30 Jan 2013

How did 'How to Hide a Lion' happen?

I thought you might like to know a little bit about how 'How to Hide a Lion' came about.

All of my books start with some sort of  drawing from life. I draw in sketchbooks all the time, sometimes the drawings lead to a new book idea straight away, sometimes they sit in the sketchbook for months or years, sometimes they don't lead to a new picture book idea at all, but that's OK too.

Anyway, one day I was pondering what my next book would be. I looked around where I live to see what I might like to draw, a beautiful windswept market town with a beach, a lighthouse and an old town hall... and dismissed that.  I couldn't stop thinking 'LION'!

My nearest lion is at Edinburgh Zoo. So I packed a bag with a few pens and a sketchbook, and off I set. When I got to the zoo it was snowing heavily. I walked up the steep hill to the lion enclosure. There was a sign; 'Lion enclosure closed'. I was so disappointed. But then I saw there was a tiny gap where I could see the lion sleeping. I sat on the frozen ground for about an hour but the lion didn't move. I did a couple of very bad drawings of a sleeping lion (below). Then I gave up and filled in the day drawing other animals.

A few weeks later I tried again. This time one entrance to the enclosure was closed, but another was open. I spotted a sleeping lion way in the distance. I tried to draw it but it was too far away to get any detail. So I decided to console myself with a hot bowl of soup in the cafe. Feeling revived and full of optimism, I climbed the hill back to the lion enclosure, only to find them still sleeping, just out of sight. A zoo keeper told me that they feed the lions before the zoo opens, and then they sleep all day. I gave up and went home.

Feeling very disgruntled I thought, if I can't draw a lion from life I might need to give up on this whole Lion book idea.

It was a few weeks before I realised that that WAS the story. A hiding, sleeping lion. And that's where the idea started... This is one of the first sketches I did of a lion hiding (this idea didn't make the book in the end. This often happens for me, a drawing can inspire a whole book, then not make it to the final cut.)

Sometimes bad things turn into good things, you just have to know how to look at them!

In the end I did use my surroundings; the old town hall, the market town as a backdrop to the book. The old grey stone houses of Berwick-upon-Tweed make a good contrast to the yellow lion.


  1. I love reading these "making-of" stories and seeing sketches.

  2. What a great "making of" story! Did you tell that lazy lion he's the inspiration source ;) ?
    Love from Mirjam.

  3. Hi Helen!
    I really enjoyed finding out how it all happened...your work and words are very inspiring! xx