Culture Editor Imogen Tink bids both Birmingham and Redbrick a fond farewellWritten by Imogen Tink on 22nd June 2017
An Evening with Patrick Ness
Rhys Morgan spends a fascinating evening in the company of author Patrick Ness, as he discusses his new book 'Release'
It’s a Wednesday evening at the Impact Hub in Birmingham. The audience is excitable and instantly friendly. Many of them are holding copies of the Chaos Walking trilogy. I am asked about my favourite book by three different people within the space of ten minutes.
When Patrick Ness, winner of numerous literary accolades, first arrives and sits down on the stage, he appears a little uncomfortable. He jokes that the picture used for the promotion of the event makes his face look ‘super oily’, introduces fellow writer Katherine Webber, author of Wing Jones, and defers to her to ask questions.
“Ness seems to always want to try something new, boldly asserting that ‘complacency is the death of creativity’
Ness reveals that his two inspirations for Release were Judy Blum’s Forever and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. From Woolf he took the device of setting a novel during the events of one day, claiming that creative challenges come from limitation. He seems to always want to try something new, boldly asserting that ‘complacency is the death of creativity’. From Blum he took what he perceived to be a startling frankness about sex and sexuality. Ness tells us that he ‘hates being coy’. An outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, Ness laments that so many gay characters in fiction have their narrative climax in ‘holding hands under a tree’, revealing that ‘I wanted to do more than that’. He claims that he wanted to write about homosexual sex with ‘humour, intimacy, and awkwardness’ because there are other avenues for gay men to learn about sex than ‘Grindr and porn’. Acknowledging the potential controversy of such a topic, he jokes that ‘defiance and spite are incredibly helpful motives for writing’, revealing a delight in pushing the boundaries of YA literature.
“Ness has clearly drawn from some of his own experience and struggles regarding his sexuality in creating the character of Adam
Release is described as ‘emotionally autobiographical’ by the author, as he adds, with a smirk, that the phrase ‘my most personal novel yet’ is a very useful marketing tool. Ness, who grew up in a Methodist family, has clearly drawn from some of his own experience and struggles regarding his sexuality in creating the character of Adam, who confronts his preacher father. Ness assures us that his family, like many religious people, doesn’t fit into a stereotype and asserts that his aim in presenting Adam’s experiences with homophobia from his family was to present religious people and their struggle with choosing between their beliefs and their gay relatives as complicated, rather than simply caricaturing the religious community. He reaffirms the importance of the representation of LGBTQ+ characters in fiction and admits that, although he’s read ‘so many bad gay novels’, he’s glad that they exist because ‘they didn’t when I was 16’. For Ness, LGBTQ+ stories and characters serve an important role in reassuring teenagers in similar situations that ‘it really does get better’.
Ness then delves more into his decision to focus his career on YA literature. He characterises teenage years with a ‘terrible sense of ongoing injustice’ and argues that YA literature is uniquely positioned to ask ‘how you live if the worst thing that could happen to you has happened to you’. He laughs self-consciously and asks if ‘any of this is making sense’. A voice from the front row responds with ‘just about’. Ness, not taken aback for a second, crudely but jokingly retorts before apologising to the children in the audience for his language.
“According to Ness, ‘anybody can write anything at anytime’ and the most important part of a book is the joy of the writer
As he takes questions from the audience, Ness responds warmly and openly. After an audience-member mischaracterises the ending of one of his novels, he firmly but kindly corrects them. He dispenses writing advice, asserting that ‘if you write something good, people are going to notice’, and regularly uses the phrase ‘just go for it’. According to Ness, ‘anybody can write anything at anytime’ and the most important part of a book is the joy of the writer. When asked about his primary motivation for writing, he responds with ‘I just want to do cool shit.’
Release by Patrick Ness and Wing Jones by Katherine Webber are now available from multiple retailers.