About Sally Green

I’ve not always been an author. I’ve tried different career paths, some more successful than others, but I’ve always loved learning new things and hated the feeling of being trapped in a job. For most of my life I’ve worked far away from the world of writing stories and I only put pen to paper when I was 48 years old. I don’t particularly like talking about my age, but I feel it’s important to set out here that I started this career in my mature years.

At school I veered towards the sciences rather than the arts or languages as they seemed safer. I was incredibly insecure about my artistic abilities – indeed I believed I had no imagination as I never knew what to write a story about in English class. I now realise that most authors are as terrified of the blank page as any schoolgirl trying to write an essay. But once I had written something I also remember the feeling of shame at having my attempts at poetry being criticised when I really needed as much affirmation as possible. After school I studied geology at university, then trained as an accountant, worked in business and was a stay-at-home mum keeping chickens and growing pumpkins.

I was never a bookworm, though I read more than most. One of my main passions has always been watching films and tv dramas and these have influenced my writing as I’m a very visual writer and also a fan of dialogue that conveys a character’s personality. The nearest I got to developing a story was that I would sometimes think up ‘better’ endings to movies or ‘sharper’ lines in tv shows but I never thought of being a writer as, after all, I knew I had no imagination.

I did nothing with my few sparks of creativity until June 2010 when I had an idea for a story about a girl who didn’t realise she was a witch, and this time I had a go at writing it down. I discovered that not only did I have an imagination, I just couldn’t stop it working. I was thinking about this story constantly. I wrote every day and became addicted to the storytelling process as I tried to work out what my characters would do next.

By the end of the summer of 2010, I had a completed novel, but I knew it was far from perfect and parts of it just felt ‘wrong’. I knew so little about writing that I didn’t even realise I’d written it from a lot of mixed-up points of view. However, I did know that I had to learn more, so I took a creative writing course with the Open University (over time I did about 4 courses with them) and I improved my storytelling … though my punctuation and grammar still leaves a lot to be desired. I loved studying with the OU as I found other aspiring writers to share my work with and I realised that I no longer had those inhibitions or fears of criticism that I’d had a school. I’d finally shaken off the insecurities of my youth: of course I don’t like negative feedback, but I can handle it much more rationally now.

Eventually, after refining my novel many times, I sent the manuscript off to a few literary agents. I received a bunch of rejections, which didn’t surprise me as I knew it would be almost impossible to become a published author. However, one agent emailed me back to say, ‘I like your writing style, but the story doesn’t have the necessary edge for today’s market.’

I was ecstatic! An agent at a fancy London literary agency liked my writing style! What’s more, I knew I could make the story a lot edgier – ‘edgy’ was my strength. This feedback freed me. The writing shackles were off! I decided to rewrite the story completely and to tell it from a boy’s point of view and within ten minutes of that decision Nathan was born, and I knew I had the right voice for the story. Nathan is Half Bad – and he changed my life.

On reflection this was the next step in my writing maturity. I realised that to tell a story I had to tell it my way, with all my heart. Many people have commented that they can’t believe that I wrote such an ‘edgy’ story and I’m not sure I can explain it except that I tapped into my most extreme and dark feelings of being trapped in a constricted life when I wanted more. Perhaps it’s simply that I spend my normal life being ‘nice’ and on the page I can let it all out?

Half Bad became a Guinness World Record holder, selling to more countries and languages pre-publication than ever before for a debut author. I’m delighted to have been able to visit some of the countries whose readers have supported me, such as the USA, France, Italy, Sweden, Bulgaria, Mexico and Russia. In all these places and many more through social media, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting lovers of my books who recognise something of my characters’ lives in their own. Now Half Bad has been adapted for the screen as a Netflix series called The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself. Oh yes, and the ‘fancy London agent’ who gave me the feedback is now my fancy London agent.

After completing the Half Bad trilogy, I began to write something completely different. Again, I just started off with a couple of ideas: a pair of demon hunters and a princess who was treated like a second-class citizen. These characters were soon joined by several others, as I love creating characters, and the story evolved and grew into The Smoke Thieves, which is a sort of Game of Thrones with demons.

The Smoke Thieves is told from five different character points of view, which is a storytelling feat that I’m incredibly proud of and which I will never attempt again as it’s so complex to construct. For this story I really had to push my imagination creating the demon world itself, which lies in a dimension beneath our human one, and where even stone and air behave differently.

The Smoke Thieves has won several awards and has also sold in many countries around the world. It’s wonderful to hear from readers and learn which characters they love the most. Tash the demon hunter, and Edyon the thief/student are clear favourites, and they are the most fun, but Catherine the princess is the unifying hero whose story really drives the whole piece and whose life is the most political and complicated. As with all my writing there’s probably a bit of me in each character.

I’m continuing with my writing now although I did take a break after publication of The Smoke Thieves.

When I’m not writing I spend my time keeping fit and enjoying my home in the north-west of England. As for trying new things, well, they mostly concern getting active these days: I ran a marathon for the first time in April 2022, bought a road bike (and I fell off it on my first ride, which was both very embarrassing and extremely painful), and I entered my first ever trail race on my birthday. Running through nettles and fields of corn is a strange way to celebrate turning sixty-one and it was surprisingly good fun.

Who knows what adventures the future holds? But I will continue to explore my imagination and tell stories about what I find there.

There is one final thing to say about Half Bad. In the books Nathan comes from Warrington, an average town in the north-west of England, the place where I live and where I was inspired to start writing. When I began the process of trying to get Half Bad published, I feared this setting would somehow be unacceptable as most books seemed to be located in Oxford, London or some sunnier, more affluent, southern region of the United Kingdom. It seems strange to me now that I went through this thought process, and it highlights how even the smallest differences can seem like a huge barrier, but many writers from marginalized groups face much bigger hurdles and feel even more of an outsider than I did. When I reread Half Bad I recognise my northern voice and roots as a source of strength of my writing. I would encourage all would-be authors, of all ages, to be proud of their uniqueness – the world will be richer for your stories.

 

 

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