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Beach Hut Typography

I was wandering past the Coldingham Bay beach huts today when I noticed the eccentric mix of typography used on the numbers. Not all of them were numbered, so I took a picture each time I found one. My favourite is number 33, with it's jaunty bingo feel, although 34 with it's bright yellow outline is pretty special.

Book Festivals - coughs and hiccups

I love a good book festival because I get to do my bit, then go and see what everyone else is up to. I think my favourite festival was Cheltenham a couple fo years ago, where I was drawing on stage, while Michael Morpurgo read from our book Mimi and the Mountain Dragon, it was so much fun!

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Then that evening I went to see the artist Martin Creed perform. I don't know if you know him, he is an artist and musician. His music reminds me of a mix between Spike Milligan and Ivor Cutler. You can see I'm feelin Blue here. This is a great film of him talking about his work here - so inspiring! Anyway his show was wonderful, I thoroughly recommend that if you get the chance, go and see him perform. But I got side tracked, I was talking about book festivals... Actually my sidetrack was kind of relevent, I like his humour and bizarre silliness, and hope to try to remember some of that in my shows.

I usually draw and chat at the same time, and read from my books, and get some children on stage to do silly stuff. I get such a thrill out of it when it goes well. It doesn't always go well, but over the years I have developed strategies to stop some of the hiccups happening. There was the time I had problems with adults coming on stage to photograph their children and stopping the whole show (I now request people stay seated unless I invite them up), and the time I had the WORST coughing fit you can imagine on stage, eyes watering, snot, the lot! (I have stopped shouting and straining my voice, I try to stay calm and this stops me shouting or getting too high pitched! And I keep a glass of water at hand).

I have performed at lots of festivals over the years, honing my show as I go. I absolutely love performing, whether it's a small crowd of 30, or a big audience of 500 over-excited children on a school outing. You can read some reviews of my shows at the end of this post.

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These are some of the festivals I've performed at, some good experiences, some less so. (There was the time one festival forgot to put me on the program and didn't order any of my books, so after a six hour journey by plane and train, and an overnight stay I had a crowd of SIX children, and I didn't sell one book. I won't say which festival it was, I am too professional. Ok, it was Hay-on-Wye.)

So yes, some of the places I have performed include: Tate Britain, Seven Stories, The Cheltenham Book Festival, The Polka Theatre, Edinburgh Book Festival, Hay-on-Wye, The Foyles Summer of Fun, The Polka Theatre Sunday Story Session, The Northern Children's Book Festival, Beverley Book Festival, Niddfest, The Aye Write Festival in Glasgow, Alnwick Playhouse, Hexham Book Festival and many more.

If you would like to interview me, invite me to perform at your book festival or ask me to speak on stage please send an email to helens@helenstephens.com briefly outlining the details. I will get back to you within 3-5 business days.

Here are some reviews from book festivals, theatres, libraries and schools:

'Cheltenham Festival sent a total rave about you and the event. Even saying how great your family and dog were!!'
My publisher talking about Cheltenham Book Festival

'I’ve just been in to have a look at the window (I painted Iris and the Lion from 'How to Hide a Lion' on the theatre window) and it’s just lovely - thank you for taking the time to paint it and for such a lovely event on Saturday.  The feedback has been brilliant.'
Claire Newton, Alnwick Playhouse

Helen's event was fantastic! Children loved being involved in the story telling part, looking for the lion and exercising their creative minds by predicting various outcomes. Helen taught children how to draw a lion in easy to follow steps, allowing the children (and their parents) to have their own lion to hide. Helen also created us a bespoke window in September 2016. The large fully coloured lion adorned our window for longer than originally planned because we just LOVED it (and so did our customers). It was a striking window display that added colour and excitement as both adults and children stopped to admire it and visited the shop to buy a book. Helen's window and event left a long lasting buzz and is still mentioned by many of our customers.
Tereze, Tales On Moon Lane Bookshop, London

'Helen engaged wonderfully with our pupils, providing an entertaining, active workshop.  There was lots of fun and laughter and the opportunities for learning were always skilfully related back to her books.'
D Mackenzie, Principal Teacher, George Watson's College Junior School, Edinburgh

'Thank you so much for your visit today. The children were buzzing with enthusiasm afterwards and the staff were full of praise. They loved the rapport you had with the children and really enjoyed your books.'
Catherine Costigan, Appletree Gardens School, Whitley Bay

'Helen created a lovely window for us which none of us want to take out now. Pleased to say too that the book is selling really well on the back of it with people literally stopping as they drive past to come in and buy a copy!'
Pickled Pepper Books, Crouch End, London - after I painted their shop window.

'It was a great pleasure for us to welcome Helen to Seven Stories, the audience were enthralled with her interactive way of telling the story. The children (and some adults) loved the opportunity to get to draw with her too. We hope to see Helen back at Seven Stories very soon!'
Paul Black, Events Officer, Seven Stories, Newcastle

'Fantastic visit to school today from the author / illustrator Helen Stephens!'
Red House School, Norton

'Helen's workshops at The Bowes Museum were fantastic! Not only did she engage the children and their parents with her storytelling, she also sketched her storybook characters in seconds, before the children created their own masterpiece. Brilliant sessions – thank you!'
Amy Bainbridge, Education Co-ordinator, Bowes Museum

'To have an author come and read her book to an assembly of children and work with individual classes was an absolute treat! Helen brought her books to life by allowing the children to participate through dressing up as characters and giving the children the opportunity to create a pop up lion. She willingly answered questions by children, demonstrated how she created her characters and explained her process in writing a book - all extremely helpful for possible future authors! The children felt that they had a celebrity in school for the day! Thank you, Helen.'
M Reilly, Class Teacher, St Bridget's Primary School, Glasgow

'This was a great opportunity for a real author to come to our school and talk to us at assembly. Helen also went from class to class to talk to lots of children and I was her photographer.'
Lewis K, Pupil Y9 St Bridget's Primary School, Glasgow

'I really enjoyed 'Fleabag' and the illustrations because they looked like they were moving and that was because Helen said that she didn't like her drawings to be perfect.'
Lucy J, Pupil Y10 St Bridget's Primary School, Glasgow

'It was really fun and creative when my class got to make pop-up lions with Helen.'
Lewis J, Pupil Y10 St Bridget's Primary School, Glasgow

'We were delighted to welcome author and illustrator Helen Stephens into school yesterday. Helen worked with all the children in school on a range of literacy skills from role play in reception to book making in y4. (We even got a sneak peak at her forthcoming children's book...lucky us!)'
Anne Rutherford, Head Teacher, Tweedmouth West School, Northumberland

'Helen's combination of interactive storytelling and engaging craft inspired the children (and their adults) to make some splendid popup lions based on 'How to Hide a Lion.' The group really enjoyed guessing what Helen was drawing on the flipchart and her ability to switch between activities meant that short attention spans were well-catered for. Thanks Helen, we all had great fun.'
 Jill Chambers, Spellbound Project Manager, Northumberland

'The children really enjoyed being involved with telling the story and were really motivated to write their own stories. From a teacher point of view I loved the way you took them through the full planning process and the bubbles worked very well.'
Mrs Summerson, Y4 Teacher, Etherley Lane Primary, Bishop Aukland

'The children really enjoyed the story and we followed it up with a big write about the snowman adventures we had made our picture books about. Some really pleasing results, children very enthusiastic.'
Mrs Jeavons, Y3 Teacher, Etherley Lane Primary, Bishop Aukland

'An inspirational illustrator.'
Hay-on-Wye Festival

'Helen has an obvious rapport with children and with her gentle encouragement, the children attending the session produced some outstanding and original contributions to the pop-up book. I think the key was getting the children to draw their own versions of the story, and develop it in their own way, thus giving their imaginations free rein. The pop-up book will have pride of place in the library. We look forward to having Helen back at a future date.'
Kim Herring, Team Librarian, Newbiggin

'Helen's workshops have been truly inspirational for children and their parents. The workshops captured the magic of creating a story and characters and then bringing it all alive imaginatively. What was wonderful is that Helen's calm, clear instruction enabled everyone to actually 'learn' how to draw and to take a work away with them they could all be very proud of. Everyone involved thoroughly enjoyed themselves and the workshops booked-up early. I couldn't recommend Helen more highly. She's also a joy to meet and work with.'
Lara Goodband, Co-Director Beverley Literature Festival

'Thank you, the children and staff enjoyed your visit very much!!'
Sarah Egan, Teacher, West View Primary School, Hartlepool

'Helen was a real inspiration to the children who were all keen to show her their own drawings. Watching Helen draw really brought the books to life and we are all looking forward to her return visit. '
Carol Haughton, Cockerton Library, Darlington

'I thorougly enjoyed your session at the library, the children were mesmerised when you hand drew Fleabag!'
Suzy Youldon, Crown Street Library

 

 

How to Hide a Lion on Stage

Oh my goodness, exciting news! How to Hide a Lion has been adapted for stage by Peter Glanville and Barb Jungr at The Polka Theatre, London (They are the clever people behind 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt'). I went to see it last week, and it was more than I could ever have imagined: true to the book, and full of the best surprises. I had an inkling it might be something special when I saw some of the puppets and music in development, but I was blown away by the final show.

The Guardian gave it a wonderful write up today (linked here).

If you get a chance, go and see it. It is on at the Polka Theatre to Feb 26, 2017

Cast:
Clare Rebekah Pointing
Phil Yarrow

Director and Adaptor: Peter Glanville
Composer: Barb Jungr
Set Designer: Laura McEwen
Puppet Designer: Samuel Wyer
Lighting Designer: Will Evans
Music recorded and produced by: Barb Jungr and Christopher Bracher
Arrangements: Barb Jungr and Jenny Carr:
Piano: Jenny Carr
Bass: Andy Hamill
Drums: Jonathan Lee
Trumpet: Peter Horsfall
Percussion: Barb Junr

Publication Day Celebrations!

It's out! The third book in the How to Hide a Lion series: How to Hide a Lion at School. Whoop, whoop!

In this one, Lion wants to go to school with Iris, but he's not allowed. So he finds somewhere warm to lie in the sun and wait for Iris to finish school. But what he doesn't realise, is that he's lying on top of the school bus, and today Iris's class are going on a school trip to the museum...

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And look what my publisher gave me as a publication day pressy: a lion hiding kit (!!) and a back-to-school pencil case packed with drawing pencils.

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I visited Tales on Moon Lane Bookshop yesterday and made them a window to celebrate, and in a couple of weeks time I am going on tour to introduce lots of school children to How to Hide a Lion at School. In the mean time... I'm thinking about what Lion and Iris might do next...

Click here to see what Acorn Books have to say.

Belle and Sebastien

I recently illustrated this beautiful text for Alma Publishing. It was such a treat. I illustrate a lot of picture books, which I love doing, but it was good to get my teeth into something a little older, with more thorny subjects: it starts with a woman giving birth and dying during a snow storm on the alps.

The final cover

The final cover

Belle at Sebastien was first published in 1965 to coincide with the French television series of the same name. Do you remember it? I don't, I think it was slightly before my time. So, while I waited for the manuscript to arrive, I bought the DVD and spent a whole day, sat with cups of tea and a sketchbook, soaking it all in. One of the best bits of the series is the intro at the start of each episode. Cecile Aubry, the author gives a little round up of the story so far. She is so french and glamorous, wearing a turtle neck and smoking a cigarette! On a children's TV series, different times!
Those people who did see it as a child always remember the beautiful, haunting theme music. I played it over and over on my headphones while I worked, I find it really helps to emerge myself like this.

I started by marking the scenes I'd like to illustrate.

I started by marking the scenes I'd like to illustrate.

These are rough sketches of the cover that I showed to Alma, the publisher.

These are rough sketches of the cover that I showed to Alma, the publisher.

Some of the final artwork...

Some of the final artwork...

And then the best bit, the books are printed.

And then the best bit, the books are printed.

Synopsis: The son of a Gypsy woman, Sébastien is found as a newborn baby in the Alps and brought up by Guillaume and his grandchildren Angélina and Jean. Born on the same day, Belle is a beautiful white Pyrenean Mountain Dog who has been neglected and passed on from owner to owner, until one day she escapes from a kennel. When Sébastien rescues the runaway Belle from the wrath of the villagers, the boy and the dog form a lifelong friendship and embark on exciting adventures in the mountains.

You can buy it at Alma Publishing, or Amazon, or any good bookshop.