The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Julia Green

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Julia Green

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Summary: Bookbag really enjoyed Breathing Underwater by Julia Green - an engaging story of coming to terms with grief. We jumped at the chance to ask her some questions about her work.
Date: 23 April 2009
Interviewer: Carly Bennett
Reviewed by Carly Bennett

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Bookbag really enjoyed Breathing Underwater by Julia Green - an engaging story of coming to terms with grief. We jumped at the chance to ask her some questions about her work.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Julia Green: I imagine my readers are young people, probably girls, any age between about eleven and sixteen (though I know adults read my books too); in my mind's eye I see the girls I've been talking to recently at a local school... and myself aged about 15, lying in the sun in the garden, reading.

  • BB: You teach on the Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa University; what advice do you have for young writers who are just starting out?

JG: My advice for writers starting out is to write in a spirit of playfulness; buy yourself a lovely notebook, and write every day, just for yourself to begin with, trying things out, or jotting down ideas and notes about characters, places, snippets of dialogue... don't fix too soon on one idea but be open and flexible. Read lots of books, and think about what you like or don't like and why. Develop the habit of being analytical about story structure, styles, voice, beginnings and endings: see what works and try to understand why. Read as a writer.

  • BB: What appealed to you about writing for young people rather than adults? Would you ever write an adult novel?

JG: The first novel I completed was for adults, but it didn't find a publisher. I like writing for people of all different ages. I love writing for teenagers because it is such an amazing time in your life (difficult, too, sometimes), when you are thinking about big and important questions, making major decisions and choices, working out who you are and where you belong, falling in love for the first time... And yes, I'm already working on another adult novel too, just in the beginning stages.

  • BB: When starting a new novel, is it the characters you create first or the plot?

JG: I always start with character rather than plot. The setting is usually important for me too. It was very important for Breathing Underwater, where everything happens because of the place - an island.

  • BB: What's the main thing you hope teenagers can gain from reading your books?

JG: I want my readers to immerse themselves in the story, to identify closely with the main character (Freya, in Breathing Underwater), to see things from her point of view, to feel very involved, and to go on an emotional journey with her... to feel a little bit changed by the end, and to go on thinking about the story afterwards.

  • BB: What does your writing process include? Do you write in a notebook or straight onto a computer? Do you like to write in silence or is music important to your creativity?

JG: I always start by writing in my notebook. When I'm about to start a new novel, I have a little ritual of going to choose a new notebook that feels and looks right for the new story. Each novel has a series of notebooks that go with it. I move onto the laptop when I know where the story is going, and then I start working chapter by chapter, thinking in terms of scenes. Music was important for my first three novels, but not for Breathing Underwater, where the 'soundtrack' is the sound of wind and waves...

  • BB: What do you find is the biggest difference between writing for teenagers and writing for children?

JG: Writing for teenagers, I can write about more adult themes, such as relationships, falling in love... things you're not interested in when you are five or seven... and the language can be more sophisticated. In Breathing Underwater, I weave together two different narratives, 'This summer' and 'Last summer': that structure would probably be too complicated for much younger readers. But I also enjoy writing in a pared, apparently 'simple' style for younger readers. I say 'apparently', because actually it’s very hard to write with real simplicity and clarity.

  • BB: How do you feel you have changed as an author since your first novel?

JG: Since writing my first novel, I think (I hope!) I've got better as a writer: I've got a stronger sense of pace and story. I can trust the process more, while I'm writing, and am more confident about writing a first draft in the knowledge that radical redrafting (not just tiny edits) is where the real crafting happens, shaping and structuring the story.

  • BB: Which book are you reading at the moment?

JG: At the moment I’m reading an adult novel, Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips, and Sally Nicholls' second novel for young people, Season of Secrets. Sally was one of my MA students at Bath Spa University and has been amazingly successful. I'm thrilled, of course!

  • BB: What's next for Julia Green?

JG: Next for me: I've just finished writing a new teenage novel, called Drawing with Light: it's a love story... and I'm writing a story for younger readers about a girl and a fox. You can find more at Julia-Green.co.uk.

  • BB: Thanks a lot, Julia - we can't wait to read Drawing With Light!

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