Isolation Publicity with Oliver Phommavanh 

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

brain freeze

Oliver writes funny books for middle grade readers, drawing on his comedic and Thai background. Like many authors, he has had many launches and events cancelled in the wake of the pandemic, and his new book – Brain Freeze – is a collection of short stories and is out in September with Penguin. Many of the events surrounding this book have been cancelled, so Oliver agreed to answer my questions, and hopefully, people will pick up this book and enjoy it and his other work.

Hi Oliver, and welcome to The Book Muse! Thanks!

  1. Your website says you’re both and author and a comedian – which career came first, and do you find that they complement each other?

I was a comedian first! I started doing stand-up comedy during my uni and teacher days. As a funny writer, the two jobs go hand-in-hand. I only became a comedian to test out my comedy writing, and there’s no better feedback than a live audience. Even when I do school visits, a few of my ‘routines’ have become stories.

  1. Your books feature multicultural Australia and many Thai characters – which is awesome – how much of your own experiences, your family, your friends and yourself do you find seep into these stories and characters?

I would say about 80.6 percent of my stories are based on my life haha. Especially in my first few titles, Thai-riffic! covered my Thai heritage, Con-nerd was a reflection on my parents’ pressure to succeed academically and Punchlines was a snapshot of me in high school, cracking jokes and trying to be a comedian.

  1. You call your fans Chewy Gum Gums – which sounds like fun – where did this originate?

Before Thai-riffic! came out, I was already hand-writing books, cards and stories, giving them to my friends as presents. I had a fake publishing company called cHEwY creations, which was a logo that I put on all my things.

cHEwY gum gums comes from the thought that imagination is like bubble gum, which you chew and chew on, and when you blow out a bubble, a story pops out!

  1. Your first book in 2010 was Thai-riffic, and it was shortlisted for a YABBA and a KOALA – what was it like hearing about these shortlists that your novel appeared on?

It was surreal, not only because it was my first book, but also because YABBA/KOALAs are kid-choice awards. I felt validated knowing that kids were enjoying my stories.

  1. Your next release – The Odd Bunch – is out in September – what will that be about?

OOPS I DIDN’T UPDATE MY WEBPAGE HAHA

The new title is called Brain Freeze! It’s my first collection of short stories where I get to delve into all kind of weird and what-if scenarios such as a kid with a 1000 names, two kids daring each other to drink slurpees until someone gets a brain freeze and more!

  1. Following on, have you had to cancel or postpone any events, appearances or launches of any kind – general or book related – due to the pandemic?

Yes, every school visit and festival since mid-March has been cancelled or postponed until October onwards. Fingers crossed for Term 4 (or even Term 3)

  1. What is the one thing you would absolutely love to write about that you haven’t written about yet?

I’ve been toying around with fantasy for the last few years, but just haven’t nailed the idea yet. Watch this space!

  1. Where did your interest in dinosaurs come from, and have you written a story about the Oliversaurus yet?

 

When I was a kid, Jurassic Park came out and it took a plate-size bite out of me. I became a walking dinopedia. I wrote plenty of Oliversaurus stories as a kid but haven’t published a story about Oliversaurus…you never know, someday one day.

  1. What kind of dinosaur would the Oliversaurus be?

A T-Rex for sure, King of all the Dinosaurs!

  1. You love burgers – have burgers featured in any of your books in a significant way, and where did your love of burgers come from?

As a kid, I remember going to McDonalds and getting a Happy Meal. I was more excited for the cheeseburger than the toy haha. I guess you always want what you don’t have, and after a daily diet of Thai-food, burgers and fries always stood out for me hehe.

So since then, I always try burgers wherever I go, and then Instagram came along and I haven’t looked back as a part time Burger Grammer.

 

  1. Favourite burger (other than Maccas)?

Best burger in the world is Fergburgers in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Closer to home, BL Burgers in Parramatta (and there’s also stores in Newtown and City too) are pretty awesome.

  1. You say you loved Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman and Roald Dahl – if you could choose any of their books to turn into a movie, which ones would they be and why?

I think Blabber Mouth and Sticky Beak combined would be an excellent movie, they were my favourite Gleitzman books and showed his skills as a masterful situation comedy writer. The backdrop of the country town, and all the social issues that it could touch upon, it would be a well-rounded Aussie story.

  1. Do you have any other favourite books and authors, either current or from your childhood, and what drew you to these books and authors?

R.A Spratt’s Nanny Piggins is my favourite modern comedy series. There is so much satire and tongue-in-cheek humour in those irrelevant books, and I wish I would have written them haha.

I am also a huge fan of Nova Weetman, from the Secrets We Share/Keep and more recently with Sick Bay, she nails Grade 6/7 girls and their friendships. A huge inspiration for Don’t Follow Vee’s voice.

  1. You’ve been writing in the arts industry since Growing Up Asian in Australia appeared in 2008 – what do you enjoy about working in the arts industry?

 

A humble and helpful community. You get a sense that nobody is in it for the fame or money, but for a genuine desire for voices and stories to be heard.

  1. The arts are becoming more important in these times, and always will be – what would you like to see done to support local Australian artists in all areas of the arts?

A more sustainable income-stream and support for artists. While artists and the arts get recognition during festivals and awards, outside of those, it can be an everyday struggle to make ends meet. Artists’ livelihood is so fragile, and the pandemic has exposed this.

 

  1. What kind of research have you done for your books in the past?

Most of it is through Google and own life experiences like holidays. For example, when I was writing The Other Christy, I went to Cambodia to the war memorial and various muesums to gain a deeper understanding for Christy’s Grandpa who survived the Pol Pot regime.

  1. Diversity is becoming big in literature – in terms of authors, stories and characters. What do you think is still missing in terms of diversity in literature, especially literature for children?

I’d like to read more about characters with disabilities of all kinds. YA has come a long way in addressing this, but I’d like the other genres to follow suit.

  1. If you weren’t an author, what do you think you would be doing?

I would have been content being a teacher or stand-up comedian, but I’d love to give YouTube a go, with a slant on gaming and plush toys 😊

  1. Do you have any pets or writing companions, and do they make the job harder or easier?

Speaking of plush toys, I have my favourite teddies and toys around me when I write in my writers studio. I’m staring at Grumpy Bear on my desk as I write this haha.

  1. Finally, what is your next project that is in the works?

I’m working on my next novel, What About Thao, which is about an Asian kid moving a country town. I’ve also been inspired by recent events and have started to write some ideas down for a short-story collection about kids during this pandemic.

Anything I may have missed?

Not that I can think of haha

Thanks for participating Oliver!

No probs, thanks for invite, as well as spreading the joy of books and reading across the social waves

 

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