“When you go to a reading, it should be like someone coming out and letting off an AK47 on rapid fire,” says Oliver Mol. “But like, not in a violent way. It’s the kind of AK47 that shoots fun bullets that come down in rainbows and tickle you.”
Oliver Mol is a Sydney writer via Houston, Brisbane, Latin America and Melbourne whose debut book Lion Attack! has just hit the shelves. It was put out through Scribe after he co-won its inaugural Non-Fiction Prize for Young Writers.
The book is a bitingly funny but also grim study of what he calls “the duality of cultures”. It includes micro episodes from his life as a 25-year-old living in Melbourne, working in a KeepCup warehouse and being obsessed with a girl he messages over Facebook. Peppered between are tales of his experiences of Texas between the ages nine and 15 that criticise the “super rich, super Baptist, super conservative oil-driven, masculine sports-dominated culture” he encountered there.
“It kind of feels insane,” he says in disbelief at having a book in print and in bookstores for the first time.
Oliver has spent the last seven weeks in the United States and Canada reading his work anywhere someone would put him up for a night “on floors, or couches… or even, like, a bed”.
The tour has put him on stage with peers of what he calls “the Internet writing scene”. This included appearing with prolific YouTube poet Steve Roggenbuck in Texas during the South By Southwest Festival in front of sell-out audiences.
The online work of young American writers such as Roggenbuck, Heiko Julien and Rachel Bell was part of Oliver’s inspiration to start typing flashes of memoir, lying in bed, in the notes section of his iPhone and uploading them directly to Facebook.
“I want to get one hundred ‘likes’. It seems a worthy goal,” he writes in Lion Attack!
These new writers he was looking to were doing more than flooding the temporal space of social media, they were publishing books with titles like The YOLO Pages and Selected Tweets. With his notes app filling out with daily bursts of non-fiction, Oliver quickly realised that he was ready to do the same.
“I don’t see it as problematic at all,” says Oliver who thinks language can move people even when there are spelling mistakes and nothing gets capitalised. “Twitter especially is such an effective…” He pauses, a tapping finger. “I mean, it is literally a platform for poetry if nothing else.”
Oliver’s 288-page narrative feels strangely familiar. The chapters average between 800 and 900 words and often sentences or even words inhabit paragraphs of their own. The story trickles down the white space of the page like a feed of messages. It’s a mash of prose, poetry and verbatim quotation from online conversations.
“I wanted people to fly through it and I wanted to do it in a way that didn’t involve a large and complex plot. I wanted to achieve that through the poetics of language.”
It seems he couldn’t care less about plot when he spent three months in Melbourne last year squeezing out the book a chapter a day. When trying to describe the unfinished book, he said: “It just skits around. It’s like one big Seinfeld episode except it’s nothing like Seinfeld.”
He’s now working on his next book, I’m Trying To Write My Way Out Of Feeling Sad And It’s Working I Think.
This will involve a combination of poetry with some non-fiction. “But nothing is really non-fiction except for maybe a maths textbook that hasn’t been disproven yet… I guess I’ll call it writing.”
He’s so busy trying to elicit feeling in his work that there isn’t time for accuracy. There are characters in Lion Attack! who are composites of people he’s met; experiences he’s had are transported into the action through some creative story telling so that the book makes narrative sense. Sort of like a novel.
Except Oliver Mol wants you to read it like a memoir. Just like the speech bubble on the front cover says: “I’m trying to be honest and I want you to know that.”
But honesty hurts. Especially for Oliver whose book, among a thousand other things, is a love letter to his brother, Harrison ‘Bear Attack’ Mol.
“When I read him the first chapter or two he was really hurt by it. Because I was using his life as a story and he didn’t want to be a story. He wanted his older brother to be there for him in a really live way.”
In Lion Attack! Harrison is going through a crucial time in his life, in a city apart from Oliver. But when he picks up the phone and reaches out for support, Oliver’s distracted and cold on the other end.
“All of these conversations we were having, I put straight in the book and I knew I couldn’t tell him then.”
For someone so unashamed about broadcasting his thoughts and feelings, Oliver was still genuinely worried about his family’s reaction to his work.
“By the end of it, my whole family really loved it, which was a big relief and I’m really glad that Harry liked it because he’s kind of the coolest guy in the world to me.”
With his writing, Oliver Mol is screaming at the reader to never take a single moment for granted. Speaking at RANT!, his first appearance at Sydney Writers’ Festival, he plans to extrapolate on ideas set out in an essay from March called ‘Being A Cis White Straight Male Author Isn’t Risky, Being Anything Else Is Risky’.
“If you don’t use what you’ve been given in this life, like, f… you. Because so many other people will kill to have that.”
Oliver Mol will join Dee Madigan and Steve Kilbey in having a rant about their current pet peeves on Sunday, May 24, 4.30-5.30pm, Philharmonia Studio