Tag Archives: railway

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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How to publish a bookazine

Modelling British Railway Diesel Locomotives on the shelves in WH SmithPhil: My latest publication, Modelling British Railway Diesel Locomotives has hit the bookshelves in WH Smiths. In deference to Candice, who I can already hear rolling her eyes, I won’t go on about its anoraky goodness but instead blog about the hard realities of producing something like this.

Having successfully pitched the idea to a magazine publisher I work for last December, the challenge for me was to write short (250 word) histories of 58 different types of railway engines. Next, source lots of photos to accompany these, find out how you could acquire miniatures of each and finally, present them to a public consisting of people who would love to find error or moan that they have “seen all those picture before”.

Of course, I had a deadline to hit and budgets to stay within.

First up, like every publication out there, you have to work out what you are trying to say. Since the emphasis was on making models, anything that didn’t affect the appearance of the locomotive could be ignored in the history. That saved me digging through interminable technical bumf on engine and electrical equipment variations. If you want this sort of details, you need to find two things: More books and A life.

The cover was part of the pitch (I pitched to the publishers, they took it to WH Smith for approval, you don’t go ahead if they won’t take it) so an early version was mocked up. As it is, we ended up with two versions, with and without the “Exclusive to WH Smith” green blob. The mock-up also hit the web about the time I started writing to get the pre-order process going. The finished version differs in detail but then that’s why there was a caveat on the bottom of the page mentioning this. We’d worked out a few promotional points at this stage but since the content wasn’t finalised, some of the brighter flashes were no more than a designers idea.

It’s amazing just how long the writing process took. A deadline move bought me an extra months work – serious relief as at one point I was facing researching and writing 5 histories a day. Don’t anyone say that it should be easy to produce a small number of words. If anything it’s harder to boil down all the information and extract the important stuff. Some of the published information sources contradicting each other didn’t help much either. I did hit the 5 a day a couple of times but most days if I managed 3 I was doing well.  Thank goodness for my proof reader – he saved me from a few cockups along the way.

Pictures turned out to be fun too. I promised a comprehensive set and that means talking to photo libraries. Not the big boys like Getty but specialists. Some were excellent and other work like it’s 1932. I needed to say, “Send me what you have on Class 33” and receive thumbnails the next day followed by the full sized versions, all by e-mail. Working with someone who posts out a pack of prints from which you select a few and then return the others with a cheque just takes too long. Having to scan these prints in isn’t great either especially when the standard 6X4 will be blown up to 2 or 3 times that size on the page. Every hour spent tidying up photos was an hour I could have been writing, eating or sleeping.

Modern technology did come to my rescue with a couple of new faces making pictures available on Flickr. There I could select my pictures and grab them straight from the site. All the owners had to do was await the cheque for payment. Of course, I could have just nicked them without telling anyone, this is why my on-line shots are always too small for print publication, but apart from the legal aspect, morally the concept pains me as I don’t like it when people do this to me.

As it is, the final photo tally worked out at 223 picture of real locomotives and 139 of models. The later were “fun” as I had naively assumed that model manufacturers would be delighted to supply pictures that they would have in stock to publicise their products. The large firms such as Hornby were fine. A quick e-mail and I soon had what I need. A lot of people supporting the hobby are cottage industry manufacturers though and the results were far patchier. Even when all I wanted was a hi-res version of a shot on their website, extracting wisdom teeth would have been easier than getting the picture. Sometimes you wonder if they really want to sell their products…

Unexpected problems can trip you up – one source of photos was on holiday in France. Despite many e-mails, the appalling WiFi he had prevented any images being sent over much to both of our annoyances. Holidays generally were a nuisance, don’t do anything over the summer if you have a deadline!

While all this was going on, I worked with a designer putting the pages together. The deadline meant we didn’t get to produce as many mock-ups as I’d have liked which left planning the flat-plan (A publishing term. The magazine is laid out pictorially so you can see every page at once. If you are at Vogue, there is a room with every page produced full size and fixed to a wall. The rest of us make do with an A4 PDF with titles on each page) rather more flexible than is ideal. I think we ended up on version 4 because I kept moving things around depending on the amount of information available for each locomotive. Changing the page count wasn’t an option and allowance had to be made for contents, introduction and some advertising.

MBRDL Flatplan

The designer allocated to me, Nikki, turned out to be brilliant. The results are punchy and full of life – not an easy task with this subject matter. Modern communications allowed me to see PDF files of each page. From this I was able to comment and have stuff moved around. Here again, the lack of prototyping caused me a few worries – in some cases I had sourced (and paid for) more images than I really needed. It’s important not to use photos too small for this market, they moan like crazy if the tiny details aren’t visible. Fair enough really, that’s why they bought the thing but it does lead to some serious thinking along the way.

Even the binding caused a headache. Initially, some of the photos were reproduced as double page spreads – this looks lovely on the screen but when Perfect Bound, a strip of the picture disappears down the spine. Now you can leave a gutter in the middle and split the photo but this relies on the printer getting every page perfect and I wasn’t willing to gamble on this. We compromised with a few full A4 photos where the contents could justify it and I particularly liked the picture.

MBRDL inside pages

Needless to say, this all came together eventually and I eagerly awaited the result. Seeing it on-screen is one thing, on paper a whole lot more exciting. Just to entertain me, the first I knew that it was out was seeing a forum post by someone who had a copy. Typical – the pre-orders were hitting people’s doormats before mine! It turns out that a certain courier service had managed to lose my box sent out a week earlier. A replacement followed quickly and I then moved on to sending out the contributors copies along with cheques for payment. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this, I know how important it is to do this bit quickly.

Now all I have to do is wait. My job is done apart from some social media promotion efforts. Sales will be what they will be. Initial feedback is promising. The only person who has critiqued it heavily did this in good spirit and proved my point about short histories being difficult. His comments on one type of locomotive ran to twice the space I had for the initial words.

Technically, it all worked well. None of the people involved ever met and we rarely telephoned each other. Photos were generally swapped by e-mail. Larger files by Dropbox.com. None of us worked conventional hours – Nikki would stop mid afternoon to collect her kids from school and then hit the keyboard again later in the day. I dropped in whenever I needed to so some days were long and others less so. 20 years ago you couldn’t work this way but now, with so many people freelancing, it’s the way we work. If we were all in an office I suspect things wouldn’t have been that different.

Modelling British Railway Diesel Locomotives is available from good branches of WH Smith until the end of the year and also from MyHobbyStore.com.

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