A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Anyone tracking the progress of this piece today will most likely be chuckling into their handkerchiefs by now, since I have been experiencing what is commonly called ‘major technical difficulties’. I’ve published, unpublished and re-published this piece so many times now that I think I’ve reached the calm acceptance of doom stage.
I’ve lost italics, text, formatting and much of my sanity, and all because I decided to work on another person’s laptop (a Mac, if you’re asking), but I think I might have finally cracked it. However, if this piece is still skewiff for you, I sincerely apologise.
Anyway, without further ado, here is the interview with the very lovely Caroline Green, which I hope you’ll enjoy.
1. What do you think makes a good story?
What makes a good story? I think for me it’s all about taking a journey with interesting characters… characters who you care about, whatever their flaws. I have a real weakness for stories where the character’s moral compass spins wildly out of control because of the choices they make. Breaking Bad is a great example of this. (Excuse me while I geek out for a second and say that I think it had some of the best story telling in television history!) It’s hard to think of any story I’ve ever enjoyed where I didn’t care much about the characters. Even if they are completely vile, you still have to be dying to know what they will do next.
2. Is there anything you’d like to say to your teenaged self?
Oh man, I wish I could go back and give my teenaged self a hug! I was a very unhappy girl in my early teens and I would love to be able to pass on the information that everything is going to get so very much better. I’d tell myself that I actually looked okay and really didn’t have that weird a face, terrible body or awful hair. I was just a perfectly pleasant looking, normal teenage girl who happened to have very low self-esteem. I’d also say that all the dreaming I was doing about a grown up life where exciting things would happen to me isn’t going to be in vain. I’d tell myself not to worry too much about having career doubts because my dream-come-true job of being a writer wouldn’t happen for a good many years yet. I’d also impart the rather surprising information that I still won’t feel grown up in my forties, so I should forget thinking that was going to magically happen one day!
3. Tell us about your journey to publication.
I had a fairly long and bumpy road to publication. I got a book deal after seven years of trying, with the third book I’d written seriously. My first was an adult one that wasn’t very good, but writing it felt a lot like falling in love. This, I thought, this is what I want to be doing. I then wrote a children’s book that won an award, which gave me very false hope. There wasn’t a single agent who wanted to read more and I was starting to get a bit dispirited about the whole thing. I then went on to write what would be my first published book, Dark Ride. This time I had lots of agent interest, but ultimately, none of them wanted to take me on. They all said the same thing: ‘This isn’t the book to launch you, but I’d love to read what you do next!’ This news was delivered as though it was something to be happy about, when it felt like a kick in the teeth every time. But even though I am thin-skinned (and all my many rejections really HURT) I am also a bullish, stubborn thing and I decided to send the book out until there were literally no options left in the Writers and Artists Yearbook.
I was on the last throw of the dice when I sent it to a couple of publishers who took direct submissions. This included Piccadilly Press, who have now published four of my books. I am forever grateful to a lovely lady called Anne who worked as their slushpile reader. She picked out Dark Ride and gave it to Editor Anne Clark (one of the very best in the business; now an agent) and that was it. My life changed. I can honestly say it was worth the wait. Despite all the gripes about not making any money, and dreaming of best seller status and film deals, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
4. Describe your writing room. What are your ideal writing conditions? Can you write anywhere? Do you listen to music? And what’s your process… do you do a million drafts? Or do you edit as you go?
My number one favourite place to write is the British Library. I use the Humanities 1 Reading Room and even though it can get busy, it seems to prompt an almost Pavlovian response in me as soon I go in there. Somehow, I usually manage to get a decent number of words down. The desks are wide and well-lit, the chairs are comfy and the hushed atmosphere is very comforting when I know I need to really buckle down.I wish I could write anywhere! I do seem to be finding it harder and harder to really get into that zone anywhere else lately. I tried a local cafe the other day and it was rubbish. Uncomfortable chairs, noisy people, a too-loud PA system!
I do listen to music when I write and I find it really crucial when I need to concentrate. I make playlists and listen to them on repeat. The playlist for the current thing I’m doing has tons of stuff by Death Cab for Cutie and The Cure. I’m always really keen on any music that has an atmospheric vibe about it when I’m working. When I was writing my last book, Fragments, I asked for suggestions and another writer recommended a song by Martin Grech called Open Heart Zoo, which I’d never heard of before. It was just perfect for the story I was writing. (Thanks again, Erin Kelly!) So I’m always really interested to know what other people are listening to. Bring me your suggestions, please!
My writing process has changed a bit over the few years since getting published. I learned the hard way that I needed to plan a bit more. I now try to outline in advance as much as I can but I don’t honestly think I have cracked this yet at all. I’m still learning as I go along about how to do it. I still sometimes think there will be a perfect method out there, if only I can find it. I can’t resist buying books on plotting and writing craft. (My current favourite, by the way, is one called Into the Woods by John Yorke, which is BRILLIANT. I have raved about it to everyone I know.)
I don’t edit as I go because I’m more of a fast first draft writer. I need to get everything down when I’m feeling excited by it and editing seems to stop the flow a little. It’s perfectly possible, though, that you might ask me about this in a year’s time and I will have changed my mind.
5. Is there a message in your books that you want readers to grasp?
Message? Nah! I’m not really one for trying to get messages into books for young people. I just want my readers to enjoy the ride.
6. Are there any authors who inspired you?
Gosh, so many writers have inspired me. I think that every good book I read inspires me to keep going. I’m a really massive reader and for me, reading and writing are completely enmeshed. I know many writers can’t read when they are working on something but I actually feel miserable if I’m not reading and not enjoying a book. I think I need it, like food. I actually think I’m a little weird about it!
I wrote my second book, Cracks, in a bit of a void of not knowing whether I would ever be published. My first book was out in the world, gathering rejections (until I had the fateful, brilliant call from my publisher) and I just decided to write a book I wanted to read. At that time I was really fired up about books like The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) and The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness) and I do think that reading that genre inspired me a great deal.
7. How does writing for teens differ from writing for adults or younger children?
I’m actually writing an adult book at the moment. It feels different mostly in terms of what you can get away with (ie sex and drugs and rock n’roll!) But that’s quite a minor thing in a way. I am drawn to reading very plot-driven adult fiction anyway and so I want to write my adult books to have the same pace and energy you find so often in YA.
8. Please recommend five books.
I always hate this question because I have so many favourites. So I’m going to narrow this question down to my favourite five YA books I’ve read in the past year to make life easier for myself.
Pure by Julianna Baggott
We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach
The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks
The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee
Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick
Thanks, Caroline! I really enjoyed your answers (and Breaking Bad is the best TV programme ever. Fact.)
For more information about Caroline, please visit her website.
On Monday, Simon will talk about the long-delayed joy of Beverley Nichols.
On Wednesday, we’ll have a Vulpes Random – tbd (EXCITING, no?)
On Friday, Hilary feeds her dreams of actually living in an actual bookshop with Jeremy Mercer’s memoir 'Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs. The Left Bank World of Shakespeare & Co.'