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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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Dress to impress

Candice:  I’ve had an interview for an internal post in the last week.  Its been a strange experience as I am used to going for external jobs and not telling any one about it until afterwards.  But this was the worst kept secret.

So Thursday lunch time sees me sat in the reception of a local hotel waiting for the call to go up.  I’m watching Andy Murray, who happens to win his match while I am waiting which I can only take as a good sign.

I found about the details of the interview on my return from holiday. I knew it was coming but it was still a strange week last week.  Once I knew venue, times and the fact I had to do a presentation, did I spend hours pouring over this?  No I went out to buy a new outfit.

Like the protagonist in our book, who uses her clothes as armour to protect her from the outside world, I have to be dressed right or I don’t feel right. Kate uses her designer wardrobe to create a persona which means nothing and no-one can get in her way.

In my case, it’s not quite as net-a-porter as Kate’s wardrobe but I did go to the interview with my Mulberry Alexa.  The dress, however. was only Yumi but it was just as essential in the equation.  I bought two dresses and then ransacked my wardrobe, but in the 29 degree heat there were only certain things that would cut it.

So why all the drama for an outfit?  I think its more of a girl thing than a boy thing but I have to feel comfortable, whether its presentation or interview, if I don’t like what I am wearing then I don’t come across as well or feel as confident.  Whatever works is my motto, so new outfit it is.  The worst comes when you can’t find that perfect something – then you get even more worked up!

I’m waiting to hear the results but I think it went well, and I felt like the bee’s knees in my dress.

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A view from the other side – how to be a Literary Agent

Jonny Geller

Candice: I was going to write a post about the book I have just finished reading, ‘Reckless’ by Andrew Gross.  However, though it is a perfectly readable book, and I finished it, I wouldn’t say it broke any boundaries or I could add anything to it, so I’m not sure what I’d write about it.

So, I’ve been trawling the web for ideas and found this interesting interview with a Literary Agent. Obviously, Literary Agents are like God to us. To get one would be like finding the Holy Grail.  But it seems no one wants to bite.  So I thought it would be useful to see the other side of this conversation.

The interview is with Jonny Geller from Curtis Brown.  He represents some big names including John LeCarre and Adele Parks.  It seems he fell on to his role by chance.  But I have to say that is the case with a lot of careers I think, I certainly didn’t come out of my degree and decide to become a Marketer (though I did want to be in something creative like writing or acting), I worked my way around to it.  I often think that’s better as you have time to develop into what you want.

The most interesting piece in the interview is the kind of authors he is looking for.  “We get around 13,000 manuscripts a year and I’m looking for someone who is a career writer.”  He wants some one who is driven to write above all else, and of course some one who can generate a stream of books which he can make money from.  Now, at which point in out covering letter have they missed the fact Phil and I have ideas for a seven book series….

He also doesn’t rate social media. “I think social media is really interesting, because I don’t think it works for most writers.” He thinks it actually means they are giving all their hard-earned ideas away for free.  Hum, I’m not sure if I agree, I think you can tease through social media to get more of an audience, especially the younger ones.

However, the most important point to me in the interview is this, “It certainly doesn’t matter if an author is good-looking or not because sometimes that actually gets in the way funnily enough.”  Phil, I don’t think we need to worry about that head shot quite so much…

Read the interview, it’s a useful insight into the literary world.

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Liebster Award

Phil: Thanks to Realm of the Goddess for awarding us the Liebster Award. It’s always nice to be recognised, although Candice is a bit disappointed that there is no Hollywood ceremony to attend as she has bought a new frock. I haven’t bought a new frock but I did get my hair cut which is nearly the same thing. (Candice – Phil I’m sure you’d look lovely in a frock!)

Anyway, as part of the deal, we have to answer some random questions, so over hot drinks and warm laptops, we had a go.

Why did you start blogging?

Candice – Phil told me we had to. To be honest I wasn’t very into blogs when we started but he wouldn’t shut up about it.

Phil – I started blogging back in the late 90’s when it was just starting to take off and have run a couple of blogs for my hobbies, so one for Nolanparker seemed the natural thing to do. The discipline of having to produce words regularly is useful for anyone who aspires to write and we need something to stop us just sitting around and eating cake.

If you could come back as anyone else, who would it be and why?

Candice – Hmmm, not sure. I don’t think I’ve ever really wanted to be anyone else.

Phil – I’d quite like to be King I suppose. Would I get to behead people who annoy me?

Candice – Like who?

Phil – BMW drivers mainly. And people who play music out of their phone on the bus.

Who did you most want to be like as a child?

Candice – No one specific. I had pop star posters on my bedroom wall but I never wanted to be any of them. Snog them possibly. What I wanted to be was an actor or writer, some sort of performer but definitely me.

Phil – Peter from Enid Blyton‘s Secret Seven stories. I remember him being quite clever and being good at disguises. With hindsight, there was a lot of Sherlock Holmes in him, another character I’ve always admired.

Who is your favourite character from a book?

Candice – I read a lot of books and so my favorite character tends to be someone from whatever I’m reading at the moment. Perhaps that makes me a bit fickle!

Phil – Edward The Blue Engine from the Thomas the Tank engine stories.

What do you like to write about?

Candice – Strong female characters. The genre doesn’t matter so much but the lead will have a lot of me, or at least a lot of who I might like to be, in her. It’s escapism really – putting yourself in different situations and seeing what happens.

Phil – I’m really not fussy. Since we started writing fiction seriously I’ve had a go at genres that I’d never considered such as chick-lit and horror. This means going and reading some examples and that’s been good fun. I tend to start with a story and have no idea where it’s going to end up anyway.

What country would you most like to visit?

Candice – Thailand or China. I want to go somewhere I haven’t been before to experience something different.  I always like to come back from a holiday feeling like I’ve learned something not just sat reading a book. Of course there are places where I feel I’ve only scratched the surface like America or Mexico so those would be good too. Wherever it is, there needs to be some nice beaches to so the tan can be topped up.

Phil – I’ve always fancied America by train. Coast to coast and back again, perhaps with a loop through Canada. Trouble is, I hate flying so I want to cross the wet bits on a boat. Mind you, I’ve always wanted to see Moscow, although I suspect a lot of the old Communist stuff has gone so North Korea perhaps? I don’t need a beach though.

What kind of music do you enjoy the most?

Candice – Indie stuff. Foo fighters (Dave Grohl – Yum), Ed Sheeran, Bastille. Maybe a bit of R’n’B/dance on a night out too.

Phil – Anything but R’n’B/dance please. I’m listening to a lot of Bellowhead at the moment with Thea Gilmore and Golgol Bordello in the mix. And some Wombles, because I look like Wellington.

Do you like the feeling of holding a book in your hands or do you prefer e-readers?

Candice – No contest, a proper book.

Phil – Me too. I can see the point of e-readers I suppose but nothing beats the feel of a book, especially an old one.

During which part of the day are you most productive?

Candice – The afternoon. I tend to get a slow start in the morning because I can’t focus.

Phil – I need something to focus on. If I have to get something done then I’m fine. Otherwise I can faff around and achieve nothing, If I’m excited about a project I’ll disappear into it and time doesn’t matter.

If you could have any superpower, which would it be?

Candice – Time travel. I’d like to visit myself when younger tell myself school is not as bad as I think it is. Finding out next week’s lottery numbers would be nice too!

Phil – Invisibility.

Candice – Who said that?

How did you feel when you were nominated for this award?

Candice – It’s really nice to be acknowledged. You can write all this stuff and wonder if there is anyone else reading it. Getting a “Like” or even an award makes it seem worthwhile.

Phil – Like most bloggers, you wonder if anyone reads your stuff and more importantly, whether anyone likes it. Getting an award is nice recognition that we’re doing something right. Thanks very much.

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Notes on the Liebster Award: The origins of this award seem lot in the mists of time. The general consensus is that it originated in Germany, Liebster meaning favorite or
dearest, to showcase bloggers with fewer than 200 followers (or less than 3000 according to some rules). Upon accepting the award the recipient must then pass it on to 5 more blogs. Or maybe 11.

Basically, it’s a positive pyramid scheme where bloggers pass on the award to other bloggers in the hope of a bit of coverage. One day, every blog will have a Liebster award. In the meantime, we’ll take it because it IS really nice that someone has read our stuff and enjoyed it. Sometimes, a warm glow is worth more than awards, even if you can’t wear a posh dress to it.

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