Thursday, July 2, 2015

FRIENDS OF SUPER COOL BOOKS // Melanie Lee makes picture books, plus she loves aliens, monsters and imaginary friends

Melanie Lee writes a lot of stuff but right now she’s mostly known for her picture books, and she was also involved in this superhero project for kids. We met at this year’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content. She’s friendly, funny and full of creative ideas. I know because I checked out her charming blogs here and here. You could sit with her and chat about stuff forever. But she’s very busy too. So the next best thing you can do right now is read this interview with her below. She talks about aliens, monsters and imaginary friends. Bonus: also, her writing process. Click on her links at the end! 

— D

Melanie and Squirky


Hi! Please introduce yourself and your books for kids!
I’m Melanie! I’m a freelance writer and part-time lecturer from Singapore. I’m also the author of The Adventures of Squirky the Alien, a six-part picture book series about a blue alien who goes around space looking for his birth parents.

What inspired your series The Adventures of Squirky the Alien?
My son Christian, whom my husband and I adopted three years ago. While reading him children’s books on adoption, I realised that there weren’t any stories featuring Asian adoptive families as most of them are published in the UK or US.

Also, for the longest time, I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book about an alien with spiky hair. Initially, this character was going to be called Dan the Durian Man. Interestingly enough, he ended up in a collection of short stories I published with MPH in 2014 titled Imaginary Friends: 26 Fables for the Kid in Us.

When my friend, illustrator David Liew, first met Christian, he said that we should work on “some sort of alien story” for Christian. And so I decided to bring back my spiky-haired imaginary friend again, but this time gave him a new name, colour and back story. We were initially thinking of going the indie e-book route, but it just so happened I mentioned it to an MPH editor (who worked with me on Imaginary Friends). He was open to giving this a whirl and so it ended up being a print book series.

What’s your creative process for the Squirky books?
I’m not the “planner” sort of writer so basically I just have to sit myself down to write and see what comes up. My brain is a random thing and I never really know what gets spewed up but that’s why writing is fun for me. Next up: David, a few trusted beta readers and my publisher all give their feedback and I process all of that and see how the story can be improved. David then illustrates the book and I refine the text again after that. The book is then laid out and goes through a few more rounds of proofreading. I also test the story on Christian at that point. If he asks me to read it again, then I feel it is ok to go. My husband Darren is the final proofreader and it really helps to have that fresh pair of eyes — he’s almost always able to pick out some major boo-boo.

In terms of getting ideas for Squirky, it’s a rather heady mix of superhero movies / comics / television, space trivia, adoption literature and documentaries, and talking to adult adoptees and other adoptive parents.

What are some interesting responses to the Squirky books?
While the book series is written for adopted children in mind, it can also be a story for any kid who feels different or is searching for something. Some parents tell me how their kids have to sleep with their Squirky books, or even get into fights in the school bus over Squirky!

However, I can’t take Christian for any Squirky events because he gets really upset seeing other children look at Squirky books. “He’s MY Squirky!” he insists and then proceeds to throw himself on the floor.

The Adventures of Squirky the Alien was launched soon after the controversial NLB book ban where one of the books in question was on adoption. As such, some people were wondering if Squirky had “other agenda” which I found ludicrous.

Christian loves Squirky!

What's next for Squirky?
The 4th book! Squirky and Emma (his adopted sister, who is inspired by my god daughter of the same name) face monsters! Concurrently, I’m trying to wrap up the writing of the 5th and 6th books.

Melanie's work website:
The Adventures of Squirky blog: