Free as a Word

cHEwY thoughts of Oliver Winfree

Do the Write Thing!


Hey ya!

Wow, has it really been almost two months since my last post? I guess I was busy writing posts as part of my blog tour for The Other Christy (check it out haha) but it’s also because I’ve been in deadline mode, trying to finish off my latest manuscript, Super Con-nerd. I spent the last six weeks, thinking and breathing like Con-nerd, and I’m hoping that the world will get to see a sequel to one of my favourite books 🙂

In the middle of my Deadline Bling (duaduadua), I went to Mackay for the WhitSunday Voices Festival. Now in it’s 13th year, the festival is a beacon of literature for those who live in North Queensland. The festival managed to squeeze close to 5000 kids over 2 days, and it was another wild time with new (and old) cHEwY gum gums. I always tend to get a little carried away at these talks, but it was such a loose and crazy atmosphere where you could get away with all kinds of stuff. I remembered going there 5 years ago, and I had fond memories. I had a blast, meeting old friends like George Ivanoff and Sandy Fussell. Plus I met some new faces like Amie Kuffman and Jay Kristoff are a legendary pair that are going to take over the world with their cool books. I also briefly met one of my favourite authors, John Marsden! Gotcha! Yes, Pokemon Go just came out during that week, so Poke-fever was in the air hehe.

The best thing about festivals like these is that you get to chat to the other authors and illustrators and trade stories about the creative life. It all ended with a fantastic dinner, where Richard Fidler was the guest speaker. I can’t complain, I got to be a kid rockstar for 2 days and even had my own DJ on stage for a few talks (kinda haha). You can never take these things for granted and I’m thankful that I got a chance to reach out to so many kids, especially those kids who traveled 5 hours or more, kids from schools where they can all fit into a car. Seriously. It was the perfect start to term 3, or as some authors and illustrators call it, book week season, because we all know it isn’t just a week, but a whole term where books are in the spotlight. And that’s okay with me 🙂




Hey ya!

It’s been a wonderful week and a half so far as I keep plugging The Other Christy around to schools and bookstores. After a few days in Sydney’s inner west, I was down in Wagga where I covered 7 schools in 2 days. Jess from Gateway Books was a delight, taking me around town where I got see a few sights and surprised a lot of kids. I say surprise because that’s what I do. I’m comfortable knowing that a lot of people don’t know who I am. So I want to win them over. I tell kids to buy my book, otherwise I’ll cut off a toy chicken’s head off. This toy chicken has survived for 5 years (and counting). Thankfully haha.

Unless you’re a big name, a school visit or bookstore signing may not reap immediate sales for you. But booksellers talk about the afterglow effect. If you do a great job, kids will talk about you, they will read your books, they will bug their parents or family to get a copy…and hopefully they’ll know you when your next book comes around hehe. Months after a visit, librarians tell me that the books keep flying off the shelves. So that’s always a good sign 🙂

I try to perform like a support act at a concert. You know those acts that appear before the big headliner comes along. I’m hungry for more fans, so I want to give kids a good show. It’s a good mentality to have when you’re first starting out. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a big enough name where I can waltz in, knowing that I’ll sell a ton of books based on the strength of a popular series or name. I’ll never forget where I come from, and keep chugging along, trying to win over people. I may not meet many people who have read my book, but fingers crossed, they’ll be reading it afterwards 🙂 So going on a tour like this is beyond just plugging a new book, it’s a long-term game. And fingers crossed, I’ll be in it for the long haul.


Ninja signings!


Hey cHEwY gum gums

So whenever a new book comes out, I always head to random bookstores and see if they have my book. If they have my book, I take it out and stick it face out on the shelf. If they have a few copies, I ask the bookseller if I can sign the books. Yes it is kinda awkward but there are a few benefits from doing this. Author Ian Irvine  has a brilliant website about the truth about publishing (check it out aspiring writers) and he says that if you sign a book, the bookstore can’t send the book back to the publisher. Sale +1.

They’ll also put a nice ‘signed by the author’ stick on it and perhaps display it somewhere too hehe. But like Ian said, your new book only has a few weeks in the spotlight, until the new batch of books come out. So you’ve do it while you can 🙂

It’s also humbling when booksellers don’t know who you are. But now they’ve put a face to the book, so now a few people can look at The Other Christy and say ‘oh yeah, it was that random nerdy guy who couldn’t pronounce his title because he was so nervous.’

Yeah, that’s me. I don’t think it ever gets any easier. But hey, I don’t get to release books that often, so I’m gonna get excited, I’m gonna tell people about it haha. I still get a kick of seeing my books on the shelf 🙂


Who do we singapore? AFCC 2016


Hey ya!

I’m back after a week in Singapore, so much to take in from the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. It’s an unique festival, combining not just writers and illustrators, but also people from TV, web/apps and game creators, as well as editors, publishers and lecturers too. Just like Singapore itself, this mix just works and I realised that the book industry in Asia is booming, and I want to be a part of it haha.

So here are a couple of things that I learnt while I was sitting in the sessions over the five days

Make the most of festivals! While deals can get inked at these events, it’s really a stepping stone towards that deal if you meet the right people. Yes, networking sounds a little callous sometimes but it’s just about putting yourself out there. I got to meet some awesome creators and perhaps our paths will meet soon. I mean, I only found out the AFCC through someone I met at Bookaroo in India back in 2014 hehehe.

Awards are a big deal here: I mean, I always saw awards as bonus recognition but it’s something that really push out here. If your book hasn’t won an award in something then it’s not worth looking at from a public’s point of view. If you keep getting rejected with awards, then make one yourself, help out the industry by making people aware of those distinct voices out there.

We need diverse books: Not just culturally diverse books, but books with all kinds of different families and backgrounds. Singapore may not be as open as Australia in one sense, but slowly boundaries are being pushed and more kinds of different books are being accepted.

But kids aren’t being themselves in their stories…Maya Thiagarajan spoke about how Asian kids are writing about characters who are white and in western countries. Why? Because they think their life is boring? I don’t know if the same thing is happening here in Australia, but I’m going to pay close attention in workshops from here on in. The consequences is that they value their own cultural stories less and then we won’t see those diverse books out there. It goes hand in hand with my second writing tip, write about your life!

Reading for pleasure is beginning to be accepted: It’s a given in Australia right? Well kinda, because while Singapore boasts high academic success, reading for examination squeezes the fun out of reading (and writing too). I checked out those examination textbooks for creative writing and they make me weep. But it’s beginning to turn around, with academics and studies all pointing to reading for pleasure as being beneficial for your intelligence. Ha! Take that maths haha. Just kidding Maths, you know I love you

It’s all about values…while in Australia, we tell writers not to hammer down the morals in a story, it’s explicit in Singaporean books, to the point that they have labels or stickers saying what the morals/lessons will be. I know it happens in some books here, or in teacher notes but not to this extent. I guess we write the book first and the themes will come out of that, no matter what they’ll be.

I hope to be back in Singapore someday soon, I know it’s humid and all but it’s a wonderful place. I have a long list of books with Asian lead characters in them, and that’s the greatest souvenir I got hehe.


Explain yourself


Yo cHEwY gum gums

I flew down to Melbourne last Friday for a Kids Bookshop PD day for english teachers and librarians. A great mix of authors and speakers about choosing the right novel for kids to study. Easy answer: My book haha

Allison Agnello, previous head of curriculum for Keysborough SC spoke about the dilemma of balancing teachers’ wants with students’ feedback on what novels to study in class. One point stood out for me. She said that the refugee kids there didn’t want to read too many of their own experiences in the novels they read. They wouldn’t mind reading about different experiences to their own, sometimes they want to be in another world, time, space or time.

Thinking back to last week’s Parramatta Studio Stories session with Peter Polites, he spoke about how the publishing industry is boxing ethnic writers into writing memoirs. As if they can’t write about anything else except their life story. I wonder why. I wonder if we’ll either to get to the point where we’re reading stories about characters that just happen to be Asian, Middle-eastern, African…or any other ethnicity, and not having to keep explaining where they’ve come from. They want to look forward, carving their own stories. I think that would be pretty sweet.

But it’s not that easy. I mean, all my stories are contemporary but there’s still a little backstory about where the characters’ parents come from. And we should acknowledge our past in order to discover our future. It’s funny, I’m here right now in Singapore for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, and diversity popped it’s head up too. I’ll save that discussion for another blog post heaheahea




Do I believe in inspiration?


Hey hey cHEwY gum gums

I went to Parramatta Artist Studios for their bi-monthly series, Studio stories. I wanted to see my beloved writing pal, Alice Pung, who gave me my first big break back in 2008. Funny enough, this was another Sydney Writers Festival event. We first met at the launch of Growing Up Asian in Australia down at Welsh Bay during the Sydney Writers Festival haha. Yes, I literally have a bookish crush on her.

8 years later, Alice is still glowing and joyous as always, and it was a pleasure to see her read from her latest novel, Laurinda, which won the NSW Premier’s Award for YA. Anyhow, during Q and A, an aspiring writer from the audience the panel about how each writer balanced having a real job and writing. It brought me back to my early days, where I split my week until teaching part time and writing at home. I mean, full time teaching drained my creative energy, so I needed a balance where I was still getting money to supplement my writing.

So am I a full time writer? Kinda. I mean, I spend half of my year visiting schools, conferences and festivals…doing talks and workshops is my money job. But I gotta say, it sure doesn’t feel like a job. And I get to wear cartoon shirts to work haha.

Alice Pung said that she likes having some work in between her writing. If she dedicated all her time to it, she would feel less productive. I feel the same way. I like coming back from a week or two of school visits, hungry to work on my next novel. I have spent many school summer holidays in January, with hopes of smashing through heaps of words and never getting there…because it feels like time is infinite. But there’s always a tension between writing and doing other work.

Poet, Maryam Azam said that you will find time for it. If you love it that much, then you will make pockets of time. She juggles full time teaching and uses those school holidays wisely. I guess if you do have limited time, then it does really become valuable. I know authors who when they have kids, wake up early or find an quiet hour to smash out some words and you know, you just get in the zone quicker.

Then it moved to discipline. Do you wait for inspiration? I never did. I think writing is like exercise, you gotta keep doing it. Sure, I have dud days, but I’m still in front of the screen, writing something. Even if it’s editing or writing a blog like this, it’s writing.

Peter went to say that he doesn’t believe in inspiration. It’s all about your intention to write. And I agree with him there. Writers block doesn’t really exist. I tell kids that if you’re truly stuck, walk away, play some games, whatever. It will come to you eventually. Maryam said inspiration is like clarity of thought and you got to make it a habit. Inspiration as a habit? Yeah, it’s true. Writers never switch off. Anyone or anything can become an idea for a joke or story for me. Nobody is zapped into being a writer, it’s a muscle that gets trained over and over again.

Finally, to be a writer, you gotta live. Have experiences. Meet people. And yes…get inspired, just like I did with this blog because I had to punch out these words.

I remember those days when I first started, writing, teaching, meeting new groups of people, learning from other writers, living out my crazy life.

Because like Peter said, writing can’t not work for me.

I find that truly inspiring.


To launch or not to launch?


Hey ya!

The countdown is on until my book launch for the Other Christy. I had this idea of doing a blog tour for the book, from June 27th to July 8th, so I’ve been contacting some old pals like Tristan Bancks and Sally Murphy, and meeting some cool new people like Annie McCann who runs Read3r Re-Vu. Just looking at the next few weeks, I have plenty of chances to promote and talk about The Other Christy. It’s always nice to have something fresh, and so I’ll be honing my spiel on Christy’s story, both for kids and teachers/booksellers/librarians.

People always ask me if every book needs to have a launch and I guess the answer is no…but at the same time, I love that opportunity to celebrate another stepping stone in my cHEwY journey (aka my writing career). Having been to launches in the past, they have always been breezy, fun occasions and a chance to catch up with people too. In fact, I don’t really have any birthday parties, so book launches are when friends from all sides, like high school, uni, teacher, church and writing etc, come together. Call it Avengers 3: Infinity War if you want haha. I’m also excited to be my other cHEwY gum gums who hopefully come along to be the first to snap up a copy!

And let’s face it, book launches are priceless promotion for your new book and a great kickstart for the book. I’ve already heard that The Other Christy is already being reprinted, so that’s a good sign that the book is striking the hearts of librarians everywhere. Add to that a glowing 4 and a half star review from Bookseller and Publisher and well…why not add a little more fuel to that rocket before it launches.

I’ll never take for granted for the fact that I’m still releasing books so I’m going to enjoy this one like a slice of cake, and devour it with joy 🙂

Oh and in case you are in Sydney…my book launch is at Sydney Dymocks, 424-430 George St, 2-4pm, June 11th. It’ll be a Saturday afternoon of cake, fun and books!



Allow me to reintroduce myself…


Hey ya!

In 2 months time, The Other Christy will be out on bookshelves. I’m thrilled to be back on the shelves, after a little cool diversion in bringing out a book in the Stuff Happens series. I mean, Ethan is still a beloved book for me, but The Other Christy is really the next cHEwY creation after Thai-no-mite in 2012. Yes, it’s been that long.

So I’ve boarded the promotion train, kicking off with attending the booksellers showcase at Penguin Random House HQ in North Sydney. It was a great chance to meet booksellers from stores big and small, who hand-sell people books. So I’m here to hand-sell The Other Christy. Just speaking to a few got me excited to read upcoming books from authors like Jesse Andrews’ The Haters. Another person asked me if I ever get sick of signing books. No way! I’ve always been hesitant about going into bookstores and asking to sign my own books, because I’m scared they won’t have any of my books or know who I am, thinking I’m some random guy haha. But I’ve been told to be bold and sign away (because once you do, they can’t return it haha).

Penguin Random House have got a lot coming for the rest of the year, highlights being Gus Gordon’s new picture book, Somewhere Else and Emily Gale’s The Other Side of Summer (or as I call it, the other, other book hehe) who also got a chance to talk about their latest books. They also have books ranging from Doctor Who Dot to Dot books to some really cool sports books. It’s an exciting time to be a kid because whatever they’re into, they are books out there for them!

The Other Christy is not my first story with a female lead character, but it marks the start of a new phase for me and my cHEwY creations. So it was a nice touch to really reintroduce myself to the booksellers with a fresh book and direction (but still got that classic comedy vibe of course hehe). If anybody says that I’ve gone down the Morris Gleitzman route then they’re half right. I’ve never been so pumped to really get out there and plug plug plug. I’m ready for any interviews and doing the bookstore signings. It’s something I can never take for granted, and it’s one of the perks of being with a big publisher, especially one who’s got your back. I can’t think of anyone who would think that it’s a chore or pain. It can be tiring, but in a good way (and I’ll be telling you all about it here).



Come to Papua!


Papua has been the most remote place I’ve been to yet. In the tropical jungles of Papua, where tribes still roam about, lies a tiny town, sprouted up to house and service the people who work in the nearby mine up the mountains. It’s home to Mount Zaagham International School, where I have spent three days with all the kids at the school. Yes, there were only about 17 kids, but they were all pretty cool. I got a chance to work with each group of kids for about an hour and half, for three days straight. I love doing these intense workshops with multiple sessions, but what struck me was how honest and open they were in sharing their work. I guess when you’re in a group of 5 or 6, you haven’t got anywhere to hide. Not only do the kids see each other in class, but they also play with each other in the playground and well…outside of school too because there really is nobody else. So the kids have become a close knit family and you can tell that they care for one another. It’s an unique atmosphere where creativity thrives and kids are able to express themselves in many ways because they have the freedom to be themselves. The last three days have been a joy, and the teachers have also been pretty friendly and supportive too. I gotta say, life of an international school teacher is pretty sweet, especially when you can work in a place like this. It definitely has it’s perks hehe. I’ve been pretty lucky to have visited many international schools in places like China and Thailand, but this is something totally different. And what a blessing to have experienced it, and observing how these kids interact with one another. It’s pretty cool.

I got a chance to sample the busy town of Timika today, taken out by two teachers. It was like going into any small rural town of Asia, but there was something special about how the people acted and even just some of the vegetables and produce that they had on sale, even I was scratching my head, and I love my asian vegetables (well sorta haha). Now I’ve got an Easter weekend to relax in Bali, so looking forward at seeing what really happens there haha. Of course there will be fun, beaches, sightseeing and shopping (oh and a visit to Mcdonalds, to continue my burger streak!) O.W

Super friends!


Hey cHEwY gum gums! Happy (belated) Lunar New Year? Yes, I’m still here. I’ve had a nice break, playing Xenoblade Chronicles X (33 hours and still going strong). I had all these wild dreams of finishing manuscripts and other things, but it all took a back seat to just relaxing and hanging out with friends and family. I did enjoy watching the tennis in Melbourne over Australia day weekend. I guess I work like Channel 7, everything happens after the tennis.

Now that the kids are back at school and MKR is on screens again, I’m ready to tackle 2016! Last week I went to the Penguin Random House offices for an afternoon tea with some children’s authors from the Penguin and Random House stables. I’ve met a lot of the Random House authors such as Belinda Murrell, Jacqueline Harvey and Tristan Bancks over the years through festivals and events. Plus I used to review Random House books for Buzz Words, an online children’s author magazine. So it was a pleasant surprise to be all under the same roof now.

I got to catch up with some old friends from Team Penguin too, namely my publicist and sales representative, along with my publisher and editor…and I knew some of the other Random House team through various events too. There was only a few people that I didn’t know such as Julie Burland, the CEO of Penguin Random House haha. She wanted to touch my hair and I said sure, why not, because she is the boss after all hehe. I have a new book, The Other Christy out this year, so it was a good reminder of why it’s great to be backed by a big publisher like Penguin Random House.

We sat through a brief presentation about last year’s book sales and children’s books are still leading the way. They introduced their combined sales and publicity team who will try their best to promote our books. I know it’s up to the author as well, and social media has made it easier (I’ve finally got my andriod-powered Blackberry Priv, so that means I’m on instagram and pinterest now haha @oliverwinfree), but still you can’t beat a dedicated children book’s publicist…and I can’t wait to go plug The Other Christy in June. And I’m going to go all out too…cupcakes for everyone haha. So as 2 big publishers come together to share expertise and ideas, it’s the best of both worlds. I’ve always admired the way Random House presented their children’s authors at various events with their cool banners and now I get to have one (hopefully haha).

Plus I can still give penguin slaps to people, gimme five!


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