multi-coloured houses – and filled with pineapple paraphernalia (it’s also Venue Of Choice for my birthday party this year).

The Pineapple

Leverton Street

6) ‘I Remember’ – Deadmau5, Kaskade

Well, we have come to the end of our tour. I hope YOU will remember all the magical sites you have seen – and that RED INK is out awfully soon, and is truly brilliant. I will leave you at the station, which seems appropriate – but before I go, I offer a challenge. There is a significant launderette in RED INK, and it’s based in Kentish Town. I cannot find that launderette anywhere. It might be that it’s fictional – but if you find one, let me know. Especially if it happens to be run by Cretians…

Kentish Town Station

Hope you’ve had fun!

History, Music and Wonderful Company – The A WORLD BETWEEN US Book Launch

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to attend the launch event for the brilliant Lydia Syson’s A WORLD BETWEEN US. In classic Lydia/Hot Key fashion, the night was an amazing mix of enormous fun, fascinating historical facts and delicious food and drinks. This was literally my idea of a perfect event – for those of you who don’t know, I LOVE HISTORY. I love history and A WORLD BETWEEN US so much that after reading the book I felt compelled to buy a 1940’s nurse’s cape – which I of course wore that evening.

The launch started with everyone gathering outside of Whitechapel station to meet the marvellous David Rosenberg, who would be taking us on a specially-customised A WORLD BETWEEN US walking tour. If you haven’t read the book yet (if not WHY NOT), I won’t spoil anything for you, but it opens with a young nurse (Felix) finding herself caught up in The Battle of Cable Street. Whilst there, she meets a dashing young fellow called Nat, who is determined to go to Spain and fight against Franco’s fascist forces.

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t meet any dashing young fellows to pick me and spin me around, thus causing my cape to swirl delightfully and flash its red underlining like Felix did. However, I did learn a huge amount, as although I studied the Spanish Civil War at uni, I had no idea that the inspiration for so many young men and women to go and fight was due to their experiences of fascism back home. The East End was a primarily Jewish neighborhood in the 1930’s, and (as David told us on the tour) by the time the International Brigades were recruiting many people had already begun to feel threatened by the anti-semitic and fascist actions of Oswald Mosley and his Black Shirts. The Battle of Cable Street was all about people standing up to fascism and letting people know that they would not let the Black Shirts pass – ¡No pasarán!


David Explaining About Oswald Mosley’s Fascist Party

The tour was fascinating and it was so wonderful to see the streets of A WORLD BETWEEN US come alive – Cable Street is very different now to how it was then (there is definitely irony in seeing well-to-do yuppies living in buildings which were once part of an extremely poor slum) but it’s easy enough to find yourself slipping down the narrow and rambling streets of Whitechapel and imagining Felix and Nat whispering together just ahead of you.

Disputes Over Houses Such As These Were a Large Part Of the Tensions That Caused The Battle Of Cable Street

This feeling of falling back in time was only made stronger as we finished the tour at Wilton’s Music Hall – I’d never heard of this place before last Thursday but I will definitely be going back! It’s a wonderful still-somewhat-semi-derelict Victorian building which used to be (unsurprisingly) a music hall. It’s run as a music venue and bar, but the building still needs a lot of work doing to it. Luckily  they’ve just been given a grant by the National Lottery which means they can return the hall to its former glory – which I can’t wait for, as I’m sure it will be stunning and a fantastic music venue once more. Most excitingly, we found out that Wilton’s had acted as a make-shift hospital during the battle!

Wilton’s Music Hall Entrance

We all gathered in a room to the side of the bar (which, appropriately enough, seemed to be hosting a Spanish music night) and enjoyed a wonderful end to the evening listening to speeches, mingling with Lydia’s fascinating guests – and singing International Brigade songs around a piano! I was so pleased that everyone really got into the spirit of things and sang along – all the more impressive considering I don’t think many people had heard the songs before.

Lydia Preparing To Lead Us All In A Rousing Version Of ‘The Internationale’!

So now you’ve heard me waxing lyrical about the evening I can only hope you feel like finding out more and doing some exploring of the area yourself – David regularly runs excellent tours on political activism in the East End, and I can’t recommend popping into Wilton’s for a drink enough! And most importantly of all, I hope you feel compelled to pick up Lydia’s fascinating A WORLD BETWEEN US – I can think of no better introduction to the Spanish Civil War or The Battle of Cable Street, and it’s got a jolly good dash of heroism and romance thrown in too.