Despite some initial trepidations about the circus-like interior of the Guardian Spiegeltent (“carnivals are always frightening…”), US-born British author Patrick Ness quickly steps up to the challenge of featuring as the opening event in 2013’s Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Ness is renowned for his Chaos Walking trilogy and the award-winning A Monster Calls, both works for young adults. Now, he is receiving similar acclaim for his new novel for adults, The Crane Wife, a lyrical unfolding of an ancient Japanese myth, laced with a theme examining the power of storytelling itself.
Ness reads the opening sequence from his new novel, in which hero George rescues a mysterious wounded crane which lands in his back garden one night. The passage is haunting in its imagery, but also — via George’s inner voice — darkly humourous.
In a subsequent discussion with Bob McDevitt, director of the Dundee Literary Festival and chair of this morning’s event, Ness explains his attitude to humour in his novels, as well as how he addresses any potential challenges of being perceived as pigeon-holed as a young adult or genre novelist.
“People are just funny,” he says, referring to how any novel featuring realistic characters must, in some way, contain elements of humour. “I reserve the right to write whatever I want.”
It’s clear also that Ness is impartial in what he refers to as the ‘genre wars’: the view that literary fiction and genres such as young adult are in some way mortally opposed. Young adult is, according to Ness, “just a different way to tell a story”, and reminds us that even the most serious and realist of literary fiction is, after all, still “made up”.
Referring to the magic and fantasy elements within his own work, Ness expands on this, describing books as “a world made of words” which the writer is in charge of: as long as the internal laws of logic apply to that world, then it shouldn’t matter. “You can do anything in a book,” he says, “so why not do anything?”
A witty and enjoyable Q&A session with the audience follows, during which Ness explains his approach to structure and writing (“I’m an A-Z writer”) and the importance to him of always knowing the “exit feeling” of how his novels are going to end before he starts work on them.
And, discussing cover designs and the feel of a well-produced physical book, he closes with a highly appropriate comment for the opening event of the Festival.
“Books,” he says, “are beautiful things.”
Patrick Ness was introduced by Festival director Nick Barley at an event chaired by Bob McDevitt in the Guardian Spiegeltent, 10 Aug.