Boys Don't Cry: A Q&A with Sally Green
What’s it like getting into the head of a seventeen-year-old boy to write Nathan’s first-person narrative?
The ‘seventeen’ bit is harder than the ‘boy’ bit – the difference between male and female narratives is less than the one between a middle-aged woman and a teenager! But for me one of the joys of writing is imagining what it’s like to be someone other than Sally Green. And Nathan is very ‘other’ – he’s a boy who is beaten, hated and kept in a cage.
One of our favourite characters in the series is Gabriel – Nathan’s caring, witty best friend (who loves poetry and croissants!). What inspired Gabriel’s character?
Gabriel is my ultimate tall, dark, handsome hero. I’d been watching the TV series Being Human on DVD – hours immersed in a fantasy/reality world of vampires, ghosts and werewolves which had a wonderful mix of humour and darkness, and a great script. I had a massive crush on Aiden Turner’s character, Mitchell. He’s the darkest character but he can also be funny and kind. Gabriel looks like Mitchell: very handsome with wonderful hair (the hair is as important to his characterization as the croissants and poetry).
I didn’t plan Gabriel as a character, I just started writing a meeting between him and Nathan without much idea of where it would go, but within thirty minutes I knew I was onto something good. I fell in love with Gabriel and, as I wrote, I knew Gabriel would fall in love with Nathan. I wanted him to have all the attributes of the perfect, traditional male hero: strong, intelligent, handsome, caring, good sense of humour – and he fights well, too.
Do you think we see enough supportive male-male friendships depicted in YA fiction?
No. I can’t think of many at all in any fiction. Perhaps that’s why I was so affected by the Mitchell/George relationship in Being Human, which shows them to be friends with a deep love for one another.
The book that influenced me in my writing of Nathan and Gabriel’s relationship is Steinbeck’s non-fiction The Log From The Sea of Cortez, from which I got an insight into his deep, loving and beautiful friendship with Ed Ricketts.
How did the friendship between Nathan and Gabriel evolve as you were writing?
Actually it devolved. In my first draft of Half Bad, the relationship became fully developed early on and they quickly became lovers. But I changed it, to rein it back and leave somewhere for the story to go to. I still like that first draft, though: I felt it was totally real. And although Half Bad is a fantasy story about witches, real is what I’m after in the characters and their stories. So I knew Nathan and Gabriel’s relationship would deepen, but it would take three books rather than thirty pages. Their relationship is a vital part of the trilogy and of the full story of Nathan’s life. Annalise, Nathan’s first love, gets him part way along his journey – but Gabriel is his soulmate.
Nathan is generally a very stoic protagonist, but with Gabriel he lets down his emotional guard more often and even cries in front of Gabriel on several occasions – why is this?
I hadn’t realized this until you pointed it out but yes, Nathan only ever cries in front of Gabriel, and he does this because Gabriel is the only person who he trusts completely, to whom he can show his vulnerability. He doesn’t and can’t do this with anyone else, not even with Annalise.
Do you think it’s important for teenage boys to see male book/film/TV characters allowing themselves to be vulnerable sometimes?
Definitely. Ben, my editor, says he loves Nathan because ‘he’s incredibly strong until he isn’t’. But Nathan picks himself up after each traumatic incident and carries on – what else can he do? I think it shows that someone can be both strong and tough, but also defeated, tired and in need of help.
Having said that Gabriel is perfect perhaps I should go back and say that, of course, he isn’t – no-one is. But Gabriel has a huge advantage: he likes himself. Ed Ricketts, whose friendship with John Steinbeck was a thing of beauty, said of himself that for a long time he didn’t like himself, but then slowly he learnt to. I just love that, it’s an inspiration for me and for us all to accept our faults and just like ourselves, and that’s particularly important for teenagers. Gabriel does like himself and he is ultimately stronger for that, and Nathan doesn’t like himself – doesn’t even understand himself – and that is his ultimate struggle. Of course I adore them both.
Sally is on tour in Waterstones stores throughout the country over March. See all her tour dates on her website.