“1950’s America, but with dragons”: Author Patrick Ness answers our questions about his new book, Burn

“1950’s America, but with dragons”: Author Patrick Ness answers our questions about his new book, Burn

Hi Patrick, Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for our community at Better Reading.

We’re looking forward to the release of your new book,  Burn. Can you give us a little insight to the story?

It’s maybe the first book I’ve ever written that can be described in one sentence:  1950s America, but with dragons.  It’s set in 1957 in the American Pacific Northwest (where I’m from) where 15 year old Sarah Dewhurst and her father have been forced to hire a dragon to work on their farm.  But it goes lots of crazy places from there:  cults that worship dragons, prophecies, a teenage assassin, FBI agents, the end of the world.  Fastest plot I’ve written since The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Is this the first time you’ve incorporated a dragon into a story? What was your inspiration to use a dragon as a character?

Yep, first dragon.  I’ve always wanted to write a book about a dragon, and finally had enough of a good idea to write it.  When I was little, I saw a movie called Dragonslayer which has an incredible, terrifying, powerful dragon in it.  Made a huge impression.

What research did you undertake to “get inside the skin” of a dragon?

I beg your pardon?  Aside from interviewing them?

We’ve always enjoyed the way you can make a book or TV dramas seem so majestically worldly, yet still get into the personal struggles and interactions of the characters. Without giving too much away can you tell us about the human characters in Burn and their challenges?

One of the main ideas of Burn is that Back to the Future is only a comedy if you’re a straight, white guy.  If you’re anybody else (like me), the 50s would be a lot less fun.  And yet, multi-racial characters (like Sarah), Japanese Americans (like her friend Jason), and others all lived and thrived. You just never see them in stories.  I just thought that was so interesting, especially as my family is enormously multi-racial.  What would their lives have been like, day to day, in rural 1950s America?

What was the most challenging part of writing Burn?

It’s always the blank page.  I’m so happy when the first draft is done, and I can start rewriting.  Which is where the real book begins.

What are you hoping that readers will take away from your book?

I never want to tell the reader anything to take away.  Reading is so personal, I’d never want to impose a message.  Take what you like!  Leave the rest.  It’s all good by me.

You’ve spent a serious amount of time imagining dystopian futures or dystopian worlds. What are your thoughts about the current world situation? You are a UK and US citizen and both countries have alarming COVID-19 situations. And then there’s global warming…..

Well, being raised in an apocalyptic religion growing up, I’m sort of used to apocalypses.  When they arrive, I tend to be the calm one, helping other friends out in their anxiety.  As they do for me when I’m facing things like a broken boiler.  Plus, the world is always ending, every day.  It’s about how we remake it.  Every day.

If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Write a book you want to read yourself.  You’d be amazed at how many people don’t.  But if you don’t want to read it, no one else will.

Does the creative process get easier with each book?

Nope, dammit.

How do you balance out the time spent thinking about dangerous and frightening scenarios with more pleasant and uplifting thoughts? Do you have to work at it, or do you naturally find a balance?

I never think about balance.  I mainly just try to keep asking, What would this really be like?  Life doesn’t stop when hard things happen, it just keeps going, annoyingly, humorously, humanly.  It’s what makes us so amazing as an animal.  The world could be ending, but we still need to eat and sleep and laugh…

What’s the next project on your desk?

I’m currently writing a film script of Lord of the Flies for Luca Guadganino, director of Call Me By Your Name.  And then lots of other things I can’t talk about!  It’s frustrating, I’d love to share.  When the time is right…

Reviews

Dragons, prophecy and 1950’s Cold War space race:  Read an extract from Burn by Patrick Ness

Review | Extract

29 May 2020

Dragons, prophecy and 1950’s Cold War space race: Read an extract from Burn by Patrick Ness

How does the world end? Read a review of Burn by Patrick Ness

Review | Our Review

25 May 2020

How does the world end? Read a review of Burn by Patrick Ness

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    Revenge, redemption and dragons: Delving into the themes of Burn by Patrick Ness

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    1 June 2020

    Revenge, redemption and dragons: Delving into the themes of Burn by Patrick Ness

    Synopsis

    An all-consuming story of revenge, redemption and dragons from the twice Carnegie Medal-winner Patrick Ness.“On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957, Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron Gas Station for the dragon he’d hired to help on the farm.” This dragon, Kazimir, has more to him than meets the eye. Sarah can’t help but be curious about him, an animal who supposedly doesn’t have a soul but is seemingly intent on keeping her safe from the brutal attentions of Deputy Sheriff Emmett Kelby. Kazimir knows something she doesn’t. He has arrived at the farm because of a prophecy. A prophecy that involves a deadly assassin, a cult of dragon worshippers, two FBI agents – and somehow, Sarah Dewhurst herself. From the bestselling author of the Chaos Walking trilogy comes a heart-stopping story of fanaticism, hope, bravery and impossible second chances, set in a world on the very brink of its own destruction.
    Patrick Ness
    About the author

    Patrick Ness

    Patrick Ness was born on an army base called Fort Belvoir, near Alexandria, Virginia, in the United States where his father was a drill sergeant in the US Army. Patrick’s family soon moved to Hawaii, where he lived until he was almost six and he later lived in Washington and Los Angeles.After studying English Literature at the University of Southern California, Patrick got a job as a corporate writer at a cable company in Los Angeles, writing manuals and speeches and once even an advertisement for the Gilroy, California Garlic Festival. His writing career started with the publication of his first story in Genre magazine in 1997. Since then, Patrick moved to London and has had two adult books published and also taught creative writing at Oxford. On writing, Patrick says, "Here's a helpful hint if you want to be a writer: When I'm working on a first draft, all I write is 1000 words a day, which isn't all that much (I started out with 300, then moved up to 500, now I can do 1000 easy). And if I write my 1000 words, I'm done for the day, even if it only took an hour (it usually takes more, of course, but not always). Novels are anywhere from 60,000 words on up, so it's possible that just sixty days later you might have a whole first draft. The Knife of Never Letting Go is 112,900 words and took about seven months to get a good first draft. Lots of rewrites followed. That's the fun part, where the book really starts to come together just exactly how you see it, the part where you feel like a real writer".  Monsters of Men is the winner of the 2011 Carnegie Medal. A Monster Calls was the winner of the 2012 CILIP Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal. A Monster Calls was also long-listed for the 2012 Inky Awards.

    Books by Patrick Ness

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