Readers reporter Brechje Oonk meets her big literary hero. She is interviewing no one less than Patrick Ness. He is in the Netherlands for the promotion of his latest book ‘A Monster Calls’.
When I arrive at the publishing company, Patrick Ness is nowhere to be found. He appears to be walking around on the wrong floor. Luckily the misunderstanding is resolved quickly and our interview can start.
The idea of Patrick’s latest book ‘A Monster Calls’ has been imagined by Siobhan Dowes, but before she could write the novel she died of cancer. Then Patrick Ness received the offer to write the book. At first instance he did not want to write it, but the story kept going through his mind and eventually a larger idea started to grow. Ness decided to write the book anyway.
A Monster Calls is about the thirteen year old Connor. Every night he has a terrible nightmare with a gruesome monster. So when he has a different dream about a gigantic, walking and talking tree he is not too impressed. The tree tells him three stories and after telling those stories, the tree wants Connor to tell the truth. Slowly Connor starts to understand more about himself.
‘This book is like a cake’, Patrick Ness tells us. ‘The ideas that are mine, Siobhan’s and Jim Kay’s, the illustrator, are mixed together and the result is this book. It is one whole with different ingredients. You cannot separate them, just like you cannot extract eggs from a cake once it’s baked.’
I ask him whether the three stories, which have a fairytale-like atmosphere, are based on something real. They are not, Ness thought of them himself. ‘That was fairly tricky, but a nice challenge’, he says. Another challenge in this book was the describing of grandma. She need to be a real grandma, but not a stereotypical one. ‘Characters that are far away from me or are actually similar to me are easier to describe. Someone like Connor’s grandma is much harder, because she falls in between those two categories.’
For people who want to write as well, I ask whether Patrick has any tips. ‘I can tell you how I write,’ he answers, ‘but that does not work for everyone.’
First, he gets an idea. That can happen during practicing for a marathon, because of something someone says to him or a news item. Ideas come from all over the place. Then he keeps this idea for a long time. Over time, new things are added to this initial idea. Sometimes he can think of a scene at once or an image that can be used in the story. When the idea is so big that it needs to ‘get out’, he writes down everything at once. He prefers to write in a quiet environment without any time pressure. The book does not have to be perfect. Only after everything has been written down, you can reread from the beginning and start editing. The most important thing is not to give up on your story.
It takes a while before Ness wants to say what he is good at. Eventually he says that he hopes that he is good at the transferal of emotions from paper to the reader. I think that we as readers can only agree with this. Next to that, he likes to create a coherent story from many different pieces of information and ideas. When he was younger, he wanted to be a video-editor. They basically do the same thing, but with images.
What he would like to try some time is to write a novel that plays during a longer period of time. Up until now the stories he writes play during a period of several months or weeks and it would be fun, so he said, to try to experiment with a different time frame.
We conclude the interview with a picture of the two of us, and Patrick signs my copy of A Monster Calls. Publishing agency De Geus: thank you very much for the interview and the lovely reception!