This book of stories almost did not come to be.
The first story was written, acted out on stage, then promptly went missing; and the second handwritten one went up in flames, quite literally, after a fire in the legal firm the author was working in then.
“It got to the point where it felt like I was never going to get the book out! It took four years to write it and get it published – and I’m not quite sure that this has sunk in yet. It was truly a surreal journey,” says Eugene Mahalingam, 39, of his first book.
Parallel Tales is a collection of 10 fairytales written in rhyme and retold from a different perspective. In this book, Cinderella’s foot can’t fit into that dainty glass slipper; Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf are bosom buddies; the boy is unable to cry wolf, try as he might; and the hare really, really wants a rematch with that tortoise.
The stories here do not end at happily ever after – no, they take unexpected twists and turns, sometimes merrily going off on a tangent, and other times teleporting into the future. Grandfather Hansel, anyone? Well, except he is called Hans in this book. He is old, but at least that house of candy is still standing.
Mahalingam fondly recalls how “Meenarella”, the first story, was written many years ago, as a play for his mother and her colleagues to perform at their company’s annual dinner.
“We were very close, she really was my best friend. It was a very depressing time for me when she passed away in 2012 (from cancer). I felt really lost after that and I knew I had to find something to keep myself busy,” he recalls.
Working on this collection of stories was a much-needed diversion of sorts.
“It was just the kind of distraction I needed and it helped me cope with the loss. I started on the stories in September of 2013 and was done with the writing after a year. Then came the search for a publisher, and the long process of editing and revising,” he says.
Mahalingam – who is a journalist with The Star’s business section – shares that he has always been drawn to fairytales that featured animals, even as a child. The stories in Parallel Tales reflect this, with most having animals taking on central roles.
The hardest part about writing these stories, he says, was coming up with the angles and twists. Once that was done, it was pretty much clear sailing – at least, the writing portion of it.
His fascination with alternate universes, like in many a Star Trek episode of which he is a huge fan, clearly influenced his departure from the norm in his take on these fairytales.
“It is what could happen if the stories pan out differently from how we know they do. I hope the reader will be entertained and have fun with these tales,” he says.
Parallel Tales is a bit of light-hearted reading, with characters so familiar they could almost be family.
“Initially I imagined this to be a book for kids, but along the way, it took on a life of its own. Perhaps it would be accurate to say it ended up being a book that is more for young adults and those who are young at heart,” he laughs.
Mahalingam had so much fun writing these stories that he is now toying with ideas for other books.
“There was never a dull moment writing this. I don’t think the next book will be fairytales again, but I will retain the rhyming part because it is unique and is something I enjoyed doing,” he says.
The stories in Parallel Tales are complemented by lively black and white illustrations by artist C. Hwan, a colleague’s of Mahalingam’s at The Star. It is published by MPH Group Publishing.
“The book is dedicated to my parents. I just wish my mum was around to see this,” concludes Mahalingam.