Phil: Last week, Pauline Hazelewood of Saddletank books told us how she goes about writing train-based children’s stories. This time, she moves on to the exciting (for prospective authors) task of selling books and meeting authors. As I said, Pauline has been a memorable presence at a number of exhibitions I’ve attended and gets out and about to meet her readers in a way many authors need to consider if they want to sell copies.
I’ve met you at several railway events, and you list more on your website. How many do you attend and what sort of events do you attend each year?
I thought I’d try to do one a month. I need to see people and find out what they think of the books, but I am a bit swamped with the other work that I do. I like meeting the enthusiasts that go along to the railway events. You meet genuine, kind, interesting people, often very knowledgeable. I do a few model railway events, some steam fairs and of course my annual trip to Bala Lake Railway, where it all started with the book on Alice.
The kids are very cute and entertaining. It’s a lot of fun with the props that I take along. My model railway and soft sculpture steam engine entertain and draw people in. I often pretend that the model engine is voice activated. The kids will shout ‘GO!”, and ‘STOP’ to the engine while I work the controls out of sight. Sometimes a deluded adult will believe it too, which is a hilarious.!
This is a lot of effort. Do the sales at an event justify the travel, or are there more reasons to get out there?
I don’t generally travel that far or that often, but this book business has introduced me to some fantastic people and places. Actually on reflection the research part is definitely growing and becoming more exciting. the sales events are a different thing.
I’ve done quite a few art shows and the camaraderie is part of the fun. You always feel that the circus is back in town. The steam fairs draw a fantastic relaxed bunch of enthusiasts that aren’t so commercial and are so knowledgeable about history and mechanical engineering. And there’s often a beer tent and music, crafts and so on. I love it. It’s fascinating.
Feedback and meeting the public is great too. I sometimes wonder if it’s worthwhile carrying on with the books and what have I got myself into, but the positive feedback from total strangers amazes me and encourages me to do more. People actually enjoy reading them to their children, just as I’d hoped. Some kids know the words by heart from some of the books. I re-read one that I was sending out the other day to sort of remind myself what it was like and I liked it.
You’ve built a strong brand with products beyond the books and this extends to your costume on the stand. Was all this planned or did it evolve? Where did the hat come from?
I love dressing up! I think that when I put on an outfit the show is on. You need to stand out a bit from the people buying. I like that steam punk look. Bowler hats are so cute. You know the ladies of Bolivia wear them because the British Railway workers went there to set up the railway. They must have swapped a few favours to get their hands on them. Nowadays they’re actually made in Bolivia.
I’m glad that you think it’s a strong brand. Perhaps that’s just because it’s only me working on it and I just do what I like all the time. I have some very lucky breaks. The very smart expensive stand that I now use I found in a skip! I can’t believe my luck with that. The display company near my studio was filling a skip with loads of brand new display stuff. I can’t bear to see things not being recycled so I and another mad lady kept climbing in and we filled the boots our cars with all sorts of new things.
This links up with the products in a way, as I’m keen to get everything that I sell, made in Britain. The books, magnets, bags, etc are all made here and there will soon be an eco friendly, british made, non plastic, wonderful little toy engine on sale too!
How important do you feel it is for authors to go out and meet readers?
I suppose it depends on the individual, but I love it. It’s great to meet all the children. I run occasional art classes for kids, it’s good to show them the roughs of the books, so that they can see how a book is developed. and it’s fun chatting with people. I want girls to see that the railways aren’t just for boys, that mechanical engineering is an option and that painting and drawing engines is fun for anyone to do.
I’m also learning Welsh because I go to Wales each year. I love learning languages and you can download podcasts of Welsh from the ‘say something in Welsh’ website. I already speak Spanish ( my mother is Gibraltarian), and some French, so I enjoy practising with people who can speak those languages.
When I do art demos for art societies, it’s a performance. I paint a picture and tell funny stories at the same time . I like making people laugh and I like sharing skills and tips, passing on ideas, so it’s very much the same thing.
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Don’t forget, you can find Pauline’s books here.