The making of How to Hide a Lion at Christmas

I first wrote this blog post as a tweet here, and after getting many, many lovely messages in response, I decided I would transcribe it here:

Look! I've been dying to show you this great trailer my publisher made for my new book How to Hide a Lion at Christmas & I thought I'd share with you some of the process of making the book...

It started with this sketch... I knew I wanted Iris and her lion to be torn apart for Christmas... Here they are being sad and lonely. My books usually start with one one very clear image like this.

Helenstephens- notebook- How to Hide a lion at Christmas

Another early sketch: Lion lost and looking for Iris. I fill lots of notebooks with sketches like this when I am trying to work out the story. It's nearly all visual at first.

Helen stephens notebook How to Hide a Lion at Christmas

I knew that at the end of the story they would be reunited. Like ‘Home Alone’, only with a lion. By the way, this is pretty much my ideal Christmas day. Food, sofa, telly, lion... OK, maybe not the lion...

Helen stephens notebook How to Hide a Lion at Christmas

Then thumbnails. I was trying to work out how Iris and the lion would reunite, and wondered if Iris might find a snowman in the morning, and it turns out it is Lion. Like in my favourite Christmas telly, 'The Snowman', only in my version Iris GETS a snowman at the end.

Helen Stephens notebook How to Hide a Lion at Christmas

At about this stage I went to see my amazing publisher Alison Green and my designer Zoe Tucker. I love these meetings, magic happenes when we are all in the same room. They were very excited and had some great ideas about where Iris might hide her lion at Christmas.

helen stephens notebooks how to hide a lion at christmas

After our meeting I head home to the windy Northumberland coast and get back to work. I feel a bit like a hermit while I am making a book, and wrap up in thermals, winter woollies and a dressing gown over eveything to stay warm at my desk. The glamour!

helen stephens photo wrapped up

Now, this idea threw me into one of those whirlpools of overthinking... I thought Lion might eat all the Christmas dinner & that Iris might have pizza instead. I spent AAAAGES researching whether you could order pizza on Christmas day.

helen stephens sketchbook how to hide a lion

In the end I decided that it didn't matter whether you could order a pizza on Christmas day or not (surely you can't... ) She would have pizza regardless (maybe from the freezer?) Jeez, sometimes I do overthink...

Once I have the plot vaguely in place I start to make dummies. My designer, Zoe Tucker, makes them for me too, and we think about whether everything is working: are the page turns in the right place? Are the words and pics singing together? We make lots of these...

The full sized roughs look like this. I glue patches of paper over the bits of drawings that aren't working & draw over the top to save me redrawing the whole image. I try very hard not to do the roughs too many times or the drawings lose their spontaneity.

When I do the final artwork I become a FULL-ON-ILLUSTRATOR-HERMIT. I wear piles of clothes to keep me warm, dog at my feet, and don't do anything else, except a brisk walk on the beach each day until the artwork is done.

I tick off each piece of artwork as I do it, to give myself a sense of achievement.


And finally we think about the cover... These are a couple of rough drawings.

And after all that work: piles and piles of notebooks, stacks piled high of rough drawings, dummy books coming out of my ears, blood, sweat and tears: it all comes down to a small pile of finished artwork.

helen stephens artwrk at desk how to hide a lion at christmas

Then, like a favourite child leaving home, I send it out into the world. 'Good luck out there! Stay safe! Find lots of nice homes!'