Helen Stephens
Helen Stephens





2003 – IMAGES 27

Helen writes and illustrates books for children. Her titles include How to Hide a Lion, which was nominated for The Kate Greenaway Medal, The Redhouse Book Awards, and won the Prix Livrentete, Fleabag which won the Dundee Picture Book Award and was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award, and The Night Iceberg which was selected for the White Ravens International Library. She also illustrates for other authors including Roger McGough, Sophie Hannah and Michael Morpurgo. Helen graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1994 and for a few years she illustrated for magazines. Then she discovered her love of narrative and the connection between words and pictures, and there was no looking back. She had her first picture book published in 1998. Helen is a lecturer on Anglia Ruskin’s MA in Illustrating for Children.

“This was one of my first books for children, my work has grown and developed a lot since then, but I look back on this book with fond memories. I am proud of the line:

'Baddies don't eat doggie biscuits,' said Butch 'they eat table legs!'”

“It was wonderful to win the AOI silver award. There were lots of publishers at the party and I think it must have improved my profile. But most of all, I just remember the fun and excitement of being at the party. I was having such a good time I totally missed the bit where Mike Leigh presented the award, and I missed picking it up!”


BRIEF: There wasn't really a brief, I had an idea for a book, and David Fickling published it.


RESEARCH: My books nearly always start with some drawing from life now, but back then they usually started in my head. Often one image in my mind would lead to a whole book.

PROCESS: I don't really remember the process now, but I do remember some happy days sitting in my editor's garden knocking the book into shape. I think it was David Fickling who thought my working title 'Coochie-Coo' might work better as 'Poochie-Poo', and he was right.

RESISTANCES: I lived in a tiny studio flat and worked in the room where I slept. I taped the illustrations all over the walls and was completely lost in my work. I used to get very bad cabin fever!

INSIGHT: After a few years I became frustrated working in flat, bright acrylic, it had its limitations. I couldn't illustrate sadness or any high emotion and needed to break out of the constraints I'd given myself. But I think this book shows that medium working at it's best, I am very fond of this book.

DISTRACTIONS: I can be distracted, but I think play time is important. Sometimes just taking a walk, or doing a sketch outside can help me focus when I get back to my desk. I try not to look on distraction as a bad thing. It's all part of the process for me.

NUMBERS: This was my 5th book, I've lost count how many I've done now.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I've gone on to illustrate all sorts of books since then, I think the high point was being asked to illustrate for Michael Morpurgo. This was a huge challenge as I was convinced I could only illustrate my own texts. But I couldn't say no to the great Morpurgo could I? So I found my way into his story through drawing on location in Venice, where he'd been inspired to write the story, and was so glad to break another mental barrier. I learn more and more with each new book and long may it last!