Patrick Ness | 'Screenplays are hugely collaborative, with all the joys and difficulties that entails'

Patrick Ness | 'Screenplays are hugely collaborative, with all the joys and difficulties that entails'

This year is gearing up to be a busy one for YA author Patrick Ness, as the film adaptation of his Chaos Walking series is scheduled for March, and his book releases include a 10th anniversary edition of A Monster Calls (in April) and the paperback release of Burn

The author, whose book sales have totalled £5.1m in the UK through Nielsen BookScan’s Total Consumer Market, co-wrote the screenplay for “Chaos Walking”, adapted from his trilogy of the same name, and the film has taken nearly a decade to come to fruition. The deal was announced in 2011. 

Part of the reason for the length of time the film has taken to reach screens was that the stars are Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland, who “turned out to be in the biggest movie franchises in history”, said Ness, meaning planned reshoots took longer than usual to schedule. “I’m very, very happy for the fans to finally see it. They have been very patient.”

When asked if making a Hollywood movie was daunting, he said: “Honestly, it’s never felt daunting, that’s not a word that rings true for me. I came out of the closet to a drill sergeant father, that was daunting. Hollywood is just ridiculous and fun and impossible. To have been able to make two movies so far out of my books is an incredible thing that the teenage me would have dreamed but never actually thought possible.”

In March, Walker will release a 10th anniversary edition of A Monster Calls, a novel Ness wrote based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd. The book sold 166,233 copies through Nielsen in the UK, and was hugely successful, making history when Ness and Jim Kay, the book’s illustrator, won the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals, respectively. 

In May, Walker will publish the paperback edition of Burn, a book Ness described as being about “1950s America but with dragons. I love ideas like that”, he added. “How can you take something about which we have expectations—the ’50s, the racial strife, the post-war trauma—and add something completely unexpected, like dragons? I haven’t had a writing experience like this since The Knife of Never Letting Go, where the story just ripped along like a rocket.”

The YA community
Ness, an American citizen who lived in London for many years, moved back to the US in recent years, although he is hoping (Covid-19 permitting) to come to the UK to do a tour. 

“I love the UK YA community: writers, publishers, booksellers and readers,” he said. “They have been so kind to me, and I do miss that immediate connection. America is so huge, it’s a little harder to do that here.”

He has a lot more screenwriting work on the go currently, and is writing a film adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies for Luca Guadagnino, director of “Call Me By Your Name”. Ness is also adapting a graphic novel called Snowblind, by Ollie Masters and Tyler Jenkins, for Jake Gyllenhaal. “Novels are 100% mine, with all the joys and difficulties that entails. Screenplays are hugely collaborative, with all the joys and difficulties that entails. But both are storytelling, and finding ways to get across what you want in the limitations of each. Which is something I really enjoy. Limitations can be huge creative inspirations. I like them both... they keep different writing muscles working.”