Behind the Scenes of ‘In the Cold Night’

In this blog discover how author and ShelterBox team member Sarah Tagholm wrote the story for our film ‘In the Cold Night’, read by Imelda Staunton and illustrated by Karen George.

20 November 2023

We’re thrilled to launch our new film In the Cold Night. It features Imelda Staunton telling the story of a family in an earthquake, with wonderful illustrations by Karen George. The story is based on the real life experiences of families ShelterBox helped in Syria and Türkiye after the devastating earthquakes earlier this year.

In this blog Sarah Tagholm, the writer of In the Cold Night, explains how her role at ShelterBox and her work as a children’s author collided to bring the film about:

I’ve worked part time for ShelterBox since 2016. My role is to encourage artists and celebrities to help raise the profile of the charity. It’s a fascinating job and I’ve been lucky to secure support from greats like Dame Judi Dench, Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley, Sir Quentin Blake, Samira Ahmed, and many more. I’ve worked with renowned photographers like Veronique De Viguerie, Tom Stoddart, and Dougie Wallace; and authors like Joanne Harris, Monique Roffey, Bill Bryson, Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan and the wonderful Quentin Blake.

The rest of my week is spent writing picture books. Wolves In Helicopters was published in 2022 and Sam Francisco King of The Disco in June 2023. My next book, We Are The Wibbly is published by Bloomsbury in March.  

I never expected to write a picture book for ShelterBox. But when Kirsty in the fundraising team suggested the idea for our winter campaign I was more than happy to try. 

Being surrounded by the voices of the people ShelterBox works for meant I already had an idea of how living through an earthquake might feel to a child. 


Woman and two children standing in front of a tent in Turkey
Stories like those from Aleu and her family after the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria helped inspire the story for In the Cold Night


Writing in first person is always my preference, and after chatting to ShelterBox staff who had met the families affected by the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, and reading the transcripts of the interviews, I developed a voice and the plot came easily. I even managed to sneak in a cat!

Picture books are usually 12 two-page spreads, but as this was for a film it meant we needed to cover it in six. As such my text had to be stripped back hugely, but I think we managed to keep its character despite being so few words. Once the manuscript was agreed it was all about who would be best placed to illustrate the work… (dramatic page turn!)

Karen George’s illustrations are incredibly heartwarming, and in particular I think she has a great talent for capturing children’s emotions and movement. I so loved her work for James Catchpole’s, What happened To You? I reached out about the project and when Karen sent us a character study of the Nana, she utterly broke our hearts. I knew we had picked the right illustrator. You can discover more of Karen’s work at


Illustration by Karen George of a grandmother and small child reading a book with a cat on it
Karen’s George’s original character study of Nana and the little boy for In the Cold Night. Karen went on to provide a number of beautiful illustrations for the film.


Karen said regarding her involvement, “Whilst researching for the illustrations for this ShelterBox project, it has at times been heart-rending to read about, and respond to, the devastating stories of peoples lives suddenly torn apart by earthquakes, losing loved ones and their homes… But amidst the desolation, these stories also have a sense of hope, brought about by the passion and determination of the ShelterBox workers and volunteers.”

“As an illustrator, I feel very fortunate to have been able to contribute in a small way to the ShelterBox story, as they continue to help rebuild the lives of families and communities across an ever challenging world.”

Imelda Staunton has been a ShelterBox supporter for years – giving up her time for free to support families who have lost their homes. How lucky we are to have her. We knew we wanted Imelda to narrate the story right from the very start of the project, but of course she is The Queen and always in demand so I wasn’t sure she would have the time. We were over the moon when she agreed. I knew her delivery would be spot on, but despite having read the story hundreds of times I did have to quietly wipe away a tear whilst filming. 


Imelda Staunton reading a book and looking at a dog sat next to her on the sofa
Imelda Staunton while filming In the Cold Night, with her dog Molly. The book she’s holding is a prop created just for filming! The story is not available to buy.


Imelda said of her involvement, “It’s hard to fathom that 110 million people around the world – nearly double the total number of people living in the UK – are displaced, forced to leave their homes because of disaster, conflict, or the climate crisis.

“For people without adequate shelter – having had no other safe option but to leave their homes, livelihoods and loved ones behind, the winter months can make life even more difficult.”

“I’ve been a supporter of ShelterBox for years – their responses to disasters providing families with emergency shelter and other essential items is simple but tangible. Like solar lights for dark nights, water filters for drinkable water, thermal blankets to stay warm, and shelter so people can protect their families from the cold, wind, and rain. 

“So, when ShelterBox asked me to narrate their film based on the experiences of families they met after the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, I was glad to be able to support their end of year appeal and help raise awareness for displaced people, families, and communities around the world.”


Illustration of a family in a tent by Karen George
One of the beautiful finished illustrations by Karen George


All the parts of this project came together smoothly. I hope people enjoy it enough to share it with their friends and family to help spread the word about the crucial work ShelterBox does for families who have lost their homes to conflict or disaster.

You can watch our In the Cold Night film below. Please share to help raise awareness of those who have lost their homes through disaster or conflict.