Melanie is by far the funkiest and fun-nest discipleship leader I have ever had – just look at her hair. We were in the same course in uni, different years, and lost touch for several years after that, but then “found” each other again via the wonderful world of Facebook! I admire Mel’s grit in the face of setbacks, her authenticity and down-to-earth nature, and yet, her innate ability to have her “head up in the clouds” – in the best of ways. While she is far from a naive idealist, Mel is one who doesn’t shy away from chasing her dreams, and I’m amazed by all that she has pursued and achieved in these past few years. I’m a fan.
To date, Me has published four books and one e-book. Personally, I think Imaginary Friends and Quiet Journeys would be great gifts for a girl friend this Christmas, while the Squirky series is perfect for introducing young children to the topic of adoption. I can’t wait to get my hands on her second book in the series. 🙂
Welcome to this interview series of ladies who have Dared to Dream!
Who is Mel?
I’m a dreamy worrier. Fortunately, there’s my husband, Darren, who is a role model in going with the flow and getting down to doing the things you love, and my son Christian, who always finds something to laugh about.
How did your writing dream begin?
I’ve enjoyed writing since young. However, I wasn’t very good at it in school. I often failed my compositions because I wrote out of point. I would come up with storylines where the character time travels, or the girl that gets pickpocketed ends up falling in love with the pickpocket. I still remember how one teacher got so vexed she wrote MAKES NO SENSE in huge red caps across the page.
I chose to study communication studies in university because I knew I enjoyed writing, but then realised I didn’t really like the “serious” newswriting stuff and didn’t possess that innate journalism instinct. However, an exchange programme at the University of Missouri-Columbia (a top journalism school in the US) made me fall in love with writing again through a feature writing course I took. That course introduced me to this concept of literary journalism, a style of reporting where personal opinions and colourful descriptions of characters and settings were encouraged. I realised that I really enjoyed writing stories where there was more space to explore.
After I graduated, I participated in the Mentor Access Project programme organised by the National Arts Council, where a local poet, Felix Cheong, mentored me for two years. I’m not sure why I opted for poetry since I hardly read any poetry. But it was a wonderful exposure to writing more descriptively. I wrote a few cheesy poems during that time, and then I stopped writing creatively for a few years after that because I was so caught up with work. I remember Felix telling me that “when it was time for me to write, I would write”.
When I did my Masters degree in Melbourne, I took a fiction writing class for fun and once again, I loved creating and sharing stories with others. I began coming up with story ideas. In fact, I came up with this character of an alien with a spiky head (a rough prototype of one of my characters, Squirky) during that period.
I came back to Singapore and started teaching at a polytechnic, but was taking writing jobs on the side. Eventually, I decided to take on more freelance writing work, and teach part-time because I felt that kept me more in touch with the world. However, I still couldn’t bring myself to write creatively because I had a lot of hang-ups about being lousy at it.
Then, a few years ago, I went through a huge crisis and that released some of my hang-ups. I was practically pouring words out in my journal, on my laptop, and even on my phone because writing seemed to be my main channel of praying, coping and coming to terms with what I was going through. I also started to care less about what other people would think of me or my life. It was during this period where an opportunity to co-author a book with my spiritual mentor popped up (Quiet Journeys). It was a non-fiction book, but being able to complete and publish this book (even if it was short) was a huge psychological hurdle to cross. After that I began to write my own short stories. I self-published an e-book (Small Spaces) for fun, and after that, published another collection of short stories (Imaginary Friends) with MPH Publishing.
What are you working on right now?
About three years ago, my husband and I adopted a baby boy from Indonesia, and an illustrator friend brought up the idea of writing a picure book for my son. That idea festered for a while, and the character of Squirky became more real to me. I brought it up to my publisher, and they were open to doing a children’s book series on adoption.
Right now, I’m trying to complete The Adventures of Squirky the Alien (A Pancake Princess review here). Writing for children has been a huge learning curve for me, and so I’m focusing on it for now. However, at some point in the future, I’d also like to write longer short stories, and perhaps even a novel at some point. There’s still so much to learn and improve upon!
The Adventures of Squirky the Alien (Why Am I Blue? and What Happened to Planet Q?) are available for $10.70 at major bookstores.
What inspires you to write?
Overheard conversations. Life and all its drama. My childhood. Random imaginings.
What was the very first piece you ever got published?
It was a personality quiz in Teens magazine, which I wrote when I was in university. I’m grateful to the editor who gave me this first assignment, even though I had never published anything before and had no writing portfolio to show. I continued freelance writing for that magazine throughout school, and not only had the chance to interview celebrities (which was an eye-opener), but also feature stories on issues that personally mattered to me. I did a profile on three hearing-impaired friends once, and the editor was surprised to receive an outpouring of letters from teens with disabilities who were just overjoyed to finally be represented in some way in a magazine. It made me realise that words can make a difference.
How can our readers get in touch with you and your works?
You can find me on Instagram (@melanderings) or view my Small Spaces webpage. To check out my various publications, please “Like” the respective Facebook pages below.
You can also catch Mel at the following events coming up this year-end.
Sat, 29 Nov 2014
Launch of her latest book The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #2: What Happened to Planet Q?
MPH Parkway Parade, 11am – 12.30pm
Sat, 13 Dec 2014
Storytelling of The Adventures of Squirky the Alien
Sengkang Public Library, 2.30 – 3.30pm
17 Nov – 31 Dec 2014
Imaginary Friends Afternoon Tea – A festive afternoon tea set inspired by the characters from Imaginary Friends: 26 Fables for the Kid in Us by Melanie Lee. S$58/2pax inclusive of tea or coffee. Daily from 17 Nov – 31 Dec 2014, 3-5pm, Pacific Marketplace (Level 1 of Pan Pacific Singapore). She will be giving readings on 22 Nov, 6 Dec and 20 Dec. For more information: http://www.panpacific.com/en/hotels-resorts/singapore/marina/stay/offers/imaginary-friends-afternoon-tea.html