Interview with Patrick Ness

June 14, 2009

«The Knife of Never letting go» by Patrick Ness is the first book of what will be a trilogy.
The first book in the Chaos Walking series 2008. A novel by Patrick Ness.

A dystopian thriller follows a boy and girl on the run from a town where all thoughts can be heard - and the passage to manhood embodies a horrible secret.

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him - something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn't she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd's gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.

Patrick Ness, could you tell us more about you?

Here's the biography from my website: I was born on an army base called Fort Belvoir, near Alexandria, Virginia, in the United States. My father was a drill sergeant in the US Army, but much nicer than that makes him seem. I only stayed at Fort Belvoir for the first four months of my life and have never even been back to the East Coast of America (don't get me started).

I lived in Hawaii until I was almost six, spent the ten years after that in suburban Washington state, and then on to Los Angeles, where I studied English Literature at the University of Southern California.

My main job after graduating was as corporate writer at a cable company, writing manuals, form letters and speeches and once even an advertisement for the Gilroy, California Garlic Festival (this is true). If you're American and hated your cable company, I probably wrote you a letter of apology.

I got my first story published in Genre magazine in 1997 and was working on my first novel when I moved to London in 1999. I've lived here ever since. Luckily, my Hawaiian childhood prepared me for English summers.

What's about your planning?

I do some. I know the last line and I know some big scenes that feel really exciting that I can't wait to get to. Other than that, I see what happens along the way.

Since when could you live from your passion?

I've made a living from writing since 2002, when I got my first book deal for my first adult novel, The Crash of Hennington. I review books for the Guardian as well and sometimes teach.

What is your advice and your recommandations to the people who want to starting with writing?

I'm currently writer-in-residence for, and I've put up all kinds of writing tips and will continue to do so for several more months. There's a lot more there than I could fit in here. But mainly, it's «write the book that you want to read». If you don't want to read it, no one else will either.

What was the point to start with this story? When and why did you start with this project?

Well, feeling a bit sensitive one day when the mobile kept ringing and the texts kept coming and the emails kept piling up, I thought this is what life’s become: a non-stop torrent of information, whether you want it or not. So I started playing with the idea: What if you really couldn’t get away? What if you were a slightly sensitive, private person but there was nowhere to hide. How would you really know who you were? And how would you handle it? That’s where the story started, and that’s where Todd and the voice of Todd came from.

Do you think that an adaptation for a movie or a video game is possible? If there will be an adaptation, which one do you prefer? A real movie or an animation in 2D or 3D?

A movie would be really good. I think it would make a GREAT Japanese Anime film, for example.

Several volumes are announced, speaks of a trilogy. Can you confirm this information?

It's a trilogy, and won't keep going after three books like so many trilogies do! The second book in English is called, "The Ask and the Answer" and it just came out last month. The French-language version should be ready just after the start of 2010. And I'm working hard on the final volume.

Who are you targeting with this book (young people or adults)?

I genuinely believe, and this is a tip I pass on to every aspiring writer I meet, that if you try to write a book for anyone but yourself (like a publisher or a particular audience), your book’s probably going to be pretty crap because where are you in it? The only success I’ve ever had – and this is true – was when I threw out thinking what everyone else would want and wrote the book I wanted.

And so what happened with Knife was that I was writing the story I’d want to read, watching it take on a life of its own, and I realised the book was making me write it for teenagers, which was even better because I realised I then had so much more freedom to try edgy and difficult and out-there things.

Teenagers tend to be more risk-taking and open-minded readers than adults, as long as you don’t insult their intelligence. Which is why I don’t think the mature plot is a problem. I think teenagers handle a lot more difficult things on a regular basis than the plot of a book, so why be condescending and try to soften things up?

On the other hand, since I was writing it for myself (and I'm not a teenager), it turns out to be for anyone!

The first volume ends on a cliffhanger. Should we expect that future volumes end at the same way?

Yes and no. I've got surprises up my sleeve for the next two books. It might be a cliffhanger, but not in the same way.

Are you currently writing the next volume?

Yes, it should be ready in English for May 2010, with a French version to follow.

When you began to write, you already know the end of the story?

I know the last line. I might not know how I get there, but I know how I want to leave the reader. I call it the "exit feeling". When I have that, I know I'm ready to start.

Is the end of the story today clear or could it change again?

The end of the whole story is already written and it's not changing! It's good and surprising and moving and unexpected. I'm really happy with it.

Do you write step by step, as soon as you have time and ideas, or do you have exactly schedules and plans what do you want to write in your next books?

I write 1000 words a day. It builds up over time and keeps the story churning in my head, but it's not so much that I'm always tired or anything. It's a good balance between work and creativity. But the story has to come as it comes, there's no rushing it. Like all art, I guess, you've got to listen to it and let it tell you how it wants to go. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

You have received the Guardian and the Booktrust Teenage Prize in 2008. What do you feel?

They felt great, because it gets the book some attention. There are so many books out there that the best thing prizes do is get you noticed. That way, more people can read it and, if they like it, recommend it to friends, which is how any teenage books become successful. They were very pleasing.

On what kind of project do you are working currently and what are your future projects?

I'm working on book three at the moment. I do have future ideas, but they're top secret at the moment! It's important to keep new ideas protected, I think, give them time to grow and flower. Exposure to light too early can kill them, so I'm keeping them secret for now!

Christine Blanc Special Thanks to Fabrice Steurer

Special Thanks to Victor Dillinger (Editions Gallimard Jeunesse)

© Copyright by Fabrice Steurer & Christine Blanc. All Rights Reserved.

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