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Patrick Ness (Photo: Ian Gavan / Getty Images)

The new Doctor Who series Class does two things that suit the writer Patrick Ness down to the ground. It takes a group of young adults and puts them in the middle of supernatural events—in this case at Coal Hill School (whose recent employee records include Clara Oswald, Danny Pink and a strange caretaker)—and it remembers that teenagers will still have to navigate the usual run of problems common to people of their age, while also fending off the end of the universe.

When the series was first announced, Patrick gave what amounts to a mission statement for his own particular field of narrative interest: “I can’t wait for people to meet the heroes of Class, to meet the all-new villains and aliens, to remember that the horrors of the darkest corners of existence are just about on par with having to pass your exams.”

And as we’ll see, the juxtaposition of normal life and extreme weirdness is something he does rather well. But before we get into that, here’s a little backstory:

Born near Fort Belvior army base in Virginia in 1971, Patrick Ness grew up in an army family, first in Hawaii, then Washington state (where he was a teenage goth), then Los Angeles. Having studied English Literature at the University of Southern California, he started writing business copy by day, and fantasy fiction by night. He moved to London in 1999, and then taught creative writing at Oxford University for three years, publishing his first adult novel, The Crash of Hennington in 2003, followed by the short story collection Topics About Which I Know Nothing, two years later.

But it was his first fantasy novel for young adults that brought him real acclaim. The Knife of Never Letting Go is the sharp, thrilling story of two teenagers on the run in a violent world turned upside down after an catastrophic event has destroyed contemporary society. As he explains in this interview, part of his inspiration for what became the Chaos Walking trilogy (with the sequels The Ask and the Answer, and Monsters of Men ) was the damaging lack of privacy in people’s lives in the modern era (hence the telepathic links between his characters), and another part was an urge to write a proper talking dog:

In 2011, he released the incredibly moving fantasy book A Monster Calls, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, who died before she could write it. It’s the story of a young man whose life is falling apart for a variety of reasons that are best left unstated (because you really should read the book). He’s visited nightly by a monster who comes to help him make sense of things, in a monstery sort of way.

Illustrated by Jim Kay, the book won the Carnegie Medal and the Greenaway Medal for both author and illustrator in 2012, the only book to have achieved this double feat. He then wrote the screenplay for the movie, which is coming out this October, with Liam Neeson taking the part of the monster:

Revealing his Whovian credentials, he then wrote Tip of the Tongue, a Fifth Doctor short e-book created as part of a series of eleven stories celebrating Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary in 2013. Once again, his story places young people into the Doctor Who universe, and puts the nominal hero of the story slightly in the background. As he explains here, it takes place between the episodes “Timeflight” and “Arc of Infinity,” when a distraught Doctor has just lost his companion Adric:

That same year, he released the eerie More Than This, in which a small gang of teenagers try to make sense of a deserted, dreamlike version of their own city, and attempt to work out how they got there. As Patrick explains here, he wrote the story wondering what it would be like to wake up and discover you’re the only person on the planet, as far as you can tell. Of course, for his main character Seth, the first thing he does is drown, which only adds to the mystery:

His most recent novel, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, tells the tale of a group of relatively unremarkable high school students who happen to live in a town in which astonishing things are happening, just not directly to them. It’s the story of the kids whose story wouldn’t normally be told, and as he reveals in this interview, part of his inspiration for this book is to celebrate the extraordinary things that happen within people’s everyday lives, whether they are also under attack from monstrous forces or not:

So with Class telling the stories of the pupils at Coal Hill School, it seems fair to expect a highly detailed view of the main characters and their everyday internal struggles, as well as some extremely upsetting invasions from monsters from other worlds, and maybe a decent talking animal too. What more could any self-respecting Whovian ask?

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Filed Under: Class, Doctor Who, Patrick Ness
By Fraser McAlpine