Oliver Phommavanh – class clown to champion

Author interview with Oliver Phommavanh

Oliver Phommavanh is the highly popular author of funny, thoughtful books that feature Asian-Australian protagonists. His books range from Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd, Super Con-nerd, Natural Born Loser and The Other Christy to Brain Freeze and What About Thao? (all published by Penguin Random House).

Thanks for speaking with ‘Joy in Books’ at PaperbarkWords blog, Oliver.

You write about many Asian-Australian and other children. What is your own story growing up?

If I had myself as a child in my classroom, I would have had my hands full. I was hyperactive and a class clown who loved the attention. But I was also a keen reader and creative, and teachers would love me reading or writing, because at least I was quiet haha. I grew up in Western Sydney, a melting pot of Asian cultures with working class parents who instilled into me a good work ethic. Oh, and I also loved my pop culture, bingeing on cartoons and video games. 

Oliver Phommanvanh (PRH website)

You seem to be everywhere. From where do you get your energy? Are you an introvert or extrovert? When and where do you fit in your writing?

Energy drinks hahahaha

I am a chatterbox and class clown at heart, so I do enjoy being an extrovert, and love talking to all kinds of people and strangers. Not only do they feed me ideas for my own stories and jokes, I also get a buzz learning other different perspectives. 

I also have a love of travel. I call myself a touring author in that I tend to release new books just so I have an excuse to keep on going around Australia and Asia, visiting schools and festivals, but also squeezing in some sightseeing, shopping and eating as well. 

I’ve been accustomed to short burst writing. If I have my laptop nearby, I can write at airports and planes. I can write at cafes or school staffrooms during my break. I can write for an hour in my hotel in the afternoon. I’ve been able to switch on and off quickly over the years. Having a deadline also helps too. 

What are three strengths, attributes or values that some of your characters embody or portray that you would like your readers to understand and emulate?

A love of family or defending your family. Yes, they can be embarrassing and annoying, but they are always there for you. 

Curiosity. Life would be boring if you knew everything. Always try to find out how and why things work, sometimes half the fun is exploring or researching topics. Always trying to find out why someone has said that or behaved that way, which is empathy in action.

Bravery. Standing up for what you believe in. Fighting for what you hold dear to your heart .

You are a generous promoter of other writers’ books. How do you promote these – blog, YouTube channel …?

I always want to give back to this community because many established authors did the same for me when I hit the scene, plus at the end of the day, I just want kids to read for enjoyment and I don’t mind which books they’re reading. 

These days, I do book reviews on my YouTube channel, which I started out of lockdown in 2020. In between the sneaker and gaming content, I make sure to shout out some great books for the kids who tune into the channel. 

You support many writing and reading-related groups. Please tell us about one of these – your role as an Author Advocate for Room to Read

I’ll always be a champion for books and education, and it breaks my heart that most children in the world don’t have access to either. Room To Read is an organisation that reaches out to developing countries in Asia and Africa, building libraries, developing books written by local authors and illustrators in their home language, as well as allowing girls to have access to education. As my role as an advocate, I spread awareness of Room To Read and its programs, as well as help run some fundraising initiatives such as being slimed at last year’s Upon A Festival in Adelaide, alongside fellow advocate, Tristan Bancks.  

Oliver Phommavanh’s website https://www.oliverwriter.com/ 

Oliver Phommavanh’s instagram: @oliverwinfree 

Oliver Phommavanh’s facebook: www.facebook.com/oliverfans

Virtual Oliver P Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/@virtualoliverP

Oliver’s books at Penguin Random House

My interview with Oliver at PaperbarkWords about Brain Freeze

Much more about Oliver is coming in my in-depth interview with him in Magpies magazine, March 2023.

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