Partners in Crime – Andrea Reece

As we all know the road to publication is a long and windy one and right at the end of my journey I had the unexpected bonus of having a publicist. Andrea Reece. Strictly speaking she isn’t mine, she works for Troika Books among others. But as Help I’m an Alien is coming out at the end of May 2016 that means she is working on promoting my book. I can’t believe my luck.

The only downside is that I’m not use to having a publicist so I’m not very good at sharing the load. But I am really enjoying working with her because she has loads of useful contacts, great promotion ideas and is totally fantastic.

Portrait of Andrea Reece

Portrait of Andrea Reece

I caught up with Andrea recently and to find out more about her passion for children’s books.

Tell me about your career path. How did you become a publishing publicist?
It was a very long time ago, and a complete accident! I needed a job and a friend saw an advert in the Guardian for a job with Transworld working on their children’s list.  I had never thought about publishing, but applied, got it, and have never regretted it for a moment.       
What things might appear on your daily To Do list?
Writing press releases; pitching ideas; sending out photos and information; contacting bookshops, schools, libraries about book events; meetings with authors; cover discussions with my publishers; reading books!
What is the best part of your job?
When people say yes to an idea I’ve suggested; when I see people buying books I’m working on; reading books
What books do you read on holiday?
I was a Costa judge last year so took 14 of the nominated titles with me – happy to say I read them all! Don’t know what it will be this year, but suspect I’ll have another suitcase full of children’s books.

I’m not sure what I am going to do when Andrea moves onto another project and I am alone again. But I do have two more books coming out with Troika Books so hopefully we will get the opportunity to work together in the future.

Hooray for publicists!

You can follow Andrea on Twitter @reeceandrea

Partners in Crime – Anne Clark

All unpublished authors know the horrible feeling when an email arrives in their inbox from an agent they have recently submitted their precious manuscript to. It’s hideous! When I was submitting Help I’m an Alien I became totally inboxaphobic, in fear of what would come pinging over the internet.

Anne Clark

My fantastic agent Anne Clark

One day about six emails, various subjects, landed at once. One of them was from Anne Clark. She had recently set up a new literary agency and I was hoping that as she had a hungry list, she would at least look at my submission seriously.
‘Another rejection! I’m not opening that,’ I said to the cat and left the email untouched. I didn’t need another kick in the teeth right at the moment, but the flipping thing kept glowering at me, daring me to open it.
It took me an hour to pluck up the courage to click and . . .

Hi Jo
Thanks for sending me Help! I’m an Alien. It made me laugh, and I’d like to have a look at the rest of it if I may.
Would you mind emailing the complete MS to this address?

I’d made an agent laugh! Suddenly I was zinging.
‘Would you mind emailing the complete MS?’ Those words were the best words ever!
I screamed, I danced, I scared the living daylights out of the cat.

Tom kitten

Tom Kitten

I was only one step closer to finding an agent, but it was a big step. I knew that despite all my best efforts, the beginning of the MS was the weakest part. I was absolutely convinced Anne was going to like the full book.
She did!

Anne helped me sort out the weakish beginning and the rest is history.
That was three years ago. Even with an agent behind you, living in the world of publishing is full of dark moments as well as sparks of delight. I am so lucky to have Anne by my side showing me the way. She was my first professional partner in crime and I hope that we will have a long and happy career together.

Recently we had a chat about her life as an agent :

  •         Why did you choose to set up your own agency?

It was time for a new adventure which involved my favourite things – working with authors and getting great books out into the world for children and teenagers to read.

  •          I was thrilled that you picked up Help I’m an Alien from the slushpile. What was it that drew you to the story in the first place?

It made me laugh! But I particularly loved the warmth of your humour, and the way that the comedy grows out of your spot-on observations of how real-life boys interact with their families and friends.

  •          An agent’s job is very varied, which is your favourite part?

Finding a gem among my submissions. Settling down to read the latest MS from one of my clients and finding it’s as good as I’d hoped. Finding that a publisher loves a book as much as I do, and clinching a deal.

A selection of Anne Clark's clients

A selection of Anne Clark’s clients

  • I know you get loads of submissions a week. How do you deal with your submission inbox?

Decisively! By now I can tell fairly quickly if I’m going to be interested in a submission, so I don’t dither.

  •          Unpublished writers always want to know what individual agents are looking for or what the next trend will be. Can you offer any advice?

It’s usually not a great idea to try to write what someone else wants, unless of course they are offering you a commission! If you set out to follow a specific trend, the chances are that things will have moved on by the time your MS is ready. However, it’s a very good idea to keep up with new and successful books in your age group and genre (bestsellers as well as prize-winners), so that you have a feel for what is actually working in the market. And do be aware that every new book needs a hook – something that makes it different and special. Then write what you want to write. Good luck!

Isn’t she lovely? If you would like to submit to her, head on over to her website and read her submission guidelines.

Look out for my next partner in crime post- my publisher Martin West from Troika Books.

Things I didn’t know in the 80’s

Following on from my post about the dream of owning a writer’s shack I found myself thinking more about the differences between my dreams of being a writer and the reality.

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

If you read the About Me page, you will see that Sylvia Plath was a great inspiration. She was even more nuts than me, she was able to write about it and sell her work. I wanted to be her. As it turned out the reality of being a published author is completely different to my dream. It is much better.



Some things I didn’t know when I wanted to be a writer in the eighties

  • You don’t have to be dead to be famous.
  • Most writers aren’t famous.
  • Most writers don’t want to be recognisably famous as they sometimes do the school run in their pyjamas.
  • Writing strictly autobiographical stories about your rubbish love life is totally cringeworthy.
  • Writer’s butt is worse than writer’s block. It sticks out behind you and makes your skirt shorter at the back than the front.
Some butts are bigger than others

Some butts are bigger than others

  • Some friends will beg to be in your books.
  • Some friends will stop being your friend, in case you put them in your book.
  • Some friends will unfriend you when you do put them in your book.

Being a writer isn’t all writing sheds and roses. It is so much better than that.

Feel free to comment on what you have learnt on your writer’s journey.

Partners in Crime #1 – Critique Group

Writing can be a very lonely business. I’m happy in my own company and often spend the core part of the day not talking to anyone (except myself and my dog). I’ve always had a hankering to be an eccentric recluse in a writers hut, but I suspect the reality of being so isolated would drive me mad.

Once my writing starts looking like a book, I get other people involved in the process. I have a number of Partners in Crime who feature at different stages of the creation of a completed project – my agent, my publisher, my publicist and my illustrator. Do come back and read about the others, but first of all I want to introduce you to my critique group.

Emma Styles, Tasha Kavanagh, Alli Jeronimus, Jen Miles and me.

Me, Tasha, Alli, Jen

Me, Tasha, Alli, Jen

Me, Tasha, Alli and Jen at Tasha’s launch party. (Emma was working that night)

The exact membership of the crit group has changed over time, but this particular line up has been going strong for a few years. We currently meet every two weeks during term time at a secret location on the South Bank.

I asked the team about their experience of being in our critique group.

Tasha : It’s great when you get to know a group of writers well. Beyond the obvious – ie the great feedback – the support and camaraderie is invaluable.
Alli : I can bring a plot problem to you four and I know I’ll leave with it sorted.
Jen : I love (and dread) hearing your comments on my work and learning from them  – sometimes things are pointed out that I’m amazed I didn’t see myself. That’s both brilliant and annoying.
Emma : Mostly that I am never alone when working on something and always have a team on my side.


Emma in one of the exotic locations she writes about

Interestingly we all struggled to come up with a negative thing to say about being a member of the group.

I guess that is why we have been together so long, with no sign of stress.

Although, I’ve been pointing out the overuse of rhetorical questions for three years and they still ignore me which sends me slightly insane, but hey – it’s their book!

Sometimes there can be a danger of ‘writing for the critique group’. It can happen in a classroom situation where the tutor has to be strict on time. Writers tend to write short chapters, all ending on the same note. I don’t believe that happens with our group. Probably because we read each other’s work so regularly and often look at a chunk of 5,000 words at a time, so we’d pick up on that sort of thing.
For most of us, this is our only regular critique group. With the exception of Jen.

Jen says ‘I belong to three critique groups. I’m a crit group junkie… all very different in approach and experience, though similar comments often come up.’
Receiving feedback can be quite intense so everyone tries to take time to digest the comments before they wade in and make changes, but I guess it depends on where we are in the writing/submission cycle. Most people end up finishing their book and sending it out before the group have reached the final chapter. So there is a chance that we don’t actually get to read the whole book until it is published.This group has spawned two book babies so far.Help I'm An Alien

Crit Group Book Babies




We meet in a public space on the South Bank so now bring our own lunch. I asked everyone what they like to eat on a Friday.

Tasha  :   Uh… anything or nothing. Except now I’m vegan, so mostly chips.
Alli   :  Sushi. And then I steal bits of the Brownies Jo brings. [NB that is why Alli is slim and I am not]
Jen  :  Part of the pleasure is the jaunt to the Southbank, and I treat myself to yummy stuff either from the food market or the café inside.
Emma  :  I’m never organised enough to bring something from home, but I am partial to a cheese and pickle sandwich and a bowl of fries with mayo…
Jo  :  I love the opportunity of eating a meal cooked by someone else. My favourite is the vegetarian dosa from the Friday food market behind the Festival Hall and the gluten free brownies from the cookie/cake stall.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my amazing critique group.
The next installment of my Partners in Crime series will be all about my lovely agent.

Questions. Questions.

I spend my life looking at what I’ve written and striking a line through my words. Writing is all about editing. Inevitably my critical eye transfers to other people’s work, whether published or not. I’m not a punctuation pedant and I barely know the difference between a noun and a verb (and while I’m at it, should that be barely or bearly? I really don’t know.)

But I do have some pet hates in other people’s writing and top of my list is rhetorical questions – questions asked outside of dialogue, that are not immediately answered.

Jessie cropped

Jessie by Aaron Blecha

It is as if the character is asking me, the reader, for my opinion and it takes me out of their viewpoint and the action. I always encourage writers I mentor to find an alternative way of expressing the doubt in a character’s mind. So …
‘What am I going to do about the train that is going to derail any minute?’ 
Could become
‘I didn’t know what I was going to do about the train that was going to derail any minute, but it was going to be messy.’
‘The train was about to derail any minute and I could do nothing about it.’

Sometimes writers bunch their rhetorical questions in a cluster.
‘I didn’t know what was going on. Why was Dad acting weird? Who was the guy with the scarred face? When was the pizza going to arrive?’

Too much uncertainty!

Mickey with questionmarks


I need to know that the character knows what’s going on or at least that the character knows that they don’t know.

It is the character’s problem, not mine. I’m rooting for them to fix the issue. I don’t want to have to do it for them and I don’t want to stop reading and wonder why Dad is acting weird.

Bunched rhetorical questions are often a sign that the author doesn’t know what is going on themselves. Which is okay in first drafts, when the writer is thrashing out the plot, but I think they should be ironed out in subsequent drafts. That’s what editing is all about, writing the story in the most compelling way and I find rhetorical questions take my attention away from the words written on the page.

For me, the very worst crime is posing a rhetorical question on page one. The opening of a novel should be about grabbing the reader’s attention, introducing a character we are going to love in a believable location. The writer needs to drag the reader away from the television and into the book.

The opening page is not the time to plant the seed of doubt in the reader’s mind.

What if the reader decides NOT to read on?
Help I'm An Alien

Artwork by Aaron Blecha

So are rhetorical questions completely banned? Of course not.

I thought I better check out where I used questions in my own work, so I opened my Help I’m an Alien manuscript and searched for ‘?’ There are 314 question marks in 28,000 words. Over three hundred of them appear in dialogue. Which is the best way to have your character raise a question. It’s not left hanging with no one to answer it. Even if the character’s best friend answers ‘I don’t know’, the question is contained within the story not dumped on the reader.

Another great way to use a question is as a cliff hanger at the end of a chapter
‘Was she trying to tell me I was adopted?’

Or when the character is questioning someone else’s motives. When my character is accused of being an alien by his sister he poses the question in his head and provides an immediate answer.
‘What did she mean? Aliens didn’t exist.’
He is doubting her, not himself.Another way I use questions in Help I’m an Alien is to directly ask the reader a question.
‘Who gives out oranges instead of sweets at Halloween?’
‘Did I mention, I always wanted a computer of my own?’
I use these questions because I want to collude with the reader on the unfairness of the world.
I think it’s worth running a search on ‘?’ in your own work. Where are you using questions? Why are you using questions? Could you rewrite that sentence in a more compelling way, rather than dumping the character’s anxiety on the reader?
My advice is to try and keep rhetorical questions to a minimum.
PS my critique group know that rhetorical questions are one of my pet hates. I point them out in their work all the time. I am a rhetorical question pedant.
My lovely critique buddy Alli Jeronimus wanted me to tell you that the other week I made a comment on her work ‘I think you should ask a rhetorical question here.’
She nearly killed me

Stationery Addicts of the World Unite

Are all authors stationery addicts? I certainly am. One of the rules of this house is ‘Don’t take anything from the stationery cupboard’. My daughter sometimes begs to open the door and peek inside, but I only let her under close supervision.

I did let Anita Loughrey look inside once. She sat on the floor, opened the doors and marveled at the contents. I knew she was my true friend when she didn’t ask me to give her a single thing from my collection.

Anita is my kind of stationery addict.

She was also the perfect choice to accompany me to the London Stationery Show. We were hoping to worship at the altar of stationery and maybe pick up a few freebies along the way. But because it was a trade show, I felt a bit of a fraud which is why I suggested we set up Papers Pens Poets,

‘The place for writers and other stationery addicts to share their passion for papers and pens.’

Anita has written her own blog about the experience which you can read here.

It was a mad few days. Here is a rough timeline of what we did when. It’s amazing what you can do when you have passion and a tight deadline.


  • 16.37 Jo ‘Let’s create a blog and call it Papers Pens Poets’
  • 16.38 Anita ‘Yes let’s do that.’
  • 17.00 Register domain name.
  • 17.30 Create email address
  • 17.31 Jo start fiddling around with business card designs
  • 17.35 Anita gathers inspirational author/stationery quotes to use on cards

Family time

  • 21.00 Jo has crisps for tea.
  • 22.00 Jo sends first roughs of business card to Anita.
  • 22.30 Jo convinces herself the card design is boring so makes a new one

We both go to bed after midnight


  • 7.30 Anita says she prefers the first card design.
  • 9.30 Jo places express order for 50 cards with

Jo goes to her writing critique group. Anita gets on with real work.

  • 18.00 Jo discovers that Weebly have redesigned their interface. Help!
  • 21.00 Jo registers with every free website hosting site in the universe and eventually decides to design the site in WordPress.

Saturday (NB Jo’s daughter’s 14th birthday sleepover weekend)
The whole day is spent with frantic phone calls between Anita and Jo. Jo designs the site while Anita works on the content.
12.00 Anita creates @paperspenspoets on twitter
Ideas are flowing thick and fast and clogging up both email boxes. This thing is going to work!
15.00 Jo bakes a birthday cake
Jo walks her dog by taking him to Liverpool Street Station to collect the Moo business cards. They look great

Anita schedules the first blog post for Monday morning.
Last few glitches ironed out. We’ve done it!
We launch the site and have 435 views on the first day. It’s a success!
We have a brilliant day at the London Stationery Fair and give out 50 business cards.Papers Pens Poets is a tremendous success. We’ve written reviews and articles. We’ve interviewed some authors and have a queue of others begging to be featured on our site. Do get in touch if you want to be interviewed about your love of stationery.Next job : Learn how to keep Papers Pens Poets in it’s place. Meanwhile we are having a blast.

When is a writer not a writer?

When I first started writing, I had two ambitions.
1) To be published so that others could enjoy my books and think I was a genius (ha!).
2) To become an eccentric recluse and live in my very own writer’s shed with a telepathic butler to deliver exactly the right food to my door at exactly the right time.
My dream writer’s shed would look something like this one designed by John Seely and Paul Page situated at Mottistone Manor, Isle of Wight.
mottisfont manor shed Mottisfont manor shed interior snipped
Oh dear, I really did have a lot to learn.Now that Help I’m an Alien is about to hit the shelves I have had to  :

  • Learn how to build and maintain my own website.
  • Become an accountant so I can prove to HMRC how little money I earn.
  • Get to grips with Twitter. You can follow me on @jofranklin2 to see how unsuccessful I have been.
  • Be even more punctual than usual because I’m often booked on a non-flexible, non-transferable, but very expensive train journey.
  • Become a competent photographer and learn how to edit photos to squeeze them onto social media NB I learnt how this morning and have now forgotten.
  • Try and network professionally. I’m still struggling with this one. If I go to a party I’m more likely to befriend the waitress than the high powered publishing executive.
  • Be able to work eighteen hour days, seven days a week because there is so much to do.
  • Work hard at keeping everyone happy, including my agent, publisher, family and dog.
Help I'm An Alien

Artwork by Aaron Blecha

Luckily, since Help I’m an Alien has moved from being my fantasy to being a reality, I have had some help.

I’m interviewing my critique group, my agent, my publisher, my publicist and my illustrator over the coming weeks to shed some light on what they do and to share with you what role they have played in creating the published version of Help I’m an Alien, because I couldn’t have done it on my own. Do come back and see what they have to say.

Being a published author has nothing to do with being an eccentric recluse, but I love it anyway.

Notebooks and Notebooks

Despite being a total stationery addict, I have never been able to create a traditional writer’s notebook. My notes are too scruffy for Moleskine etc and I am always in too much of a hurry to warrant using a notebook from my special collection. I write copious amounts in cheap spiral bound books and rip out the paper once it’s all typed up. My working method means that I trash notebooks.

However I am starting researching a new series that delves into an area I don’t know much about. It probably won’t get written for 6 months or more, so I am cracking open one of my ‘too lovely to write in’ notebooks with the intention of filling it with notes and ideas.

leuchtterm notebook medium
It’s a Leuchtturm1917 in pale blue. A5 lined, it has two ribbon place holders, a Moleskine type wallet at the back, a table of contents, a few perforated pages that can be torn out and an elastic closure. The 249 numbered pages of gorgeous acid free paper terrify me (am I ever going to have enough to fill them?), but I am determined to be a grown up and run a proper writer’s notebook for once.

I’m going to keep it with my research books so that I always have it at hand when I want to make a note. I only hope that the beauty of the stationery won’t stifle my creativity.  I’m going to try not to worry if I need to cross things out, even though it seems like sacrilege to deface the beautiful pages. I’m hoping that I will be calmed by the cool colour and the smooth paper. If I’m feeling stressed I will stroke the cover. I’m going to be a grown up author for once.

I’ve made these pledges before, but never stuck to them! Hopefully this time it will be different. When I come to start writing the next book, I will be armed with a notebook crammed with information and ideas and it will be the best book I have ever written. Wish me luck!

If you are a stationery addict like me, I recommend you check out for an amazing selection of awesomeness.

Films are stories too

I really like going to the cinema. I’m not a film buff and if you asked me who directed, or even who starred in a film I had just seen, I wouldn’t be able to answer. I’m not into the cinema for the celebrities. I’m into it for the story and the visuals.
ED picture house snippedRecently a new cinema has opened on my doorstep. The East Dulwich Picturehouse is a great addition to my life. It has three screens, a cafe and shows films I want to see.
I am a freelance author which means if I knuckle down and work flat out in the morning, I can justify going to the cinema in the afternoon.
Ed picture house board snipped
While the East Dulwich Picturehouse was being built, the owners encouraged people to become founding members. This meant joining the cinema before it had opened as a way of raising some funds. In return, founding members have their name on a board inside.
Can you find me?
Sometimes I go on my own and sometimes I arrange to meet a friend. This week I went to see ‘The Big Short’ (Certificate 15) with Rosie. It was a great movie. A lesson in how to tell a story about a subject, the financial crash, that could have been dry and boring.
  • Focus on a few characters and their personal story.
  • Make them vulnerable in some way while the other characters are portrayed as odious, greedy or ignorant.
  • Use trashy interludes to explain the technical terms and make it clear to the audience that you know they are trashy.

Trust me it works.

Dump the P Words and Get Writing

November is National Novel Writing Month or Nanowrimo. People all other the world sign up to completing a novel within a month. I don’t sign up for it because I normally start writing a new book in September having had a break over the Summer holidays, but I like the idea of Nanowrimo as it helps you focus on writing.There are many factors to being a writer that writes rather than a resting writer (the same as a resting actor but with more guilt). As it happens many of these factors begin with the letter P so here are my thoughts on dumping the P words.

Make writing a PRIORITY in your life. Tell people you are a writer. Get on and write. I had a ten year hiatus from writing and during that time I stopped telling people I was a writer because I was embarrassed that I hadn’t written a word for years.

I regret those years now, because if I had been using that time to PRACTISE my craft I might have become a better writer earlier. Musicians spend hours practising to get the piece write and the same applies to writing. I suggest write every day or at least most days. Get the words on the page and keep the flow going. It’s much harder to write after a break, says one who knows.

PUT yourself first. So what if you are a parent or a carer or a CEO of a multinational company. Or all three. If you are a writer you need to put your writing-self first sometimes. It’s not selfishness. It’s self preservation. You will lose your touch if you don’t write.

PROTECT your writing time. If you have defined hours when you write, it’s easier to protect that time. Tell your family and friends and ask them to respect your writing hours. If the phone rings, don’t answer. When you return the call later, tell them  you weren’t able to come to the phone because you were writing. Ask them not to call at that hour again. At home have a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign outside your writing cave.

When my children were small, I often got up at 5am in the school holidays to write. They knew I couldn’t be disturbed until 8am. I could hear them on the other side of the door saying ‘It’s ten to eight. We’ve got ten minutes.’ And they would sit on the stairs until eight o’clock before bursting in to demand breakfast. Not ideal, but at least I got my writing hours in before I had to switch back to being a parent.
NB Parent is not a writing P word. It’s a non-writing word and should be avoided if at all possible!

Be PROFESSIONAL. So you are not earning any money from your writing – yet, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it as a job. A second job maybe, but still a job. If you ever sell a book, the money you receive is an advance against sales. It isn’t compensation for the hours/days/years you have spent creating your masterpiece. Don’t bother working out your hourly rate, you will weep at the dismal figures. There is no such thing as the minimum wage for authors. If you don’t be professional in your approach to writing, submitting or working with publishers, you will never get paid anything. Start as you mean to go on.

Banish PROCRASTINATION. Work out what your procrastination vices are and deal with them. Turn off the internet, get someone else to do your housework, only shop outside of your writing hours.

I have suffered from procrastination-itus on and off over the years. For me it is all about fear of failure and that usually strikes when I don’t have faith in what I am doing. The best way to regain your faith is to do all of the Ps above and then share your work with your PEERS. My critique group is at the heart of my writing practice. I couldn’t do it without them. They bolster me up when I am feeling down and if I do nothing else, I write something to discuss with them when we meet.

Despite my fear of failure, I don’t suffer from PERFECTIONISM, but I know plenty of people who do. I think writing a first draft quickly whether in the wrapper of Nanowrimo or not, is the best way forward. For me, all the work goes into the second draft which takes a lot longer than the thirty days of November. You can read about my writing process in earlier blog posts.

If you suffer from serious perfectionism it can be totally paralyzing. I can’t offer any advice on this, but maybe someone who has overcome their perfectionism will comment below.

The most important thing is to get your PEN and PAPER out and make a start. I’ve just treated myself to this little bundle of loveliness from and I’m going to give it a go now.

NB Buying green sparkly ink – that’s how you turn PROCRASTINATION into a POSITIVE move towards words.