Author Spotlight – Oliver Smuhar
I am a 19 year old, Australian, award-winning author living in the Blue Mountains. Currently, I am studying a Bachelor of Communication’s Journalism and International Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney. In 2018 I published my contemporary, young adult, fantasy debut ‘The Gifts of Life’ just before my trial university entrance examinations in high school. Now with more free time I aim to create a series as well as many other novels within the upcoming years. In 2019 my debut was awarded the ‘Reviewers Choice Award for Best Book Written by an Author Age 18 or Under’ and the ‘2018-2019 Global Award’ for Australia from Reader Views. On August 25th, I attended the Blue Mountain’s Writer’s Festival, my first ever writing convention and was very excited! I have done several author-talks at schools, including my own and Korowal School, Hazelbrook. Nowadays, I make video essays on the internet, try to have a social life when I can, draw/paint, mess around on my guitar, work my two part-time jobs in hospitality, play with my dog, Monte, and am excited to improve my craft through my many socials and through you—the reader’s feedback!
Welcome to the Hive, Oliver. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I recently read (for the first time) The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothuss. I don’t usually like to read very popular fantasy epics, but the world Rothfuss has created, especially in contrast to The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire, is unique, filled to the brim with spectacular characters and all in all, is extremely well-paced. The only thing I didn’t like was that the main character, Kvothe was really good at everything, but nonetheless, still a great recent read!
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Honestly, either a bard or a monk. If I were a bard, I’d just use my trusty banjo and the power of chill to defeat my enemies. I think a nice, relaxed vibe reflects my own personality and to use it in such dire times within a dungeon would create for good comedy as well, which is never a bad thing. Hopefully, not everyone is as relaxed and can get serious during the life-threatening situations, because I don’t notice how life-threatening everything is. I’m not the best leader, but I can be if people tell me they need help!
When you’re not chilling in dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I enjoy hand writing my thoughts, however, if I’m writing an epic or a contemporary love story, typing is the best way, whether I’m using a laptop or a typewriter (rare).
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
I love listening to music when I write. However, on the occasion I’ll be so into my writing I don’t need anything at all. The silence can help you really be in the scene that you’re trying to express.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
When I am writing dialogue, I will sometimes just talk to myself to create realistic arguments. Besides that, if I’m not typing away, I’m dancing because my body needs a break from sitting for five hours straight writing.
I often talk to myself; it’s the only way I’m guaranteed intelligent conversation…
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
My home. I live in the start of the country in Australia, so it isn’t the middle of whoop whoop, but we’re getting there. I’m surrounded by trees, lookouts, fresh-water lakes and a whole bunch of nature. Nature and just walking and getting lost is like the most underrated thing for aspiring writers.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
I actually watched the Resident Evil franchise just to see how to not write a series. It actually started off quite good being very cohesive with the plot for the first four films. But then the fifth film happened and ends and the sixth concludes everything but not really. A bit of a guilty pleasure if I’m honest. But I do like how characters come and go throughout the six films. It was fun. I laughed my head off!
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
Take someone I love on a spontaneous day out where we can get lost and just experience the world, waste money and not think about yesterday or tomorrow.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
; because I use it in such strange circumstance and books would look less fancy. Like serious I’d recommend you add one of these bad boys; your book becomes ten times better.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
It’s a sequel to my first book, but my third manuscript. A little more of a political drama in the beginning, exploring the world’s senate and current issues like climate change. Trying to make the plot as quirky as the first book and am feeling quite at ease.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
Wouldn’t mind working with book youtuber Daniel Green. He hasn’t released his debut yet, but with his knowledge on writing and my insanity for story telling we could make the best book ever written in the history of anything ever! Okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but if we had multiple books to work on, Daniel and I could really make a new genre of fantasy. You never know. Dreams can come true, I suppose!
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Try not to use the as it takes up the word limit (advice for when your cutting your word count).
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Canada. Being from Australia, it’s really warm and there’s lots of light green trees. Canada is very cold and there is a lot of dark green trees, plus it would be awesome to backpack through during their summer. The people seem nice and we speak the same language. It’s basically the snowy version of where I live and it’s so foreign to me at the same time. What an adventure.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I’m weird. I don’t get stressed, and yeah, being rejected by over 200 literary agents so far for my second manuscript sucks and hurts deep down. I think it’s the way you look at the situation. No matter how many times someone doesn’t reply to me or rejects me, another person might say yes or offer me an alternative like Julia, who offered me this questionnaire. Society’s gotten pretty crappy, but people like Julia are what pull me through. With writing, its more about committing hours of the day to it instead of watching a show on Netflix. That’s hard. But like I said before. It’s just perspective.
That’s an excellent outlook Oliver!
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Honestly, I would advertise my own, but… I gotta give it to Questions of Travel by Michelle De Kretser. Great, unpopular Australian drama, which takes place in the 90s. I bought it at a writer’s festival and it was worth the $20. Some of the best voice work in a book I’ve ever read!
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
I am a young adult author who is not only writing books that deal with contemporary issues, like identity, acceptance and equality, but through releasing my debut at the age of 17, I plan to write and offer readers a fantasy series where the characters grow from teenagers, to adults, to parents, while I also grow up and become an adult and parent myself. I don’t think it’s ever been done before and in between I plan to write contemporary dramas about how to be happy in this world as it changes for what seems like the worse. Most importantly, I aim to improve my craft, take all the opportunities I can and even if I don’t make much money, I will always create stories that change the formula to the usual experience of story telling.
That’s great! Thanks for joining us today.
Oliver’s YA debut The Gifts of Life is available now.