A Roaring Good Read; Let the Picture Books of Helen Stephens Take You on an Awfully Big Adventure, Laura Fraine Urges BOOKS

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Byline: Laura Fraine

Helen Stephens calls herself an authorstrator: an author who writes with pictures. "I never sit down and write a story and then think I'll add the pictures," she says. "I piece together a storyboard of pictures, cut them out and rearrange them until the story works visually, with words here and there where it comes naturally. "So I feel as if I write with pictures and I put words in where they are needed.' The phrase authorstrator is borrowed from one of her MA students from when Helen lived in London. A North East native, she was brought up in Staindrop, near Barnard Castle, and studied at Glasgow College of Art. She moved to London on graduation but moved to Berwick-upon-Tweed, "almost on a whim" two years ago.

The area is proving a rich source of inspiration. Helen's last picture book, The Big Adventure of the Smalls, was inspired by the Bowes Museum, while her new book, How to Hide a Lion, is set in Berwick.

Helen says: "My books virtually always start with an image. Either an image of something I''ve drawn from life or sometimes an image in my head. That sets me off and I go out and sketch and research around it. It always starts with the drawing."

The image that captured Helen's attention for The Big Adventure of the Smalls was of two young children peeping through the banisters at a party downstairs. The house and the staircase looked huge and grand, in contrast to the tiny and not-at-all-grand children.

Helen used to go to the Bowes Museum as a child and remembered there was a very beautiful staircase, so off she went with her sketchbook.

"Once I got there and started drawing it inspired me in lots more ways. They have this huge collection of gilt and baroque furniture. …