Tag Archives: Patrick Ness

Stories for empathy and a better world

I had been looking forward to the event with Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai on Saturday. I’d never met Miriam before, but she was everything I had expected, and Bali was Bali as usual. Empathy is important and it promised to be an interesting discussion.

Bali Rai and Miriam Halahmy

We were all asked for examples of empathic children’s books that had made a difference to us. I can see the point of asking the audience, but it split my attention a bit too much. Miriam is a big fan of Morris Gleitzman and talked about his Blabbermouth, and Bali suggested Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow. President Obama’s talk about the ’empathy deficit’ was mentioned.

Miriam read from The Emergency Zoo, and explained how she loses herself in the book when she writes. She is her characters.

Bali then read from The Harder They Fall, apologising for some ‘rude’ words. When he started writing about a female character, it took him some time to understand that girls are ‘just’ people. He talked about how many poor teenagers never even consider going to university. Sometimes because they are the main carer for someone in their family, and they can’t contemplate getting into debt.

On getting started Miriam reckoned the most important thing she did as a child was to read. After that it was being a teacher, doing a writing course, and reading and meeting people like Morris Gleitzman and Jacqueline Wilson. The best thing about writing is losing yourself in the writing.

Roald Dahl was a hero of Bali’s, and he liked reading about Vikings and volcanoes. Later on Sue Townsend played a big part influencing him. Bali described his hard-working colleague Alan Gibbons, who travels and writes and campaigns tirelessly for good causes. The best thing about being a writer seems to be ‘vomiting [words] on a page.’

Can you understand the world if you read escapism? Miriam believes in a real place and a real boy or girl. Bali feels that in The Lord of the Rings the whole world is escapism, and he listed Andy Stanton for sheer bounciness, had nothing [positive] to say about David Walliams, and it seems the archetypal white man comedian comes from Stockport. He praised the way Jacqueline Wilson writes about hard work and ordinary children. And there’s Siobhan Dowd and Patrick Ness.

Someone in the audience had problems seeing how fantasy could be empathic, but discovered Miriam and Bali disagreed. To make children understand empathy we don’t need it on the curriculum, and there is no right age. According to Miriam you can’t suddenly ‘do empathy today,’ but you need to embed it more deeply. For Bali it’s economical politics in this dog eat dog world. And you should be allowed to have fun at school, because how else do you get to write about fish zombies?

As with letting school-children have enough time for fun, I’d have liked more time for the two authors at Saturday’s event.

Miranda McKearney, Anna Bassi, Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai

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The ones I enjoyed the most

It suddenly struck me that perhaps it’s unwise to say anything about best books. Because this time of year I usually list the ones I liked the most, which isn’t the same thing.

And by the time December rolls round I often despair. Yes, I remember that marvellous book I read recently. This year that was La Belle Sauvage. Because it was recent. Longer ago and my memory blacks out, in much the same way as when someone asks what I did at the weekend…

No need to worry though. Out of the 137 books (2017 wasn’t the best year for finding reading time), the twelve that emerged more victorious than the rest, were closely followed by quite a few other excellent contenders.

Best of 2017

I’ve not picked a best of all, nor am I doing the alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

LA Weatherly, Black Moon

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Patrick Ness, Release

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

And as you can see, the 2017 colour for book covers is primarily black with some blue and teal. Rather like last year, in fact. I appear to have picked six women and six men, which feels nice and equal.

There is only one translated book, but there are two dyslexia friendly books, plus one prequel, one equel, one end of a trilogy and one middle of a trilogy. And two Scottish books. All good.

Books like these are what makes it all worth it.

Doing Doune

We went via Butcher’s Corner. This was made famous in the whole Bookwitch family when the Resident IT Consultant happened to complain about Daughter having taken a turn on ‘practically’ two wheels, back when he accompanied her on driving practice.

View from the Smiddy

Last week when Daughter was finally legally able to take her ancient mother to Butcher’s Corner – which is actually a farmshop and tearoom – we didn’t do the two-wheel thing. Instead we stopped for elevenses. It was nice being out like this, all on our own. You know, without Daddy, our regular and much appreciated family chauffeur.

Properly fed, we continued to the Antique’s place in Doune, where we could look at ‘everything’ without the Resident IT Consultant needing to ‘go for a walk.’

Hamish McHaggis

I was pleased to discover Linda Strachan lurking on a shelf, by which I mean her Hamish McHaggis was for sale, alongside much lovely bric-a-brac.

Chaos Walking

Across the aisle Daughter found a set of tied up Chaos Walking books. And as we waved at them in a friendly way, we discovered a similarly tied up trilogy of Ribblestrop close by.

Ribblestrop

This is what we like, finding friends everywhere.

Further into this massive cave of stuff, we encountered Chris Riddell sitting next to someone I won’t mention, so he had to be hidden before we photographed Fergus Crane.

Fergus Crane

I have to admit the colour co-ordination between the books was good, but limits are there to be obeyed.

‘The lucrative children’s fiction market’

They usually start arriving early summer. And I usually have to leave the reading of most of them until much closer to the first Thursday in October, purely because I have too many books with earlier publication dates. Or I would throw myself at some of the tastiest October offerings. I’m only a witch.

They are the books destined to be released on Super Thursday, which is today. It’s almost ironic how in the week when I and many others are furious over the celebrity books issue, there are so many fantastic new books being published. Sally Gardner’s My Side of the Diamond which I reviewed yesterday is one such Super Thursday book. In Sally’s case I’m not in the slightest surprised she’s been chosen.

It’s like Christmas. Well, it is for Christmas, of course. And just as with Christmas when we tend to get too much of whatever it is we fancy, so do the offerings of great books in early October seem to me to be too much. I can’t appreciate them all, and I don’t even get to see every potential Bookwitch favourite published today.

The Scotsman had an article about this earlier in the week, and two things in particular struck me. One was the photo of books stacked in a bookshop, to illustrate Super Thursday. I can only assume it was sheer fluke which made it a table laden with children’s and YA books. But it pleased me to find myself face-to-face with books by Patrick Ness and Michael Grant, and others behind them.

The other was the quote above; ‘the lucrative children’s fiction market.’ I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s good to feel there is money in children’s books. And if there is, it’d be great if it could be more evenly distributed and not go to the celebrities. Because the quote was in the context of one of ‘our new children’s authors, Cara Delevingne.’ Maybe that’s what was meant by lucrative – it’s what it becomes when they get someone ‘properly famous’ in.

Because all the names mentioned in the article are well-known ones, or dead and well-known ones. Not the people I mainly read and like. Much as I loved and admired Terry Pratchett and Henning Mankell, if the only live authors listed are Cara, plus Miranda Hart and Tom Fletcher, this could, well, it could give people looking for ideas on what to buy for Christmas, the wrong ideas.

The only books by celebrities I might want to read are their biographies, but I gather they are out of fashion. I wish the celebrities were too.

You’d have thought publishers wouldn’t want to unleash all the new books at once. Surely many books will go unnoticed in this avalanche?

Yes, it seems some books are being kept back a couple of weeks, like Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust. Good for him.

And anyway, all that unpacking and displaying of so many new books all at once can’t be much fun for the bookshops.

Same goes for reviews. Even if I could read the Super Thursday titles well before October 5th, there is no way I could suddenly make all the reviews available in one fell swoop. They need to be eked out. As do the books. Too many marvellous books is like being given a whole chocolate cake. You need to be disciplined and tackle this loveliness in small portions.

A book is not only for Christmas. In fact, for me it’s the time of year I read the least.

Mads for Mayor

Trying to decide who came into my life first, Mads Mikkelsen or Patrick Ness. It’s all in the past, and that’s getting murkier by the minute. Some things I just don’t remember.

And others I do. That fateful – but really lovely – young reviewers club I was connected with quite a few years ago, for instance. I remember that one of the boys read The Knife of Never Letting Go. I thought it a curious title, and I wasn’t sure what I thought of the language, so I didn’t read it. Then.

The boy’s review was published on a review site that didn’t exactly get lots of hits, but some. One visitor was Patrick Ness. (I reckon most authors google themselves and their books. At least early on.) I followed the lead to where his subsequent link was coming from, which was on his blog. The review was the first, or one of the first, which was especially noticeable because it was before the book was officially out.

Patrick was pleased, and I was pleased that he was pleased.

Mads Mikkelsen. I know exactly where I clapped eyes on him. Just not when. His Danish television police series Rejseholdet seemed to be screened on Swedish television every summer, and one evening midway through an episode, I happened to switch on. I disliked him on sight.

But I enjoyed Rejseholdet, and eventually, after many years, I grew fond of Mads. And by now I, and the rest of the world, have seen him in lots of films, international as well as Danish.

I had never imagined Mayor Prentiss in The Knife of Never Letting Go looking like Mads. Not even a little bit. But I expect he’ll be marvellous as the ghastly Mayor. I’m already looking forward to the film, but suppose I will have to wait until 2019 for Chaos Walking, as it will be known. Slightly less of a mouthful than the book title.

Patrick Ness – setting aside expectations

Ann Landmann clearly knew she could fill the George Square Lecture Theatre for the Blackwell’s Patrick Ness event on Saturday afternoon. So she did. People were queueing before the doors opened. There were plenty of young fans, but also a good number of unaccompanied adults. It’s OK. I was one myself, as was Kate Leiper who turned up again. (We’ll have to stop meeting like this…)

Patrick Ness and Keith Gray

I knew it’d be good when I heard that Keith Gray was going to be the one to talk to Patrick about his new book Release. This was their third event together (and I’ve been to them all), and as Keith said, a lot has happened since the last time; three books, television, a film.

The edge of the stage nearly brought Patrick down as he entered, but he managed to right himself, and then he put his mic on, having left it off in case we could hear him in the Gents.

Keith wanted to know if he had anything he needs to get to before… ‘Death?’ Patrick is aware that every book could be the last, so he doesn’t hold back. He sets aside what the publisher and the market might expect, and writes what he needs to write. He pointed out that no one was expecting Harry Potter, and that J K Rowling’s joy with her book is clear.

Patrick never expected anyone would want what he wrote. Asked to describe Release to the people in the audience, most of whom had not yet read the book, he said it’s A Day in the Life of Adam Thorn, based on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, from buying flowers in the morning, to a party at night.

Patrick Ness and Keith Gray

He wants to kick off his safety net, and see how you survive the apocalypse; what feels like the end of the world. Asked why he wrote it now, Patrick felt the time was right. All his ten books are about him, but this one much more so. He’s not trying to be controversial for the sake of controversy. But it was time. It’s the book he’d have wanted to read when he was 16. And he can only write about his own experiences. Gay love needs to be described as more than romantic hand-holding, and he pointed out that his story contains ‘no worse’ than what’s in Judy Blume’s Forever.

Keith wanted to know if Adam might turn up in more books, but Patrick felt that was a terrible question. (He doesn’t know.) Yes, he does want to get people to read Mrs Dalloway and Forever, and there isn’t much difference between Stephen King and Virginia Woolf. Joanna Trollope’s name was mentioned, followed by a laugh. Patrick likes Donne, but not Wordsworth, which is perfectly valid.

Patrick only writes for himself at 16. He writes about everything that he’d have wanted to talk about at that age. When he wrote A Monster Calls, he knew he couldn’t guess how Siobhan Dowd would have written the story, so he had to do it his way. And books are like children; you love them, and send them out into the world, hoping for the best.

Angela in Release was based on his oldest friend, and he used the name Angela Darlington after someone paid £1000 (to charity) to have their name in his book. Someone wanted to know if Patrick would ever write about a trans character, and he replied ‘never say never.’ He mentioned his friend Juno Dawson [formerly James], who came out to him about being trans, and he feels it’s wrong that even now you ‘have to’ come out about sexuality.

Another question was about the world ending, and Patrick said he had waited for the apocalypse, but when the world kept not ending, he didn’t know what to do. Now he worries more about the boiler making odd noises, than about the apocalypse. He had a very kind answer to the age old question about what inspired him to become an author, and which book he liked writing the best.

Stories get to stew in his head for a long time before he starts the painful process of writing. And it never becomes what you think it will be. If he has a new idea when reading the first draft, he pretends in the second draft that he always knew about it.

Queue for Patrick Ness

Keith brought the discussion to a close, and Ann Landmann directed everyone where to go; those who had books for signing, those who still needed to buy books, and those who had no intention of stocking up on Christmas presents.

George Sq Lecture Theatre

Patrick Ness

As for me, I realised this was too long a queue for me to stand in (it was of Pratchett/Gaiman proportions), so I stared at the recently emptied auditorium, at Ann waving her hands in the air, took a few fuzzy photos from a distance, said goodbye to Kate, and walked out into the sunshine again.

And here is a prettier one ‘we’ snapped earlier:

Patrick Ness

(Photo above by Helen Giles)

Release

This is a beautiful story. Release by Patrick Ness is, as he says in his foreword, a very personal book. And I believe this is what makes it what it is. I’m obviously not sure what is ‘real’ and what is fiction, but he points out that he was raised in a religion like Adam’s, and that fortunately he also had friends like his main character’s. I hope he had, and preferably still has, an Angela.

Modelled on Mrs Dalloway, ‘one of the three best books,’ Release takes place in one day, and this helps make it special. We follow Adam as he gets ready for a not-party, but a get-together that evening, to say goodbye to his former boyfriend Enzo, who is leaving town.

Patrick Ness, Release

Adam’s very religious parents are hard on him. They don’t want a gay son; they want a perfect preacher for their church, next generation. Adam wants what most teenagers want, a normal life with friends and lovers, an education and a job, and preferably a family where he can feel he belongs and is loved.

He does have the latter, because he can use Angela’s family, who are just what he wants and needs. I’m not sure if I’ve come across a better friend than Angela, who is very short, except in the ‘universes where I’m Beyoncé.’

There might be a new boyfriend. Adam isn’t sure. His perfect older brother is a nuisance, and not preacher material. The town has had a recent murder, so we also have a ghost wandering round on this day, and that’s not as weird as it might sound.

We – and Adam – learn that people are not always what they seem. Some better, some far worse, than you thought. And he still needs to work out exactly what he is hoping for.

For those who have always wondered about gay sex but were afraid to ask, Release tells you more than most YA novels, whether you’re the curious bystander or you’re gay but inexperienced.

I often ask myself if I really need to read the latest book by Patrick Ness. It didn’t take more than a few pages before I knew that I did.

I do.