Unlike his carefree peers, Conor endures the mental and emotional strain involved with having a terminally ill parent. Late one evening a powerful and ancient monster, something that might have otherwise frightened him horribly, visits him. However, Conor has something far worse to fear—the truth. And the monster is determined to make him face it.
A Monster Calls is an original idea of the late Siobhan Dowd. After her untimely passing, Patrick Ness was given the opportunity to complete her story and initially resisted. He ultimately undertook the challenge, and truths, monsters and a tribute to the benefits of collaboration resulted.
Find more great fantasy, science fiction & the paranormal among our 2011 Best Books for Teens.
Do you think you would have been more, less or not reluctant at all to undertake the task of completing Siobhan Dowd’s original idea if you had met her?
That's a really hard one to answer. On the one hand, I could see myself possibly being more reluctant if I'd known her, because then it would be so very, very personal and you'd be so afraid of getting it wrong. On the other hand, maybe that would have been a further spur to write it. Who can ever say for sure, really, just that I had initial reluctance as it was because it's a hard thing to do, pick up someone else's idea.
But it was such a good idea, so vivid and strong, that, like I say in the Author’s Note, almost before I could help it, other ideas were suggesting themselves to me, and suddenly the story was living and growing, just like Siobhan would have done with it herself had she been able. And it was at that point that it seemed a vital thing to start writing.
What is the most helpful monster you’ve had to face?
Aren't all monsters helpful in a way? As long as you survive them? It's that thing that writers really have to reckon with all the time. Of course you'd want your life to be without difficulty and struggle and bad choices, but every single one of those things brought you to this point right here. And if you're happy here, then weren't all those bad things ultimately for the good? And even if not, you can sure use them in your fiction!
Conor gets frustrated with the twist endings to the monster’s stories that show a hero’s dark side and an evil witch’s innocence. Is there an ending that has frustrated you beyond belief?
I got frustrated at the opposite thing that Conor does. I always wondered what happened next, after the happy ending. Did they stay happy? And more, had we heard the whole story? And whose side of it were we hearing? I always sneakily suspected that life was more complicated than that, and I always wanted to know more than I was being told. It's almost certainly why I became a writer in the first place.
If you were unable to complete one of your stories, is there someone out there you would trust to take on your original idea?
Ooooh, no, I know far too many writers not to get in trouble with any answer to that question. I think the coolest thing that could happen is if a whole bunch of people would try. That's always really, really interested me as an experiment: Start off a dozen writers with the same idea and see what stories you end up with. That to me is the best and most interesting result and has everything in it I like about writing. Writing isn't just the song, it's the performance of the song, and that could go anywhere.
You said that Dowd had the characters, a premise and a beginning etched out before you took the reins. Are there any characters you’ve added on your own as you fleshed out the story?
Even though I know exactly what you mean, I don't know that stories are that easily divisible. Sure, what Siobhan left was a starting point, and so yes, of course, I had to create a plot and story and world out of it and so on. But once you start dividing it that way, the story becomes less than itself, I think. You can say that your son has your nose and your wife's ears, but ultimately, the interesting thing is the indivisible them, who they've become in unique combination. Let's just say, if someone doesn't like it, I'll take all the blame, and if they love it, I'll give Siobhan all the credit.
What is the most dangerous truth you’ve had to face or reveal?
Golly, life is full of them, isn't it? That you won't actually live forever, that the people you love won't live forever either, that no matter how hard you try you're going to make mistakes anyway. So they're that weird contradiction of being completely universal, but also totally, painfully personal, like they are for Conor. They’re what you talk about with friends, wincing at the truths you've stared down but comforted by loved ones who've done the same.
It's kind of the best things we do as humans, connect, reach out, find out we're not alone. For me, that's the whole thing Conor wants in A Monster Calls, the thing anyone would want, which is why my heart breaks for him and why I wish him so well.