“Books show you the world and all that’s possible,” says Patrick Ness. “They show you that you’re not alone.”
Speaking on what it means to him to write books for children, Ness is delivering the inaugural Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival.
After Dowd was taken by cancer seven years ago, the acclaimed children’s author bequeathed her estate and the royalties from her works to the Trust, which now works to promote reading amongst children who might otherwise find it hard to be exposed to books. She also devised the outline for the novel which Ness completed after she died, the award-winning, groundbreaking and unflinching A Monster Calls.
Ness believes that books are an “exploration of ideas” and that writing a good story is “an act of compassion, of empathy and of love.” Quick to make it clear he is “not an expert on childhood”, he is of the opinion that “being young is so hard as to be damn near impossible.”
“I’m not writing for kids,” Ness says, “but for humans.” He goes on to describe his love for the power of the written word, and for young adult literature in particular, making no distinction between books with serious themes and those which are more action oriented. “What’s more compassionate,” he says, “than wanting to share joy?”
He is also passionate about the “implied permission” that books grant to the reader, wishing that he could have told his younger self that he wasn’t alone, giving him a glimpse of “the grown up man who made it and knows you can make it too.”
Ness continues to write children’s books “on behalf of the voiceless” and “for the child we all are still”. Though ultimately, he believes the real power of a story lies in its ability to reach out and speak to someone who might otherwise have nobody to turn to.
“A story,” he says, “is a cry in the wilderness that says ‘this is the world I recognise, do you recognise it too?'”