Half Bad, the debut witch novel for teens by Sally Green hit the headlines recently after breaking a Guinness World Record for most translated book pre-publication. It’s already been sold into over forty-five territories and the film rights have been snapped up by Fox 2000. In testimony to the unprecedented early success and commercial appeal of the book, a major Hollywood film deal with Twilight producer Karen Rosenfelt was also struck in Bologna and following its first publication by Penguin earlier this month, Half Bad went straight into the UK’s bestseller’s charts for children’s and young adult fiction.
It’s the story of Nathan, a Half Code – son of a white witch and a black witch – who at the opening of the book is locked in a cage. Whites are ‘good’ witches, rulers of the witching world and terrified of the more dangerous and unpredictable black witches.
Nathan’s father is Marcus, the darkest and most hated black witch of all, a man he has never met. The only person who can kill Marcus (according to an ancient prophecy) is his own son. So Nathan is stolen away from his family by the white witch Council, locked in a cage and trained to fight and eventually kill his own father.
Nathan is a boy who teenage girls will fall in love with and teenage boys will want to be. For that reason alone, Sally Green is on to a winner. Believe the hype, witches are the next big thing.
So who is the woman behind this record breaking book? And where did she get the idea for her extraordinary book? Read the first part of Sally’s interview here.
I meet Sally Green in the foyer of the Gresham Hotel in Dublin’s city centre along with her editor from Penguin, Ben Horslen. I asked her about her book, her writing process and getting published.
Sally completed three Open University writing courses before writing Half Bad. Does she think they helped her find her writing voice and does she recommend them for other writers?
‘It worked for me,’ she says. ‘It depends what you want. I was determined to get my money’s worth. I took it very seriously. One of the real benefits was . . . meeting other people who wanted to write. The feedback from my buddies was one of the most useful things. We learned to be honest with each other, blunt but not rude.’
Surprisingly Sally does not read fantasy or ‘witch’ books and does very little research. ‘I just kept the rules (of the witch world) quite simple.’
She doesn’t plot but she knows roughly how the books pan out. She’s working on the next book in the trilogy at the moment, Half Wild and has a good idea how the very last book will end. ‘On Half Wild, I thought of a new character as I was writing and a new idea as well.’ I ask her will the next book be set abroad (like the last third of Half Bad) and she gets very coy and says she couldn’t possibly say but admits that Nathan does travel around.
There are no writers in Sally’s family and she thinks her daydreaming habit has made her the writer she is today, letting her imagination brew. ‘Five hours staring out the window, passes in a flash to me,’ she says.
I ask Sally why she writes for teenagers and not for adults. ‘I think my style comes out that way,’ she says. ‘And I wanted to write about teenagers. I hadn’t read much YA at that stage – just the Harry Potters. I write fast paced fiction which suits YA also.’
Before the book was sent out, did Sally do much editing? ‘The nice thing with Claire (Claire Wilson, Sally’s agent) is that we are both on the same wavelength. She was making suggestions before we sent it out. I had a large section in the past tense for example – a few chapters actually – and I had thought I should change it, but I hadn’t. One of her first comments was “that section in the past tense has to come out”. And I thought, yes, she’s right.’
‘I’m OK at taking feedback as long as I understand what the aim is. I’m just starting out and I’m keen to learn all the time.’
Claire sent it out to fifteen different editors and Sally says with a laugh ‘But Ben (Horslen) in Penguin loved it most.’
‘I was the quickest,’ he adds with a grin. I ask him did the book need much editing at his end. ‘It was in pretty good shape,’ he says. ‘There were a few questions about world building. Sally’s always saying she likes to plot in a complicated way and she simplifies it afterwards. He explains that the last third of the book was quite complex and he ‘streamlined it a bit, making people’s motivations a little bit clearer, but nothing substantial changed in the story.’
Sally is very active on social media – Twitter, Good Reads, Facebook, Wattpad – how important does she think this is for debut writers? ‘I like Twitter,’ she says. ‘It’s easy. I like the constraint of trying too keep within the 140 characters. And you can dip in and out. So that I enjoy.’ However, she had no idea she would have to do so much promotion. ‘I thought writing the book was it but it’s not, you have to sell the book as well. A lot of it is writing,’ she points out. ‘Which is fine, I like writing. But it does take up a lot of time.’ Sally is itching to get back to the book she is working on now, Half Wild, the second book in the trilogy which will be published in 2015.
Finally does Sally have any tips for writers? ‘Yes,’ she says firmly. ‘Sometimes (on writing courses) you get the feeling that it’s too hard to get published and it’s almost not worth trying. And here I am, proof that it is worth trying. Is it possible.’
Amen to that.
(c) Sarah Webb
Sarah Webb is a bestselling author of the Amy Green series, and a children’s book consultant. She is the Family and Schools Curator of the Mountains to Sea Book Festival. Find out more about her many books here www.sarahwebb.ie or follow her on Twitter @sarahwebbishere