Interview with Kenneth Oppel

Welcome to MG Book Village, Kenneth! I’m so glad that you could join us today. I’d like everyone to know about your new book, BLOOM, which just came out on February 11th with Harper Collins. Can you give us a brief synopsis of it?  

After a heavy rainfall on Salt Spring Island, strange, spiky black grass takes over farmers’ fields. Next, black vines grow into houses, and up the nostrils of sleeping people. Then giant pod-like plants wait underground to swallow up prey, small and large. These are very mean plants we’re talking about here. Nobody knows where they’ve come from, or how to kill them. Very quickly the plants spread worldwide and bloom, producing a highly allergenic pollen. The only people immune to these plants are my three teenaged heroes from Salt Spring Island: Anaya, Petra, and Seth. They’re flung together to save the world. 

This is the first book in The Overthrow series. I know the second book, HATCH, is scheduled for release on September 15th, and I believe there’s still one more book after that?

Oh yes! The third and final book THRIVE is scheduled for Spring 2021!

This is not the first time you’ve written a book that would be described as “creepy”; so many students adore THE NEST. Where did the inspiration for BLOOM come from?

Well, two places. The first was a “first line” I had banging around in my head for a while: “There was a dead patch in the garden where nothing grew.” I liked that line an awful lot, and it took my imagination in all sorts of dark and deep directions. But mainly the idea came from a nightmare my daughter had. She was good enough to share it with me and I knew it was the seed of an entire novel — or three! I won’t tell you the nightmare, but if you read the second book HATCH, you’ll encounter it very quickly!

Did you have the whole series planned out before you started to write, or did the story develop on its own?

This was really the only time I knew the overall concept of each book before I got started. With Silverwing I wrote a book at a time, whenever I had a good idea. Same with Airborn. And really, I prefer to write this way: when you write a preconceived trilogy it’s like writing three books every time you write one, because you have to make sure it fits together perfectly with its companions. The first book BLOOM in particular took a lot of planning and revising. 

I’m thrilled to see even more readers outside of Canada become familiar with your books. What are your thoughts about how to promote Canadian authors and their writing?

Well, I’m very fortunate in that I have separate publishers in the US, as well as countries around the world, so I rely on their promotional efforts which sometimes include me doing book tours, and attending conferences or trade shows. My main concern at the moment is promoting Canadian writers in their *own* country, given the 50% drop in domestic sales of Canadian books over the last decade or so. Many good initiatives have been proposed to counter this. I’ve been pondering the value of a 35% quota on display space for Canadian books in bookstores — based on the CRTC’s regulation of 35% Canadian songs on our radio stations. It’s a very simple idea. Our books have to be seen before they can be bought.

I know many readers, myself included, are turning to fiction that is dark or dystopian right now. What do you think it is about these types of books that we’re drawn to in times of turmoil?

We’ve always loved a good disaster story. Ironically they’re rather comforting because typically order is restored and people prevail. As well there’s always the “well at least things aren’t THAT bad” feeling, which can spur  reader gratitude and a sense of comparative wellbeing. Had I been prescient, I wouldn’t have chosen to launch BLOOM during a pandemic, but there it is! Mainly I look at it as a gripping adventure story that, I hope, will offer some enjoyable escapism for my readers. 

I love your writing (THE BOUNDLESS is my personal favorite) and you have a number of books published for kids from picture books up to young adult novels. Where can people go to find out more about you and your writing?

I am active on Twitter @kennethoppel and much less active on Facebook @KennethOppelFan and not at all active on Instagram. I also have a YouTube channel where, at present, you can watch me do daily readings from my body of work!

Thanks for taking time to talk with me today, Kenneth, and all the best to you and your family over the next challenging weeks.

 Thanks for having me. Everyone, please stay healthy!

Kenneth Oppel is the bestselling author of numerous books for young readers, including Airborn, which won the Governor General’s Award for children’s literature, and the Silverwing trilogy, which has sold over a million copies worldwide. Some of his other books include The BoundlessThe NestEvery Hidden Thing and Half Brother, winner of the Canadian  Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children. His latest novel is Bloom. Visit him online at www.kennethoppel.ca or twitter @kennethoppel

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