An author or a polymath?

by Jo Franklin, children’s author

I was talking to someone the other day about all the different things I have been doing in preparation for the launch of Help I’m an Alien and I described myself as a multi-tasking author, but when I looked up multi-tasking I realised that it isn’t a totally accurate description. I do multi-tasking all the time – talking on the phone while typing an email etc. The frenetic activity over the last few weeks has been something on another level. Not only am I doing, but I am also learning as I go along.

I think I am a trainee polymath. I looked up polymath on and this is what it said

A polymath is a person who knows a lot about a lot of subjects. If your friend is not only a brilliant physics student but has also published a poetry collection and won prizes at political debates, you can describe her as a polymath.

I’m not brilliant at anything, but I am giving it a go. Here are some things I have been doing over the last few weeks.

  • Website designer – I’ve been jazzing up my website in case you hadn’t noticed
  • Illustration consultant – I’m in the lucky position of being consulted on the cover and illustrations for Help I’m an Alien (not all authors are). I can’t draw at all. My stick people look like discarded false eyelashes. But I can imagine what something should look like that and I have been sharing those imaginings with the designer and illustrator for Help I’m an Alien.

Help I'm an Alien

  • Film director – This is my first video. It has three parts : the alien jumping trailer, the main bit of me reading and the credits. Luckily I had some help from my children who have learned camera work at school.
  • Camera operator – I didn’t do much of this but I need to operate the camera myself in future. (And edit the film. So much to learn.)
  • Blogger – I’ve written loads of blog posts, for this site, for the stationery site Anita Loughrey and I set up recently, for Girls Heart Books (not only as a guest blogger but now as a regular monthly contributor) and for various other book bloggers including one in America who wanted me to talk about the US edition of Alien which is published by Clarion Books. I find it so boring  when an actor is promoting their new film and tells exactly the same stories to every chat show host. So I have tried to vary my blog posts as much as possible, which makes writing so many, even more challenging.
  • Doing stuff with images  – don’t ask me what. I don’t have Photoshop. I don’t know what I am doing but I am trying to do things with images to make my website, twitter and instagram look interesting. I need to learn more about using images and graphics, I’m stumbling through a the moment and it is all a bit random. Because I am so hopeless I liaised with Lou Millar who designed these for me.


  • Travel agent – have you ever tried booking multiple train tickets at a reasonable cost in this country? Total nightmare.
  • Writer – yes I have been doing some of this too because even though I am deep in promotion for Help I’m an Alien, I am also writing another book. No one can publish it if it isn’t finished. It’s not even in the right state to show it to my agent yet. It’s a great book. I want to write it.

So while I’m not an expert at any of these things I am having a jolly good try at all of them and probably a few more that I have forgotten about in the frenzy of my day.

The other thing it says about polymath in is

You can think of a polymath as a classic “Renaissance man.” Imagine Leonardo da Vinci, for example, who was not only an amazing artist, but also an engineer, inventor, mathematician, and much more. When a person’s knowledge covers many different areas, he or she is a polymath. The Greek word for it is polymathes, “having learned much,” with poly meaning “much,” and manthanein meaning “learn.

Jo Franklin AuthorHere that author friends? We are the modern equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci!

I wonder what he would have made of Help I’m an Alien?

I’d probably have been burned at the stake in the 15th Century for my crazy ideas.

Thank goodness I’m a 21st Century author. I like learning new things. It’s a challenge, but brilliant.

Partners in Crime – Martin West

Needless to say, in order for a book to be published, the author needs a publisher. The author is generally introduced to a publisher by their agent. This part of the agent’s job is similar to an estate agent – matching up wonderful manuscripts looking for a home with awesome publishers willing to give them one.

My publisher for Help I’m an Alien is Troika Books which is the brain child of Martin West.

Troika logo

Troika Books may not be the largest publisher in the UK, but with Martin at the helm I know I am in safe hands.

Martin West  his long career in children’s books at Oxford University Press and Blackie before launching his own list: Happy Cat Books. In 2005 he founded Catnip Publishing Ltd. and in 2006 it was shortlisted for the Independent Children’s Publisher of the Year. Martin later joined Ragged Bears in 2009.

Troika Books was launched in Spring 2013.

Martin kindly took a few minutes away from publishing Help I’m an Alien to answer a few questions for me.


  • Why did you decide to set up Troika Books?

I was spending a lot of time helping authors with self-publishing their writing. To this end I set up a company to provide distribution and sales. As I had the infrastructure in place I later felt it was time to join in with publishing my own list, with authors and illustrators of my choice

  • How many titles do you aim to publish a year?

As many as my budget allows. That was the plan. But it became clear that I needed to give writers space to develop their ideas rather than to rush into publication, that you have to work at the illustrations to get them right and be constantly checking text – time spent copy editing and proofreading is vital. And a good typesetter is invaluable. Cutting corners is a waste of effort. So publish less and do it well.

  • What is the greatest challenge facing a small publisher like yourself?

Finding time for everyone. Finding money to fund what I want to do. Finding new, non-traditional ways of selling. How to promote my list and get the books bought.

  • What are the qualities that make a great book?

The way a story is put together – plot, pace, dialogue. Are you desperate to pick it up and continue reading? Does it make you sob, or laugh. Don’t want it to end? And think of those things that will stay with you for ever – Alfie’s special stone, Bonting, that gets lost on the beach, Rosemary Wells’ Noisy Nora slamming doors, from picture books I adored sharing with my family because these were like things happening in our lives too.
Help I'm An Alien

When I wrote Help I’m an Alien, I had no idea if anyone would publish it or if they did, who would be my publishing partner in crime. I’m thrilled that it turned out to be Martin West.

I feel very privileged that of all the manuscripts in the world, Troika Books have chosen to publish mine. Help I’m an Alien is out now and there are two more books in the series to follow.

Head on over to the Troika Books website to find out about the rest of their amazing books.

My first video

Jo Franklin reading from Help I'm an Alien YouTube play

I’ve never made a video before. Luckily other members of my family have. Here is the result. Me reading an excerpt from Help I’m an Alien.

The reading part took three takes. The trailer was another matter altogether! Never work with children, animals or aliens.

Now all I need to do is

  • work out how to do it myself
  • get a proper microphone for the video camera
  • lose three stone.

Hopping About

It’s very hard to explain to non-writers how horrible it is for a writer to be not-writing. There are loads of reasons why writers might be not-writing today and even if those things are important they don’t make us feel better.

Reasons why a writer might not be writing today:

  • They are earning money at another job (not me)

  • They are looking after their family (my family would say this never happens, which isn’t true).

  • There is nothing we can do about this one, other than get better. It’s boring and frustrating.

  • 50 Shades of Writer’s Block. I guess I will have to write about this one day

  • Promoting another book. That’s me at the moment.

Help I’m an Alien comes out at the end of the month which is very exciting and I am trying to give it a helping hand in the world by adding to the work that my amazing publicist Andrea Reece is doing on my behalf.

This means a lot of hopping about.

frog jumping snipped

I am writing blog posts here and for other bloggers who have kindly taken an interest in my book. I’m trying to keep my blog posts fresh and interesting which means hopping from one thought to another to develop ideas I haven’t expressed before. Blog posts take a couple of hours to perfect. That’s a lot of hopping.

Kangaroo hopping snipped

I am also organising author talks and school visits which means lots of phone calls and emails as we thrash out arrangements. I have to investigate travel options and make sure there is someone to feed my children and walk my dog while I’m away. So more hopping about


Hopping about is the very worst thing a writer can do when they are working on a new book. Hopping about is the complete opposite of immersing yourself in your writing. Hopping about is why writers want a writer’s shack and sometimes have to go on writer’s retreat to clear their mind of all those hopping things so they can get on with their book.

Cricket jumping snipped


I suspected that promoting Alien would mess up my writing so I worked hard to get the first draft finished for 29th February. We had an extra day for leap year and I wanted to make the most of it. I met my deadline and felt very good about it.

I set myself a new target for completing the second draft and even though it looked like I had plenty of time, I’m not sure I am going to make that date.

Too much hopping about!

hare jumping snipped

I’m cross about this because I don’t miss deadlines, even self-imposed ones. And I’m fed up because writing is so important to me. I love the book I’m writing and I’m pleased with how it is going. I think other people might like it too. So not writing makes me feel horrible.

But good news! I have started working on my wip (Work in Progress) again. I sorted out some chapters and written lots of fresh words. I’m at the mid-way point and it feels great.

So from now on, I am absolutely determined to keep my hopping about to the afternoons until this draft is finished. Sorry if you need to get hold of me urgently, I am not answering emails or phone calls in the morning. I will be in my writer’s shack. Even though I don’t have one.