Chaos Walking author Patrick Ness set for 2014 Edinburgh Book Festival appearance
Key writer in British young adult fiction scene discusses new novel More Than This
This article is from 2014.
Chaos Walking author and Book Festival favourite Patrick Ness will soon deliver the first Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture. He tells Paul Gallagher why truth in storytelling is more important than ever.
Patrick Ness is one of the shining lights of the booming British Young Adult fiction scene. His Chaos Walking trilogy, a powerful, dystopian series in which he combined thrilling action with a deep consideration of the cost of war, was showered with praise, and its first part, The Knife of Never Letting Go, is currently being adapted for film by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind writer Charlie Kaufman.
Ness returns to the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year with his latest YA novel More Than This, a sci-fi-inflected tale concerning Seth, a boy who apparently dies as the book opens, but then awakens in a strangely familiar place. He soon learns that what he thought was the real world is something else entirely. It’s a set-up that allows Ness to explore the nature of stories, as he explains: ‘It’s about questioning, and not being trapped by our stories. Seth is trapped by a story so he needs to hear another story, about his existence.’
Like most writers, Ness holds stories in high esteem, but in More Than This he cautions the reader on believing in them too easily. ‘The world is confusing, and stories help us – we have to have them or we’d go crazy. But they’re only one description, not just of one person’s point of view but of that person’s point of view at a specific time. So they are very valuable, but you need lots of them.’
Seth joins Chaos Walking’s Todd as a rare creation in YA: a male protagonist who wrestles with those things often perceived as off-putting to young male readers – feelings. Ness makes no pretence about the fact that he intentionally frontloads his stories with plot and action, then sneaks in character depth and emotional complexity. ‘Plot is a framework on which to drape other things. So once that’s working I can just let it go and do all the stuff that I love – 'Trojan horse' it. There are so many great YA heroines, and that’s fantastic,’ he continues, ‘but what about the emotionally complex boy out there? That’s who I tend to write about.’
He also doesn’t shy away from mature themes – More Than This includes a matter-of-fact portrayal of a gay relationship – but Ness rejects the suggestion that he intentionally looks for opportunities to challenge what is considered acceptable for younger readers: ‘I don’t purposely push the boundaries … I think if you pay attention to a story it will have exactly as much 'difficult material' as it needs, and nobody will complain about it because you’ve earnt it.’
Discussions around these sorts of themes miss the point of YA, Ness claims. He wants to move on from ‘clickbait’ articles handwringing about content or decrying YA’s value: ‘I am wearying of how discourse has become solely to provoke.’ It is a thought he has been mulling over in preparation for his second event at the Book Festival: the inaugural Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture. ‘I don’t want it to just be stupid clickbait. Hopefully it will be about things like “why do we read? Why is it important for young people to read?' YA is such a vast world, so can we demand one single thing of it? I think you can: you can demand that it tell the truth. The world is cynical and sarcastic, but that doesn’t mean that that’s always the truth.’
Charlotte Square Gardens, 0845 373 5888, 16 Aug, 10.30am, £4.50. The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, 16 Aug, 5pm, £7(£5).