Phil: I’ve met Pauline Hazelwood a few times at model railway exhibitions with her Saddletank Books stand. She has written and illustrated a series of children’s books using steam locomotives as the main characters, with historically accurate stories. Readers not only enjoy both the words and pictures, along the way they learn a bit too.
Having badgered her to agree to an interview, we’ll be running this over two weeks. Part One covers writing and storytelling. Part Two, promoting yourself as an independent author and actually selling copies.
Your books feature wonderful illustrations as well as a story. Do you write the book first and then produce the illustrations or do they evolve side-by-side?
I’m an artist foremost. I usually create the stories at the beginning in sketch books. I work round the images in my head. They inspire the words. I see everything in pictures and I love drawing people. I sketch a lot, especially when I’m travelling. I have lots of sketch books full of drawings, little studies in watercolours too. They build up a library in my head so that when I go to sketch a scene, it’s there.
Quite a few of the pages come from events that have happened around me, they get mixed into the story line of the engine. Or I get inspired by something, for example the scene from the auction in the second book, is very loosely based on the painting by Norman Rockwell’s.’ Freedom of speech‘, it was such fun to use as a basis because it was the right period and really had all the elements in my mind , to go with the story. Norman Rockwell used the ‘Thinker ‘ sculpture for one of his pictures of an American football player.
Each book is historically accurate. How much research does this entail to find a suitable story?
The choice of each engine story has just naturally evolved as I’ve visited different railways and met owners of engines and railway enthusiasts. There are fantastic engines everywhere, and so much history that I want people to know about. I enjoy the research. I love finding out little incidental things about the people and time, to humanise the whole thing and make it more than a mechanical engineering history. The enthusiasts often have loads of information to pass on and will disregard some elements but if I ask lots of questions I can usually find a lot of things that interest me and hopefully interest the reader. I might have a theme in mind of friendship or including animals or showing how hard the work was , whatever it is, I dig around till I find enough to support the theme or end up finding another exciting path to follow.
How long does it take to write/draw each book?
There isn’t a fixed time. it depends on what other work is on and how busy I am in life generally ( as I run some art classes and paint in oils and watercolours which I love. I also do painting demos for art societies. )… sometimes I mull over things for quite a while, rehashing the text. I sketch out a vague outline, and carry it around with me all the time and sketch and write bits in cafes, or wherever. Sometimes it flows and is really quick.and at other times, odd ideas and suggestions from other people add to the whole thing too.
The illustrations appear hand drawn. Most writers just use a laptop, but I’m thinking that your “tools” are rather more varied.
My illustrations are very much hand drawn, I start with soft pencil drawings, slightly larger than the finished book. I create a detailed pencil drawing of every page and solve every problem before tracing it onto watercolour paper. The pencil stage is the most creative bit and the pencil drawings to me often seem nicer and more expressive. I’ll make prints of some of them, some time, to sell. I then do pen and wash paintings of the whole book which then doesn’t take that long. I’m quite particular about which pens, paper and paint I like to use. Teaching watercolour helps a lot. I know my materials well and even though they are cartoons, I’m using the same ideas that I teach in general watercolour work. With a children’s book I have to put as much of the information into the pictures, not the words, which suits me..
The elephant in the room for books about steam engines with faces has to be Thomas the Tank engine. How do your books differ from the Rev Awdry’s?
Awdry’s books were irrelevant for me. My three sons never liked the books but they did watch the videos and loved playing with the toys along with other toy trains. His books were written in a very different way, based on the Isle of Sodor and the facts that were used, were put into a different context. I absolutely love Edward Ardizones’ illustrations, whimsical pen and wash. He illustrated the Graeme Green book about an engine and Colin McNaughton books and style of illustration, I loved reading to my sons. We used to get loads of books from the libraries and buy quite a few too, always full of illustrations and I loved the fantastic writing in some of them, that appealed to adults as well as children. You could tell that the writer had thoroughly enjoyed writing them . And I enjoyed putting on silly voices too, big time, so I had to include those in the books. I also love alliteration and the sound of certain words. I have favourite letters and I like long words too. I have to stick to the facts at the end of the day though so this provides a nice framework for me.
Any hints for people aspiring to write children’s books?
After I started doing these books I remembered that when I was a child, I used to tell my older sister bed time stories that I made up each night as we lay in our twin beds. I wrote quite a few little story books for fun for myself. I lived in a daydreamy fantasy world as a child and when I played with the chess set, I gave each piece a character and voice. If you want to write a children’s book, you probably are already writing, you just haven’t found the right subject or idea to share with the world so far. I don’t know whether writing a children’s book is something I aspire to do. I wanted to share some amazing things that I had discovered. I feel as if I’m uncovering a whole load of stuff that is kept hidden because it’s tucked away in boring manuals and boring history books, but if you tell it through pictures, people like me, that are too busy or lazy to read those books, will find out about it.
Next week, we look at marketing books and getting out to meet the readers.