Guest Post: Patrick Ness AND Jim Kay

September 30, 2011 Uncategorized 0

Today I am lucky enough to host two ridiculously talented people for the A Monster Calls blog tour: author Patrick Ness and illustrator Jim Kay. I’ve been provided with some of the haunting images from the book with Patrick’s commentary. There is also a brief Q & A with Jim. I am just blown away by this post! Thank you so much to Candlewick Press, Patrick and Jim.

About the book: A Monster Calls By Patrick Ness: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

Patrick’s commentary on the illustrations:
I say all the time that this is the very first picture Jim ever showed us of what he thought the monster might look like, and it’s never changed. He’ll be very modest about it, but really everything I wanted is all here. The mystery of the monster, the danger, the size, the weight, and that light coming from Conor’s window is amazing. I’ve no idea how artists do that.

Another example of the density of Jim’s work. Is the hawk just innocently flying? Or is it hunting that rabbit? And that silhouette of the stag, too, which comes directly from the text. Such an amazing, visual way to show the shifting, whirling sense of how the monster talks.

The bird on the thorny stalk is possibly my favourite thing Jim did. How the bird is done and how it’s calling (or screaming) says everything about the pollution coming from the valley below. The monster (massive) and Conor are standing at the edge of the monster’s second story, just like we are; it’s like we’re eavesdropping.

As Jim rightly says, this drawing is ALL about release of Conor’s pent-up energy. This drawing moves, and in fact, my German publisher animated this drawing for their trailer. This is everything Conor’s been holding in, and there’s the monster, roaring all of it out.

Patrick Ness is the author of the acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy for young adults: The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men. Born in Virginia, he lived in Hawaii, Washington, and California before settling in England. He never met Siobhan Dowd, but he came to know her through her superb novels.

Q & A with illustrator Jim Kay

1) You do such a terrific job of giving the monster definition with some specific details while also keeping the monster ambiguous enough so he can be whatever the reader (and Conor, for that matter) needs him to be. What were some of the considerations you gave to how best to represent the monster?
Anyone that watches horror movies knows that it’s what you don’t see that frightens you the most, and so we tried to avoid showing too much of the monster at any one time. I went through many stages designing the monster. Patrick knew what he was after, which helped a great deal. My first drawings were dreadful; he was too spindly, too manic, but from those came the idea to give him a scalp like a pollarded tree, and hands resembling a tangle of unearthed roots, complete with clumps of soil. He had to be solid, he needed a sense of mass, but the story allowed for him to subtly change in accordance with his mood; a human form to show his humanity, a mass of branches for when he was less benevolent.
2) Patrick Ness said that the first image you showed him and his editor was that image of the monster when he first comes to Conor’s window. Did it come to you in a rush, after you’d read the novel? Did you do some sketches first?
I was given the brief of the monster at the window as a test piece, and I had less than two days to produce the final image. In my head I had the image of a triangle (the monster) hitting a square (the building), and from that worked on the composition. I then went through the process of changing the viewpoint, quick sketches from different ‘camera angles’ to see if you can squeeze anything more out of the composition. I wanted the whole image to be a collagraph print, but we simply didn’t have the time, and so it was a mixture of printmaking and markmaking. With hindsight I’m glad we were pressured for time, it lead to taking a lot more risks, and every image became something of an experiment, which I think gives the illustrations dynamism.
3) You never do a portrait of Conor—except in silhouette (well, his feet are pretty clear among the yew needles). Why?
It was a conscious decision that the character of Conor should remain personal to the reader, and so I didn’t want to describe him as such, and in the process rob the reader of that relationship. My greatest fear was that the illustrations might in some way detract from Patrick‘s text. The story was perfect, and I had sleepless nights over how it might best be illustrated, at one point I wasn’t sure if the book should be illustrated at all. When I did show Conor it was more about getting across a feeling of his awkwardness, whilst describing him with as few marks as possible. Sometimes it would take 50-60 drawings to find the right one. These ‘loose’ drawings are the hardest; it takes a lot of work to make something look effortless.

Jim Kay currently lives in Northamptonshire with his dog Leroy, a retired greyhound. You can find out what he (Jim, not Leroy;)) has to say about his illustrations for A Monster Calls by checking out his website

Can’t get enough? Check out the other stops in the A Monster Calls blog tour!
9/26: Educating Alice
9/27: I Read Banned Books
9/27: Charlotte’s Library
9/28: Cynsations
9/29: The Ya Ya Yas
9/29: Lisa the Nerd
10/4: Milk & Cookies
10/5: Waking Brain Cells

Check out my review of the book here and enter to win my ARC!

Leave a Reply