Friday, January 6, 2017

An Interview with Patrick Ness

In both book and film form, A Monster Calls is a striking tale of a young boy that is dealing with a lot of terribly difficult things when it comes to his family, and the way that a visit from a monster at his bedside window encourages him to face the truth. It was clever, observant and nuanced, and the emotional through line was very pronounced and well written - both in novel and film form.

Eager to catch A Monster Calls for yourself? Well, you're in luck because the film will be opening nationwide today, January 6. Macky & I would both highly encourage you to take the time to see this incredible story come to life on screen, whether or not you've read the actual novel. Macky & I shared on thoughts on the film last month, so go check those out if you're so inclined.

Today, however, we're sharing something special - Macky's interview with Patrick Ness. A few days after he attended the New York premiere, Macky was able to meet Patrick and ask him a couple of questions related to A Monster Calls, the film and writing in general. I'm going to let Macky take over from this point on...




Prologue

It’s a slow day in Manhattan, the sky a platinum gray. I am anxious and excited as I navigate the switching of trains that will get me from my humble Queens apartment to the lavish Waldorf Astoria, where I get to wait my turn to interview Patrick Ness, author of the book and the screenplay for A Monster Calls.

A sharply dressed man ushers me into the suite, where I help myself to some refreshments as the hour draws nigh for my interview. The food is as warm and as good as I am anxious. Soon enough, I am ushered into yet another suite, where apparently Mr. Ness has been entertaining interviewer after interviewer. I ask if I can record my encounter and the nice lady coordinating things from within the suite smiles and says yes. At this point, I am practically a wreck.

Introductions & Squee Moment #1

Patrick enters the room, and I shake his hand, introducing myself and figuratively waving my “Alexa Loves Books" banner. He humbly obliges, and I fangirl internally. I whip out my interview notes while thinking, ‘Don’t bring up Class. Don’t bring up Class. You’re here for A Monster Calls and….’

Me: First of all, sort of off the record… Class. So excited that they got you to do that!

Internal Me #1: Dagnabbit man… 

Internal Me #2: Weeeeeee!

He graciously accepts my first moment of squee, and then, the actual interview ensues. 

Unusual Inspiration

I start with something that I say I am sure has been asked of him many times: What is the inspiration for this book?

He says it came from an unusual place and laughs a bit, concurring that this has indeed been asked a lot. He narrates the perhaps not too secret but important tale of how an English writer named Siobhan Dowd, who wrote four novels for teenagers, meant to write A Monster Calls as her fifth. She had written a little bit of the book, but was tragically unable to complete it before passing away from breast cancer. Her editor had seen her ideas and even the rough story structure before her passing, and brought the pieces of this now beloved and award winning tale to Patrick. There was a need to not have this story disappear and Patrick, it seemed, was the one chosen to turn what they had into a book. From the start, Patrick did not want to second guess what the author would have done, so he instead wrote a story that he believed she would love

I interject, saying it isn’t just something that perhaps the late author would have loved, but is now also a novel well worth its many awards. He says he’s quite proud of the work he’s done, and I couldn’t agree more. 

The Truth About the Truth of Things: Good Storytelling 101

I babble on for a few seconds about how, concurrent with being a very well written story, A Monster Calls is almost an allegory for discovering self-awareness and going through the motions of grief. I say that I don’t know if he set out to create a story that would help people cope and grieve, or if he just halfway through writing it, saw that underneath his tale was all this extra amazing allegorical gold.

Patrick Ness and Macky
To which he says, neither, that he never really sets out to do anything of the sort, because in both cases you’re not setting out to write the story for the story. It becomes a sermon or a lesson instead of paying attention to the story that really wants to be told and really following where it wants to go. He goes on talking about stories as though they are living things you respond to and are almost autonomous beings that are there for the writer to simply chronicle. 

I could go for pages and pages, deconstructing his writing process and take on story writing with what few precious nuggets of insight he so casually spoke of but I’ll highlight this: “For me, it was just trying to tell the truth about what was happening to Connor [ed: main character of A Monster Calls], and what it would really feel like… for this one kid, in this one place, with this one experience in this one situation… to tell a specific story truthfully.”

Squee Moment #2

I geek out, and say how I think truth is the main through line of the piece, and for a writer to want to tell a story truthfully about a boy finding his own truth is several dimensions of awesome. I preface the rant by saying “as a creative person”. I want to slap me in my whole face. 

Personal Touches

I launch into the next set of questions that I personally want to know answers to as “a creative person” (Yes, I say it again. No, I am not proud). I begin by asking about any personal touches that he worked into the film that differed from the book, and particularly ones that he was pleased with.

He takes a moment to think, a sign that maybe not too many people have asked this question so he doesn't have a ready answer. The ensuing conversation touches on the wisdom behind removing characters so the film tells the story you want to tell (more nuggets of story writing gold) and even brushes across a funny one-liner he put into the film that personally makes him laugh regardless of whether anyone else gets it or not. 

He then jumps straight to how the movie ends and how he likes it. I tell him excitedly that I reserved the entire last few minutes of what time I had left to talk about the ending in the movie in contrast to the ending of the book. And he says, that the difference between a movie and book is that you can set a book down and take a step back from which is something you can’t do with a movie. Patrick says there was apparently a lot of talk around how to end the film, in that “tonally, it’s a tricky film and hard to get it right”. 

No spoilers, but the book ending, he says, would not work by itself if translated directly to film with no deviation to the source material. He states firmly that the book needed to end where it did, later on sharing that when he writes a novel he usually has the last line of the book in mind (that was geek squee moment #3). For the film however, what with the underpinning themes about legacy and “things we leave behind”, the medium called for more elements to land the story where it should. He saw where the film should end and worked hard to set it up, and he loves how there’s more than one way to interpret the ending of the film.

Squee-ing on the Way Out

Things devolve quickly into me geeking out quite shamelessly, eating up what few minutes I had left with talk about how I loved both versions of the story (book and film), the idea of retelling tales across different media without one nullifying the merits of the other and a couple of thoughts around Ghostbusters and, once again, Class. I even manage to double back to how I loved the way he bookends the movie with some very well crafted words and scenes, professing, yet again, my shameless love for the work he’s done. 

Soon enough, we’re shaking hands again and we get our photo taken, thus officially ending my brief but amazing encounter with one of the most skilled and brilliant creators of our day. 

A Monster Calls comes out in the US today. Watch it. If you’re going through a tough time, watch it. If you wanna know what good storytelling is, watch it. If you want to see some great acting, watch it. Bring a friend. And a box of Kleenex. And maybe a lot of chocolate for during and after. 



I loved reading about Macky's conversation with Patrick, and I hope you did too! If you're looking for more details on the film, never fear - I'm including the synopsis, rating, running time, social media links and trailer below. I'm also sharing a bonus video featuring Liam Neeson (who plays the Monster in the film) reading the first chapter of A Monster Calls- and it's well worth watching as well.

Rated PG-13 | Running Time: 108 minutes

Directed by J.A. Bayona (“The Impossible,” “The Orphanage”)
Written by Patrick Ness, based on his novel A Monster Calls
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Lewis MacDougall, and Liam Neeson

A visually spectacular and unabashedly emotional drama from director J.A. Bayona (“The Impossible”). 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is dealing with far more than other boys his age. His beloved and devoted mother (Felicity Jones) is ill. He has little in common with his imperious grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). His father (Toby Kebbell) has resettled thousands of miles away. But Conor finds a most unlikely ally when the Monster (portrayed by Liam Neeson in performance-capture and voiceover) appears at his bedroom window one night. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth that powerfully fuses imagination and reality. 

For More Info: Official Site | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
#AMonsterCalls


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