Taking his characters, and readers, everywhere from the depths of consciousness to other worlds and yet further - to places beyond death - Patrick Ness is one of the most startlingly original and thought-provoking of contemporary novelists. His writing has garnered a wealth of awards including the Carnegie Medal (which Ness has won twice), the Costa Children’s Book Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for novels including the bestselling trilogy Chaos Walking, and books such as More Than This, The Rest of Us Just Live Here and perhaps most famously, the extraordinary A Monster Calls.
'Without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.'The Chaos Walking trilogy
'Stories are wild creatures, the Monster said'The Fiction of Patrick Ness
Patrick Ness’s mantelpiece must be getting pretty heavy by now. The author’s form for award-winning is intimidatingly impressive, so much so that fellow authors tease him about it: "Philip Ardagh tweets me to say: ‘Won any prizes today?'" he admits.
With a feature film of his award-winning novel A Monster Calls bringing his stories to a whole new audience, it’s a track record that seems unlikely to be broken any time soon.
Monsters of the Mind
Ness was already working on his first novel when he moved to the UK from Los Angeles in 1999, but it was his first book for teenagers, The Knife of Never Letting Go (and the beginning of his series, Chaos Walking), which made his name. Telling the story of a boy growing up in a society made up solely of men, where every thought is broadcast for all to hear, the book garnered immediate praise and ultimately claimed The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. The Independent described it as 2a breakneck thriller and a fable about fear, love and redemption."
However, the book - and its subsequent sequels, The Ask and The Answer and Monsters of Men - came under censure, with the Daily Mail describing the books as "so violent they need a health warning." It’s a criticism Ness has been quick to rebuff:
"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."
Passing the Baton
His 2011 novel, A Monster Calls, offers material that is no less emotionally challenging. Taken from an initial idea from writer Siobhan Dowd - who died leaving just the barest notes on plot – it is a beautiful, moving and darkly funny book about myth, storytelling and our fear of death. Ness described the project as feeling like 2I'd been handed a baton and told to run with it.2
The book benefitted from extraordinary and visceral pictures from illustrator Jim Kay and the pair received the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal and Carnegie Awards respectively for their work – the first time a book has received both accolades.
Afterlife and Beyond
Since then Ness has continued to stretch the boundaries of expectation around literature for teenagers with novels including a dystopian vision of the afterlife, More Than This, and a story about what it’s like to be normal in a world of superheroes, The Rest of Us Just Live Here.
2017 sees him test the margins yet again with a day-in-the-life chronicle of a young man’s life in Release, loosely based on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. When he’s not writing novels Ness also writes for film and television, writing the screenplay for the film adaptation of A Monster Calls and an episode of Doctor Who.
In the company of writers including Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman, Patrick Ness continues to push for exemplary and experimental writing for teenagers; with fear being his test for good writing, he says: "I feel like I can't write a good book unless I scare myself."