Category Archives: Opinion

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

While interning at Hot Key Books last week, I was invited to write a blog post for their blog. I was inspired to write about adult themes in children’s literature after reviewing notes from the Parent Parlour, a parents conference held by Hot Key

Adult themes in children’s literature are nothing new. From allegorical tales such as those of Dr. Seuss, to historical novels such as GOODNIGHT MR.TOM by Michelle Magorian and WITCH CHILD by Ceila Rees (both of which I read and loved as a child) children’s stories that explore issues of war, politics, poverty, even genocide have always found their way on to bookstore shelves. But is this difficult genre beginning to over-saturate the children’s market, and how dark is too dark?


During my week interning with Hot Key Books, one of the tasks I undertook was typing up notes from a parents conference held by Hot Key. The message from the parents was unanimous; they were concerned about appropriateness of the reading material that was readily available to their children. These concerns have even bred the term ‘sick lit’, attributed to books whose portrayal of harrowing themes such as torture and emotional abuse might be considered explicit or gratuitous.

For myself personally, as someone whose favourite books as a young teen were about apartheid (the wonderful NOUGHTS AND CROSSES series by Malorie Blackman), and who as a late teen cut their hipster lit teeth on Chuck Palahniuk (seriously NOT suitable for kids!), I feel that relaying social commentary in children’s lit is both appropriate and effective –if, and it’s a big if – those themes are delicately handled.

A young narrator can often allow an author to approach difficult topics with innocence and a lack of bias that only exists in the young and un-jaded. Maybe there’s a sense of idealism there; if we thought like children, wouldn’t the solutions to our worldly problems seem so much simpler?

Books with adult themes have a huge cross-over audience; Hot Key’s own MAGGOT MOON by Sally Gardener has both children and adult editions, and I vividly recall my Grandma lending me her copy of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon when I was 11 years old. I think that the ability to share the joy of books between families and across generations is something really quite special.


What I love most about children’s books that touch on adult themes is that they treat children like the intelligent and curious people that they are. Some of my favourite films are children’s movies that have the same kind of respect for their young audience; one being the beautiful adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, directed by Spike Jonze. In fact, I even gave a presentation on this film as part of my degree in Fine Art earlier this year.

In my experience working with kids in the past, I’ve often found that they have a huge capacity to cope with and understand difficult subjects, though of course, as with all things, there needs to be a line. There’s a big difference between tackling a difficult topic in an age-appropriate manner, and writing horror into children’s novels in an attempt to push the envelope.

What do you think about adult themes in kid’s books? Do you have any favourites from when you were younger, or any which you’ve read recently? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

 Originally posted 29th March 2013 at

Being a Publishing Student

The reason I chose to study Publishing depends on the person asking the question; to prospective employers I study Publishing to develop a career in the industry, to family it is because I want a job that I enjoy, to friends it’s because I couldn’t decide between English and Marketing.

The honest answer is simple, shallow and nerdy: I love to read.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not ashamed to admit it – I’m just not convinced that it is satisfactory reasoning for doing a three year degree in it and effectively having my career determined by it.

Nonetheless, here I am; a finalist student of Publishing with English at Loughborough University, because I love books… and eBooks and magazines and e-zines and newspapers and blogs and even leaflets that people hand out in the street (weird, I know).

When people ask what I study and I say Publishing, they invariably pull a puzzled face and ask what that involves. I have been on this course for three years and I still haven’t developed a concise answer to that question. What does a Publishing student do? The easiest answer is ‘we learn how books are made’; but this doesn’t even begin to cover it. We learn what is happening in the Industry, and I don’t mean just the book trade; we cover information management on a broad scale.

We learn how to market, design, produce, organise (in theory and in practice!), we learn to index, build websites, present ideas, copyedit, proof read, we learn to spot good ideas and criticise bad ones, we cover legal issues, we study human resource management, we explore historical and technological developments and we learn HTML and XML. Oh, and on top of all that, we do a Minor in English.

To anyone that has ever suggested that this course is easy because it is not maths or engineering; you are wrong. Full stop.

If you consider taking a course like this one, prepare to see mistakes everywhere; typos on posters, inconsistencies in storylines, overlapped elements on websites, paper with high lignin quantities (yes, it gets specific). The point is that errors and irregularities stand out like a muggle in the Forbidden Forest. And on that note I should point out that industry-related references become a lovable way of life.

The Future of Bookselling

Many experts, scholars and lovers of the book trade have prophesied that the book market is following the path of the music business, notably with the rise of technology. If this idea is true, then the collapse of chain-giant music store HMV should serve as a huge wake-up call to the publishing and bookselling industry. Everyone involved in the publishing market should take the advice of Sam Husain (CEO of Foyles Bookstore): “Let’s not leave it until its [sic] too late”.

Husain wrote a letter to The Bookseller to present some strong home truths about the publishing industry. One of the main concerns is that publishers are basing their bookseller discount policies upon the volume of sales made and are neglecting the value of intangible assets. The consequences are that online retailers and supermarkets are enjoying much higher discounts than bookstores are, leaving the industry in an infinite loop: the bigger the discounts online retailers and supermarkets gain; the lower the prices they can offer to customers; the more customers they are attracting; the bigger the discounts they are gaining and so forth. Unfortunately, bookshops are travelling in the exact opposite circuit.

The publishers’ discounting policies make logical business sense for the here-and-now when considering the UK economy’s fundamental short term ideals. However, it is huge worry that publishers are failing to examine the broader prospects of the industry as a whole; in this case the future seems frighteningly formidable.

As a result, bookstores are being forced to plan for the future. The main attempt at a solution is diversification, for example some branches of Blackwells have incorporated coffee shops onto their premises (eg, the Leeds branch has a Costa Coffee). Another chain to differentiate is WHSmith, selling a large range of stationary, gift cards and snacks- although I have heard several people criticise this business model, with suggestions that the branding is confused.

Generally, people are neglecting the fact that bookstores offer an invaluable service to society. Bookshops surround the public with reading materials, with the presence of physical shops and with advertisements that ultimarely encourage adults and children to read. Bookstore assistants provide a point of contact for information about books, whether that be facts about educational reading or recommendations for pleasurable reading. The touch, scent and feel of browsing bookshop shelves is a much more pleasurable experience than browsing on a none-atmospheric screen. It is an underrated fact that bookstores offer more than simply an outlet for book buying.

If the industry is not somehow reformed and bookshop revenues continue struggle, the stark reality might just leave society with the old cliché, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’

Is the Publishing Industry Too London-centric? By Sophie Pallier

One of our Publishing finalists, Sophie Pallier, discusses whether the UK publishing industry is too London-centric: