Blogged by Jon Hancock.
Creative Keynote Interview
In a conference themed ‘Ahead of the Game’, Patrick Ness (winner of the CILIP Carnegie Children’s Medal for the past two years amongst many accolades) demonstrated his passion and expertise that proves clearly why he’s at the top of his game and a proclaimed master of his craft.
He dispensed many of his philosophies of writing – keen to emphasise that they were his ways and shouldn’t be prescriptive of ways others should write. But there were lessons relevant and applicable to all of us – no matter what media we work in:
An understanding of the audience
Drawing – so obviously – from the profound effect of his own teenage years (a gay son to fundamentalist Christian parents with a military nomadic lifestyle), Patrick approaches his writing with unerring authority.
Yes, he hears what teenagers today are saying/feeling – but more than that, he instinctively knows and trusts what they’re thinking because he recalls the emotions from his own experiences, believing that they (teenagers) are exactly the same people they (we) have always been. The same fundamental pressures are felt – the loneliness, the yearning, the responsibility but no privileges – albeit now in the landscape of technology that his/our generation did not have and could not have imagined.
There’s an enormous amount of respect for the teen audience – a demographic of whom he’s fiercely loyal. They are NOT a lost generation.
The idea leads
Patrick outlined his fascinating relationship with the novel he births, but is then to a greater extent, guided by. For him, it starts with an idea that resonates – that feels “right”. Then there is the patient, disciplined waiting – for that single idea will attract more.
He explained how an idea speaks to him what it needs – and he actively shuts out the demands that may (but don’t as it happens) come from the publisher or commentators. The audience he says, will know if you’re trying to tailor things to them and it severely weakens the art if you are a slave to anything other than the idea.
Only when he is absolutely sure, will he present the idea to others – and clearly does so with such an excitement and fervour that I’m sure must be powerful and infectious.
The relationship with the “broadcaster”
In Patrick’s case of course, this is his publisher: Walker Books. The happy relationship is obvious (well, who couldn’t be happy with a multi-million selling author?) but I sense it has always been this way – they have never said he CAN’T do x/y/z, simply laid out the options and choices to him. In that sense they have kept their fingers out of his creations, respected his position as creator and treated the ideas themselves as sacrosanct.
In an inspiring interview, Patrick sets us all a bar – to understand our audience to such an extent (drawing on our own childhood experiences but applying them to today’s culture) that we can confidently allow our ideas to lead us as they develop. And by fostering a relationship with a “broadcaster” that respects the integrity of the idea, we can create partnerships with others that can allow those ideas to fly.