Patrick Ness

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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1267

Date of birth: October 17, 1971

Place of birth: Fort Belvoir, Virginia

Principal Works

Long Fiction

The Crash of Hennington, 2003

The Chaos Walking trilogy, 2008–10

A Monster Calls, 2011

More Than This, 2013

The Crane Wife, 2013

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, 2015

Release, 2017


A Monster Calls, 2016

Short Fiction

Topics about Which I Know Nothing, 2004


British American author Patrick Ness has amassed a body of work characterized by multifaceted, complex characters; intricate plots; dark themes; and a deep and respectful probing of the adolescent experience. He is primarily known for his award-winning young-adult fiction, which includes the highly acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy (2008–10) and A Monster Calls (2011). He has also written two novels and a short-story collection for adults and has ventured into film and television as a screenwriter.

The son of a US Army drill sergeant, Ness was born at Fort Belvoir, an army base near Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971. Because of his father's profession, he had a peripatetic upbringing, spending only the first four months of his life in Virginia before moving with his family to Hawaii, and later, Washington State. From an early age, he aspired to be a writer, but he did not realize that he could make a career out of that passion. He nonetheless studied English literature at the University of Southern California, and upon graduating, landed a job as a corporate writer for a cable company in Los Angeles.

As a corporate writer, Ness wrote speeches, manuals, and other miscellaneous items. He devoted his spare time to writing fiction, and in 1997, his first story was published in Genre magazine. After the company he worked for was bought out, he was laid off; consequently, he moved to London, England, in 1999 and finished what became his first novel, The Crash of Hennington (2003), a surreal political satire written for adults. He next wrote a short-story collection aimed at adults, Topics about Which I Know Nothing (2004). In the interim, he taught creative writing at Oxford University and wrote book reviews.

The concept of information overload prompted Ness to turn his attention to young-adult fiction and ultimately provided the framework for his Chaos Walking trilogy, which follows the exploits of an illiterate teenage hero on a futuristic planet where everyone's thoughts are audible. The first novel of the trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go, was released in 2008 and won the GuardianChildren's Fiction Prize and the Booktrust Teenage Prize that year. For the second installment, The Ask and the Answer (2009), Ness won the 2009 Costa Children's Book Award. The third, Monsters of Men (2010), earned him the 2011 Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Carnegie Medal, the most prestigious prize for children's writing in the United Kingdom.

Ness's fourth young-adult novel, A Monster Calls (2011), came about after a publisher asked him to complete a manuscript based on an idea from the late children's author Siobhan Dowd. The book, an illustrated work about a young boy with a cancer-stricken mother, received widespread critical acclaim, winning the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Carnegie Medal and its sister prize, the Kate Greenaway Medal (for British illustrator Jim Kay), in 2012; it became the first to win both awards in the same year. Ness became only the second writer to ever win the Carnegie Medal in consecutive years. He subsequently wrote the screenplay for the 2016 film adaptation of the book, starring Felicity Jones and Liam Neeson.

Aside from the adult novel The Crane Wife (2013), Ness followed A Monster Calls with a series of young-adult novels, including 2015's The Rest of Us Just Live Here. He made his first foray into television as the creator and writer of the Doctor Who spinoff Class, which aired in both the United Kingdom and the United States from 2016 to 2017. His most personal work, Release, a young-adult novel that follows a young gay man over the course of a single day, was published in 2017.

Ness, who is gay, married his longtime partner in 2013; they reside in London.

Major Works

Over his career, Ness has strived to bring a unique voice and perspective to his novels, which are grounded in familiar genres such as science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller, and coming of age. Most of his books center around flawed but fully rounded teenage characters thrust into difficult situations. This approach is no better represented than in his Chaos Walking trilogy, which explores the dark side of human nature in a dystopian world plagued by war, oppression, and moral uncertainty.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is set in Prentisstown, a bleakly futuristic settlement on a colonized planet known as "New World." It begins one month before protagonist Todd Hewitt turns thirteen, the determinant age in the town for manhood. Todd is the lone boy left in the town, which has become overwhelmed by the "Noise," a virus that has made everyone's thoughts audible to each other. The town is completely devoid of women, all of whom have ostensibly been killed off in a devastating war. Disoriented by the ubiquitous cacophony of sounds, the intelligent but illiterate Todd embarks on a perilous journey to escape the town. He does so with his anthropomorphic dog, Manchee, whose thoughts are also audible, and eventually, with a virus-free girl, Viola. In the process, the three uncover disturbing truths about the town while trying to evade its tyrannical forces.

Narrated by Todd, the novel features deliberate grammatical errors and phonetic spellings to reflect his illiteracy, as well as inventive typographical flourishes to represent the unrelenting onslaught of noise. Todd's hazy and unsettling perspective is heightened by his age and illustrates, on a deeper level, the general tumult of the teenage experience, which is one of the main themes in Ness's work and runs throughout the Chaos Walking sequels. The trilogy, which culminates in a world-threatening battle, further delves into themes such as the moral corruption of youth, the horror and futility of war, the defiance of gender roles and expectations, and the persecution of indigenous peoples.

Ness's other novels have also won enthusiastic plaudits for eschewing sentimentality in favor of honesty as well as for portraying teenage characters not as plot-serving stereotypes but rather as multifaceted human beings, and the worlds they inhabit as extraordinarily complex. For example, in A Monster Calls, thirteen-year-old protagonist Conor O'Malley is living in England with his mother, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Haunted by recurring nightmares about his mother, he is visited one night by a monster who appears in the form of a yew tree. Over a series of visits, the monster tells him three parables. By novel's end, he must face the truth of his situation or risk being eaten alive by the monster. He ultimately frees himself of his pain by letting go of the unrealistic expectations that his mother will live. As he does in each of his novels, Ness highlights the importance of truth in a fragile, ephemeral world.

Further Reading

  • Ness, Patrick. "One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Patrick Ness." Interview by Julie Bartel. The Hub, 10 Sept. 2015, Accessed 8 Mar. 2018.
  • Prendergast, Lara. "A Monster Calls Wins First Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Prize Double." The Telegraph, 14 June 2012, Accessed 8 Mar. 2018.


  • Corbett, Sue. "In Praise of 'Chaos': A Profile of Patrick Ness." Publishers Weekly, 19 July 2010, Accessed 8 Mar. 2018.
  • Ness, Patrick. "About Me." Patrick Ness, Accessed 8 Mar. 2018.
  • Ness, Patrick. "Q&A with Patrick Ness." Interview by Michael Levy. Publishers Weekly, 8 Oct. 2009, Accessed 8 Mar. 2018.

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