Meet the author: Hazel Mitchell

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Hazel and Toby close up

PS. Look it is Toby!
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Tell me a little about yourself: I am originally from England and moved to the USA in 2000. I now live in Maine. At school my best subjects were art and english, so now I am using both those interests in illustrating and writing books. But it took me a long time to get to do that. Before I worked in children’s books I was a graphic designer and served in the Royal Navy. When I ‘m not working I love spending time with my two poodles, Toby and Lucy and my cat Sleep.

How long have you been writing & illustrating books? I illustrated my first book in 2010 which was ‘How to Talk to an Autistic Kid’ by Daniel Stefanski. Since then I’ve illustrated about 18 books. Toby is my first book as author and illustrator. I wrote it in 2014 and it’s being published on Sept 13th 2016 by Candlewick Press.

How did you become a book author/illustrator? I did a lot of other jobs before I became an author and illustrator, but all those jobs involved art, somehow or another. Before I left school I always thought I’d write a book, but it took me a long time to do it. What I really wanted to do was work with horses (my other passion), but instead I went to art college. Then I spent a long time working in graphics and design, creating all kinds of things from t-shirt designs to business brochures. It was only when I moved to the USA that I really seriously thought about getting work in the children’s book industry. I had lots of stories I was working on, but none I’d finished. I started to put together a portfolio of work that I thought suitable for children and wondered how I’d go about getting it to publishers. Luckily I discovered the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and in 2010 I went to a conference in New York City. There was lots of good information and other people there who all ready illustrated and wrote for children – so I learned a lot! I sent out postcards with a picture of my work on it to publishers and was lucky enough to get my first book that year. I suggest that anyone who’s interested in working in children’s publishing check out

When you were my age, did you read alot? What was your favorite book? Yes I did! I read all the time and spent a lot of time in my local library. Sometimes I would try and sneak into the adult library – in those days children were not allowed in. It was very grand and SO many books. But my favorite type of books were mystery stories and tales about horses. But my very favorite book was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I still love to read it.

How do you come up with your story ideas? Many different ways. Some are inspired by real life – like Toby. Others come from things that have happened to other people, or films and television and other stories. Sometimes I dream them! When I’m stuck I try different writing exercises, like opening a book at any page and choosing three words by closing my eyes and pointing at them. Then I see what happens! Sometimes, though, stories come from doodles and sketches I’ve drawn.

Do you have a favorite book you have written/illustrated? Toby!

Do you illustrate by hand or by computer? Both and a combination. I most often do all the line work by hand with graphite. Then I add shading and texture in watercolour, but in just one colour wash (like blue). Then I scan the painting in and colour it digitally in Photoshop.

Who are some of your favorite authors/illustrators? That’s hard, because there are so many great ones! C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman, David Almond, J.K. Rowling, (all British!), I love the illustrations of Toni DiTerlizzi, Kelly Murphy, Ashley Bryan, Eric Rohmann, Edward Ardizzone, David Small, Levi Pinfold, Melissa Sweet … I could go on and on.

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