Tag Archives: children

Taking the train through Pauline Hazelwood’s writing

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.

You can find visit Pauline’s Saddltank Books website here.

I reviewed Polar Bear and Sealion here.

Next week, we look at marketing books and getting out to meet the readers.

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So that’s what it’s all about

Candice: I’ve learnt something new over the Christmas period. I obviously know the importance of reading to everyone: vocabulary development, breadth of knowledge, for example, but I with a small child currently learning to speak didn’t realise the importance of nursery rhymes to this this development.

My daughter is nearly two and she is coming along with leaps and bounds.  I used to watch other parents and grandparents singing along like nutters with their small children and would say to myself, ‘I’m never doing that’.  But I am now the woman who can be heard singing ‘Baa Baa black sleep’ round the park.  And why, because she is learning at every step and the singing means new spoken words which eventually leads to understanding written words.

How do I know this?  Well she has a favourite teddy who has always been called ‘Teddy’  but a few weeks ago she started calling him ‘Teddy Bear’.  We couldn’t work out why until she started singing ‘Round and round the garden…’ which of course leads to ‘…like a teddy bear’.  She’s put two and two together and worked out that a teddy is a teddy bear.  Now, when she sees a picture of a teddy its always called a teddy bear.

She loves singing, and if its not Round and round, its Baa Baa, or Old Macdonald.  I wonder if she is aiming for a career as a pop star? Seriously, I’d like her to do something creative, knowing how much I love writing so I am hoping that the nursery rhymes and children’s book reading we are doing will lead to her having her head always in a book – like I was growing up.


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Its all about family


Candice: In the last week I have celebrated a number of birthday events.  My niece’s first, mine and my Dad’s 80th.  Erin is also five months old (oh how that has flown).  It made me think about the impact of all these people and how we must pass things down befween family and all these individuals to make sure they aren’t forgotten.

Two years ago my Aunt died.  She and my Dad hadn’t got on for years but they did make up just before she passed away.  However, due to this there were lots of stories about his childhood that they didn’t have chance to reminisce on so he could write them down.  He grew in pubs around Birmingham but couldn’t remember them all, now we will never know those stories.

Erin is growing every day and I have been writing her story each week so we can remember how she has changed.  She’s now got a personality and reacts to us, much more than that crying blob she was a few months ago.  But, there is so much going on we will look back and think, ‘when did she do this, when did she do that’.  I’m sure she’ll go ‘oh parents you are so boring!’

As part of her arrival Richard and I have been looking at getting a Will, and had to write down everything of value we have, both financial and sentimental.  The book is one of the things down on this list as its very important to me and I think it’s Erin’s legacy, whether or not it makes any money.

I’m determined that both these real and fictitious stories that exist in my life have a life after I am going, and that things are recorded so that they can be remembered.  I’m not a hoarder but I do like to look back and remember when things happened, and think where I was and what I was doing at that point in time. I don’t do it by keeping objects but by writing a diary,  or even the book as there are factual parts in the fiction.

What do you do to keep your memories alive?

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I was born too late to write books for children

Phil: It’s no secret that I am not a fan of children. Far too many are badly behaved little pain in the backsides who should be isolated from adults until they learn not to run around a restaurant screaming and stop playing their rubbish music on tinny mobile phone speakers while I am on the bus. That and I’m too old for Lego so I don’t see why they should be allowed to enjoy it.

It turns out though, that in days gone by, I would have been just the person to write for the little darlings. One of the first books aimed at the ankle-biters was Sigimund Feyerabend’s “The Book of Art and Instruction for Young People Filled with Legend and Fables and Folk Tales with Illustrations”. Now that is a title. Imagine how long the book itself is. Back in 1578, presumably youngsters had longer attention spans than today. The lack of TV advertising helped, I can’t see this appearing on CBBes or whatever it is they watch nowadays.

It’s not books with long titles that I wished I’d written. No, I want to terrify the little tykes. Once upon a time, books weren’t merely adjuncts to toy adverts. They were there to improve the minds of the reader. Which is presumably what James Janeway intended when he wrote “A Token for Children: Being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives, and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children.” in 1771.

Not exactly Harry Potter is it ?

You can read the book on-line here. Perhaps as a bed time story for your little darlings.

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