This week sees the publication of Kenneth Oppel‘s The Boundless, ‘a rip-roaring yarn of superlative quality‘ according to Amanda Craig, former children’s book critic of The Times. Murder, the magic of the circus, and the most spectacular train you can imagine are at the core of this hard-to-put-down novel. As part of a weeklong celebration of The Boundless‘ publication, Kenneth Oppel told us a little about his love of trains:
“Do you love trains?” people have been asking me ever since The Boundless was released.
Of course I love trains, and always have. My kindergarten report card says (right after urging me to stop pushing my friends into the bushes, and to generally improve my playground skills) that “Kenny’s favourite field trip was going on the train ride.” Not much has changed since I was four years old.
There are so many appealing things about trains. They move at a more comprehensible speed that allows you to actually see and react to the landscape you’re traversing. The food can be a lot nicer. Trains are more environmental than airplanes, less cramped, and less stressful. Trains have more spaces to walk about and explore: dining cars, lounges, maybe an elevated observation car — and your own private bedroom compartment if you’re lucky enough to be on a long distance train journey, as I was when I took The Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver as research for The Boundless. Four days and nights aboard the train, and I loved every minute.
Another thing I love about the train is it often makes me very creative. Maybe it’s something to do with being in motion, seeing the landscape scroll past my window, feeling like I’m on a journey somewhere exciting, but I can actually work on the train; I have ideas; I take a lot of notes.
The idea for The Boundless didn’t come to me on a train — I wish it had; it would make a nice hook for this blog. I can’t actually remember when or where I had the idea, but the idea, as usual for me, was anchored in a few key notions or images.
1. The train would be enormous — the biggest train in the world. The locomotive would look something like this:
The train would be a rolling city, miles and miles long, made up of amazing cars and compartments, filled with all sorts of fascinating people. The front would be first class and very luxurious; second class pretty nice; third okay, and colonist class for the newly arrived immigrants, awful.
2. At a station stop my hero would witness a murder, and then have to run to catch the very back of the train. The last car. The caboose. Like this:
3. My hero, Will Everett, would then have to get from the very back of the train to the front, with the murderer at his heels. He would have to do many dangerous things, including jumping between cars at night like this:
4. And running along the top of boxcars, jumping again and again, like this:
5. My train would be carrying an amazing travelling circus amongst its 900 cars. The Zirkus Dante would help Will on his journey, especially an escape artist his age called Maren Amberson, known as The Miraculous Maren:
6. My train would also have a haunted funeral car carrying the remains of a rail tycoon whose dying wish was that his body be carried back and forth across the continent on the rails he helped build. Forever. The car would be full of treasure, and booby-trapped. And possibly haunted. It might look like this:
These were some of the ideas and images which presented themselves to me from the very beginning, and helped me write The Boundless.
But I wouldn’t have started any of it unless I’d loved trains.
This guest post was provided by Kenneth Oppel. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.