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Interview by ACHUKA's Canadian Correspondent,
Andrea Deakin.

Kenneth
Oppel
Kenneth Oppel was born in Port Alberni, British Columbia, and grew up in Victoria and Halifax. He studied at the University of Toronto where he now lives with his wife and two children. He wrote his first book when he was between fourteen and fifteen and sent it to his favourite author, Roald Dahl, who encouraged him to submit it for publication. Since then he has written sixteen books for young readers, and one adult novel, to be released in 2000. His most recent books are Silverwing and its sequel, Sunwing, the story of a young bat's "coming of age".


You took your degree in English and Cinema, I believe, at the University of Toronto. Were you thinking in terms of screen-writing, or was it a pull between two interests? ?

Yes, I was becoming more interested in film-making and screen-writing at that time.


You have tackled many fields of writing for children- picture books like " Cosimo Cat" and "Follow That Star", stories for younger children-"Emma's Emu", and YA novels. Is there any age group you enjoy writing for in particular, or does the idea strictly dictate the format?


My preference is for novels.


What are you working on now?


A picture book called "Peg and the Whale" is coming out in the fall of 2000. It is about a rambunctious, irrepressible young girl named Peg who wants to be the world's best fisherman, and sets out to catch herself a whale. But even before then, my first adult novel, a thriller called "The Devil's Cure", will be published in Canada by HarperCollins in May 2000.


What were your favourite books when you were young?


Fitzgerald's Great Brain books, Brinley's "The Mad Scientist Club" books, Danny Dunn, boy inventor books, Roald Dahl's books, especially "Danny, the Champion of the World" and Myra Paperny's "The Wooden People".


Who was your favourite character in children's books when you were small?


At the time, Curious George, Charlie Bucket, and Danny. But looking back now, also Mary, from "The Secret Garden". In contemporary literature it would be Lyra from "The Golden Compass".


Who or what are the influences on your work?


Science and technology issuess (particularly their social implications); the Gothic, good sci-fi movies (Blade Runner, Metropolis); news stories about people who take their beliefs, manias, delusions, to the end of the line.


Whose writing was an inspiration when you were beginning to write?


Roald Dahl, John Updike, Ernest Hemingway and G.B.Trudeau.


Who are among your favourite contemporary writers?


In Canada: Russell Smith and Andrew Pyper. In Britain, Ian McEwan. In the U.S., Peter Carey (Australian I know, but lives in New York), Tom Wolfe and Barbara Kingsolver.


One of the first things to strike me as I read "Silverwing" was how you convey the sense of Shade as a young, insecure and hesitant adolescent, yet he is at the same time always a bat, using his natural abilities to sense and communicate. He is adolescent and animal at one and the same time; and like most adolescents, he is constantly questioning his world and challenging it. Some of his questions suggest he is forming powerful and world-changing ideas (the challenge to the establishment and established thought) that other bats have not brought up- a sign of leadership. These challenges in Shade's view of the world suggest strong feelings in the author. ?


I think most kids feel a sense of rebellion against the status quo, and for a curious, intelligent adolescent like Shade, it can take the form of questioning societal norms, even historical and religious perceived truths. I was always interested in welding to the adventure story a more cerebral. spiritual quest in which Shade would have to confront a variety of different beliefs and systems, and decide for himself which was right..he really wants a simple answer, the truth, but learns eventually that the truth is a slippery thing and is usually elusive.


I've heard that "Silverwing" and "Sunwing" will be filmed by a Vancouver animation studio. Will you take an active part in the production?


Bardel has bought a one-year option on just "Silverwing", so it is far from certain that the film will be made. I would have a role in writing, or at least supervising, the script.


Silverwing's encounter with Goth, now king of the bats, and the powerful priest Voxzaco is thrilling and dramatic.The Aztec connection is brilliantly effective. What brought you to the idea of using this civilization for Goth's bats- apart from the obvious connection of their origin?


The Mayan deity Cama Zotz ( as seen in Mayan carvings) is a bat god, and definitely has the nose of a spear-nosed bat, (Vampyrum Spectrum is their scientific name), which is the bat Goth is based on. In developing Goth's belief system I poached from Mayan mythology, but should stress that I do a lot of inventing along the way, and never intended Goth to be read as a straight analog to Mayan civilization. In "Sunwing", the Stone is based on an actual Aztec calendar, and the Aztecs did have a fear of eclipses.. I shaped that to fit Goth's desire to create eternal night, so that Zotz could enter the world.

© copyright 2000 ACHUKA