Award-winning Australian author Oliver Smuhar will be re-releasing his original debut novel, The Gifts of Life on June 1, 2020, in preparation for its sequel, The Gifts of Happiness. MELISSA KRUGER had a chat with this prodigy to see what makes him tick.
Most students struggle with their workload as it is, and yet you managed to write a book while studying for the HSC’s. How did you manage that?
I think time management was key. Of course, there were lessons in school where instead of doing schoolwork I was editing the book or rewriting a scene, but those were few and far between. HSC is really all about memory and fortunately, you can pick subjects you like. I was also doing two major works including art and the way you do major works is over time. This helped me as writing a book is a similar process. In the end, my best marks were from the two subjects with major works and I think it because my brain works better on assignments rather than exams.
Year 12 is busy. It’s one of the busiest years you’ll ever have. You’re finishing school, thinking about your future, people are turning 18, becoming adults, friends are dating, others are breaking up, your manager sucks but your work friends are cool and that’s just one week. However, if you are passionate about something, whether its music, art, acting, writing, building, etc, you’ll find the time to work on that goal and make it real. Trust me! Nothing can stop you, especially when you set your eye on something.
What did your teachers think about this endeavour at the time?
I had this one teacher who laughed when she found out. She was younger than the rest and she was really proud like an aunt. I remember she was scrolling on Amazon, looking at the book, its cover and then stopped. She looked me in the eye and says, “No wonder you couldn’t remember your syllabus. You were too busy writing this. Next time you don’t do your homework, I’ll keep this in mind.”
What made you decide you couldn’t wait until after finishing school to write and release the book?
To get me through my studies, a friend and I would often listen to philosophical talks about life, goals, dreams, that sort of thing. To inspire us to do our best. And if I’m honest with myself, I think my passion for life is storytelling. Back in year 11 when I started the book, I knew that writing a novel was the most accessible way to begin the journey. Unfortunately, schools don’t offer ways to write as creatively as I would like to.
From the first word I wrote on January 1, 2017, to the ones I write today, storytelling for me is a way I can help people. I wanted to release the book during school so I could be an example of someone achieving their dreams, goals, passions, while they continued their secondary education. Schools don’t offer a lot of things, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do what you’re passionate about or what you like while you also study.
There are other teens who have also written books during high school and the growth of self-publishing has really changed the way the platform offers accessibility for aspiring writers. I knew I couldn’t wait because life is short, and I’d rather do what I love than to be held down by my studies.
Tell me about some of the themes of your book, The Gifts of Life…
The primary theme is identity. It’s that we are all individuals with unique traits and talents. That’s the whole moral to The Gifts of Life – our gifts that make us special and unique. Whether in a group environment or individually, we are our own person and that is something that I want to outline through the series. It’s about being weird and accepting others for their quirks.
Another heavy theme that will be reflected in both this book and the series as a whole is the idea of multiculturalism, pluralism and acceptance. School has definitely taught me that it is important to respect others, their culture and background and Australia is becoming more multicultural every day. The Gifts of Life symbolises this through animal spirits, crests and town colours.
The sequels that are in the works will explore different aspects of society. Two and three discuss the ideas of love and happiness, and four will talk about lies and how they can hurt and protect people. But for the first book, I’d be happy if someone finishes the last page and understands that we are all different. We all achieve things at different rates, we have different smiles and goals and we should be proud of those things, not discouraged by them.
What is the most important message you want people to take away from reading it?
That you are special. That you matter. That you can achieve anything you want to achieve. The whole theme of identity is to show that no matter who you are, what you believe in, what culture you’re from: you are yourself. You don’t need to bow down to the standards of others or the latest trends ’cause the popular kids are doing it. Be yourself. And this is even more relevant today.
Influencers are the popular kids in school being manipulated by consumerism and big brands, while artists, people who actually create, are being left out. But those artists, those who know who they are and stop at nothing to be themselves are the people I aspire to be. We should all aspire to be what we want to be.
Who are some of your favourite authors and what are some of your favourite books?
I do appreciate philosophy and Buddhism to a degree. I think it’s best to have an understanding of things, but I will never be an extremist. Any teachings from Alan Watts are great. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is a slow read but the morals and experience of the book can really change your outlook on life.
Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World is an all-time favourite. Although I’ve never finished The Wheel of Time series, I have read The Eye of the World three times. It was the book I read that made me sit at my computer and write.
I’ve also been wanting to read Leigh Bardugo’s work but haven’t found the time. Writing books, university, two part-time jobs, a global pandemic and a social life can be time-consuming, to say the least.
Who inspired you to become a writer?
Friends. But not because they think it’s cool, but because it’s helpful. I love talking to people, it is my favourite pass time. Strange coming from an introvert, but it’s not about the process of talking that excites me. It’s about learning people’s stories, discovering why they act the way they act, and understanding their triumphs and failures. I appreciate everyone I know and some of us, unfortunately, hide the hardships we’ve been through.
Tell me more about the re-release of your debut novel, The Gifts of Life…
I’ve been doing a lot of research about marketing, success, and reading all the ins and outs and entrepreneurs that try and sell you nothing, and I finally came up with something that is genuine to my cause. It all begins with The Gifts of Life’s re-release as The Colourful Edition.
The Gifts of Life is an invitation to any who are willing to come along on the journey. Basically, this is the first book to my own little magnum opus. However, unlike Robert Jordan or Brandon Sanderson as my characters grow from 16 to 19, to 23 and so on, so will I. I’m going to grow with my characters and my audience, and as this happens my writing will improve and become more rewarding.
Book two is going to continue the story with the same amount of effort. It’s going to have hand-drawn chapter images, paintings, maps, floorplans, a glossary, and more. It’s not just a book, it’s a doorway to a whole new world.