Author Interview with Patrick Ness
Patrick Ness is the brilliant author of the Chaos Walking trilogy. The second (and latest) novel in the series, The Ask and The Answer, is on shelves in the UK and Australia now, and is nothing short of spectacular. Patrick sat down with us last week to answer some of our burning questions about his beloved series…
Where did the idea of the Chaos Walking trilogy come from?
It was two ideas really, as I like to say, one serious, one stupid. The serious one was that the world is a noisy place already, with mobiles and the internet and networking sites and on and on. You can’t really turn anywhere without someone telling you their opinion. So I thought the next logical step was, what if you couldn’t get away? What if you and everyone else was completely robbed of privacy? Especially if you were a young person.
The other idea was that I’ve never liked books about talking dogs, and I thought it would be funny to have a dog character talk like an actual dog would, instead of just being a miniature person. And I think dogs would talk about things important to a dog, like eating and going to the bathroom and how excited they were to see you.
That’s how it began, and it just grew from there.
Well, they’re as mature as many young people on the cusp of adulthood: really savvy about some things and just learning about others. Plus, Viola was trained for her role as someone who’d scope out the planet (you find this out in the free short story about her available on booktrust.org.uk), and Todd was raised without a childhood really, having to get right in there with work and responsibility. It’s a more old-fashioned idea of what 13 year olds used to have to do.
In The Ask and the Answer, it becomes clear that Todd and Viola are totally in love with each other. Do you think that they’re too young to really understand that kind of love?
I disagree that they’re “totally in love” with each other. I think that implies regular teenage romance, which isn’t at all what Todd and Viola have. They learn that they really have to rely on one another, in a way far beyond just a simple romance. I think it’s deeper than that. They’re lost people who found one another, and they may not being able to understand all the depths of that just yet, but I think they’re more than smart enough to know how important the other is to them. And that’s because they’ve each earned it, through hard circumstance.
Todd has the bravery of a grown man. Where did he learn that?
I’m sensing some reluctance about Todd’s age! Again, in a hard-scrabble farming community, he’d be forced through necessity to learn so much more. He’d have no choice. Plus, there’s the issue that the year may be a bit longer on his planet (13 months instead of 12). And most importantly, he was raised by two great, kind men, Ben and Cillian. Both of whom are very brave and who kept Todd as decent and kind as they could. I think Todd is the recipient of some really excellent parenting, and that always helps.
When you started the trilogy, did you always know how it was going to end, or were you making it up as you went?
I knew how it was going to end before I wrote the first sentence actually. It’s a practice of mine; I may not know exactly how I’m going to get there, but I know how I want to leave the reader, the last feeling I want to leave them with. So, yes, I knew the very last sentence before I wrote the first one and a general idea of the story. I left it loose enough for surprises, though, and a few good ones popped up.
If there was one thing that you wanted your readers to take away from Chaos Walking, what would that be?
I always worry that if I start out thinking in terms like that then I end up writing a lesson rather than a story. Hopefully, if I pay proper attention to what the story wants to be and try to make it the best story possible, then there will be things in there for the reader to take away anyway. I think that’s the best way; that way you never preach. Having said that, looking back on the books now, they’re probably most about how hope lies in the people we love, that if you can find someone to count on and who counts on you, then that’s probably the best meaning life is going to get. A hopeful message.
From start to finish, how long does it take you to write a book?
Usually about year or so. Six or seven months writing the first draft, then five or six rewriting and editing. But I work pretty hard. I should probably take a few more holidays, frankly!
Do you have any quirky habits that help you write?
Well, I’m a long-distance runner (a couple marathons under my belt), and running is great for sorting out plotting problems. I get my best ideas while out running. Probably the rhythmic meditative aspect of it. Breathe in regularly for 20 minutes and your brain’s probably nice and calm.
Who is your all time fave fictional character?
I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a great and glorious creation. Smart, kick-ass, extremely funny, but recognisably with real problems. Genius. Not that I want be her, necessarily, but she’d be unbeatable as a friend.
When you’re not writing, what are you doing?
Usually running, my big hobby, though there hasn’t been much non-writing time lately! The books are pretty long, and I’m working hard on the third volume, making sure the series has a good finish.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Bettany’s Book by Thomas Keneally. And next is Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz, which is just coincidence that it’s two Australians in a row, but you won’t find me complaining.
Before we go, can you divulge any insider’s secrets about the last Chaos Walking novel?
Nope, sorry. Even the title’s a secret for now. Though I can say I’ve already written the ending, and without giving anything away about whether the ending itself is happy or sad (because you never know with me!), I can say that I’m really, really pleased with it and very happy for it to be the end of the whole series. Rarely do you get exactly what you want when you set out to write, but this ending is exactly what I wanted. And it may not be what you expect…
If you haven’t read The Knife of Never Letting Go or The Ask and the Answer, we suggest you put your shoes on and head down to your nearest book store and get yourself a copy!