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

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.


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.