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!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.'
'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