“I feel so lucky,” Patrick Ness tells us, knocking furiously on the wooden leg of the table lest he tempt fate.
You can’t blame him for wanting to keep hold of that luck, because the two-time Carnegie Medal-winning author is going through something of a purple patch. The film adaptation of his novel A Monster Calls is on its way (with a screenplay written by him), he’s the showrunner of Doctor Who spin-off Class and, mere days after we spoke at the Young Adult Literature Convention, Daisy Ridley was announced as the lead in the film adaptation of another of his books, the Chaos Walking trilogy.
We grabbed him for an update on A Monster Calls and Class.
How did you approach adapting A Monster Calls?
Movies aren’t novels; movies are at most long short stories, so how do you do the compression in a way that works? How do you tell the story in a different way? For me it takes the pressure off, because I think the book is done, and the book lives, so let’s see if we can translate it into something different.
The book is very emotional and the film looks like it’s going to be equally sad. Was there ever a moment when you were worried that it was too sad for kids?
No. Children are never damaged by the material; it’s adults who get damaged. Adults always have much more difficulty with the material than children do, because we have a lifetime of knowing what loss is like. Children just think it’s a sad, serious story, and they appreciate it because they aren’t being talked down to.
I think it’s a hopeful book, and definitely a hopeful film, but it doesn’t look away from what’s sad. My theory has always been, from the beginning, if you tell the truth about what’s difficult then when you tell the truth about what’s not difficult and what’s hopeful, you’re more believed because you haven’t lied. That was my number one thing: that I didn’t want to be when I was a young reader, I didn’t want to be lied to, and I got lied to all the time. I would much rather have had the truth in a book.
Were you worried that an adaptation could sanitise the book and give it a happy ending?
Yeah. But I would never have sold the rights to those people. Without even really trying, I’m really protective of my book rights and I get interest but many rights are still available because I’m holding onto them, because I want to wait until the right thing comes along. So I waited. In fact I didn’t actually sell the rights until we started shooting the movie…
If I look back on my career, if I’m lucky enough to be remembered it’ll probably be for A Monster Calls and I have no problem with that. I’m so proud of it and I’m so proud of being asked to do it and I’m so proud of what Jim brought to it and I’m proud of the movie. So it really was a matter of ‘how lucky am I to have this one good thing, let’s make sure it stays that way’.
Most YA/kids books put their young protagonists through a physical ordeal whereas A Monster Calls is a purely emotional ordeal, it’s not something you see so often.
Especially not so often for boys, which I wish weren’t the case. I wish many, many things were more even-handed for girls and boys, it’s usually on the girl’s side where the girls get short changed. But it would be nice if boys are told that it’s okay to feel this stuff and that you’re not wrong or weak for feeling it, that it’s human, and that it happens not because there’s a problem but because you’re complex.
Class is the biggest show BBC Three have done since they went digital. Have they been supportive of Class?
Oh very much so. It’s a co-production between BBC One and BBC Three. I love that it’s launching on BBC Three. It will be shown terrestrially, so it’ll be on BBC One, but I love that it launches there because it’s the right feel for it, it’s how young people watch television. And also the thing that I was pitched about the show was the word ‘contraband’. It’s just a little contraband, it’s the kind of thing you want to watch on your own without your parents. I thought that’s kind of really what I’m after, that this is your special place and this is your special show and if adults want to watch it, which they will, I hope, because it’s YA, I hope that that’s what happens, that’s the whole plan, but I don’t think anything crosses over without being for teenagers first. I don’t think you can cheat it, I think you’ve got to be authentic to your primary reader or viewer and that’s the only time that it’ll ever appeal to anybody else.
Can you tell us anything about Katherine Kelly’s role in the show?
Katherine Kelly is fantastic, and we were so chuffed that she liked the scripts and wanted to do the show. You are going to absolutely love her in this. All boundaries are off and she just delivers and delivers and delivers and she’s so funny in it and so strong.
Doctor Who is a massive toy box to play with – did you want to pull out all the old toys or create some of your own?
Oh, see, I get so many ‘you should bring back this and you should bring back him and you should bring back those!’ and I kinda think, it’s such a big universe, I want to find the new stuff. Part of it is I passionately believe the show has to stand on its own, it really does, otherwise why do it? And it has to be its own thing. And I like making stuff up, so I made a lot of stuff up that fits in the Doctor Who universe. It’s a big place. The universe in infinite, so let’s find some other toys, let’s add them to the box rather than just taking what’s already in the box.
A Monster Calls will be released in cinemas on 6 January 2017, while Class will be able to stream on BBC Three later in the year. For all the latest film and TV news, pick up the new issue of SciFiNow.