Book Penpals – October Newsletter

Hello Book Penpals

How are you getting on with the new term? Do you have a new class or have all your friends moved with you?

Friends are very important. Especially for authors like me. Being an author is brilliant because it means my work is also my passion. But writing books is lonely work and I have to spend many hours sitting in the library or at my desk with no one to talk to. So I love it when I get the chance to catch up with my author friends.  Here is a picture of some of my very best friends. We are at the launch party for Chitra Soundar’s picture book ‘You’re Safe With Me’ illustrated by Poonam Mistry.

We all write books for children but our books are very different. Why don’t you check our our websites to see the differences in our work.

Left to right Savita Kalhan, Anita Loughrey, Chitra Soundar, Me

I bet at school you are never alone. Do you love to run out into the playground at break and catch up with all your friends? Or do you have an indoor space like the library to chat quietly?

Today I am going to meet my critique group at lunch time to chat about what we have been writing this week and then I am meeting Anita (above) for afternoon tea. But before I go I need to pop my postcards with my book recommendations in the post.

Hope you have a good October. It will soon by half term. See you on the other side.

Best wishes

Jo Franklin

Book Penpals September 2018

Book Penspals newsletter September 2018

Dear Book Penpals,

Welcome to the new school year. What are you looking forward to most this year?

Even for authors like me, September feels like the beginning of the year. This term I’m planning on starting a new book. I can’t tell you what it is yet because I’m not sure myself. I’m hoping that it is Book 2 about my dog Mickey, but that depends on a new publisher asking me to write it. I’m waiting to hear from them so please keep your fingers crossed for me. If that doesn’t happen then I need to start writing something new. I have an idea but have to work out the details.

Here is the French cover for the book about Mickey.  I hope you like it as much as I do. Are you able to translate the title? I call this book Totally Dogless but sadly it is not published in English yet so if you want to read it, you will have to learn French.

Jamais sans mon chien

As a beginning of term present, I am sending you a copy of Help I’m an Alien for your class library. If you read it and like it then it would be great if you could ask permission to leave a review on Amazon. The more reviews the better. Who is your favourite character in the book? Why don’t you have a class vote and send me the results.

My book recommendations this month are featured on the postcards I have sent you.  There is a different one for each of my three schools. These books are classics. That means they are books written some time ago, but still in print and enjoyed by children today. ‘In print’ means that a book is still being printed, marketed and sold to booksellers. Thousands of books are published a year so books don’t stay in print forever otherwise the choice would be overwhelming in the bookshop or library. If you discover that a book you want to read is out of print then you can try and buy it second hand. Sometimes second hand books are more expensive than new ones.

I have set you a literary challenge on the back of your postcard. I’d be very interested to hear how you get on.

If you’d like to write to me please use the contact me form or if you just want to leave a short message then use the comments section on this blog post



When I imagined myself being a professional author, I thought I would be sitting around all day  in my velvet dressing gown with my fountain pen and posh notebook, writing reams of perfect words in a Jane Austen type way. Of course in 2018, life isn’t like that at all.

Even though I do still write with a fountain pen (Lamy, italic nib) some of the time, I also have to embrace technology. I am no techno expert though and I’d be grateful for any tips from other authors on things they find useful in their daily life. Meanwhile here are a few things I have had to get to grips with to some extent or other.

Jo Franklin Fountain Pen

PC/Laptop/MaC equivalent

Okay, every author needs one. In fact many have two. Desktop for home use and laptop for everything thing else. Some use their laptop at home but I prefer to have a proper desk set up with large monitor and full sized keyboard to help with the ergonomics of being a writer. Many authors suffer from RSI or shoulder and neck problems and when they discuss their agonies on Facebook it soon becomes clear that they spend their writing hours on the sofa with a laptop balanced on their knees. So I keep my laptop for travel. It is gradually being usurped by my ipad mini and bluetooth keyboard which is smaller, lighter and works sufficiently well for me.

All the software that goes on the above

Gah! Where do I start?

  • Windows – version I don’t know
  • Microsoft Word to type up and format my scruffy words
  • Excel for my accounts and other things
  • Powerpoint for presentations.
  • WordPress – for my website and blog which I created myself – cue, round of applause.

I really struggle with image manipulation. I recognise the need for good quality, wide ranging, not too many megabyte pictures for my website, business cards, leaflets, banners etc But I think I have spent more time grappling with this more than I have on writing all my books together. The whole thing around image storage, the interface between my iphone, the cloud and the pc and anything to do with image manipulation is a mystery to me so don’t ask me what programs I use because I really don’t know. I stumble through a forest of clicks and end up with something.

Then there’s the (mostly) free apps or pc programs like

  • Canva which is good for the layout of leaflets etc I used it to create my website banner.
  • Jotform which I have used to create an online booking form for CWISL the author group I belong to.
  • Bitmoji which is a fun way to create a cartoon character that looks a little like me. I’ve got to liven up these blog posts somehow!

Jo Franklin bitmoji reading

  • Teleprompter which is a free autocue app on my phone, an essential addition to my repertoire for making videos. That reminds me …. I need to start getting to grips with making videos. Did I tell you I’m an author? I’m beginning to think that maybe I’m not.

Of course there are other products available. Do let me know if there is an app or pc program that you find invaluable as an author, teacher etc

Advanced features of the above software

One thing is certain, software programs are getting more and more sophisticated and it easy to think that you won’t ever need those advanced features but you’d be wrong. Even in Word an author needs to know how to use ‘Track Changes’ with confidence as this is often used as the main way for editors to communicate their thoughts to the author. Track Changes is ghastly! Probably because I don’t really know how to use it properly and I’m always worried that the editor is going to be able to see my feeble earlier drafts and all my spelling mistakes. My spelling is getting worse. Particularly with homophones.

Styles, Headers and Table of Contents are also really useful features in Word too. I use these in particular in my planning documents . It is clear when I try and explain these features to my students on my plotting course that they have never used them. Suddenly I have to turn into a Microsoft trainer and try and explain these features which is really difficult. There are loads of great tutorial on You Tube.

The navigation pane is also really useful. It is muddled up with the find and replace feature but it’s brilliant if you have used headers for each of your chapter titles. You can call up the navigation pane and have listed all your chapter headings on the left hand side of your screen. With one click you can navigate to any chapter you want to. This is also why I give my chapters names rather than just numbers. I need to be reminded what the chapter is about so I can navigate my way around my own manuscript.

Jo Franklin navigation pane for Help I'm a Detective

Navigation pane for my next novel Help I’m a Detective

Videos, video editing, YouTube

One of my good intentions for 2018 is to get to grips with videoing in a time efficient but effective way. Ha, ha, ha! I’ll get back to you later in the year on how I get on with it or whether I gave up.

So if you are an aspiring author looking to fill the hours while you wait for the rejections to come in, first of all write another book and secondly try and develop your tech skills so that when the day comes, you are ready to be an author in the 21st century. When you’ve worked out how to do all this stuff (and more) let me know will you, because I am still struggling. Bring back the quill pen!

Top Tips on Forming Your Own Writers Group

 Top Tips on Forming Your Own Writers Group

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I really can’t stress enough the importance of my writer’s critique group. My crit buddies are more than professional colleagues. They are also very close friends. But forming your own writer’s group from scratch can be tricky.

1 Nominate a leader

A group needs to be organised and led by a named individual. One way of ensuring that the group is led by the right person (ie someone you has the same ideas as you) is to become the leader yourself. However the leader should not be a dictator. Just because they are good at organising everyone doesn’t mean they are the best writer or that they give the best feedback. So even if you are in charge, remember to keep checking in with the other members of the group that they are happy with the way things are going.

Jo Franklin is the leader of the group

Me trying to be a positive leader


2 Decide the Aims/Rules/Parameters of the Writer’s Group

Agree at the beginning,

  • how often you are going to meet
  • how many people will submit work for comment at each meeting
  • how many words each submission will be
  • whether you are going to submit and read the work before the meeting and the deadline for submitting to other members.
  • rules for constructive feedback ( I thought everyone knew this but I have been caught out before. I probably need to do another blog post on this)
  • what to do if something goes wrong. Sadly this tends to fall to the leader to sort out any infighting. I suggest that the leader gains support from the other members before tackling a difficult member of the team. I probably need to do another blog post on this because when a critique group goes toxic, it is very unpleasant.

Alli and Emma snuggling up on our weekend away

3 Keep the group to a manageable number.

I think six is the ideal number. It’s a good number to fit around one table and gives you enough people for varied feedback even if one member of the group is ill. If it becomes apparent that one member is not able to commit to the group then look around for a replacement before the whole thing collapses.

4 Define the Genre for the Group

If possible, stick to one genre (or age group if writing for children) for the critique group. This will avoid any genre vs literary arguments and having to justify the language chosen if writing for children. There can always be flexibility if an established member of the group goes off at a tangent and starts writing outside the usual genre. However the group should reserve the right to ask someone to leave if they go off piste and the rest of the group don’t like it.

Jen knows how to enjoy herself

5 Recruitment of New Members

The membership of a critique group can be a bit like shifting sands. At times, people will leave and it will be necessary to recruit new members. The best way to find new members is by personal recommendation. The quality of an individual’s feedback is more important than the quality of their writing! It’s a good idea to draw up an list of expectations for a new member so that they know what they are letting themselves in for.

6 Balance

You should think of your critique group as a co-operative. Reading and critiquing other people’s work takes time. Time away from your own writing so a group works when everyone puts in the same amount of effort and hopefully gets the same level of reward in return. It is payment in kind. If someone repeatedly expects other people to critique their work but can’t be bothered to spend time to comment in return, resentment will start to form among other members. Resentment is bad!

Tasha – you don’t have to be mad to work hear but it helps

7 Trust

As you get to know each other you will soon learn who to trust. All writers need constructive, helpful feedback. Sometimes that feedback will hurt, but as long as the critic can back up what they are saying with hard evidence, you really should listen to what they are saying. That doesn’t mean you have to act on it, but you should listen, go away and digest what the person says. The chances are they have highlighted a problematic section of your work, even if they haven’t nailed the exact problem. So to instill trust, all feedback needs to be precise and constructive.

And if it all works out you will have a ready made guest list for your book launch and friends for life.

The gang together at my book launch

New Year – Bullet Journal

New Habit for 2018

I’m known as the organised one among my friends. I’m usually the one who organises a night out. I organise my regular writing critique group. I used to have a job as Project Manager so I guess it’s my natural instinct to be organised. But sometimes my organisation goes wrong. So this year, 2018, I am trying something new. I’m keeping a bullet journal.

Now bullet journalling isn’t new. If you do an internet search you will find all sorts of YouTube videos and Pinterest boards on how to do bullet journalling. You can add fancy patterns, Washi tape, different coloured inks to your spreads … but hang on a minute. Do you know what a bullet journal is?

Bullet Journal

A bullet journal can be all or one of these things :

  • A to do List
  • A diary/journal
  • An appointment calendar
  • A planner

And anything else you want it to be.

The idea is to have one notebook where you capture everything you want to achieve and to be organised in an attempt to make you achieve those things.

There are loads of brilliant planners on the market now. Kikki K have a very nice range

Kikki K Swedish Stationers Extrordinaire

And of course Paperchase can be relied on for gorgeous stationery. They have particularly good list pads

Paperchase Lists

But the problem with commercially produced journals and list pads is that they might not have the categories that you require. So you make your own and that’s a bullet journal.

My Bullet Journal

Now I am a complete beginner at bullet journalling and although I am organised, I am also well known for having great ideas and never following them through. But I am into the second week of the year and so far I am still with it.

I’m using a Leuchtturm A5 Bullet Journal with dot grid paper. But before you dash out to buy one, I suggest you buy any notebook with dot grid paper as it wasn’t worth the extra to get the bullet journal version. There are only a couple of extra features that you can put in yourself. I would recommend a Leuchtturm notebook though, because they have numbered pages and space for an index at the front, which are useful features for a bullet journal (as well as for general notebooks).

Jo Franklin Bullet Journal

My new bullet journal

Dot grid paper is useful because you can use the dots to create boxes if you need to and it can accommodate any sized writing.

I started off setting up a year planner

Help! my year looks very empty

Then I set up a monthly spread which includes my active projects – because I have so many, I’m worried I’m going to forget one – my daily habit tracker – I’ve already realised that I am not committed to doing a seven minute workout every day. I left a space for ‘Notes’ and ‘Buy’ but I’m not sure I will bother with these in the future. That’s the great thing about bullet journals, you create the spreads yourself so you can alter them at any time

Monthly Spread

I tried to get all fancy pants with a turquoise highlighter pen, but to be honest my bullet journal is never going to be a work of art so I probably won’t bother doing that again.

In week one, I create a weekly spread but hardly used it so I modified it for week two.

This will be useful for me. As I spend so many days on my own at home, I can forget appointments which take me out of the house. Hopefully by creating my own week at a glance, I will get better keeping the shape of the week more firmly in my head.

But the main thing for me is the daily To Do List.

I run Todoist on my pc and phone which is a brilliant app by the way, but I am really bad at marking tasks complete that I haven’t really done or just constantly moving them forwards to the next day. I am going to keep Todoist going but hopefully by writing out the tasks that haven’t yet been done, I will be more mindful of what I am supposed to be doing and more importantly, what I am putting off.

The idea is that at the end of every day, I go through my list and mark off what I have done, move forward anything left outstanding and schedule longer tasks into my diary. I also have to do this in Todoist. In this case, doubling up the effort is helping me stay on track.

There are certain marks which are used in bullet journalling but of course you can make up your own ones :

.   means To Do

x   means Completed

<  indicates that the task has been scheduled so doesn’t need to be carried forward to tomorrow

>  means carry forward the task to tomorrow

You can make up other ones. For example you might want to add thoughts or other notes to your list that you transcribe to a different notebook.


So am I going to stick with bullet journalling for the whole of 2018? I don’t know, but I like it at the moment and I can see this habit evolving. And of course it is very satisfactory to tick off a task which has been completed. Monday Blogpost – Complete.

Happy New Year 2018

Happy New Year 2018 Fireworks in London (from BBC)

Happy New Year 2018 and thanks for dropping by.

A new year means new beginnings, resolutions and good intentions. 2017 was a very tough year for me in my personal life so I am very pleased to leave it behind and look forward to fresh horizons. As with anyone who takes a hit on the personal front, my work life has suffered over the last twelve months and I start the new year looking forward to getting back to the focus of being an author.

As I have said in other posts, being an author is not all about writing. There are a lot of other aspects to the job – including writing blog posts! So my current Open Projects List looks like this :

  • Series fiction proposals – this is my creative focus for the beginning of the year. I’d love to write and sell one of my zany series fiction ideas to a major publisher.

Move over Famous Five and Beast Quest!

  • Devise sessions for an after school club – I’m delighted to have been asked to run a creative writing club at a school in Forest Hill. I hope to be able to share some of their work later in the year.
  • Write a day course for adults. I teach creative writing part-time at The City Lit in London and I am running a course in early February so I need to put the materials together.
  • CWISL – I belong to a group of authors called CWISL – Children’s Writers and Illustrators for Stories and Literacy – we work together to deliver literary events for children. I’m joint webmaster for CWISL and I’m also jointly responsible for creating the annual literary quiz
  • Review my website (this one) and build a new one to promote my services as a literary mentor to aspiring children’s authors. So if you know anyone who would like some help then ask them to drop me a line.
  • Papers Pens Poets. Like many authors I am a stationery addict. Eighteen months ago,  I set up a website with my dear friend Anita Loughrey, exploring the way authors use stationery in their work. Papers Pens Poets includes interviews with authors and stationery reviews.

Anita at the London Stationery Show

Anita and Me – a business lunch overlooking the Thames

Sadly, Papers Pens Poets has been another victim of my difficult year so I’m determined to put that right in 2018.

So it’s a busy start to 2018. Bring it on!

Jo Franklin

Help I’m an Alien Quiz

Help! I’m a Book Award Nominee

Help I'm An Alien by Jo Franklin

Illustrated by Aaron Blecha

I’m really excited that Help I’m an Alien is nominated for the John Reckitt Library Hull Book Award. Hull is the City of Culture 2017 which makes the nomination particularly special. I am going to Hull in a few weeks to meet some school children who have been reading my book. I’ll be returning to the city on 28th June for the award ceremony itself.

This is  my first ever award nomination which is exciting and terrifying all at the same time.

  • What do I do if I lose?
  • What if I win?
  • What shall I wear?

Feel free to offer helpful advice in the comments below.

Meanwhile I’ve created a fun quiz for anyone who has already read Help! I’m an Alien. The answers can be accessed via the Help! I’m an Alien page of my website.

Help I'm an Alien Quiz

Click on me for the quiz

Federation of Children’s Book Groups Conference 2017

FCBG Banner

Last weekend I attended the Federation of Children’s Book Groups Conference (FCBG) near Reading, Berkshire.

What is the FCBG?

The FCBG is a UK charity bringing children and books together, encouraging reading for pleasure. Most members are librarians or teachers or ex-librarians or ex-teachers, but whatever their background they are all passionate about children’s books and nurturing a life long love of reading.
You can find out more about the FCBG here.

Authors United

I went with my great friends Anita Loughrey and Miriam Halahmy and we met fellow author Claire Barker along the way.

Anita and Miriam Anita and Claire Barker
Miriam and Anita Anita and Claire Barker

FCBG Conference 2017

The conference has great talks by authors and publishers. A publisher stand where publishers showcase their latest books. A bookshop selling copies of books by authors appearing at the conference. This year the bookshop was my all time favourite Tales on Moon Lane. It was also a great opportunity to hang out with people who love children’s books as much as I do.

Tales on Moon Lane

I particularly enjoyed the talk by the author Cas Lester, the seminar on techie stuff you can use to help get reluctant readers into reading by Bev Humphreys and the small publisher panel featuring Alanna Books, Tiny Owl and Book Island. It was also a great opportunity for me to meet Roy Johnson who is the Sales and Marketing Director of Troika Books, one of my publishers.

A great weekend of bookish awesomeness.

And there might have been one or two cocktails sampled while we were off duty.