Tag Archives: Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls – the film

This was the film we tried to go and see all week. We should be grateful it made it to the local cinema, because who would want to be deprived of a good long cry? As it was, Kleenex were required, and there was a bucket too.

A Monster Calls

I can no longer recall the exact details of the book* by Patrick Ness, and by that I mean the minor characters and any minor plots. I think there were some. They are not in the film, which is good, as you don’t want anything to detract from the main story about Conor, his dying mum and his angry grandma. And the school bullies, because to be beaten up every day as your mother is dying is obviously [not] what a 13-year-old boy needs.

A Monster Calls

The film let us concentrate on Conor’s nightmares and the subsequent meetings with a tree monster who comes to the house (voiced by Liam Neeson) to tell him stories.

Then there is grandma, played by Sigourney Weaver, doing a good British accent, while going around being at least as angry as her grandson. And who can blame her; she is losing her child, and gaining a grandchild who hates her.

A Monster Calls

At first the film went so slowly I was afraid it would ruin things but, almost imperceptibly, it sped up and before we knew it we were hooked, by Conor’s dismal daily life, and his mum’s sufferings, and you could literally see her getting worse.

Beautifully filmed in the Northwest, it looked like home to us (not quite as I’d imagined it from the book or from Jim Kay’s illustrations).

And it was only on the way out I remembered I had tissues in my bag, after casting around in my mind what we could possibly use to mop those tears with.


*Based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd

The sorting

‘Don’t forget Ness comes between Nesbit and Newbery,’ I said to the Resident IT Consultant. (That’s of particular interest, as Linda Newbery used to look at the shelves in bookshops before she was a published author, thinking she’d fit in nicely next to Nesbit. We didn’t know about Patrick Ness at the time.)

We were sorting the bookcases. Again. I have done bits of it on my own, but if any serious work was going to happen on the top shelves, especially forming a second row behind, then I needed the Resident IT Consultant. And I’m sure he was pleased to be needed. Climbs well, and can hug a larger pile of books in one go than I can.

My job was to tell him what to do and where, and to choose a few books that would be put up for adoption.

The Ns happen to live on the second top shelf, the one to the right of the As and Bs, and not having been a double row before, on account of stability, they were all out front. ‘Here are some Newberys,’ he said. ‘And some more. Oh, there are a lot of Newberys,’ he said as the full range of Linda’s books hit him. Not literally, I hasten to add.

The very awkward Gs improved a lot with our work the other day. I may have mentioned before that there are many Gs in my book world. There were McMacs coming at us from all directions, but they are more orderly now.

In some instances he had me worried when saying he thought there’d be more of someone’s books. I thought so too, until I recalled that this is what my bedside special bookcase is for. The bestest of the favourites live there.

It also turned out we were both alphabetically challenged. We discovered several books that needed to move left. And then a bit more left, before going furher left where they belonged. We must be getting old.

This was the kind of job you put off and put off because it strikes you as hard work. In actual fact, we only needed a couple of hours, and some of it was me sitting down to think about my books.

And then, of course, I had to go and do my best of list and I wanted a photo of the selected books of 2016, so I had to pull them out again, on my own, and put them back. But at least the sorting meant I knew where to find them, even if it was the top shelf.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Or ‘Not Everyone Has to be the Chosen One’ as it also says on the cover of Patrick Ness’s new novel. It makes sense. We can’t all be chosen as some kind of figurehead, although we are all special in some way.

Patrick Ness, The Rest of Us Just Live Here

You can’t tell where this book is going, which is refreshing. It’s so ordinary in its setting, telling us about the last few weeks before graduation for a group of five high school students in a small town in north western USA. Except, there are odd things happening around them. Each chapter begins with a short piece about the ‘indie kids’ and all the weird and awful things done to them. It’s like a fantasy element that doesn’t belong in this ordinary town, were it not for the fact that our five characters hear about when someone has been found dead, or has gone missing, the same way the reader has just witnessed in the chapter intro.

Indie or not, this is basically about growing up and leaving home to go to college, leaving friends behind, and not believing in yourself or suffering unrequited love (particularly bad if it’s one of your best friends). Being gay. The possibility of your high school being blown up. Or maybe about being killed by zombie deer.

It seems every generation has suffered some odd or dangerous threat, like vampires. ‘Our’ teenagers have these inexplicable deaths in the ‘indie’ camp, as well as the odd blue light seen in the woods. And the zombie deer.

Mikey, who is the narrator, feels he’s somehow less than the rest of his group of friends (rather like most of us do), and he suffers from OCD, and from having a politically ambitious mother who occasionally forgets her family needs to be normal.

It’s odd. Not much happens, if you don’t count stuff that might determine the rest of your life, or your indie school friends being killed, or the school being blown up [before graduation]. Or the zombie deer.

Patrick understands the power of names. The indie kids are mostly called Finn, which is as it should be, or Satchel, Kerouac and Dylan. Mikey’s best friend is Jared Shurin, who came in second place after Mikey’s secret love Henna Silvennoinen in the charity auction to be a character in Patrick’s book. I share his gratitude to Henna for winning, because it’s a name that really, really makes this character.

This novel is crazy and calm at the same time. It’s compellingly good, not to mention different in just the right way.

Welcome?

I often say I’m the kind of immigrant that people like or want. I could be wrong. It was never easy being allowed into the UK, but it was possible, and required only a phone call to the British embassy in Stockholm, payment of a fee, a plane ticket to London, a conversation with the immigration officer at Heathrow (who was mainly interested in where the future Resident IT Consultant came from – like was he another ghastly foreigner, importing more of his foreign kind into the country?), another discussion with an unpleasant customs officer, followed much later by a day at Lunar House in Croydon with all the other hopefuls. And much much later an interview with a council employee (who rather suspected I’d be importing all my foreign relatives if she wasn’t strict with me) to get my NI number.

But I got in, and I have stayed.

And here I have read many books about the plight of people in the 1930s who fled their countries and ended up in Britain, and survived because of it. There are the books, and then there are the authors, who wouldn’t be here today were it not for someone getting permission to enter back then. Now there are people here who actually are proud of this, even though there was hostility at the time.

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is another foreigner who must have managed this move as well, since he now lives in the UK. He’s blonder than me, so was possibly more welcome.

By now it appears that Patrick has caused hundreds of thousands of pounds to be donated in aid of the refugees, whose fate we see in the news at the moment.

Just think, in 2095 there could be people who will proudly say how happy they are that Britain welcomed these scared and desperate human beings in 2015. Because it’s what good countries do.

(Here is where you can donate to Save the Children and join Derek Landy and John Green.)

Eight I’ve read

At last. A list I’ve read. I’m beginning to like Daniel Hahn even more. Clearly great minds think alike.

For the Guardian Daniel has chosen eight of the best YA novels, suitable – indeed highly recommended – for adults. And I’ve read them all, which I suppose isn’t so strange, really. I thought when I saw the list that they were all recent books, but YA hasn’t been around all that long, so it’s understandable.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen exactly that list, but I could have.

And I realise I should never have absolved Daughter from having to read The White Darkness. She asked, only a week or so ago, whether she still had to read it, and I said no. It is such a tremendous book. (Is it too late to force her now?) Fancy Daniel picking Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick! Very good choice. Henry Tumour by Anthony McGowan. That was a long time ago now, and I almost didn’t consider it a death/cancer novel, but I suppose it is.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, of course. The odd thing is that when I read it, I was – almost – not keen on Chris Riddell’s illustrations. I thought I preferred Dave McKean’s. Well, a witch can change her mind. Siobhan Dowd’s A Swift Pure Cry; the book I thought I might not like because I had set notions about that ‘kind of plot’… What an idiot I was. But it’s a testament to Siobhan’s writing skills that this ‘kind of plot’ can be marvellous.

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond is the one book I remember less well. Possibly because at the time I read several of David’s books in quick succession. Patrick Ness gets three books in, as Chaos Walking is a trilogy, but you can’t have just the one part. For me they are books that have grown in stature over the years. And finally, Mal Peet’s Life: An Exploded Diagram. One of the best. And now there will be no more.

I know that I tend to preach to the converted here on Bookwitch, but I hope that a few of today’s readers are doubting adults, who would never dream of reading YA. Until today. Because this is such a good start to a new life of reading YA books.

Lucky you.

Yellow, more yellow and black

The 2015 Carnegie medal shortlist is mostly yellow [book covers] and black. I trust that this is a coincidence, although fashion in cover design might be involved here. I’ve not checked to see what the books that didn’t make it have on their covers. Possibly more yellow.

Out of the eight, I’ve read three and they’re all potential worthy winners. Sally Gardner and Patrick Ness have won before. Some of the ones I’ve not read I have wanted to read, but they didn’t turn up in the post and it’s the usual problem of lack of time to chase, and sometimes lack of information that the book exists in the first place. Which is the case with the ones I’ve not read because I’d not heard of them.

If publishers do put together lists of what they intend to publish, it would cost them very little to email that list to ‘everyone.’ I keep hearing how overworked publicity departments are, and I realise that writing press releases and [personalised] letters and printing and posting them takes more time and will cost money. But you surely can’t run a company without listing what products you are about to offer the general public to buy, and if you have the list, please share it.

There have been other shortlists and longlists over the last few months. It is getting increasingly hard to keep up with the titles, let alone read them. But perhaps it’s not a bad thing for me not to have read as high a proportion of the chosen ones as I used to. I still read as many books, and that might mean I read and review ones that don’t even get close to the limelight of an award.

On the Carnegie longlist there are five books I would have liked to see make it, and several more ‘glaring omissions’ on the nominations list. As for the shortlist, I’d have liked to read Geraldine McCaughrean’s book and Elizabeth Laird’s, but as it is, I will root for Tanya Landman’s Buffalo Soldier.

The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture #1

Having been – sort of –  ‘in’ on Siobhan Dowd’s memorial trust since its start, there was no way I wouldn’t go and hear Patrick Ness deliver (such a posh word) the first lecture in aid of the trust. He is well known for calling a spade a spade, so my feeling was that it wouldn’t be boring.

Tony Bradman

It wasn’t. Introduced by Tony Bradman, Patrick got his usual superstar greeting from the audience (I’m trusting there were lots of young people in the theatre…), before offering us his 90 minute talk in 28 minutes. He talks fast when he gets nervous. Apparently. He reckoned there would probably be time left for some Q&A at the end.

The end. Yes, for him that was meant to come at the age of eight, in 1980, according to the pastor in his pentecostal church in Washington (state). They were all going to die.

Patrick fiddled with his stopwatch as he told us about Siobhan’s first short story, which she offered Tony Bradman for his collection Skin Deep. Just hearing about it again made my hairs stand on end. It’s that good. Siobhan was that good. ‘Just plain damned good’ as Patrick said.

Children have always suffered in silence. Not just being condemned to death by their pastor, but he told us about the poor girl who was certain she’d die a death by artichoke. Being young is ‘impossible.’

And it’s wrong to use the word ‘them’ for children. We’ve all been children. Patrick sees himself as one big warehouse, storing all his previous ages, because he is all those ages at all times. He at least had Judy Blume when he was young. And whereas he wanted to write, his understanding was that only famous people become authors.

He wanted to write about being young and gay in Washington, because there is a lot of shame involved in being young. And Siobhan Dowd was the writer Patrick always wanted to be. ‘Stories told with love.’

On the calling a spade a spade, Patrick felt that the first question put to him on Saturday evening was more of a comment from the member of the audience (How I resent those who use vaulable time voicing their own opinions at times like these!) The next question was more a ‘Patrick compliment’ kind of question, about what message he’d leave his eight-year-old self if he could.

Patrick Ness

Adept at avoiding tricky corners, Patrick wriggled out of a favourite list of books, which was the third question. On that note we ran out of time and Patrick attempted a fast escape out the fire exit, at which point he discovered a witch sitting nearby, so he said a quick hello, waved and ran.

The queue for his book signing was long and I’m sure he was there for a while. If people will insist on being photographed with their favourite author and can’t get the camera to work, queues like these will take forever. Although I saw Patrick later, so he must have escaped eventually.