Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Imaginary Friends

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I see that the main character of Ryan Oakley's new book is named Budgie. It's a strange name for "a knife wielding, brass knuckled young man from the impoverished and brutal red section of Toronto’s T-Dot Center." Though I mostly say this because, when I was two or three years old, my imaginary friend was named Budgie, too.

I recall Budgie as a middle aged man I didn't particularly like. He was grumpy, belligerent and disagreeable; he didn't know how to play properly and often sabotaged my games. I have a distinct memory of my mum setting a place for him at dinner and being totally dismayed that he was staying. (Though when I tell her this she laughs and claims that Budgie and I were thick as thieves. One of us, obviously, is guilty of what psychologists call "confabulation.")

I just took a quick online poll of five friends, all of whom are writers in some way. They include a professor of political science, a sports journalist, a screenwriter, a personal essayist, and a novelist. To my question, "Did you have an imaginary friend as a kid?" they responded as follows:

Professor: "No. Not at all."
Journalist: "No."
Screenwriter: "Not a friend, an imaginary monster with no name."
Essayist: "Two: Amy the Girl and Amy the Boy, siblings who traveled the world."
Novelist: "Not a 'person' as such, but some kind of elemental superhuman force that was watching me all the time & testing & grooming me for a special destiny, sending me signs, etc., so I felt constantly (constantly) watched & would try to interact with it, demonstrate that I understood, etc., do the tests, etc., & sometimes felt that I was 'pleasing' the thing & other times that I failed. It was very exciting but also sometimes crushing & horribly depressing."

I probably don't need to comment on these replies; I trust you can see where this is leading. Apparently 63% of kids have imaginary friends, though I wonder what proportion of adult fiction writers had their own Budgies as kids; I'd imagine it's higher, and I'd also imagine the worlds these characters inhabited were fully realized paracosms. And I wonder, as was the case with me and my novelist friend, how many of their made-up relationships were antagonistic?

Interesting, too, how normal, or at least innocuous, it is for kids to have imaginary friends, while adults who invent and engage with made-up people generally get put on medication -- while those of us who write it down get nominated for prizes and paid to write blog posts like this one.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Pasha Malla

Pasha Malla’s first collection of short stories, The Withdrawal Method, a Globe and Mail and National Post book of the year, won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and the Trillum Book Award and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize and longlisted for the Giller Prize. His latest book, People Park, is forthcoming from Anansi in July 2012.

Go to Pasha Malla’s Author Page