Today I'm delighted to welcome author Jo Franklin to the blog. Her UK debut Help I'm an Alien was published recently and is set to become a favourite with readers aged eight and above. Before we begin the interview here's what Jo has to say for herself:
Jo Franklin was born reading sometime in the last century. As a child, she loved making up stories. Unfortunately no one could read her writing, so she couldn't become an internationally published author until she got a computer. Jo writes funny, feel good stories for 8-12 year olds. She likes to write about children who are not normally centre-stage like tomboys, geeks and misfits. Her first UK series was published recently by Troika Books, starting with Help I'm an Alien. She loves to meet her readers and is able to come to schools and libraries to talk about aliens, brains and what it is like to have two best friends. Jo is representated by Anne Clark Literary. Help I'm an Alien is available from all bookstores (you can order if not in stock) or on Amazon and other online retailers. To find out more about Jo and her work visit her website, or connect with her on Twitter.
Many congratulations on the UK edition of, Help! I’m An Alien! It looks like so much fun. If you had to describe this book in one sentence what would that be?
Three friends, a misunderstanding and a lot of ice.
Ooh, intriguing! Now can you tell the readers a little more about the story and what inspired it?
Daniel Kendal feels such a misfit that when his sister tells him he is an alien he believes her, so he enlists his two friends Freddo and Gordon the Geek to help him return to his home planet. Only things don’t exactly go to plan.
Authors are asked all the time where they get their ideas from and most of the time I think we don’t know, but the idea for Help! I’m an Alien came to me in flash. I had been working on two different stories with a space theme in the previous twelve months. One featured no aliens whatsoever, the other had only aliens and no humans. So I guess I had aliens on my mind and I had been reading Tim Collins Diary of a Wimpy Vampire, which is about a teen vampire who feels out of place, when I watched the movie ‘Submarine’. This is narrated by a teenager grappling with his identity and there was something about that narrative voice and Nigel the vampire’s voice that struck a cord with me and I thought ‘I want to write something like that for middle grade’. So I got out my notebook and started writing while I watched the end of the film. I wrote 10,000 words in three days. Unfortunately Christmas came along and interrupted my flow and it took me three months to write the next 10,000 words. But I was sure I was on to something.
Who’s your favourite character in the book and which one would you like to kick in the pants?
My favourite character is Gordon the Geek. He is one of those rare things, a character that comes to you already formed. Complex but clear. He is so easy to write about and such fun. He is such a neat freak that he goes to school wearing a blazer and tie even though there is no school uniform at his school, he uses a ruler to part his hair and he doesn’t allow anyone to touch him. He is also the most loyal friend you could have.
The most annoying character is Jessie, Daniel’s older sister. She is a typical stroppy teenager who makes everyone’s life hell.
Your book cover is brilliant! Who created it and what input, if any, did you have into the final design?
The book is illustrated throughout by Aaron Blecha. I wrote detailed illustration notes and had the opportunity to comment on the illustrations before they were finalised – not that there was much to say. The cover and the illustrations are brilliant. I have a strong visual image of all my books but I have no artistic talent whatsoever. Thank goodness for great illustrators.
How do you want your readers to feel on finishing the book?
I hope readers feel good when they finish the book. It is funny and silly in places, but it is also about identity and friendship, which are two themes I find myself returning to again and again.
Many authors have several unpublished manuscripts hidden in a drawer, are you one of them?
Yes! Not sure how many. Something like 7 or 8. I don’t think I’m in double figures, but there is plenty of time yet.
Which part of the writing process do you love best and which do you find most difficult?
Over the years, the answer to that question has changed. I used to love the first draft. That euphoric feeling of words tumbling out in a creative mass. But now I know more about the hard work that goes into the editing, I find the first draft frustrating. I need to get it finished so that I can work it into something good. I enjoy writing and editing the second half of the book better than the first half. The second part of a book has its own momentum and pace which spurs me on.
What four pieces of advice would you give to someone who is seeking to become published?
1. Find out all you can about the publishing industry and how the whole submission process works.
2. Face the fact that you are on an apprenticeship and that you will need to write, edit, finish and have many manuscripts rejected before you succeed. It is like learning the piano, you have to put in a lot of practice to be any good and if you want to play/write professionally you have to put your writing before most other things in your life.
3. Don’t pay for any expensive courses or manuscript critiques unless you have completely exhausted all options for feedback from critique groups.
4 If you do all these things then, the single thing that differentiates published authors from the unpublished is perseverance. Keep learning. Keep writing. Keep submitting.
Excellent advice, Jo. You mentioned critique groups, and I know that you belong to one. For my non-writer readers could you tell us what being in this group entails and what impact it has upon your writing?
I set up my own critique group because I had failed to find one I was satisfied with. Everyone is hand picked, given a strict brief about what is expected of them and has to complete a trial period before they are allowed in for good. That sounds very harsh, but the critique group is central to my writing process and if it falls apart it is extremely disruptive for me and the other members. The membership has been stable for three years now. There are five of us. We meet every couple of weeks and we swap our chapters beforehand so that everyone has the chance to read the work and write comments. Sometimes we discuss a synopsis, sometimes a chapter, sometimes 5,000 words. We are such a close knit group that we are able to ask for what we want and everyone is respectful of the other’s needs.
You’re also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). What prompted you to join this organization and what have been the benefits of membership?
I joined SCBWI on the recommendation of author Jackie Marchant. It was through SCBWI that I learned all about the publishing industry and had the opportunity to meet with editors and agents. Now that I have been to a lot of seminars, SCBWI is more of a social thing for me, although I still go to events if I think I am going to learn something new.
What prompted you to co-create the Papers Pens Poets website and what’s its purpose?
Papers Pens Poets came about in the briefest of message exchanges between me and Anita Loughrey who is a good SCBWI friend. We were going to the London Stationery Show which is a trade show for stationery suppliers to sell to stationery sellers. We felt total frauds. We are both obsessive about stationery but we are not ‘trade’. So I suggested we set up a review website which focusses on the interaction between writers and stationery. Papers Pens Poets has stationery reviews, author interviews and articles about stationery. It’s wonderful to be working on something we are both passionate about.
What’s next for Jo Franklin?
Help I’m an Alien is only the first book in the series. Coming soon to a bookshop near you: Help I’m a Genius and Help I’m a Detective. Luckily both books are already written so I am now writing something new inspired by a certain four legged friend of mine.
I’m also interested in commissioned writing. Last year I wrote The Bushcraft Kid for 'Fiction Express' which was a five part serialised story where the readers could vote for what happens next.
Lots to look forward to, readers! Now to round off the interview, Jo, let’s have a bit of fun:
If you could only eat one food item for the rest of your life which would it be?
Lindor truffles although chocolate plays havoc with my writer’s butt.
The M25 or the M6?
I’m not sure I have ever driven on the M6 and I avoid the M25 as much as possible. I don’t like motorways.
What’s your greatest fear?
Spiders. It’s totally irrational but I am terrified of them.
Which would you prefer: 24 hours spent in space or a day deep underwater?
I’d have to go for space because I get claustrophobic underwater. Although claustrophobia is also a problem in space and features in one of my great unpublished novels!
What makes you grumpy?
People not being honest. I hate evasion, or sycophants. Say what you think and then move on.
Whose blog is better, Jo’s or Mickey’s?
Mickey’s! I am totally upstaged by my dog. He hasn't written much recently because I won’t let him near the computer, but he will be back.
What would be your best day ever?
It would be a writing day, with sunshine, no interruptions and of course, a good news email from my agent.
Tim Peake or Morrissey?
Morrissey. He and I have grown apart as we have grown older but he has been the single biggest influence on my life and I am hugely indebted to him.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions, Jo. I wish you continued success with Help! I’m An Alien and the very best of luck with all of your future books.