Ness warns against 'adjective novels'

Ness warns against 'adjective novels'

Patrick Ness has warned against writing “adjective novels” while giving the inaugural Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

The YA author said instead that "good writing" for children was about "empathy and love."
 
The loose theme of the speech, given today (15th August), was ‘Why Write for Children?’ and Ness said he writes the stories he is drawn to tell.
 
He pointed out writers should never pen what he calls “an adjective novel” – for example a satirical novel or a political novel – because if you sit down to teach young people a lesson you will write a lesson, not a story.
 
Ness also said he was sick of what he called “YA click bait” - news articles that lead to a lot of online debate - saying that the answer to the often-posed question of whether children’s books are too dark is "no" and that adults shouldn’t feel ashamed to read children’s books.
 
“How I do get tired of YA articles telling me to be angry… I don’t write books to find binary oppositions with which I can score easy points in internet debate club,” he said. “Books are an exploration of ideas.”
 
He said he writes for “the teenager I was, the teenager I still am”, adding “books showed me a world out there, with lives different from mine, with outcomes different than I might have been expecting, with different people who I could meet one day.”
 
He said: “Young people aren’t a separate species. They’re us. We’re them. No getting around it. And they need stories just as badly as we do.”
 
The only difference between YA novels and adults novels is that YA tends to be about finding your boundaries, while adults books tend to be about knowing your boundaries and feeling constricted by them, Ness said.
 
He was giving the speech for the Siobhan Dowd Trust, set up by author Siobhan Dowd, who died in 2007. He said good writing for children is a "cry for empathy and love," something that author Dowd knew well.
 
Speaking about Dowd’s first published work, a short story called The Pavee and the Buffer, which is about a traveller child who suffers prejudice from a group of non-travellers at school, Ness said: “Is it a story about racism? Yes of course. It’s a story meant to show its readers that the world is bigger than just them. And it’s a story meant to show that a traveller child reading it isn’t alone. But first and foremost it’s a story. And that means every child who reads it can see themselves in it, not just traveller children.”
 
Dowd wrote several novels for children, including The London Eye Mystery, A Swift Pure Cry and Bog Child (DavidFickling Books), but she did not have time write her final book before she died of breast cancer. Ness took the idea to write A Monster Calls (Walker Books).
 
“This is a woman who wrote all of those books knowing she had terminal cancer.  Yet the final book she was going to write but didn’t have time was about a boy whose mother is dying of cancer,” he said. “This is writing done out of artistry first and foremost, but artistry infused with compassion, with empathy, with – and I use the word again – love.”