Sally Green is the author of Half Bad, about one boy’s struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches, published by Penguin last March and now sold in 50 languages. As her new Half Bad e-story is unveiled, she gives us the lowdown on her working space and practices.
Where are you now?
In my small, untidy study/office/writing room that overlooks the back garden and the large, old cherry tree.
Where and when do you do most of your writing?
These days I do it mostly in here during the day. I try to treat writing as a ‘normal’ job and work 9 to 5 (well actually more often 9 am to 10 pm).
If you have one, what is your pre-writing ritual?
Coffee. But I’m fussy it has to be a good cappuccino with freshly ground beans. If I run out of beans I get a bit panicked.
Full-time or part-time?
Writing is my full-time job now. I’m really lucky to be able to say that and I don’t take any of it for granted.
Pen or keyboard?
Keyboard. I can touch-type and so typing is much faster than writing. I really don’t understand why typing isn’t taught in schools now as it seems essential to most jobs. My writing is so scruffy that even I struggle to read it at times, but I do have a notebook and pen in my handbag for jotting down ideas.
How do you relax when you’re writing?
More coffee. Twitter is a bit of an addiction too. If I need ideas I walk, drive or iron.
How would you pitch your latest book in up to 25 words?
‘Half Lies’ is my new e-short story. Michèle comes from a family of murderous Black witches so how could a kind, thoughtful boy bring her more danger?
Who do you write for?
Myself – the adult me of today and the fifteen-year-old me as well.
Who do you share your work in progress with?
Not many people. My editor and my agent get to hear ideas but they won’t see any written work until I’m happy with the first draft. A couple of friends from my Creative Writing course gave me feedback on my first book before I got an agent and they were really helpful (in a ruthless sort of way).
Which literary character do you wish you created?
Heathcliff. He is such a wonderful mix of evil and desperate love.
Share with us your favourite line/s of dialogue, poetry or prose.
Gosh, there are so many and I think you might regret asking that question. How about this from Wuthering Heights:
My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.
Then there’s the opening of The Book Thief:
Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s only the As. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.
And the opening of The Knife of Never Letting Go:
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.
“Need a poo, Todd.”
“Shut up, Manchee.”
But I could go on and on.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
My favourite piece of writing is a short story by Hemingway called ‘Big Two-Hearted River’. It’s not to everyone’s taste as nothing much happens – a man goes camping and fishing – but I first read it about thirty years ago and it still floors me with its simple beauty.
Which book/s have you most recently read and enjoyed?
From the Young Adult bookshelves my favourite of this year is Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall. I love this because it’s so unusual and tells the story of Robin Hood but in a way that it completely new and original. From the adult bookshelves I loved (and cried a lot over) We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I almost threw the book away when I discovered what the big reveal was, but thankfully I carried on with it and within a few pages was hooked again.
What’s on your bedside table or e-reader?
A huge pile of books is teetering there, but I’m not actually reading anything at the moment as I’m writing the first draft of the third book of the Half Bad trilogy. When I’m in the creative stage of writing (hopefully that’s what this stage is) then I prefer not to read.
Which books do you feel you ought to have read but haven’t yet?
Hundreds. I’m not very well read on the classics at all, but there are only so many hours in the day.
Which book/s do you treasure the most?
Gosh, I’m not very precious about books as ‘things’ as I do believe it’s the words in them that are important (there’s a great bit in The Universe Versus Alex Woods about that). However, I have a very battered copy of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, which I read many times to my son when he was very young and that is one of my treasured possessions because it reminds me fondly of that special time of his and my life.
What is the last work you read in translation?
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett.
Which story collections would you particularly recommend?
Hmmm, I’m not a great one for reading full collections as I like to dip in and out of a variety of things. I’d love to have time to read all the Jackson Brodie books by Kate Atkinson. And I’ll have to cheat on this question and say the one author whose collected work I’d recommend is David Mitchell. I think Cloud Atlas is fantastic and the opening part of Number9Dream is one of my favourite pieces of writing.
What will you read next?
I’ve got a signed copy of David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks ready and waiting.
What are you working on next?
I’m 20,000 words into the third book of the Half Bad trilogy, so only 60,000 words to go. It’s fun mostly.
Imagine you’re the host of a literary supper, who would your dinner guests be (living or dead, real or fictional)?
Clearly Heathcliff would have to be there, but not with that awful Cathy. Hemingway, Raymond Carver, probably Emily Bronte too. David Mitchell and Achilles and Patroclus from The Song of Achilles which is another favourite book. I need more women don’t I, so I’d have to invite Mary Shelley, Kate Atkinson and Margaret Atwood too. Sounds like a very strange mix!
If you weren’t writing you’d be…?
Ironing whilst thinking about my next story.
Sally Green lives in northwest England with her husband and son. Her debut novel Half Bad is an international bestseller. The second book in the trilogy, Half Wild, is published on 24 March 2015. ‘Half Lies’, a Half Bad story, is out now in eBook at 99p.
Author portrait © Mark Allen