Interview with 2019 Stratford - Salariya Picture Book Prize Winner Manlu Tu

The Stratford - Salariya Picture Book Prize which welcomes all unpublished authors and / or illustrators to write and illustrate a children's picture book is now open for its fourth year. This week we are delighted to share with you an insight into the life of Manlu Tu, Cambridge School of Art graduate, and her prize experience as she won the 2019 competition with her fantastic book 'Look, Daddy, Look!' 

Every day over on our Instagram page we have been sharing picutres and answers from Manlu herself, as she gives a personal insight and behind the scenes content of her book and life as a picture book author / illustrator. We didn't want anyone to miss out though so you can find all of Manlu's answers down below - we hope that this insight will inspire some of you who are currently considering entering, to enter this years prize! Good luck!

Image One: Manlu Tu - 2019 Winner!
Image Two: Cover of 'Look, Daddy, Look!', due to be published in Spring 2020!

Question One: What made you enter the Stratford - Salariya competition and why? How did you come up with the idea for your book?

Manlu: "I heard about the Stratford - Salariya competition from my tutor and the senior (Camille Whitcher) who won the prize in 2017/18. I think it’s a dream for everyone who loves picture books, to see that their own books can get an opportunity to be published, so I entered the competition with no doubt.

I got this idea after I dived deep into the question about myself. I was close to my father because I lived with him for most of my childhood, as my mother worked in another city. In order to say thank you to my father for his support, I decided to create a project based on one of the stories from my childhood which was the time my father lost me. 

This was my Children’s Book Illustration Graduation project and you can see my exhibition in the photograph."

Image One: Hedgehog page illustration.
Image Two: Manlu's Graduation show stand.

Question Two: How long did illustrating the entire book take you and which methods do you use? If you could pick just one illustration in the book, which would you say is your favourite?

Manlu: "I used the summer holiday to do some sketches and doodles of hedgehogs and then started the storyline in September. Until the end, it took more than six months to illustrate the whole book. Lots of people prefer to use light watercolour wash with some pencil sketches, I tried, but because I liked the feeling of overlapping, using watercolour overlapping without showing any sketches became my decision for the method in this book.

For me, when the father hedgehog leaves his baby sitting on the laundry line, that is my favourite illustration. I can imagine the “silly” but “funny” interactions between hedgehog father and his baby, which always makes me laugh"

Image One: Manlu illustrating at her desk.
Image Two: Manlu's favourite illustration.
Image Three: Draft Hedgehog illustration.
Image Four: Hedgehog character draft illustrations.

Question Three: What is your background with illustration and picture book writing? Was this a career field you always wanted to go into?

Manlu: "My background is as a graphic designer, I like drawing when I am free, becoming a picture book maker is the career I want to keep going on. As for writing, I don’t have much experience. However, as I mentioned, this story is based on my real story with my father, so writing this story was much easier for me.

This book’s idea started from my father’s incredible reaction when he couldn’t find me anywhere when I was young My mother told me that my father even tried to use a long stick to stir the pond where I disappeared nearby to check whether I fell into the water or not. This sounded dramatic but full of love, so I told myself why not illustrate a poor father trying hard to find his baby?

At first, I misunderstood hedgehogs would carry their babies on their back in nature. I thought, wow, great, it perfectly matched my story, so I used a hedgehog as my main character. Though later on I knew I was wrong, but it could not stop me keeping using hedgehog in my story - hedgehogs are so adorable!

My aim was to keep the book in a humorous way, I designed blowing the hoover, stirring the water and checking owl’s sausage shop (owl is hedgehog’s predator). Also, I wanted to show mutual love between father hedgehog and his baby. To be frank, I struggled with presenting this part. Finally, I realised that for children, simply carrying a carrot that you need was their way to show love. So in the story the reason why father hedgehog could not find his baby was because little hedgehog was busy looking for her father's glasses.

I preferred to have a happy ending for this story, so little hedgehog was always safe in each page, but father hedgehog just could not see her. Maybe because he didn’t wear his glasses or he was too anxious and focused on looking for his baby. I hope readers can get more fun when they find out extra information hidden in the pictures."

Image One: Final owl illustration.
Image Two: Draft owl illustration.
Image Three: Squirrel character draft illustrations.
Image Four: Kitchen draft illustration.

Question Four: What advice would you give to anyone thinking about entering the competition this year? Any tips or ways in which they can prepare themselves best?

Manlu: "Don’t hesitate, just enter. You will never know what will happen, maybe you are the luckiest one. I didn’t expect to win. I think everyone has their own way to present their illustrations and stories to make sure they are the best, so what I can suggest is just enjoying the process, and having fun. When you have fun, your readers can have fun from your book!"

Image One: Baby Hedgehog final illustration.
Image Two: Original final page illustration.
Image Three: Manlu at her Graduation show.
Image Four: Manlu illustrating at her desk.

Question Five: What have you been up to since winning the competition? Are you currently working on any projects or on any new picture books of your own? 

Manlu: "After I won the prize, I got Salariya publisher’s contract, so I kept working on my hedgehog father project for a while. It’s now finished and I can’t wait for it to come out next year. 

Recently, I am working on a monster text book as the illustrator. If everything goes on well, next year, I plan to restart my interactive book which is one unfinished project I prepared for my master study."

Image One: Daddy and baby Hedgehog final illustration.

We would like to say a massive thank you to Manlu for taking the time to share an insight into her experience with the Stratford - Salariya Picture Book Prize with us. We hope you have all enjoyed seeing her work and reading what she has to say, as much as we have. We are hopeful that this will become a fairly regular occurence as we would love to be able to give you, the reader, the opportunity to hear directly from an author and / or illustrator about their own work. One day we may even interview you!

To keep up with all the behind the scene action be sure to follow us on our Twitter and Instagram!