Children's Literature Interest Group Interview with Julia Green

Photograph of Julia GreenJulia Green is the author of more than fifteen books for young people. Her novels for younger children (7- 11) include Tilly’s Moonlight Fox, Sylvie and Star and Seal Island (published by Oxford University Press).

When you start to write a book, do you know how it will end?

I do lots of ‘pre-writing’ notes, and think and doodle before I begin writing the actual novel, and so I usually have at least a sense of the ending I am working towards. Sometimes the story itself suggests a better ending, when I get nearer to it in the process of writing.

Do you base your characters on real people?
I borrow events, situations and people from my real life but they are always changed in the process of writing the story. I mix them up with things I make up or imagine or change how things turn out at the end, to suit the story. For example, writing Sylvie and Star I borrowed the story of a wolf-dog pup from a real story I was told when I was staying on a farm in Italy. In Tilly’s Moonlight Fox, I based Tilly’s feelings on my own childhood. The characters in Seal Island are made up by me, but some aspects of the island are based on real islands in the Hebrides.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do about it?
There are days when I find it hard to stay still enough to write, and I need to go out for a walk or do a lot of walking round my house before I can settle. I like writing in different places – outside, or at a café, when I am still at the notebook stage. I do ‘free writing’ in my journal to loosen me up and help me write in a spirit of play. Sometimes writing can feel scary, and I have to be brave and sit down and write the words on the page and not worry about getting them all perfect straight away.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
It takes a long time, lots of hard work and patience and being by yourself to write a whole novel.

What is the best thing about being a writer?
I’m doing the thing I’ve always wanted to do, since a child. I LOVE it. I love sharing what I know with the student writers on the course I teach (MA Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University) and with children and adults in schools and at festivals.

What inspired you to write?
Loving stories as a child; being read to as a small girl; discovering the joy of reading and the way stories take you to so many different places and let you see the world through some one else’s eyes. Wondering if I could do it too – and the joy of discovering I could.

Do you follow the same process each time you write?
More or less the same process –  it starts with the notebooks, scribbling down thoughts and ideas, sometimes drawing something or going to a particular place, a lot of thinking and looking out of the window, and then sitting down to write the first words in the notebook, by hand, and only going to the computer when I have a sense of how to tell the story. I do a lot of re-writing before a book is finished and polished enough.

At what stage in your writing process do you use a computer?
(see above – once I know HOW to tell this particular story, whose voice to use)

How much does your editor change what you write?
Not very much at all, because we talk about it and I show early drafts of the first chapters, and then I write and re-write and polish the manuscript so it’s as good as I can get it by myself.  Some times my editor might ask me a question about a minor character, which help me think more about them, or suggest moving the order of events around.

What do you think you would be if you weren’t an author?
What I am already – a teacher/lecturer – but I would love to be an artist and be better at drawing and painting

What is your attitude to kindles and ebooks?
I don’t have a kindle because I love the feel and smell and look of a real book, but I don’t mind how anyone else chooses to read a story. I think books are pretty perfect and I like having them on shelves in my house – like a physical record of where I’ve been in my head! They remind me of different times in my life.

What was your favourite book(s) when you were a child?
I LOVED all the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories, starting with Little House in the Big WoodsTom’s Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce; The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston,  (you can see the influence of those two books in my story Tilly’s Moonlight Fox); Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield; Stig of the Dump by Clive King, The Borrowers by Mary Norton,  A Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith,… I could go on and on.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Read, read read. Read for the fun of it, read lots of different kinds of stories and non-fiction too. Write your own stories and poems and scripts; play and experiment and keep practising; share your stories with other writers, to get support and feedback and encouragement. Write because you love it and it makes you feel better when you do it. Don’t let anyone discourage you.

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