Meeting my literary heroes at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival

When the programme for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival was announced I got quite excited.  There were not one, but two of my favourite authors and literary heroes coming to Auckland – Patrick Ness and Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I was barely able to control my excitement when I went to their sessions, but I sat in the audience captivated by them and learnt a lot about their writing and their books.  Like all author groupies I was one of the first in line afterwards to get my books signed and thank them profusely for coming all the way to New Zealand.

For those who are interested here’s a taster of what Patrick and Carlos discussed in their sessions.

An Hour with Patrick Ness

Patrick started with a reading from his latest adult book, The Crane Wife (I loved this book and highly recommend it if you’re looking for a magical and eerie adult book).  When it comes to stories, Patrick says that ‘ideas attract other ideas,’ and The Crane Wife came from several ideas.  It’s partly a retelling of the Japanese myth, there are some autobiographical details, and there is a big theme of stories and storytelling.  The main character in The Crane Wife, George, is a ‘kind’ man, and Patrick also wanted to look at what happens to the kind man when he’s lonely.  He wanted to write a compelling ‘good’ character, so he had to figure out what would make George greedy.  Apparently Amanda, George’s daughter in the book, is the closest character to Patrick.  She has a habit of saying the wrong things at the wrong time and is terrible in social situations, which Patrick says he can certainly relate to.

Patrick often has theme songs to his books.  One of his favourite bands, The Decemberists, wrote a song called The Crane Wife 1 and 2, which Patrick feels captures the mood of his book perfectly.  Here are some of his other theme songs:

  • Early One Morning by Jim Moray and Map of the Problematique by Muse – The Knife of Never Letting Go
  • Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel – A Monster Calls
  • More Than This by Peter Gabriel – More Than This (his new YA novel coming in September)

I had to listen to these as soon as I got home and I can really see how these fit with the tone and mood of Patrick’s stories.

Patrick said that he is ‘never afraid to leave the reader wanting more’ and that is one of the things I love about his books, especially the Chaos Walking Trilogy.

I didn’t think I could like Patrick even more than I already did, but one of his answers to an audience question proved me wrong – ‘Books don’t need to do anything. They just need to tell stories.’  I know I don’t go looking for a particular meaning in the books I read, I just read them because they’re good stories.

An Hour with Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I never thought I would get the chance to hear Carlos Ruiz Zafon speak and meet him in person so this session was a highlight of my life.

Carlos always wanted to tell the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle in four books.  He wanted to create a labyrinth that could be entered through any door, and your perception would be different depending on which story you started with.  You could then read the cycle years later and re-enter the labyrinth again in a different direction.  When Carlos said that the labyrinth will twist in the fourth book I got this overwhelming sense of excitement and had this huge grin on my face.  If I loved the first three books so much I have no idea how amazing the fourth and final one will be!

When Carlos told the audience about his writing process there was a collective gasp.  Many authors have sticky notes and flow charts but anything that Carlos can’t hold in his head is dropped.  If this happens it’s usually not a good idea anyway.  He never saves drafts or materials after he’s finished a story.  He believes that it’s his homework and people shouldn’t read it.  There is no paper or digital trail of his work after he has finished a story.

Carlos doesn’t believe that it is his job as a writer to tell people what they should think.  He uses his skills in setting the stage, writing lines, applying makeup and putting on the costumes, and he takes the reader ‘into the theatre of their mind.’ He also uses dramatic devices to incorporate his research and morals into his stories and he believes the reader will decode these subconsciously.

All of Carlos’ stories are set in the past and he explained that this is because it ‘allows the storyteller to objectify elements.’  He can remove noise (cellphones, the internet) by setting a story in the past.  Carlos has always had a personal fascination with the time period after the industrial revolution, as ‘human beings had been in the dark for so long and they finally had a chance to get things right.’

I’m a huge fan of Carlos’ Young Adult novels and I was glad that he talked about these.  He said that these books (Prince of Mist, The Midnight Palace, The Watcher in the Shadows, and the soon to be published Marina) were an experiment.  Carlos didn’t feel that he had much to offer the YA genre, that he was just entertaining the teenagers, but he hoped that through writing these stories he was communicating the pleasure of reading to them.  He obviously had something right as they have sold millions of copies, both in Spain and the rest of the world.

Carlos finished by saying that his Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle is ultimately about ‘language, books and storytelling,’ and that he ‘writes for people who love to read.’  I certainly hope that he continues to write for many, many years.

Me and Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Me and Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Win signed Patrick Ness books

I went up to Auckland for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival on Saturday to hear Patrick Ness (you can read all about Patrick’s session here).  I got the chance to interview him at the Somerset Celebration of Literature on the Gold Coast in 2010 and he’s an incredibly nice guy, as well as an amazing writer.  It was great to see him again and get my books signed.

Thanks to Walker Books Australia and Patrick Ness I have a signed copy of The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and The Answer to give away to 2 lucky readers.  All you have to do to get in the draw is enter your name and email address in the form below.  Competition closes Sunday 26 May (Australia and NZ only).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winners are Emma and Mary.

Congratulations Patrick Ness and Jim Kay!

I was unbelievably happy to wake up to the news this morning that A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay has won both the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal.  To celebrate I thought I’d re-post my review of A Monster Calls (you’ll probably gather that I think it is a very deserving winner) and I’m giving away 2 hardback copies of this amazing book.  Keep reading to find out why I LOVE A Monster Calls.

It’s no secret that I think Patrick Ness is a brilliant author (I’ve written many blog posts about it).  His Chaos Walking Trilogy is one of those stories that really struck a chord with me and and the characters and their world will stay with me for a long time.  The books in the trilogy have won various awards in the world of children’s literature, including the BookTrust Teenage Prize, the Guardian Award, the Costa Book Award, most recently the final book, Monsters of Men won the prestigious Carnegie Medal.  When the Chaos Walking Trilogy came to an end last year, I was looking forward to reading whatever Patrick Nesswrote next and thankfully I didn’t have to wait very long.

Patrick’s next project was to write a story based on the ideas of another brilliant author, Siobhan Dowd, who had passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  Siobhan had the characters, premise and beginning and it was up to Patrick to turn it into a story.   Being both a fan of Patrick’s and Siobhan’s writing I eagerly anticipated their story, called A Monster Calls.  And boy, what a story it is!  Night after night, Connor is woken by the same nightmare, “the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming.  The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter who hard he tried to hold on.”  It is one night, after waking from this nightmare, that the monster arrives, twisting to life from the yew tree in the graveyard.  The monster comes to offer Connor a deal; it will tell Connor three stories, but then he must tell the monster a fourth story, and it must be the truth.  However, Connor’s mum is very sick and the truth is the thing that he fears the worst.

I really can’t explain how amazing A Monster Calls is.  Before you even start reading the book, you just need a few minutes to marvel at how beautiful it is.  Walker Books have put so much love into the design, from the dust-jacket and the cover,  to the stunning illustrations spread throughout the book by the very talented Jim Kay.  The story itself is breathtaking and you’ll go on a roller-coaster of emotion as the monster guides Connor towards the truth.  I especially liked the three stories that the monster tells and I hope that Patrick Ness writes more short stories like these.  Grab a copy of A Monster Calls from the library now.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Win the award-winning A Monster Calls

The very deserving winner of both the 2012 Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay.  Patrick Ness is one of my all-time favourite authors and I absolutely LOVED A Monster Calls.  It’s a beautiful, heart-breaking story and was probably my favourite book of 2011.

If you haven’t already read A Monster Calls or you loved it and want to own a copy you can win one of 2 copies that I’m giving away.  All you have to do is leave a comment below telling me your favourite childrens or young adults book.  Competition closes Friday 22 June (International).

Two authors = one breathtaking story

It’s no secret that I think Patrick Ness is a brilliant author (I’ve written many blog posts about it).  His Chaos Walking Trilogy is one of those stories that really struck a chord with me and and the characters and their world will stay with me for a long time.  The books in the trilogy have won various awards in the world of children’s literature, including the BookTrust Teenage Prize, the Guardian Award, the Costa Book Award, most recently the final book, Monsters of Men won the prestigious Carnegie Medal.  When the Chaos Walking Trilogy came to an end last year, I was looking forward to reading whatever Patrick Nesswrote next and thankfully I didn’t have to wait very long.

Patrick’s next project was to write a story based on the ideas of another brilliant author, Siobhan Dowd, who had passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  Siobhan had the characters, premise and beginning and it was up to Patrick to turn it into a story.   Being both a fan of Patrick’s and Siobhan’s writing I eagerly anticipated their story, called A Monster Calls.  And boy, what a story it is!  Night after night, Connor is woken by the same nightmare, “the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming.  The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter who hard he tried to hold on.”  It is one night, after waking from this nightmare, that the monster arrives, twisting to life from the yew tree in the graveyard.  The monster comes to offer Connor a deal; it will tell Connor three stories, but then he must tell the monster a fourth story, and it must be the truth.  However, Connor’s mum is very sick and the truth is the thing that he fears the worst.

I really can’t explain how amazing A Monster Calls is.  Before you even start reading the book, you just need a few minutes to marvel at how beautiful it is.  Walker Books have put so much love into the design, from the dust-jacket and the cover,  to the stunning illustrations spread throughout the book by the very talented Jim Kay.  The story itself is breathtaking and you’ll go on a roller-coaster of emotion as the monster guides Connor towards the truth.  I especially liked the three stories that the monster tells and I hope that Patrick Ness writes more short stories like these.  Grab a copy of A Monster Calls from the library now.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.