Free as a Word

cHEwY thoughts of Oliver Winfree



Hey cHEwY gum gums!

I’m back from my South American trip, seen a lot of sights, travelled to many cities and ate a lot of burgers. I’ve now eaten Mc Donalds in 23 countries 🙂 You can check out my instagram @oliverwinfree for more pics.

Anyhoo, I’m now back into creative mode. It was nice to have a holiday in my head when I was overseas, so I’m refreshed and ready to go.

One of these projects is a podcast pitch for the ABC. I was lucky to be a part of two-day workshop about podcasting at ABC studios in Ultimo last month. I met a few familiar faces like comedian/writer pal Jennifer Wong, as well as introducing myself to cool writers and performers such as Julie Koh.

I don’t listen to many podcasts, except ones that are panels about video games. So it was enlightening to discover the art and technique of podcasting. I heard all types of podcasts, from storytelling to journalism…to more surreal types that are funny and clever.

There’s much more to podcasts than just talking (though the voice plays a part too). There’s the music, sounds, editing and layering to set a mood. You can sing, rap, perform…anything goes. Podcasts can do something that no other media can do…it speaks to you intimately and personally.

So now I’m going to pitch a podcast about writing for kids, made for kids. Do kids listen to podcasts? That’s what I’m going to find out haha. But I’m excited to be given the opportunity to record bits and pieces for a pilot episode next month. More news soon 🙂


The effect of Frozen


Hey ya!

Last week I went to the SCBWI conference, where writers and illustrators come together and mingle with publishers and editors. This is where book magic happens, where deals get inked, interest gets sparked and conversations leads to promising ventures. I love coming these conferences because I get to catch up with old friends, meet new aspiring writers and also get inspired myself.

A highlight was the pitching session where authors and illustrators got to pitch their book idea in 3 minutes to a panel of publishers. Now these guys were picked from a bigger bunch of pitches, but it was still impressive to see how polished and rehearsed their pitches were. They’ve come a long way than simply explaining your idea in a neat cover letter format, this is really to hook someone in from the start and holding them there.

It was nice to see publishers genuinely excited to find out more about people’s ideas for books. I remember reading the first paragraph of Thai-riffic! back in 2007 at the NSW Writers Centre’s KIDYA festival. James Roy was on the panel and asked me to submit my work to one of his publishers, along with the actual editor from the publisher too. It gave me a goal to work hard on polishing my draft.

This one person leapt up on stage as a last minute entry. She spoke about her button box fantasy tale that brought back memories of The Borrowers and so on. She said that she wanted this book to be the effect of Frozen. Her energy and enthusiasm said it all. Just her joy that she had for the story. I mean, it’s one thing to write a great story, but it doesn’t hurt to really believe in that story too. Publishers can spot it a mile away J

I’m off to South America this weekend, away for 5 weeks for some sightseeing, eating burgers and other fun stuff. Be back with some more exciting news to finish off the year haha.


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Go Pokemon Go!


For many authors and illustrators, book week started in the middle of July. I’ve been visiting schools for the last few weeks and what’s the most common question I’ve been asked?

Do you play Pokemon Go?

Maybe the pokemon plush toys give it away, but I’ve been a Pokemon fan since Pokemon Yellow on my Gameboy Colour (google that up kids). I grew up on the cartoons and collected the cards and everything. I always had Pokemon plushies in my collection that I show during my talks, but only a few kids pointed them out. The ones who actually have a Nintendo 3DS.

Then Pokemon Go happened and after twenty years, Pokemon are cool again. So the kids go nuts when they see my Charmander, Bulbasaur and Squirtle plushies. Good on you Nintendo, training up the next generation to recognise these little pocket monsters haha.

But what does Pokemon have to do with writing stories? Nothing, for the first few weeks. Now I have an answer. You see, ideas are like Pokemon, you have to catch them all. If you don’t write down your idea then it’ll disappear into the wild. So instead of carrying pokeballs, carry a notebook, journal or notes app on your phone and catch those ideas!

Write down as many as you can, everyday. Sure, some days you’ll get a bunch of pidgeys and zubats, lame ideas that don’t really excite you. But occasionally, you’ll land something cool like a growlithe or Pikachu.

Now that idea you have can evolve into a story, or maybe in its final form, a book hehe.

I used to read a lot of Pokemon books when I was a kid, and it’s good to see them out on the shelves in stores and libraries. Especially in libraries, because pokemon could be that spark that gets a kid reading hehe.

So, as book season draws a close, and with a few more weeks left of school visits, I’m going to keep rocking up to schools and the kids will get excited. Over my pokemon toys, and hopefully my books too haha.

Oh, and I’m currently on level 20 and Team Instinct all the way baby hehe



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!



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