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Patrick Ness & A Monster Calls – From Page to Stage
A Monster Calls arrives on the London stagee (The Old Vic) from July 7 for 6 weeks only – we spoke to the book's author, US Expat Patrick Ness
Tickets for A Monster Calls
You’re an American who now lives in the UK - where are you from in the States, and what brought you to Britain?
I’m from the Northwest of the US, mostly. My dad was in the US Army, so I had a bit of a traveling childhood: Born in Virginia, then lived in Hawaii, before he retired to the state of Washington. I moved to England because my now-husband is English, and it was easier to move here than vice versa at the time. Plus, army childhood means home is where your loved ones are rather than any particular place.
The book has been a huge hit since it was published in 2011 - I gather you developed the story from an initial idea by Siobhan Dowd, what was it like developing another writer’s idea?
Well, I hesitated at first, perhaps understandably. First of all, I’d never want to be disrespectful to a writer as fantastic as Siobhan, and I never think that projects where one author tries to mimic another are ever successful (and the worst thing that could happen in a project like this is that you write a bad book!).
But she’d left behind almost the perfect amount. Not so much that the story couldn’t live and breathe and grow like she would have done with it herself had she been able to write it, but also with ideas so vivid and strong that they immediately started suggesting other ideas about where it might go. Very quickly, I started feeling the urge to write, which is a gift to a writer.
Since its launch, the story has gone on to be a hit film (2016) - did you have much involvement in the translation of the book from page to the big screen, and what did you make of the project?
I wrote the screenplay, so yes, a rather large involvement! I can’t tell you how lucky I feel about it, to have that as my first experience as a screenwriter and one of my works being filmed. The filmmakers were so collaborative, and I’m just so proud of the finished film. A real pleasure, which Hollywood certainly isn’t always.
How did the stage play come about, and how involved as author are you in the process of converting the story into a script?
Matthew Warchus, the Artistic Director of the Old Vic, wanted to bring it to the stage, and he introduced me to the brilliant Sally Cookson. Her approach is devised, where a company of actors take the book and work out the play during rehearsals. It’s a challenging approach, but it digs very deep and works perfectly, I think, for A Monster Calls. This time I could just sit back and watch as this amazing director and performers brought it to life. What a treat!
How does it feel to see your story visualized through mediums such as cinema and the stage? And from what you’ve seen so far, how does the play interact with your vision of the book?
It feels amazing, and again, very lucky. They’re all such different mediums that the challenge is always, how do you retell it best for what this medium needs? Film is almost the opposite of theater in what it portrays and suggests, so it’s been amazing to see how Sally (Sally Cookson is directing the stage play) has excavated the book. I love what I’ve seen; I can’t wait for audiences to see it, too.
A wonderful story for children, A Monster Calls is also unashamedly popular with adults. Why do you think the story transcends age barriers?
I don’t know. I wish I did. All I try to do is tell as truthful a story as possible, and if you can get that right in a kids story, then all readers should be able to respond, as we were all kids once.
Has your peripatetic and transcontinental life inspired you in your work, or given you a perspective which affects your writing?
Only in the sense that an outsider is a good position for a writer to be. We’re naturally fringe-dwellers, I think, so moving into a different culture can only help that. You’re forced to observe, forced to stay on your toes, all stuff that’s extremely beneficial to writing. But then I believe travel is a major social good. I wish many, many more Americans saw much, much more of the world! It’s only a good thing.
A really pointed question here! Most Americans will know the language differences between American English and British English - which version do you go for, or do you feel ‘ambilingual’ in a sense?
Depends on the mood I’m in, or what voice I’m writing in, or how the sentence is flowing. Mostly I don’t notice the difference anymore. The words come as they feel they need to. When I’m in America I do find myself consciously switching back to things like “elevator” and “vacuum cleaner”.
Do you miss anything about America whilst living in the UK?
Junk food! Because junk food isn’t about the food itself, it’s about all the associations you have with it growing up. I love fine dining, but I also love deep-fried mozzarella sticks from Denny’s. And you just can’t get those here.
What do you hope the audience of the play will take away from the experience?
I never want to suggest they have a particular thing to take away. I always think the best art is kind of private. You interact with it in your brain and heart, and if I’m lucky, I made you feel something. That’s all I can ever ask.
Finally, what’s the best thing about being Patrick Ness?
Ask me on a day when my back doesn’t hurt!
A Monster Calls will be on the London stage at The Old Vic from July 7 for a limited 6 week run (Recommended for age 10 +). Click here for tickets online, or call the Box Office on 0844 871 7628.