Friends for surviving a crazy world

Published on 27 September 2018

Writer Melanie Lee’s book of fables might look child-like, but don’t judge a book by its cover; it is for readers of most ages, especially adults, who appreciate playful humour. Images: Illustrations by Arif Rafhan, reproduced with permission from Imaginary Friends published by Marshall Cavendish.

By Huang Lijie

Sleep-starved from three-hourly night feeds with her infant son, author Melanie Lee started to find comfort in old friends. Specifically, imaginary friends from her childhood.

The self-confessed “dreamy kid” believed commonplace objects such as stationery led fantastical parallel lives; she would give them names and come up with stories about their everyday exploits.

That imaginative streak in her was reawakened when she found herself trying to adjust to late-night mothering duties as a new parent. Eager to breathe life into her old imaginary friends, she started to write playful stories inspired by them.

Chucky The Clever Calico Cat in Imaginary Friends by Lee could’ve had a second life as a YouTube star.

The tales she spun eventually took the form of a collection of A-Z, modern-day fables for adults titled Imaginary Friends. The stories, about objects and animals with human attributes, are sometimes wry, often ticklish and they mostly draw on the author’s adult life experiences.

For example, Elly the Egotistical Eraser was inspired by the erasers Lee had as imaginary childhood friends, as well as the aggressive people she met as a working adult. The moral of that story: “If office politics gets too ridiculous, just get out.”

The series of 26 short stories was first published in 2013 as an illustrated e-book; a print version followed in 2014.  A new edition of the book, featuring fresh, full-colour illustrations by the artist Arif Rafhan, is now in major bookstores.

The book’s illustrator Arif Rafhan identifies with Walter The Wistful Wombat, but wishes he were as brave.

Lee says: “Revisiting the stories made me realise how many of the themes are still relevant to my life today, for example, navigating human relationships and managing a stressful life.

“My favourite friend is Paul the Psychic Pillow. I’d totally want to have a pillow like that to help me figure things out.”

What she has clearly worked out in her mind is the target reader of the fables. The colourful book has often been mistaken as a children’s fairytale collection, although it is pegged at young adults, and is found in the humour section in bookstores.

Olivia The Overachieving Octopus is at the centre of a fable on not letting work determine one’s sense of worth.

Lee says: “I wrote these stories on a whim, with no target readership in mind. I’ve had kids as young as seven and adults as old as 75 telling me that they enjoy the book.

“So if anything, I’d say the ‘target reader’ of this book is more of a personality type rather than a particular age group: someone who appreciates humour and knows how silly human beings can be sometimes.”

Imaginary Friends retails for $23.35 before GST, and is available at all major bookstores, and online at Amazon and Book Depository. Details on the book here.

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