Tag Archives: Kenneth Oppel

The Boundless

The Boundless truly is a train journey, in more ways than one. Kenneth Oppel has invented an outlandishly long train made up of 987 carriages travelling across Canada, and we follow Will as he joins the train on its first journey, back in the good old days of colonising this enormous country.

Kenneth Oppel, The Boundless

It’s not just travelling by train. That is exciting enough for us railbuffs, especially in the early days of trains. First class, where Will starts his journey, is wonderfully luxurious; a real dream come true.

But he also ends up travelling from one end of this monster train to the other. Or at least, he tries to. Almost left behind at one stop, Will has to join the ‘wrong’ end of the train, hoping to walk up its length. That is when he learns that it’s not all that easy a thing to do.

Will gets to meet all of Canada as he moves from the back of the train towards the front. He meets the people who work on the train, and those who travel, starting with those below Third class. Then there is the circus, then Third, then Second and finally First.

Except, it’s not easy in any sense (have you any idea how long it would take, even without obstacles?), and witnessing a murder and being hunted by the murderer, makes Will’s interior train journey very dangerous.

The adventure is marvellously exciting, but it is actually the social aspects that are the most fascinating. You meet the people who colonised Canada, and how badly treated they were, and how people cheated them whenever possible. Racism is rife, as is poverty and illness.

Having begun life poor, Will finds it hard to work out where he belongs, but he does know that what is happening to the immigrants is wrong. He meets a girl, of course, and his courage is tested. He thinks of himself as useless, but he has good skills and a good heart, not to mention a sasquatch tooth (and urine…) and a pencil to draw with.

The Boundless is the perfect book for those who love trains (me!) and/or adventure (me, again!).

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The #12 profile – Kenneth Oppel

I think I might fall in love with Kenneth Oppel. He likes trains. So do I. On the other hand, he was obviously one of those annoying child prodigies, getting published far too early. I’ll think about it.

He’s got a new book out, The Boundless. It’s about a train. And because of that Kenneth is here to tell us a few things about himself that we didn’t know before:

Kenneth Oppel

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Well, after seeing Star Wars when I was eleven, I started a sci-fi epic called Starship (then retitled Rebellion!), and wrote several chapters in a school exercise book. Lots of laser guns and spaceships exploding. It was a complete rip off of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica and I never finished it.

After that I wrote a book over two summer holidays when I was 14 and 15, and with the help of Roald Dahl, got it published just as I was leaving school. It was a very lucky break, and a very early start as a published writer.

Best place for inspiration?

A moving train.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

Never. Writing’s hard work. I want all the credit.

What would you never write about?

Nothing.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

It was winter and my car slipped off the road and I was quite badly hurt. Luckily a nurse saw and came to my aid. It turned out she was my Number One fan, a lovely person, but quite insane. She was unhappy with the ending of one of my books. She kept me prisoner in her house until I rewrote the ending.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Matt Cruse.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

Only Good. You get money; you sell books. If the movie’s well done, or gets a big release, you sell loads of the book. Even if the movie’s a stinker, it’s still a plus, because your book remains the same book, and everyone will eventually forget about the rotten movie — and maybe someday another filmmaker will do it right.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

‘What kind of hair product do you use?’

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I can play tunes on my teeth. I’m best at Jingle Bells.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia, but only for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. After that, it’s Enid Blyton all the way.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Tough one. Someone from Abba, but it seems mean to pick one randomly.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I used to have a Billy, and arranged things by size and colour for maximum aesthetic effect. Now I have too many books, and go alphabetically.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Silverwing. Because I wrote it.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Did a human being write this question?

In my defense I have to say I stole the question from a lovely Irishman. He is pretty human, I reckon.

Number One fans should always be treated with caution, unless they are me. I am harmless, although the hostage idea has its merits. I’ll think about it.

And if I could make a request? Pachelbel’s Canon would be lovely. Thank you.

AAYA 88

Or Authors & Artists for Young Adults, volume 88, as published by Gale, Cengage Learning. It’s a reference book, and as the more astute of you have worked out, there have been 87 volumes before it, and I suspect (and hope) there will be many more after it as well.

Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

No, I’ve not taken to reading and reviewing piles of reference material, but this came my way four months ago when someone wanted to use ‘my’ photos of Michael Grant. They were really my Photographer’s pictures, and after thinking about it she gave her consent and they chose the ones they liked best.

It took me a while to even work out the publishers were in the US, and once I’d established what kind of book they were producing, I asked if we could see the finished copy, which they generously said they’d send us. It’s not really the kind of book you’d go out and buy as a private individual. The edition is fairly limited and the price is high, so I’m guessing it’s mainly for libraries and similar.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

But it’s such a good idea, collecting information on people who write for Young Adults, or illustrators. The selection process seems a little random, since it’s not alphabetical, nor chronological. There is an index listing who has been in all the 88 volumes, and in which one.

It’s not your ordinary list of YA people, either. Adèle Geras sits tantalisingly near Mel Gibson and Paul Gauguin. Staying with the Gs we have Michael Grant as well as El Greco and Graham Greene. There are disproportionately more Americans, but in volume 88 we have Matt Haig, and he and Knut Hamsun and Stephen Hawking are close, index-wise.

Jane Austen is there, and so is Mrs Michael Grant, K A Applegate. Walter Dean Myers gets a lot of room in volume 88, which he also shares with Anna Godbersen and Aprilynne Pike and Kenneth Oppel. As you can see, a varied lot of writers. ‘My’ volume has just over thirty names, and I’m guessing the older volumes are similar. Some names are listed more than once.

Michael Grant in Authors & Artists for Young Adults, vol 88

Michael gets six pages in this edition, and unlike some he doesn’t have either his address or his email listed. I suppose it’s up to each person how easy to find they want to be. Since this isn’t intended for the young readers, I imagine contact details are more for people who might want to book someone for events.

It’s a nice idea. You can – probably – never have too much information about what young people want to read.

Mister Creecher

It didn’t end as I expected. Actually, I’m not sure what I expected from Chris Priestley’s most recent book. But it was different. That’s all.

The other thing about Mister Creecher is that because it’s inspired by another author’s well known novel, you sort of lose track of what’s what. I’m one of those people Chris mentions, who have not read Frankenstein, but somehow ‘know’ all they need to know anyway. The first thing that happened was that I forgot whether there was any truth in Mary Shelley’s story.

No, that’s not what I mean. Whether any of her characters were ‘real.’ After Charlie Higson’s talk about that fateful holiday in 1816, and me reading This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel some months ago, I felt as if many of the characters were real people, put into one – or several – of these stories. It’s what happens when you meet the same people several times.

I’m not making sense, am I?

It’s 1818 and Frankenstein’s monster is in London, looking for Frankenstein. He happens to meet orphaned pickpocket Billy, and after scaring him witless just by looking monster-ous, the two end up together, almost friends.

Frankenstein and his friend Clerval are holidaying in London, before travelling further north. Billy and Creecher follow them, except it’s not easy for a scary and enormous monster to travel unobtrusively. None of them are angels, but neither are they totally bad. In fact, it’s even hard to tell if Frankenstein is bad or not.

I had worried in case Mister Creecher was going to be as scary as Chris’s other books. It’s not. A lot of the time it is simply a nice early 19th century novel, albeit with a little gruesomeness on the side. But when you stop and think about what they do, all of them, it’s suddenly not so nice. And you wonder what the purpose of the story is. The monster can surely not live happily ever after? Can Billy?

Taking a new look at something familiar is nearly always interesting. This story is based not only on Frankenstein, but has bit of Dickens in it as well. You’re at home, but you’re not. And I was very relieved not to be scared witless.

Highly recommended.

This Dark Endeavour

…and here is the Bookwitch, just crossing the finishing line of her twelve months of Foreign Reading Challenge. Not that a Canadian book is all that foreign, but it’s not British, and that was the whole point.

As you know, I like my main characters to be likeable. They don’t have to be good, but they need to have a certain something. Victor Frankenstein – yes, that Victor Frankenstein – is someone I didn’t particularly like. This prequel to Mary Shelley’s novel, written by Kenneth Oppel is a very exciting and easy to read thriller/horror story. Quite gory in places, but brave soul that I am, I only skipped about six pages towards the end. If you are a regular reader of this blog you will have no trouble working out which pages.

Not being an expert on the original Frankenstein, I was fascinated to see how Kenneth has incorporated the necessary bits from the original novel with his own new ideas, including a Geneva address like Woolstonekraft Alley. The love of Frankenstein’s life is in the book, and so is the faithful friend.

Kenneth Oppel, This Dark Endeavour

Victor has also been furnished with a twin brother who is just like him, only that little bit nicer and more popular, so he is jealous of Konrad. They are teenagers and we see them at home outside Geneva, being taught by Mr Frankenstein the elder, and finding a library of forbidden books underneath their castle.

Then Konrad falls ill, and to save his brother Victor and the other two enter into a world of alchemy and deceit, hoping to find the Elixir of Life.

It’s adventure of the kind that almost makes me ill with worry, and it doesn’t always go as well as we’d like. I couldn’t foresee exactly what they would do, but it was easy to guess what must ultimately happen, and it did.