Kenneth Oppel


How did you get started writing?

I started by inflicting a poem on my fellow kindergarteners -- and never stopped making things up. At school I loved it when I was asked to write a short story. Increasingly, I did it more and more on my own time: it was my hobby. The summer I was 14 I wrote the first draft of what became my first published book. Every publisher rejected it, so next summer when I was 15 I rewrote it, and it got published just as I was leaving high school.


Who influenced you?

Roald Dahl, first and foremost. Also L.M. Montgomery, Brian Doyle, Robert Cormier, Doonesbury comics, Ernest Hemingway, John Updike, movies like Jaws and Blade Runner. Looking at this list, it seems like a crazy jumble, but there you have it!


Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?

My favourite book for children is still Danny Champion of the World (Dahl); for young adults it would be MT Anderson’s Feed. I have no one favourite subject – I just want to be told an amazing story, preferably about something or somewhere unfamiliar to me. Favourite characters in literature would be Pippy Longstocking; Sam Klay and Joe Kavalier (Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay); the father in Danny Champion of the World; Tommy in Brian Doyle’s Angel Square.


What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author? 

Try not to edit and judge yourself too much, especially during the first draft. Just write. Set a word count goal every day. Read your story aloud when editing: it works. Don’t worry about trends or styles: write the story you want, the way you want. Remember that it takes many, many drafts before your story becomes all it can be.


Where is your favorite place to write? 

The place I mostly write is my office on the top floor of my house. But I really like to write on trains – I find it incredibly energizing and liberating. I get a lot of work done!


What else would you like to tell us?

 I loved writing The Boundless. I love trains, and had been thinking for a while about kind of story I could set aboard one. And so I came up with the Titanic of trains, seven miles long, carrying over 6000 people, crossing the continent. It was great fun to imagine all the different communities and passengers (and animals!) aboard the train, all the different lounges and rooms and secret places, all the stories that the train could contain. The best part of the research? Taking The Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver, four days and night aboard the train. I’d do it again in a second.