We owe it to each other to tell stories - Neil Gaiman

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Patrick Ness calls writing for children a ‘cry in the wilderness’

Patrick Ness called writing for children 'a cry in the wilderness' as he delivered the inaugural Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday 16th August.

The A Monster Calls author addressed the subject of 'Why Write for Children' in his speech and explored the idea that each book is a 'swift pure cry' as Siobhan Dowd put it. A cry that says 'This is the world I recognise, do you recognise it too?'. He continued to talk about the reasons he writes and put it down to empathy and love. He looked back at a time in his life when he wished he'd felt less alone, including being a gay teenager.

Ness criticised the media for portraying teens in a bad light, and the debate about whether books can be too dark for teens. Instead, he believed books should show teenagers the whole world out there and be an 'exploration of ideas'.

He attributed Siobhan's writing as being 'smart, clear-eyed, unsentimental; tough but full of truth. Just plain damn good'. Did she write it for "some worthy and progressive reason?", Ness discussed. "We can never know for sure of course, but I am going to say the answer is now, for the simple reason that it's a good story to read."

Ness reasoned that to be a good writer you have to be an artist and "trust yourself that you're responding to a story for a reason. And if you follow that story the best you can, it's going to contain everything you believe. And kids might read it, because it's a story."

Patrick Ness is linked to Siobhan Dowd after completing the novel A Monster Calls (Walker Books) following the death of Siobhan who had written the outline for it. Dowd wrote several novels for children, including The London Eye Mystery, A Swift Pure Cry and Bog Child (DavidFickling Books). The Siobhan Dowd Trust was started by the late teen author just before she died from breast cancer. Since then it has funded a huge variety of projects from starting libraries in schools in deprived areas to supplying books to counselling charities to most recently funding  75 schools to visit the first YA literature conference in the UK.

More information on the trust can be found here.

P.S. Patrick Ness is an American-born British author, journalist and lecturer who lives in London and holds dual citizenship. He is best known for his books for young adults, including the Chaos Walking trilogy and A Monster Calls (set to be an international movie in 2016, starring Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver). Ness won the annual Carnegie Medal both in 2011 and 2012. He is one of seven writers to win two medals consecutively.

The Chaos Walking Trilogy books have been re-issued, with a new short story in each book.


Knife of Never Letting Go


The Ask and the Answer


Monsters of Men

Siobhan Dowd was a writer and before that spent the majority of her career working for PEN. Her work involved investigating human rights for writers in Indonesia and Guatemala. In the UK her work included taking authors to socially deprived areas, prisons, and other community projects. Siobhan also worked as Deputy Commissioner for Children's Rights in Oxfordshire. working with local government to ensure that statutory services affecting children's lives conform to UN protocols.


The London Eye Mystery



Bog Child



A Swift Pure Cry


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