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The best advice author Kenneth Oppel ever got: ‘There’s no such thing as normal’

Kenneth Oppel


The Boundless is a glamorous fictional locomotive 11 kilometres long. It's also the title of Kenneth Oppel's latest book, a hugely popular young adult novel that features a boy atttempting to flee a murderer by making his way up the length of the train, car by car.

Why did you write your new book?

I love trains, and the idea of one 11 kilometres long was irresistible to me. I imagined it as a rolling city that contained myriad worlds and personalities my hero would encounter as he made his odyssey from the caboose to the locomotive. It's a literary theme park ride. Also, I liked the idea of mythologizing a fascinating bit of Canadian history: the construction of the CPR.

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Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?

Martin Amis can really knock it out of the park. There is a line in The Pregnant Widow where the narrator is gazing at the object of his desire as she walks down to the pool: "Scheherazade was decanting herself downward through the three tiers of the terraced gradient ..." It's at once comic, sensual, and inventive – and, like all the best metaphors, you comprehend it instantly. But my favourite opener is MT Anderson's from Feed: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."

What's the best advice you've ever received?

There is no such thing as normal.

Which historical period do you wish you'd lived through, and why?

If one can push aside all the egregious social injustices, and lower life expectancy, I think the late Victorian/Edwardian period would be pretty interesting. I like the clothes, the machines, the technology, the spirit of discovery, the buildings. It would be best if I lived at Downton Abbey.

Would you rather be successful during your lifetime and then forgotten or legendary after death?

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I'll take whatever I can get now, please.

What agreed-upon classic do you despise?

Romeo and Juliet. They declare their love within seconds and after that there is nothing going on with those kids. All their problems are externally imposed and there's a lot of tedious running around and stage business and I'm just waiting for them to die so I can go home.

Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?

Duddy Kravitz. Or Mr. Twit in Roald Dahl's The Twits. He's so fabulously appalling.

Which fictional character do you wish you were?

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Joe Kavalier in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay is pretty great, though like most fictional characters, his life is pretty tragic in places. If I can take the liberty of extending "fictional" to the movies, I'm very fond of Francis in The Darjeeling Limited.

What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don't ask)?

I've heard all the questions. I talk to thousands of kids a year. Believe me, they ask everything, including what kind of hair product I use, and how many push-ups I can do.

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