BEFORE I WAKE UP
PUBLISHED BY PRESTEL
The thoughtful and lyrical new picture book from Britta Teckentrup, BEFORE I WAKE UP (published by Prestel), follows a young girl through her night time dreams, where she is accompanied by a strong and protective lion - a dream version of her toy. Her dreams are by turns exciting and enchanting, but there are also dangerous moments during which the lion keeps her safe. The story is told through simple stanzas that keep the dream moving through the journey until morning approaches and the girl returns to her everyday world, leaving the lion to watch and wait for her.
We caught up with author and illustrator Britta Teckentrup during a recent trip to the UK and she answered the following questions about Before I Wake Up:
Q: Before I Wake Up has a more serious tone compared to some of your other picture books like Tree: Seasons Come, Seasons Go. Is this a new departure for you?
A: In Germany, where I live now, there is a market for more books with a more serious, arty tone and I have done these before with books like The Memory Tree (Orchard Books). So it's not new for me but I have developed that tone in this book. I think we have more freedom now than three or four years ago to develop ideas like this a bit more.
It may be that this is part of a backlash against everything being digitally driven. When you buy a book now, it has to be very special and this is also the case with books for older children; many more are now illustrated. You can also see this in the graphic novels market, which has always been there in Germany but is now huge.
Q: Do you see this as a picture book for adults, too?
A: I see it completely as a children's book although I have heard of adults buying the book for themselves. The scenario, though, is a child's dream world and by creating something that explored a child's dream, I hope to help children. I hope that they will find it soothing and the children I've shared it with have been mesmerised by the story.
Q: Has the story of the girl and her dream journey changed much as you developed the story?
A: I always start a story with some images and a sense of the 'mood' of the book because that is what comes first to me. The girl and the lion were always there, from the start. My characters develop as I try to find out the world they live in or the scenario around them. Usually I develop the character for a story first.
This book was actually wordless at the beginning and the idea of the dream came later. It began as a celebration of the imagination. When you close your eyes you can see all these things inside yourself; later that would become the dream world.
The lion was in the story but he wasn't a toy at the beginning. She was travelling with a lion and it was later that the lion became a cuddly toy that we see on the girl's bed. I wanted him there as a symbol of strength and power. He has a majestic feel and helps to make her brave. He needed to look strong and brave with a sweet and gentle expression, but also to look warm and cuddly - but not too warm and cuddly!
Children's bedtime toys are very important to them - I had one as a child and if you ever lose it, you end up sleeping in your parents' bed! When I read this story to young children, they always want to tell me what their cuddly toy is and that this is what they'd have in the story instead of the lion.
Q: Why have you introduced dangers, like the sea journey, to the girl's dream world?
A: Dream worlds are never entirely safe, there are dangers and scary moments in life and I wanted to show that but also for the girl to have a lovely dream, to have a happy mood, so having the lion there makes it feel safer for her.
Q: You are German by birth and English is your second language, so why do you choose to write your text in English?
A: I write in English because I lived in England for so long and my books started publishing in England. I find that it helps to keep the text spare and that encourages people to read between the lines. I find writing in English easier than speaking it and at one point, when I was still living in London, my English was better than my German.
Q: You also have some dream scenes where there is no text, why is that?
A: The moment the words disappear, you can lose yourself properly in that dream world and I wish I could have had more of those pages where you look and immerse yourself in the images. Everyone looks at things differently from how I see them so you can make your own interpretation of those pages.
These images on these pages are layered because when you have a dream, it's like a haze, you don't know what goes on in them, you only see the latest images when you wake up and nothing is clear. So I build the images in layers and there are silhouettes and you're not sure what they are.
I am now wondering what to do with the pages that weren't used in the book. They are abstract pictures so you can lose yourself in them. I might decide to exhibit them later on.
Q: How did you choose the colour palette you use of blues and yellows?
A: I wanted it to go from dark to light, so the bluey tone warms into yellows. It just matched the feelings I had about the picture book. I like how the pages move from red to yellow towards the end, when morning is coming.
Q: How did you go about creating the image, what techniques do you use, and do you have any favourite spreads?
A: It starts off with me making lots of textures and lines and drawings. I cut the shapes out to make collages and scan in elements and put it together on a screen. The lion is a mixture of textures and computer work. I cut out the whale and the jellyfish and scanned those in too, although the girl was created using the computer.
It worked very well using the computer to make the dream scenes, which needed to be layered, otherwise those images would have been harder to create although I could have printed them. Using a computer gives you more freedom to move things around and to
I like the page where the girl is swimming with the jellyfish because at first she had found the ocean daunting and then finds out it isn't. And I like the pages where she meets all the creatures in her dream world.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My next book with Prestel is called Oskar, which is a simple, quite arty book about a cat who loves everything, it's very uplifting. I tend to work on three or four projects at any one time which is helpful because you can leave one of the projects and come back to it a few days later with a fresh mind.
I have a studio at home and I'll start working at about 8am when my son goes to school and after a couple of strong coffees!
Nature is a big influence for me in my work and although I love my studio, it is in the middle of Berlin and I would love to have a big studio on a hill with a huge window looking out to sea.