The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Interview with Patrick Ness and extract of A Monster Calls.

Today, I am exceedingly excited to welcome Patrick Ness to The Mountains of Instead as part of a blog tour organised by Walker Books. As regular readers will know, I'm a huge fan of his YA trilogy Chaos Walking and was keen to read his latest book, A Monster Calls. I can confirm that it is excellent and am delighted that Patrick has taken the time to discuss it here. Read what he has to say about the book and then keep reading for a short extract. After all that I am certain you will be unable to stop yourself from investing in a copy of A Monster Calls – you're in luck, as it's released in the UK this week.  If all of this isn't enough to whet your appetite then a second extract will be posted on the awesome Serendipity this Friday, 6th March. First of all, however, here's what Patrick had to say about his new book:

You talk in the forward of A Monster Calls about your decision to take on Siobhan Dowd's original idea – how much did you originally have to work with, was there the bare bones of an entire plot or just a fantastic premise?

There were the characters, some early prose, and - as you say - a really fantastic premise. It was actually the perfect amount, incredibly rich materials, but not so much that the story couldn't be allowed to grow just like Siobhan would have done had she been able to write it herself. And a story MUST grow, it has to live and breathe and surprise, and her premise was such a fertile ground for that. It was a pleasure for a writer, truly.

Was there any point during the writing where you felt the pressure to complete a book that would truly honour Siobhan's memory might be too much? I can imagine that writing from someone else idea may almost be more pressurised than writing from a basis that is all your own...

Not really, and I mean that in the most positive way. I always, for every book, feel that the story has the be the number one priority above everything else, and it was the same here. I HAD to concentrate on making it the best story I could, which to me was, in turn, the best possible tribute to Siobhan I could have made. My guiding principle wasn't "What would Siobhan have written?" but "What would Siobhan have liked?" Otherwise, you write a bad book, and that's the worst thing that could happen.

A Monster Calls is filled with the most stunning illustration by Jim Kay. Were you part of a creative dialogue with him while he created the artwork?

Definitely, and aren't they AMAZING? He's brilliant. We worked together with Ben Norland, art director at Walker, and discussed different approaches and ideas, but mainly Jim just kept hitting them out of the park. The picture of the monster leaning against Conor's window was the very first drawing he did, and it was so perfect, it never changed. It was a great experience.

The monster himself is beautifully realised. As with the Manchee and Angharrad in Chaos Walking you seem to have a knack for imbuing non-humans with a particularly touching humanity – did you have his personality (and theirs for that matter) down straight away or did you feel the need to research his possible origins and work from there?

Not research, but mostly by just letting him talk and finding what he sounded like. I did have a few ideas, but I wanted, too, to hear what he said for himself and how he said it. They can really surprise you, characters, and that's kind of when they really come to life. The key moment here was early on when Conor completely refuses to be impressed by the monster, and instead of getting angry, the monster more or less puts his hands on his hips and say, "Interesting." I knew I had him when he did that.

In contrast with this, the human characters in your books are
realistically flawed and you seem thematically drawn to the ambiguity of human nature and the infinite thoughts that lie behind decisions and actions – it's fascinating but what would
you say draws you to look at human nature in this way? It is particularly unusual to see in YA fiction – although not at all unwelcome.

Well, I think blind certainty kills us as a species. It's death to wisdom, it's death to growth, it can even be death to hope. That is a big concern for me that shows up a lot in my writing, and here in particular, Conor is deathly certain about something that's causing him great, great pain. It's so important for him to learn that he's more than just one thing, that contradictions can be revealing and not stifling, that, basically, he's complex, like the rest of us and that that's okay, it's not going to kill him. Acknowledging it, I hope, lets him grow, lets him maybe heal, lets him at least live a little easier.

While your books have thus far have mainly been published for the Young Adult market, I see no reason why they wouldn't do equally well with adults (being one myself, I've passed Chaos Walking onto many friends with great success) – is there a reason that you chose to write for Young Adults and would you consider writing for adults in the future?

I've written two books for adults in the past, so I never rule anything out. I tend to write every book - YA or not - for an audience of one: me. That sounds terrible, but if I'm not enjoying it, why would I ever think anyone else would? I do love writing for young adults, they're such a brilliant audience: strict but not snobs, the best combination. But I do really write the books, I hope, for anyone to read. And who knows what the future might bring?

Finally, with A Monster Calls out shortly and already garnering critical acclaim and Monsters of Men netting you a third Carnegie nomination (and hopefully a win) I hear that you are writing again – can you tell us anything about what to expect next from Patrick Ness?

Nope! I'm definitely writing, but early ideas need protecting, I don't tell them to anyone (at all). They need the freedom to grow and stumble and make mistakes while they find their feet. But I'm definitely writing.

Thank you, Patrick, for such interesting answers and thank you to Walker Books for facilitating this interview.  Now, get on and read the extract below then invest in a copy - you won't regret it.  If you'd like to know more about Patrick and his books you can find him on Twitter, Facebook and on his own website.  Finally, for more info on Walker Books' great YA catalogue take a look at Undercover

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness - Extract One

A Monster Calls

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.
Conor was awake when it came.
He’d had a nightmare. Well, not nightmare. The nightmare. The one he’d been having a lot lately. The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on. The one that always ended with–
Go away,” Conor whispered into the darkness of his bedroom, trying to push the nightmare back, not let it follow him into the world of waking. “Go away now.”
He glanced over at the clock his mum had put on his bedside table. 12.07. Seven minutes past midnight. Which was late for a school night, late for a Sunday, certainly.
He’d told no one about the nightmare. Not his mum, obviously, but no one else either, not his dad in their fortnightly (or so) phone call, definitely not his grandma, and no one at school. Absolutely not.
What happened in the nightmare was something no one else ever needed to know.
Conor blinked groggily at his room, then he frowned. There was something he was missing. He sat up in his bed, waking a bit more. The nightmare was slipping from him, but there was something he couldn’t put his finger on, something different, something–
He listened, straining against the silence, but all he could hear was the quiet house around him, the occasional tick from the empty downstairs or a rustle of bedding from his mum’s room next door.
And then something. Something he realized was the thing that had woken him.
Someone was calling his name.


Ana S. said…
An excellent interview! I'm so ridiculously excited to read this book. Just got an e-mail from Amazon saying my copy was on its way, so hopefully tomorrow.
serendipity_viv said…
A lovely interview. It is am AMAZING book!
The1stdaughter said…
Wonderful wonderful interview. Adore this book and the author. I couldn't have asked better questions, honestly, those were exactly what I was hoping to learn more about. Thank you, to both you and Patrick!
Jules said…
Great interview, this sounds like a brilliant book!
Unknown said…
I am in awe of your interview technique. Will ask you for lessons :D
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