Sally Green is the author of the Young Adult novel Half Bad (Viking Juvenile), a spring 2014 New Voices and Kids’ Indie Next List pick. A former accountant, she started writing in 2010, while her son attended school. Green lives with her husband and son in Warrington, England.
Half Bad tells the story of Nathan — a witch “wanted by no one; hunted by everyone.” The illegitimate son of the world’s most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus, and a White Witch mother, he has no one to trust. Trapped in a cage by his White Witch family, Nathan must escape before his 16th birthday, find his father, and come into his own in this first title in a planned trilogy.
What inspired you to write Half Bad?
Sally Green: This is such a hard question! There was no one thing alone, but many things came together. I had spent a weekend at a storytelling festival that immersed me in all things Celtic, witchy, and olde (if you know what I mean). I liked the idea of a witch story because it hands on a plate two issues that I was interested in: the nature of good and bad; and women (witches are usually thought of as women). Black witches and White witches are automatically assumed to be bad or good, respectively, and I wanted to look at that and question if it was a matter of perspective and if anyone was totally bad or good. The other thing about witches is that they are usually thought of as female, and I wanted to write a story where the female characters were generally more powerful than the male characters (though I admit the story has moved on somewhat from my original intention in this respect).
Having said all that waffle, I should also say I’m very character driven. As soon as I started writing Nathan, the story flowed — he was the inspiration.
2013 was a whirlwind year, with Half Bad being picked up by publishers in the U.K., the U.S., and worldwide, plus a movie deal and selection as an Indies Introduce title! What has been the most exciting part? And what are you looking forward to most in 2014?
SG: There have been so many exciting things happening that it’s hard for me to pick one. I have to cheat and say the two weeks around the Bologna Book Fair in March 2013. In those two weeks, I got publishing deals in the U.K. (with Penguin/Puffin), the U.S. (with Viking), and Brazil and Israel. I was in negotiations for a film deal (amazing) and agreed to the deal with Fox and Karen Rosenfelt. I spent those two weeks with little sleep, lots of caffeine, and plenty of champagne. (I was a smiling, heart-palpitating wreck by the end of it.) The negotiations were all done by my agents in London, Bologna, and L.A. (I have an agent in L.A.! Still can’t get over that.) with me at home online and never more than a meter from my mobile phone.
In 2014, I’m looking forward to seeing Half Bad in bookshops, and I really can’t wait to see someone reading it on a train (or in a park, or wherever). Also, I’m looking forward to writing — finishing book two and starting book three of the Half Bad trilogy.
What advice would you give a young adult interested in writing?
SG: There’s already a lot of advice out there and I’m sure mine is not much different from anyone else’s:
- Read as much as possible and as widely as possible — and not just novels, but newspapers and articles. Read good stuff and bad stuff and work out why you think the good stuff is good, etc. Read intelligently.
- Write as much as possible — every day — even if it’s just notes in a journal. It all adds up. You don’t have to write fiction and you don’t have to write intelligently all the time, but you do have to write!
- Be honest. Don’t try to be like someone else: try to be the best version of you, the writer. Get inside your characters’ heads — live them, be them.
- Read Stephen King’s On Writing.
Did a particular teacher foster your interest in writing?
SG: No. I was put off English at school and never considered myself imaginative or even particularly interested in writing. It only dawned on me when I was in my forties that I loved writing (I mean, really loved it), and I wanted to write my dream story — the one that I wanted to read, and as far as I could see it wasn’t available.
What is your earliest memory related to reading?
SG: Goodness — that was a long time ago! I do remember learning to read with my mum with a Janet and John book. “Here we go, John. Up. Up. Up.” and all that.
Why do you think Young Adult fiction is so important?
SG: I think fiction is important — that’s the crucial point. I read an article recently that tried to explain this:
“How are we to make sense of ourselves and the world that holds us if not by reading stories? For isn’t this how we’ve talked to ourselves — soothed, stimulated, and improved ourselves — for thousands of years? I know I sound like a tragic old Leavisite when I say that fiction and ethics are intimately bound, but I feel this to be true. Novel reading boosts empathy or, at any rate reminds us that things are complicated; fiction unpicks knots.” —Rachel Cooke, “How Can We Make Sense of the World Without Reading Stories?” The Observer, January 4, 2014
YA fiction (hopefully) does this for young adults: it addresses issues for teens and maybe helps “make sense of ourselves.” I hope YA fiction keeps teens interested in reading, thinking, arguing, and dreaming. (I had to look up what Leavisite was by the way).
Are you working on anything now?
SG: Half Wild — Book 2 of the Half Bad trilogy.
If you were a bookseller, is there a book you would say YA readers just have to read?
SG: If I were a bookseller, I’d be really nervous of this huge responsibility — what if they hated my suggestion!? It really would/should depend on the reader, but the classics — Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, for example — are all worth reading at some stage. Even if you don’t like them, it’s good to know that you don’t.
For recently published books that would appeal to both male and female teenagers, Patrick Ness is probably the YA author I admire most, and The Knife of Never Letting Go is close to perfect. The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller isn’t necessarily classed as a YA book but I think it is beautiful and, again, pretty near perfect. But my current favorite book for teens is Gavin Extence’s The Universe Versus Alex Woods. All of these books are honest, imaginative, and brilliantly well written.
But really the answer is The Catcher in the Rye.
If you could invite three authors (past or present) to a dinner party, who would they be? What do you think the topic of conversation would be?
SG: I’d love this! I hope it wouldn’t turn physically violent with everyone in the same room, but for the joy of meeting them all, I’d risk it: Ernest Hemingway, Emily Bronte, and Patrick Ness (if he couldn’t make it, then Philip Roth).
The topics of conversation: writing, love, sex, heroes, alcohol, death, men, women...
Half Bad by Sally Green (Viking Juvenile, Hardcover, 9780670016785. Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Learn more about Sally Green and Half Bad at halfbadworld.com.
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