Sunday, July 31, 2011

Kenneth Oppel takes a holiday

This is me, working really, really hard on my next novel. With a looming deadline, I did what any self-respecting writer would do: I took my family on vacation. Wandering around Venice was much more fun than staring at my computer screen, trying to puzzle out my tortured characters' motivations, and wondering why that bit in the middle isn't nearly as exciting as it should be.

You'd be hard pressed to find a more spectacular city than Venice. You don't even need to try to find beautiful things. There are, of course, the many splendid vistas across the Grand Canal, but (and this is my favourite thing to do) just wander anywhere and you'll discover small streets and little squares and quiet bridges and, everywhere, the beautiful decrepitude that Venice has had centuries to achieve.

So by all means, start with the Piazza San Marco. After all, it's been in James Bond movies and stuff, so you kind of have to see it. The Basilica looks like this:

My advice: take in the square and Ducal Palace, the pigeons, the quarter of a million tourists -- and then get out of there. As quickly as possible. Of course, if shopping really turns you on, nearby you'll find shops like Bulgari and Prada and Gucci where you can see handbags and clothing so appallingly silly and ugly that it shakes my faith in the human species. But that's just me.

The farther away from the square you get, the more interesting the city becomes, especially as you find the small streets and neighbourhoods where there are real shops (that sell, um, food and vacuum cleaners and stuff) and real apartments where real Venetians live.

You can usually tell the real Venetians easily from the tourists, especially the women. They are often very well dressed, smoking furiously while talking into a cell phone and walking with terrifying speed, while emanating a thought bubble that very clearly reads: "Get out of my way, or I will kill you with the stiletto heel of my designer shoe."

The other cool thing about finding a quiet local square, say to have lunch on a red bench while your littlest daughter chases pigeons, is that you will come across real signs of the real city, like this garbage can with very helpful and specific information on it, about what NOT to put inside. I myself witnessed some locals trying to stuff their entire refrigerator into the can, without success -- but it didn't stop me from, later that night, cramming in an ugly armchair which was taking up too much space in my hotel room.

Unless you want to seem like The Grinch, you can't really take your family to Venice and not go on a gondola ride. It's pricey, but the boats themselves are really beautiful (see the seahorse detailing on the left) and you get a unique vantage point from the waterline. If you're lucky you might see a rat scuttling out of sight from the arrestingly jade-coloured water (I didn't see one this time, but did last time. Maybe they've been drinking too much jade-coloured canal water.)

Wander around enough and you can actually see the place where they make and take care of the gondolas.
And remember how I said everything was beautiful in Venice. Here, on the left, this is not a church (as I first thought). This is their civic hospital. I have no idea if the facilities inside are similarly baroque. It's kind of hard to imagine getting really top notch brain surgery here -- but I bet they're really awesome at applying leeches and dispensing edifying elixirs.

Oh, and remember how I said the best thing in Venice was just to wander around. Yeah. Just bring a map. The place is a maze. Here I am, trying to look nonchalant as I look (for the 126th time) at my map, trying to figure out just where the hell I am.

After Venice, I didn't think I'd procrastinated quite long enough, so we went off to some Greek islands,which were beautiful.

But then my various editors started getting anxious about a) where I was and b) when I was coming home and c) when was I planning on finishing the second book of the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein.

So I came home.

And, oh yeah, This Dark Endeavor (Book One) comes out at the end of August... I'm really excited about it, and hope you enjoy it!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Exclusive Interview!! Shocking Confessions!!

One of my favourite Seinfeld episodes involves Jerry being invited back to his old high school to speak at career day, but as he anxiously awaits his turn in the hall outside the gymnasium, he gets bumped by a series of other speakers (who go over big) and then a fire drill scuppers his appearance altogether.

I can happily say this was not my experience when I returned last May to my old high school, St Michaels University School (SMUS) in Victoria BC for a day of speaking engagements. I was even given the lofty title Scholar in Residence! Over the course of the day I spoke to attentive junior, middle, and senior students (without any fire drills), was treated to a lunch with the librarians, the energetic head of English and a group of bright and lively students, given a tour of the very impressive campus, and made to feel very welcome by the library and Alumni staff.

And even though, during my time at the school, I was a notorious non-joiner, was guilty of shockingly poor school spirit, and generally cultivated the persona of a tortured and misunderstood artist-in-the-making, all these years after my graduation, the school was kind enough to put me on the cover of their handsome Alumni Magazine, School Ties!

Below, you will find the exclusive, candid interview conducted by my friend and former alumnus, journalist Bert Archer, in which I talk about the school, and some of my experiences, and writing in general.