Category Archives: Hot Key Prize

Writing advice from YOU: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

All over the world, young writers are sitting down in front of their computers, preparing their submissions for our Young Writers Prize (or at least we hope they are!). So, in order to support all these bright young minds across the globe, we asked you for your best writing advice! Here’s what you said:

Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 12.18.43Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 12.22.38Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 12.23.18Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 12.23.49Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 12.23.37If you want to add anything, please post it below! And best of luck to all you YWP hopefuls out there!


Writing Advice from Julie Mayhew

Today’s writing advice comes from RED INK author Julie Mayhew. Below, she talks about the importance of setting deadlines.

Fortunately, if you’re hoping to enter the Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize competition, we’ve set the deadline for you! Your first 4000 words plus 1-page synopsis is due to us on July 22nd. Get writing!


Do you set your own deadlines? How do you keep track of your work? Leave your advice in the comments below!

Writing advice from Nigel McDowell

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? We posed this question to a few of our authors, and we’ll be posting their video responses this week to help all the Young Writers Prize entrants get their writing in top shape!

Today’s advice is from Nigel McDowell, author of TALL TALES FROM PITCH END. Click on the book cover below to learn more about Nigel and his amazing work!


The Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize and the tipping point

Today’s blog is by our editor Emma Matthewson. Emma has been editing fiction for young readers for many years, edited the Harry Potter series while she was at Bloomsbury. Below, Emma talks about the need for fabulous fiction for young people ages 9 to 12 and our Young Writers Prize.

Before reading this, could you (if you care to)  cast your mind back to your very favourite book as a child, and by this I mean the first time you fell in love with and felt completely immersed in a world… Perhaps too you had a special place to read… maybe it was under a tree in summer, with the dancing leaves above dappling the page… maybe it was when you dragged your book out of your school bag as soon as you got into the car for the journey home, not even hearing the questions about how the day went, BECAUSE YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT AND HAVE BEEN WANTING TO KNOW ALL DAY.

For me, my special place was a big, squashy, rather-uncomfortable-because-it-was-tickly-on-bare-legs armchair that was, nevertheless, my favourite reading place.  The chair was in my bedroom and was covered in red, swirly almost paisley patterns. It was huge, and squashy, and it would swallow me up.

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader -- The Book

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader — The Book

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader -- The Movie

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader — The Movie

This chair was vividly brought back to me recently as I was settling down to watch the opening film credits of C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and the elegant book illustrations by Pauline Baynes appeared on screen. In an instant, in an absolute moment I was sucked back to the aforementioned armchair, greedily turning and turning the pages of the Narnia books, oblivious to the world outside. (It has only just occurred to me that the cinema seats had the same scratchy material as the armchair, which might have helped towards my swooping journey back in time). No matter.

My rambling point is that somewhere as a child on your reading journey, you reach a tipping point. You finally get beyond the challenge of working out how to read, and the endless reading schemes, and you reach the heady shores of being a free reader. And then, before you know it, you are swimming in the thrilling oceans of reading what you want. (Really? I can?). And that is such a lift-off, a dizzying, shooting into space, all engines going. My memories of Narnia have stayed with me through decades. Ditto The Lord of the Rings, which I read five times, and once again on my honeymoon. (Yes, extraordinarily, I am still married).

This sudden spurt, this tipping point, might happen at any age, it might be 8, 9, 10, 11, it doesn’t matter. But, almost inevitably, you remember it, and that memory stays with you as you reach adulthood. Given the right books, the right reader will be hooked – and there is such a richness of writing today for this stage. Roald Dahl has been the kickstarter for so many children, likewise Jacqueline Wilson, Eva Ibbotson, Philip Pullman and of course J.K. Rowling, amongst  many, many other fine writers.

It was such a privilege to edit the Harry Potter books, to work and walk alongside  the characters, the themes, the plotting, the humour, all interwoven amongst the bigger, overarching themes, all so brilliantly conceived by J.K. Rowling.  Editing Harry Potter also brought something very important home to me: the best writers of the best stories, of stories that have longevity, have no qualms about including the big ideas: bravery, friendship, treachery, fear, faith, truth, love.  Also, perhaps, chocolate, jellybeans, poltergeists, pheasants, river journeys and unicorns. That is the marvel when writing for readers who have reached their tipping point. There is a sudden, surprising opening for rich, varied, important storytelling. To be the first to open the door to this brave new world is a precious opportunity.

The Hot Key Young Writers’ Prize launched today, and we are looking for storytellers who can open doors to new worlds for our readers. We welcome entries for the 9+ and 13+ age-ranges. Perhaps the 9+ age-range is sometimes seen as the quieter, shyer sister compared to her more sophisticated 13+ sibling? But there is so much to write about for our 9+ readers, such rich material. Remember the tipping point! Rich, funny, varied, magical, contemporary, please enter – we want them all! We cannot wait to read them.

The Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize is back!

The 2012 prize winners, publishing this September - this could be you!

The 2012 prize winners, publishing this September – this could be you!

Calling all young writers! Entries are now open for the Hot Key Books Young Writer’s Prize competition, supported this year by Kobo! If you are between the ages of 18 – 25 and have a story to tell to young readers, this competition is for you. For more information, click here to visit the Young Writers Page 2013 page and here to watch a video about the prize.

Hot Key Books Managing Director Sarah Odedina has written a blog below about why we chose to do this prize, in a world full of wonderful literary prizes…

Why another writing prize?  There seem to be an abundance of them, so what is different about ours at Hot Key Books?

When we were first planning to launch Hot Key Books, one of the things we very much wanted to do was publish fiction with real child and young adult appeal.  Books that would quench the reading appetites of lots of different sorts of readers, with lots of different sorts of interests. We were ambitious to publish books that really spoke to those readers from writers who had something new and exicting to say.

In thinking about the prize, we also very much wanted to encourage young writers.  Writers who were perhaps still reading the sorts of books we want to publish or had very recently stopped.  We are also very aware of how hard it is to get noticed as a young writer, without an agent and without any track record. So we wanted to offer aspiring authors the opportunity to have dialogue and interaction with a publisher.

The prize is simple in its ambitions.  To publish new, unpublished un-agented authors between the ages of 18 and 25.  Young writers who might find it hard to get their work noticed in the slew of submissions to agents and publishing houses and who are still learning their craft.  That is also why we reserve the right not to publish a winner, but to work with the best authors to help them learn the process of editing and the particularities of improving their work.

Hot Key Books is a list that aims to communicate directly with our readers and our authors and to make sure that there is dialogue between authors and readers.  The prize is another way in which we can build the dialogue and encourage young writers and readers to see the world of books as something that they can be involved in and in which they have a legitimate voice.

Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize is a way for us to share our knowledge of publishing and to encourage young writers as well of course to find great new talent for the list.  Our first year resulted in two great books being published.  We very much look forward to seeing what this year holds.

Passing judgement

Today’s blog is from author Will Hill, one of the judges from our Young Writers Prize panel. He originally posted this blog on his site here, but we thought it was so great that it warrants re-posting! He offers his perspective on the competition and the process below.

The winners of The Guardian Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize were announced on Tuesday, the climax of an almost year-long search for the best novels by young unpublished writers around the world. Click on each of the covers below to read synopses…

VIVIAN_hiresTHE RIG 300dpi

It was my great pleasure to serve on the jury, alongside Julia Eccleshare, Elen Caldecott, Jon Newman (from the brilliant Newham Bookshop) and Hot Key Publisher Emily Thomas. You can read about the entries and the schedule and everything else here, but essentially, young writers were asked to send in the opening of a novel they had either written or were working on – these were then sifted through and a longlist of writers were given until late 2012 to submit the completed manuscript. Those that managed to do so had their novels read and digested, and a shortlist was selected.

Which is where I, and the rest of the judges, came in. We had a couple of months to read, consider, and pick our favourites. Those favourites would win the categories, and receive the prize – publication on the Hot Key list. So no pressure, right?

The pressure was ramped up when I started reading the first of the shortlist, picked on nothing more than its title.

It was good. Really good.

I quickly read the first few chapters of them all, to give myself a feel for what was there, and my suspicions were confirmed. The standard was very, very high. On one hand this was a relief, as it’s impossible to predict what you will get whenever you do any kind of open submission or contest. If the contest had run six months earlier or later, the entries would no doubt have been very different, as writers found themselves at different stages in their processes. On the other hand, it was somewhat daunting, as the reality of having to judge other people’s work settled over me. I (metaphorically) rolled up my sleeves, and got to work.

I read one manuscript on the balcony of a hotel in Grenada, another on a long, turbulent flight to Los Angeles, two in a hotel in New York, and one on my sofa at home, barely three days before the judging panels were scheduled to gather and pick our winner. The range of voices, genres, characters and stories were fantastic, and every one of the manuscripts marked its author out as someone with talent. I went to the judging summit at the Hot Key offices unsure, wavering, ready to argue the corners of all the titles on the shortlist.

We gathered, ate, drank, and talked, and talked, and talked. And it gradually became clear that their was consensus among us – that two (very different) books had impressed us above the others. They were beautifully written, with clear narrative voices, three-dimensional characters, plots that delivered on two incredibly strong premises, and dialogue that crackled with life.

They were worthy winners.

Both books will be published on 5th September, and you should really read them when they’re out. If only so you can say that you knew about them before they both became successful and famous. Because they’re fantastic books – they really are. If you know me IRL, you’ll know how hard I am to impress. But these two books managed it, in spades.

The Guardian and Hot Key have agreed to run the prize again next year, which is also great news – if you’re an unpublished writer, keep an eye on this blog for all the information…

My own worst enemy

Joe DucieToday’s blog is by one of our Young Writer’s Prize winners, Joe Ducie. Joe won the prize for his novel, THE RIG. Follow Joe on Twitter and check out his other projects on his website. To read an excerpt of THE RIG, click here.

Whenever I sit down to write I always try to do so as quickly as possible. I don’t often plot. I rarely think more than a few chapters ahead—maybe a piece of an ending or a scrap of witty dialogue. I believe I write this way because if I slow down and get to thinking on the words hitting the page, seeing the words for words and not as a story unfolding, I will be overrun by the long shadow of doubt.

And doubt in writing is an insidious thing.

Sinister, menacing, doubt drives the finish line further and further into the distance—and reaching the finish line is, I believe, half the battle in storytelling. A half-finished story is like a piece of gristle caught in my teeth. Maddening. So I write fast, fast enough to get the bare bones of the story on the page.

When I submitted the first piece of my manuscript to the Guardian & Hot Key Books Young Writer’s Prize early last year, I did not expect to win. Indeed, I promptly put the competition out of my mind and worked on a series of other projects.

Until September.

An email arrived, inviting me to submit the entire story for consideration. This was both wonderful and a touch intimidating. You see, I did not have an entire story. I had promptly put the competition from my mind and worked on other projects. What I had was just the bare bones, and what I had done was failed to outpace the doubt. It had snared me not only insidiously but also rather cleverly. Putting the story from my mind after that initial submission was doubt winning the race.

So September was a month of fast writing, and whether it was something in the air or the inspiration stolen from that email, my imagination was clear, the days long, and the nights pleasant. I submitted the full manuscript a shade under the October deadline.

And this time I did not put it from my mind. This time it preyed on my mind for months.

And then March, another email—a fantastic email—from the good people at Hot Key Books, advising me that I had managed to outpace that crippling doubt well enough to be declared a victor of their magnificent competition. The email spoke highly of my story and came with strict instructions to keep hush about it until mid-April.

So of course I called and told my mother, because mothers are kind of important and I love mine very much. She was pleased, more than pleased—happy—and had not doubted me for a second.

A week or so later I found myself at the Hot Key offices in London and surrounded by the brilliant people that had chosen The Rig to be published. I felt a touch out of my depth, which doesn’t happen often in my line of work, but then this was not my line of work. This was a meeting about publishing my silly, doubtful words! Publishing a story that had been tumbling around in my head for years. Unexplored territory—well beyond the bare bones—but the Hot Key staff were encouraging, friendly, and I left that meeting wearing a pair of water wings to deal with this new-found depth. For which I am rather grateful.

So I guess I’m just hoping people enjoy reading my story as much, perhaps even more, than I enjoyed writing it. Doubtful, I know, because I had a blast from start to finish… But, well, I suppose I can stand being doubtful once in my life.

THE RIG 300dpi