I am more than a little chuffed to be included on the Half Bad Blog Tour. I reviewed Sally Green’s debut novel earlier this year and was just blown away by how accomplished a piece of writing it is. This YA book (think Noughts and Crosses rather than Twilight) is going to be big, it certainly deserves to be. I asked its author a few questions about how she came to write the book-there is a SPOILER ALERT for one for the answers, so do yourself a favour and read it, especially if you’re a fan of The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Patrick Cross or Michael Grant.
How did you end up writing YA? Are you a fan of the genre already? Had you read much of it before you starting Half Bad?
When I started writing I hadn’t read much YA at all and now it takes up about a third of the books I read. I do think YA suits my writing style and my first novel (unpublished) was a love story between teenage witches so it really could only be YA or fantasy. When I decided to start again on a new novel after my first one was rejected by the agents I sent it to, I thought it might be sensible to read up on YA more. I wasn’t sure where to start so googled award winning YA books (or something like that) and read the YAs that had won the Carnegie medal. I was particularly impressed by Aidan Chambers and read 5 of his books. Also there was Patrick Ness and I tore through the Chaos Walking trilogy and Melvin Burgess’s Junk led me on to a few more of his too.
I also went back to the books I read when I was a teenager before YA was invented. I think I wanted to remind myself of what I was interested in all those years ago. So I re-read Catcher in the Rye and One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich and a few others (I read a lot of Solzhenitsyn when I was a teen, which seems strange now but wasn’t that unusual I don’t think). Both of those books had influences in very different ways on Half Bad.
I loved how the book uses a love of nature and the need to be outdoors as indicators of witches, are you a nature lover? Did you sleep on Welsh mountains for research?
I suppose I am a nature lover. I studied geology at university because I wanted to go on field trips. I still love being outdoors, particularly in the UK, because I love the climate – wet shouldn’t be a problem really if you’ve got the right gear. When I was writing Half Bad I was going to Snowdonia maybe once or twice a month and it was great to get out of town, walk and think. I had a friend who took his kids wild camping in Wales, and although I never did it myself I loved hearing about it and I’m sure that inspired some of my story.
The book has been described as ‘1984 with witches’, do you think that’s a fair comparison?
That comparison came from my editor so I’m not going to disagree. It’s a long time since I read 1984, and I remember finding it very troubling and unpleasant to read – hopefully Half Bad isn’t like that.
Nathan is such a remarkable hero, how did he come about? I love how his voice changes as he becomes more experienced, did you have to re-draft and re-draft to get that affect or did it come naturally whilst writing?
When I started Half Bad my first major decision was whose point of view to write from, and it was a big decision to write as a boy, but I’d written a few short stories from the male point of view and I really just enjoyed doing it so I thought I’d try it. For me one of the joys of writing is putting yourself in other people’s shoes (imagining what it is to be like them, to do things they do) and being a teenage boy is particularly interesting and fun. I wrote the book chronologically and then reorganised it when I was editing to put the cage scene at the opening few chapters. I think as I wrote I learnt more about Nathan and he developed and grew in my imagination as he aged. I do think it all happened very naturally as I wrote, but it was intense and I was thinking about Nathan for huge parts of my days and nights. This for me was a very quick book to read-mostly because I couldn’t put it down! Has the story been with you for a while and how long did it take you to write? I love to hear that you couldn’t put Half Bad down. I don’t think it took long to write, but I’m new to writing so I’m not sure how it compares. I started writing in 2010 with an idea for a story about witches and it was pretty much a whim and a quiet afternoon with nothing else to do that inspired me to write. I hadn’t been bottling up the story for years – I’d never even thought of writing a novel or believed I could. My first novel about witches helped me establish the world in which Half Bad takes place, for example that unpublished novel has Black and White Witches with Gifts similar to those in Half Bad. I knew I wanted to write a story set in a similar world but I wanted to make it darker and that’s when I thought of the Council. I started Half Bad in April 2012 and sent it to an agent at the end of January 2013.
Was the book always the first in a series? Where will Nathan’s story lead us?
Yes, I’d always thought of Half Bad as being the first book of a trilogy. My original (admittedly rather vague) plan was to only show the point of view of White Witches in the first book and to only show them as being good, and I thought in the second book I’d continue the story from the Black Witch point of view and the third book would bring it all together. But as I wrote Half Bad I realised that the story was taking me in a slightly different direction. However, by that stage I had it in my head that I was writing a trilogy.
The trilogy does mark three key stages in Nathan’s life. So Half Bad takes him up to his 17th birthday and Half Wild will continue the story, but I can’t reveal any more than that about it.
You must have an an incredibly exciting year with the success of this book-how has your life changed and how does it feel, being an overnight sensation?
Yes, it has been a year full of wonderful surprises. I’m not sure I feel that I am an overnight sensation. I think with success coming rather later in my life I’m quite grounded and to be honest I was never the sort of person to jump around the room in excitement – though inside I’m thrilled whilst also still taking it all in. I’m very busy at the moment with PR and writing Half Wild and living my normal life, and I’m trying to find the right balance. The most important change however is that with a publishing deal I can continue to write, which is what I want to do.
Who is the favourite of your characters? Mine is Nathan’s Gran, who reminded me so much of my Gran.
To be honest I love them all, even the horrible ones. But Nathan, Celia and Gabriel are at the top. I think this is because I found the writing of the interactions between Nathan and Celia just flowed for me, and I love the relationship between Gabriel and Nathan.
Were the sadder/more gruesome parts of the book difficult to write?
No. Those were actually quite easy – any writing where I know exactly what is happening and why seems to flow. Having said that I wasn’t satisfied with the writing of some of the violent sections in my first draft, for example of where Nathan gets cut by Kieran, as at first it felt a little melodramatic and just not right. I realised that I was writing too much, describing too much, and so I cut a lot of the words out and I felt the prose improved.
I found that the sadder bits were also easy to write as I knew exactly how Nathan was feeling and those sections just poured out of me.
What would your Gift be, if you could choose?
I think it would have to be the ability to transform to look like someone else. I think it would be fascinating to try out different appearances, genders, races and ages.
Half Bad by Sally Green is published by Penguin £7.99 www.halfbadworld.com