Last year, we offered Reading Hackers the chance to win an interview with Sally Green, the bestselling author of the Half Bad trilogy.
The lucky winner was McKenna James. Here’s her interview with Sally:
“I am currently a university student in Canada studying in English because it sometimes gives me a chance to write. Writing is my passion; I have just finished the first draft of a novel and am heading into the rewriting phase. I’m only 20 years old but I know my future will have to do with stories in some way. Hopefully writing them; but if not, helping to create them in some capacity. Because stories are the essence of all of our lives.
My first question, of course, would have to be: any news on the Half Bad movie?"
“I wish I had news for you, but the short answer is no. Imaginarium are now working on the script, but don’t hold your breath.”
“How much rewriting did you need to do after the first draft of Half Bad? Also, how many drafts of Half Baddid you have to write? Are there scenes that never actually made it into the final book?”
“There was lots of rewriting for Half Bad and even more for Half Wild. I rewrite lots. There was one scene between Gab and Nathan around a campfire that I cut which I always liked – I shared that on Tumblr.”
“Were there any particular characters that were especially hard for you to write?”
“I develop the characters over time and through the story, getting to know them more as I write. And I think about them a lot and I do mean A LOT – I spend more time with my characters than with my real friends and family! I think about how they would react, what they would feel. The simple question I keep going back to is ‘Where is my character’s head at?”’
“Nathan was a voice that came to me very quickly and easily – and I can’t say anything more about it than I decided to write the novel from an ‘angry’ boy’s voice and within two hours of beginning I knew it was working really well – I could let myself go and put all my emotion into it.”
“The character I struggled most with was Annalise and I think this is because she’s a more ambiguous character (and I believe more real for that), but that means she’s harder to communicate in a novel.”
“Any advice on how to know when your amount of description is near-perfect? When I’m in the moment, I don’t give enough setting or character descriptors as I try to get the action done. When I go back over the scene, I worry that I add too much descriptors that it bogs down the action.”
“For character descriptions, I think less is more. The story, action and dialogue should show the character. As for settings, I’d work on these in the editing process, to get sufficient to ensure the reader is clear about where things are. For me it’s essential that I can clearly see the place in my head, but I don’t go in for flowery stuff.”
“I’m thinking of going to creative writing school to give me the opportunity to work with published authors. Did you know any published authors or other writers when you were writing Half Bad? If so, what advice did they give you?”
“I didn’t know anyone who was published, nor did I know anyone in the publishing world. But I was influenced by the story of Iain Banks in his introduction to The Wasp Factory (a book I love). Mr Banks said that he’d written many books before getting published. That may not sound like much but it allowed me to give myself time to write without labelling myself as a failure. I told myself that if Iain Banks had to write a lot of novels before getting one published then I shouldn’t get hung up about getting a deal for my first novel”.
“At what point did you feel comfortable sharing Half Bad with people? I have a problem sharing my writings, especially in a first draft, because I feel so vulnerable letting people read my unfinished work.”
“Don’t share too early. But if you do have a group of writer friends who you really trust then share with them. I do ask certain people to read my work and I know what I expect from each of them (friendly encouragement or detailed criticism). I’m now very lucky to have a great agent who is the first to read my work and then my editor who is fantastic, but again I avoid showing them the really embarrassing early drafts!”
“Did you worry while you were writing Half Bad that you weren’t creating the story fast enough and that someone might write it before you?”
“I had many worries about my book but not that one!”
“Do you have any advice for finding an agent or publisher?”
“I followed the advice in Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook. I tried to be professional in all my correspondence and dealings – as I would for any job. I did go the traditional route of getting an agent and then she got me a publishing deal. To get an agent in the UK you need to send them a covering letter, synopsis and the first 50 pages of your novel – those have to be the best 50 pages you’ve ever written.”
“And lastly, any good book suggestions? I have just reread I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson, one of my all-time favourite novels.”
“I’m enjoying a lot of books with teenage characters where the book isn’t defined as YA at the moment: Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End, Graeme Mcrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project and The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler. You could add Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory to the list too!”
“It was great having the opportunity to interview you Sally! Who knows, I may even include you in the acknowledgement pages at the end of my novel when it gets published because of your advice!”