The starting point for my picture book for slightly older children, The Lion and the Unicorn, was a single vivid image. It is set in 1940, the story of a little boy who is evacuated out of the London Blitz to a great Tudor mansion in the country. The germ of the idea began in just such a place: Parham, a house with a wonderful garden in the Sussex Downs. Tucked away in a passage leading to the servants’ quarters a row of faded photographs look out at you. Carefully parted hair, pigtails, wire-rimmed glasses, hand-knitted sleeveless sweaters. They are the small, solemn faces of the evacuee children who stayed there during World War Two.
I hardly needed to research the period. I remembered it well from my own childhood. But I looked at a lot of old photographs of children crowded together on London mainline stations, each with a label pinned to their coats, a gas mask held over the shoulder with string, and a small suitcase; some cocksure and smiling, some utterly bewildered. They were about to leave their mother behind and be packed off into the unknown.
My hero, Lenny Levi, is very forlorn. But in his pocket he has a brass badge with a lion and a unicorn which his father gave him before going off to war. It is his talisman. So this picture book became, in a way, a story about the two natures of courage. The lion stands for valour, for bravery in battle, which everyone is supposed to have in wartime. The unicorn stands for a different kind of strength, the day-to-day stuff, the courage to endure until the good times come again.
from A Life Drawing, text and illustrations copyright © Shirley Hughes, 2002