Free as a Word

cHEwY thoughts of Oliver Winfree

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!


Merry Christymas!


Hey cHEwY gum gums

It’s Christmas Eve Eve and I’m ready to relax, spend time with loved ones, read some books that have been collecting dust and also play some games (watch out Halo 5 and Xenoblade X) over the Christmas and New Years period. I’ve had an awesome time away in South East Asia, visiting Vietnam, Cambodia and good old Thailand (for the 13th time haha) to visit family for a cousin’s wedding. Cambodia was a surprising experience, I had fun exploring the temples around Angkor Wat and learning more about the country’s troubled past in Phnom Penh. I visited both the killing fields memorial and genocide muesum, absorbing all the pictures, words and surroundings. It is hard to believe that this only happened 40 years ago.

With this in mind, I went home to tackle the editing work for the Other Christy. Christy’s grandpa also goes through the war in Cambodia, and I had a better understanding of how to flesh out his past a little more. I was a little hesitate at first, but after visiting Cambodia, I don’t think it can be ignored. So I’ve expanded a little on Grandpa and his relationship with Christy. With all the heavy work done and dusted, I’m now looking forward to seeing the book out in May. In the meantime, I’m still working through a raw draft of Super Con-nerd, can’t wait to show off this nerdy sequel too!

See you all in 2016, there’s so much to look forward to, not just my book, but also Independence Day 2, the new Nintendo console and binge-watching the Olympics in Rio. Catch ya on the flip side!


I’m Koala-fied!


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Hey cHEwY gum gums

Last week, I went to the KOALA awards ceremony at Newington College. KOALA awards are such a blessing because it’s nice for kids to have a chance to vote for their favourite book. It’s always a great chance to catch up with author friends, publishers and editors, as well as meet all the keen readers who were at the event. We had the lovely ‘Weirdo’ illustrator Jules Faber draw some cool cartoons including me hehe. He totally got my hair haha.

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I love the part where authors and illustrators got to introduce themselves. I never prepare for this part. I usually rift off somebody else or try to do something weird. So I got up and was inspired to sing R Kelly’s I believe I can fly. Just because.

Another lovely surprise came at the end, when both Thai-riffic! and Con-nerd were inducted into KOALA’s Hall of Fame, after being nominated so many times. I really don’t expect to win any of these awards, no really, because when you’re in the same category as Andy Griffiths and Emily Rodda, you really have to bow down to these legends and be grateful you’re among them. And I’ve always been cool with that. It really is a reminder of how lucky I really am. Kids are coming up to me and saying how inspired they are to read my books (and maybe sing badly too).

So I hope for my other books, maybe The Other Christy to be up there at the KOALAs, because I like to be invited back to the ceremony and create some choas hehe. Speaking of The Other Christy, I’ve just seen the cover for it and I’m smitten. I wish I can show you but I’ll reveal it very soon…well maybe a small taster *hint hint*



Rocking the sublurbs!


Hey cHEwY gum gums

I know it’s been another long gap. It’s funny how I’ll say that I’ll blog once a week, and that turns into a fortnight and well…nothing much has happened haha.

Okay, maybe a little bit has happened.

I went to a couple of events like the Book Expo at Homebush. I found out that The Other Christy has been slated for a May 2016 release, it should be a busy month for me because I’m also going to a festival around that time (I’ll reveal that later hehe). In the meantime, I’ve been working on some blurbs for the book. Some are written from Christy’s perspective (kinda like Con-nerd was from the main character’s view) and a general one (like Punchlines), and even a mix of both (like Thai-riffic!). I know blurbs mean a lot because I still see kids read the back of the book, so hopefully I nail it. I’m sure it’s going to blend well with the cover that my illustrator Evi is working on, it’s been ages since I’ve seen her, so I’m chuffed that she’s on board :-)

Term 4 is where school visits trickle down, which is wonderful because I get to work on Super Con-nerd at home. But it’s also nice to still see kids as the year comes to an end. I got some news from a teacher friend who’s had 2 kids pick me to do a portrait. How’s that for famous hehe. Somebody did ask me if I was famous, and I said only in the bookworld, but for me that’s all that matters hehe.


posted under The journey | 2 Comments »

What’s the StoryArts, morning GloryHearts?


Hey cHEwY gum gums Yes, I had an awesome book week, thanks for asking hehe. It’s been a mix of Sydney and Melbourne schools in August, making kids laugh, selling books and more importantly spreading the magic of reading (specifically mine hahaha) I’ve been in Ipswich for the StoryArts Festival and it’s been a wonderful past couple of days. I’ve had fond memories of my first SAFI back in 2011, so I was looking forward for eight days away up in Sunny Queensland! I didn’t get a chance to stalk Andy Griffiths this time (missed him by a day haha), but I did manage to hang out with the other half of the TreeHouse duo, Terry Denton, who kept us laughing in between sessions and at dinnertime too. That’s the thing about these festivals, it brings authors and illustrators together over meals :-) I also got to do some jogging along the river too (I’m doing the Sydney marathon next week). Another highlight was being able to see Eric Vale, Epic Fail on the stage. Not only was it really funny, the songs were borderline clever ‘comedy’ songs, like Flights of the Concords kinda style. The five actors and actresses were fantastic. I really hope the show does get to tour around Australia. This weekend started the adults program. Sometimes talking to adults can be a little harder than kids, but SAFI is filled with keen beans who want to be there to learn more about our books. On Saturday, I was part of a panel about diversity in children’s books, from an asian perspective. I was joined by Sally Heinrich, author and illustrator who used to live in Singapore. We all agreed that while things are slowly changing in terms of diversity, more needs to be done. Publishers need to take risks! We also discussed incidental diversity, where someone’s culture is not in the spotlight but they are there in the background, in the classroom, being normal kids. Last night, we had a dinner celebration with entertainment provided by the authors and illustrators. This was capped off by an illustrator draw battle, something that Tony Flowers and I have done for the Sydney Writers Festival. I wish I can tell you what they drew but what happens at dinner, stays at dinner haha. Surprisingly, there were many people who rocked up early for breakfast and the ‘Make Em Laugh’ panel with fellow funny writers Michael Gerald Bauer and Barry Jonsberg. I admire both authors, not only because of their award-winning books, but because they do serious and funny books. I don’t know if I have a serious book in me (not yet anyway haha). Finally, I went to see some other authors, Suzy Zail spoke about her holocaust stories and Josie Montano and Archie Fusillo were chatting about their latest collaboration, a book called Veiled Secrets. Josie was the MC from last night’s dinner and she is a parallel to mine; she writes about her embarrassing family in her earlier books and she is a bit of a comedian too hehe. Archie also mentioned that he doesn’t like to be known as just a multicultural writer, he’s a writer who writes more than just characters with Italian backgrounds. I can see where he’s coming from, but I don’t mind called a multicultural writer. It gives me a niche to get into schools and festivals, plus I suppose all my books will have lead characters who are from an Asian background. Yes it puts me into a box, but if you look at the whole literature landscape, I’m still in the minority here. O.W

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