An interview with Sally Green

It’s been called 2014’s answer to Twilight and The Hunger Games, translated into 49 languages pre-publication with film rights sold. Half Bad creates an imaginative new world inhabited by witches as you have never seen them before. It’s an exciting newcomer to the Young Adult/adult cross-over market, doing for witches what Twilight did for vampires. Sally Green lives in North-West England with her husband, son and chickens. She discovered her love of writing in 2010.

Here, Sally answers questions about her writing in an interview with students from Bristol Grammar School.

How do you plan your stories?

Badly for the most part; or possibly I should say ‘not at all’. I’m not good at planning – I get an idea (usually a character idea and a situation) and I write. This works, in a way, as I get the feel for the character and the world the story is in, but inevitably it means I do a lot of rewriting to get a plot that hangs together properly.

How does your reading affect your writing and are there any other genres that you enjoy and would like to try out?

I wrote Half Bad without reading very much from the YA or fantasy genres, which I don’t think is a bad thing as that meant I wrote my own book in my own style. However, I was influenced by other completely different books, for example Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles and John Steinbeck’s eulogy About Ed Ricketts (which I highly recommend) both had me thinking about male friendship/love and their mood really got under my skin at the time and, in a roundabout way, into my writing.

For Half Wild (the second book in the Half Bad trilogy) I read a few ‘soldier traumatised by war’ stories, as I wanted to get into the head of someone who had experienced that to help me write the character of Nathan who suffers severe trauma. I’m sure I’ll never write a war novel though, as I don’t know enough about it.

In Half Bad Nathan gets repeatedly abused and hurt by the White Witches because of his father’s Black Witch status. How will issues of racism continue in Half Wild?

I never set out to tackle issues but aim to write a story about people. However, in Half Bad I was conscious of ‘Us and Them’ being an important aspect of the lives of the characters (and racism can certainly be seen as part of that). Mostly I wanted to show up prejudice, lack of real understanding and empathy.

In Half Wild the issues of race and prejudice don’t go away. However, here Nathan is a free person with difficult choices to make, mainly about fighting. So I was interested in looking at war, the morality of killing and how someone copes when they’ve killed people.

So, where did you begin?

I came up with the character of Nathan and pretty much fell in love with him. I had the idea of three gifts and a ceremony to make someone a witch, and started from there.

And what will you write about next?

I’m beginning to think about it – this time next year (September 2015) I’ll be writing something new, but I haven’t decided what that’ll be yet.

Were you surprised at the reception Half Bad had and do you feel you are under more pressure with the rest of the trilogy because of this?

I was surprised, but I think I’m more surprised now as I’m learning more about the publishing world and realising just how lucky I’ve been. But yes, that means that I’m under pressure to deliver a really good second (and third) book. I put pressure on myself to a certain extent too as I want to improve my writing continually.

Nathan is a young man who’s been abused by people all his life: how hard was it to find the voice of a totally different person to you?

Well, yes he is quite different – young and male for a start, and I’ve never been kept in a cage! But that’s the whole point of writing – imagining what it would be like to be someone else. I never found it difficult to ‘be’ him and slip inside his skin, and in fact now I find it quite difficult to get out of his voice when I’m writing.

How do you develop the personality of each of your characters?

Oh dear, as I said I don’t do a lot of planning. I visualise a lot (is that planning in my head?) and imagine scenes in terms of how they look (almost like a movie). I find dialogue helps me get a character embedded in my imagination, so in Half Bad the three minor characters of Bob, Jim and Trev are very different in appearance, but most importantly in how they speak. They developed as characters as I wrote them and edited the manuscript, so with each version I’d add something, thickening them up (if that makes sense).

Do you have any pointers for young writers?

Don’t be snobbish about learning from anything. I get inspiration from books but also a huge amount from film and TV too (Quentin Tarantino is a favourite for dialogue, The Sopranos too for dialogue but also how to structure a story with layers of plot and sub-plot). Read bad stuff and good stuff and critique it – examine clearly in what ways the writing works and in what ways it doesn’t. I am continually trying to work out what makes a page-turner a page-turner (do tell me if you find out).

March 1st 2015 is a red letter day in all our diaries but can you give us any hints about Half Wild?

Normally I say nothing, but you’ve caught me in a generous mood so I will say a little exclusively here! Half Wild continues from where Half Bad ended. Nathan is on the run, pursued by Hunters. He has received three gifts from his father and so is a full Witch and has his magical ability, his Gift, although he struggles to control it. He has other problems too, as he doesn’t know if Gabriel is dead, and he wants to rescue Annalise from Mercury.

We learn a lot more about Annalise and about Gabriel. There’s a lot more fighting and killing than in Half Bad, but a lot more kissing too.

Half Bad is the first in the Half Bad Trilogy. The second, Half Wild, will be published in March 2015. This interview was also published on the Bath Kids’ Literature Festival’s official site – check it out by clicking here.