Later this year a movie will be released of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls.
I’m keen to see the movie, but reluctant at the same time.
Anybody who loves a book will know the feeling; excitement at seeing a great story brought to life, but anxious at the thought it could be ruined.
The trailer looks hopeful.
The story centres on Conor, who lives with his mother who has cancer. Her illness has made Conor feel isolated and alone, and he has been plagued with a recurring nightmare of darkness and screaming.
One night after midnight a voice calls to him outside his window. It’s the huge willow tree from the graveyard of the church he can see from his room, terrifying and stern, who insists it will come back and tell him three stories, and then Conor must tell his story to the tree. The yew does as it promises, each time returning after midnight.
The consequences of the yew’s visits to Conor
grow more and more severe.
Ultimately, it leads him to confront his deepest fears.
A Monster Calls has a sad history. In an Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, Ness explains that the premise of the book was conceived by author Siobhan Dowd, along with the characters and the beginning. It would have been her fifth book. “What she didn’t have,” he says, “unfortunately, was time.” What he doesn’t mention in his note is that she had cancer.
However, he was asked to turn her beginning into a book. He felt like he’d “been handed a baton, like a particularly fine writer has handed me her story and said,
‘Go. Run with it. Make trouble.’
“So that’s what I tried to do.”
He had only a single guideline: “to write a book I think Siobhan would have liked. No other criteria could really matter.”
He certainly wrote a book a many people like. Ness and the illustrator Jim Kay won the Carnegie and Greenaway Medals for writing and illustration, as well the British Children’s Book of the Year and a swag of other awards. I’d include it on any list of the best books for pre-teens/teenagers, and would recommend it to most adults. It’s a deceptively simple story, with a huge depth of psychological and emotional sophistication.
Film is a very different media to print, but I hope the underlying complexity, the confusion, grief, fear, love and alienation that Conor deals with manages to be portrayed in the film.
The monster paused again.
You really aren’t afraid, are you?
“No,” Conor said. “Not of you, anyway.”
The monster narrowed its eyes.
You will be, it said. Before the end.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Candlewick Press/Walker Books
Pub: May 2011