In Sally Green’s début Half Bad (Penguin, March) witches and humans live side by side in modern-day England. There are White Witches, who are good, and Black Witches, who are bad: and then there is Nathan, a mix of both. His father is Marcus, the world’s most infamous and powerful Black Witch, and his White Witch mother is dead.
Hunted from both sides, 15-year-old Nathan is trapped and tortured by his keeper Celia. Despite being chained, he knows he must escape before he comes of age at 17, at which point he must receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die.
Persecuted from a young age, Nathan is the unwanted boy in the middle. Green herself says she: “loves the idea that he doesn’t know if he’s good or bad; he doesn’t know how he is going to turn out. I’m hoping he could go either way in the reader’s mind. He is trying to be good, but we will see what happens with him. He’s fun to write and the nearest to me of all the characters in the book in a way.”
Much like another famous series featuring witches (and wizards), Green employs J K Rowling’s knack of having a cast of characters who are neither entirely good or entirely evil. In Half Bad “good” and “evil” are fluid concepts with Green’s focus more on the choices people make.
“I just really liked the idea that there were Black Witches and White Witches, and with this came quite a simple idea of good and bad. I hate that simplicity, ideals of good and bad are always more complicated than that. People aren’t all good or all bad, or even consistently good or consistently bad, so it was great to be able to explore that through all the different characters Nathan encounters.”
Although a book about witches, Half Bad is subtle in tone and has a very real-world quality about it. Green says she is: “no good at all that fantasy world stuff. I liked setting it in areas that I know well: Switzerland, Wales, Warrington.”
The White Witch Council is not that far away from our own government, for example. Was that a deliberate move in what is essentially a traditional YA fantasy? “Definitely,” Green says: “I loved the idea that any innocuous building over the road could be the council headquarters—that’s what I think is exciting, when the fantasy is part of real life.”
The story behind Half Bad is itself an old-fashioned fairytale: Green’s first ever novel, and part of a trilogy, it has now sold in 42 languages and film rights have been snapped up by Fox 2000 Pictures and Karen Rosenfelt, who produced both the Twilight and Percy Jackson film adaptations.
“Initially, writing was purely for my pleasure, but I quickly became obsessed with this story,” says Green. “My agent Claire [Wilson, at Rogers, Coleridge & White] was the only person I submitted Half Bad to, because although she rejected my first story she was the only agent that gave me any feedback. Everything happened so quickly and I am thrilled—but it has been mindblowing.”
1961: Born in St Anne-on-Sea, Lancashire
1983: Graduated from Imperial College, London, with a degree in mining geology
1985-2001: Worked as an accountant and in other financial roles
2010: Started creative writing with the Open University
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