About The Author
Sally Green lives in north-west England with her husband and son. Once an accountant, in 2010 she turned to writing.
Half Bad is her first novel and the first of a trilogy set in modern-day England, where witches live alongside humans. The story centres around sixteen year old Nathan, who is part white witch and part the much-feared black witch. Hunted from all sides, he is trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, but must escape before his seventeenth birthday in order to receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch - or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust - not even family, not even the girl he loves?
This is a page-turning tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, of nature versus nurture and about finding out who you really are.
We talked to Sally about using restraint when doling out magical powers and describing scenes of violence, how she came up with her central character and her relationship with the film of the book, now in production.
The sequel Half Wild, is published this month in paperback. You can read the first chapter here.
Questions & Answers
You had a variety of jobs before coming to writing, was a novel always brewing in the background or is writing something you came to a bit later?
Writing a novel was a complete surprise to me and, I think, to most of my friends and family as well. I'd never thought of myself as imaginative, although I have always enjoyed writing. There's something very satisfying about putting words on paper, about finding the best way to communicate something, even if it's a financial report (I used to be an accountant).
I started writing in 2010 on a whim, with an idea for a short story. It grew into a novel (not Half Bad) and I've been addicted to writing stories since then.
Have you always been fascinated by witches?
No. I don't read fantasy books and a film on Salem witches would be something I actively avoid. But I find the subject interesting (definitely not fascinating) because of the social issues related to witches, for example witch hunts seem to me nothing to do with witchcraft and a lot to do with society.
I chose to write about witches because witches are women (my male witches are not called wizards). I wanted to create a society where women had the highest status by right and also had the strongest witchy powers. As I wrote the story I did adapt that original intent so that men in touch with their female, intuitive side also have strong witchy powers.
How did you come up with the central character?
My aim was to write the book I would have loved to read when I was a fifteen year old girl. Nathan, the hero of the book, is the boy I would have loved to read about - someone strong and vulnerable, intelligent, sometimes violent, sometimes kind, sometimes extremely angry, sometimes chained in a cage. I would have adored him, and I do adore him even though it's a long time since I was fifteen.
Where did Nathan's incredible sense of morality come from? He clearly has attributes of both black and white witches but nothing much about his upbringing seemed guarantee to help him develop a strong moral sense, so is it nature rather than nurture? And would that make him more white than black witch?
I read once that a child with a difficult upbringing is most likely to get through it well if there is one 'good' adult his/her life, whether that person is a parent, relative, teacher or neighbour. I see that Nathan has two 'good' people in his life, his grandmother and his older brother, Arran. They are people he looks up to for moral guidance. Equally I was interested in him being drawn to the dark side both in his physical 'Black Witch' nature and because he has pride in being the son of the most powerful (ok and most evil) Black Witch.
Did you relish writing the at times very graphic descriptions of torture and violence?
No more than any other part of the story. I struggled with preventing those sections from feeling melodramatic and was only satisfied after I edited out large chunks. I felt they worked much better when less was said and I do think readers fill in the blanks and imagine the worst for themselves.
You were very restrained with the doling out of magical powers - how did you decide how much magic was required to keep the book 'real' but still sufficiently paranormal?
I originally thought of giving the witches three powers rather than one magical 'Gift', but this had two major problems. Firstly, I quickly ran out of ideas for what the powers would be (invisibility, running fast, potions, changing appearance etc.). Secondly, I tied myself in knots with the plot as many witches could get out of trouble simply by using witchy powers, so again less was a lot easier to plot around. But mainly I was interested in Nathan as a prisoner/teen/brother/friend as much as a witch, and I wanted to write about these aspects to his life so the witchy elements don't dominate.
You spent a long time setting up Nathan and his situation; the last part of the book is much more action-packed; which part did you prefer writing?
Actually I don't see it like that, for me the real action is in the first half where Nathan is going through a lot of pain and torture. I found the plotting at the end of the book the most difficult to construct. The interactions between Nathan and Celia - especially those in the chapter called Punk - were the most fun to write and just seemed to flow.
Did you know at the outset it was going to form part of a trilogy?
Yes, I had an idea for each of the books, though these quickly (as with a lot of my writing plans) came to nought. My original plan was to show Nathan's life within the White Witches in Book One and give the impression that the White Witches really were all good. Then in Book Two we'd see Nathan's story continue from the opposite perspective of the Black Witches. And Book Three would somehow tie it all up. I gave up on it as a plan as I wrote Half Bad but I retained the idea of a trilogy as representing three stages of Nathan's life.
What books have had the biggest influence on you?
There are two that immediately jump to mind, though I'm not sure how directly these have influenced my writing. Wuthering Heights evokes a mood, an amazingly strong sense of place and Heathcliff is both repellent yet terribly attractive - I love that book. In terms of writing I most admire Hemingway's simplicity and style - the less is more approach. There's one short story of his called 'Big Two-Hearted River' which I think is perfect.
Film rights have been sold; what kind of involvement would you like and do you think you'll get?
I'm delighted to have the chance to work with Karen Rosenfelt who will produce the Half Bad movie (she produced the Twilight movies amongst many others). I trust her and Fox to make a film that is true to the book and I don't really want a huge amount of involvement with it - I'm no movie maker. However, I'd love to work with and learn from the scriptwriter and I'm dying to get the chance to go on set.