Julia Green is one of my favourite UK authors - she's a brilliant writer and her books are all fantastic. Her latest novel for teens, This Northern Sky, is one of the best books I've read this year and you can read my review here.
I've often wondered how Julia manages to write such realistic YA fiction, and now I know! Her books have never once made me roll my eyes or question the dialogue, and for that I thank her. I feel like I know her characters, almost as if I'm living the stories myself. If you haven't read any of her books yet, please, please do!
Thanks to Julia for this post and I hope you can learn a bit more about her and her books!
On writing realistic fiction…
Guest post by author Julia Green
I’m enjoying thinking about this topic. Why do I write realistic fiction? Partly because those were the books I most enjoyed when I was a teenager/young adult. And still do, as an adult. Last week, I travelled to different parts of the UK to talk about my new novel, This Northern Sky, in schools. Mostly, I was talking to girls aged about 13, 14. I was delighted to hear how many of them, too, prefer to read ‘realistic books’.
We talked about the writing process; I showed my notebooks - the rough notes and scribbled pages that are the beginnings of the journey towards the finished story – and some photographs of the real places which have inspired the setting (the archipelago of islands called the Outer and Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland). Several times, girls asked me about whether the characters were based on real people, too. Sam, in particular, they wanted to find out more about.
My first answer was that no, Sam was ‘made up’ by me, a fictional creation. But as I began to talk more about it, I realised aspects of Sam were, in fact, based on someone real. A story someone told me about a boy, plus small details overheard or observed, from different people, over time. ‘My’ Sam wasn’t one ‘real’ person, but he was connected to real people…
I’m not sure it’s a conscious process, this ‘borrowing’ from the real world. I’m possibly ‘collecting’ material the whole time, without even being aware I’m doing it. I dip into memory, sometime. Aspects of This Northern Sky draw closely on some real events from my own life, many years ago. And some parts of my central character, Kate, 15 years old, are based on me. But then so are aspects of Kate’s mother. And her dad. And Isla ….It’s complicated.
My novels are all this combination of the real and the ‘made-up’: the closely-observed details, plus the imaginative reconstruction. So, the end product isn’t simply ‘real life’ – like memoir or autobiography, but fiction. Story. And yet the whole point, for me, is that it has a very close connection to the real world. I want my readers to believe completely in the people and the places I ‘borrow’ and recreate, to enter that world, feel the emotion and share the experiences of my main characters.
I write ‘realistic’ fiction, I realise, partly because I am writing to make sense of things for myself: to understand a ‘real’ situation through writing about it. The actual writing is a process of discovery. In This Northern Sky, the situation is that of a girl whose parents are on the verge of splitting up. She’s been dragged on holiday with them to an island, so she can’t escape. She has no power over the situation. Not only that, she’s herself recovering from a rather dramatic break-up with a boy (Sam). She doesn’t want to be in this place. And yet the place gradually works a kind of magic on her. She begins to see the island, and everything else, including herself, in a different light.
The realistic setting, as opposed to a ‘fantasy’ one, is very important to me. The real, ‘ordinary’ world we live in is full of extraordinary things, people and places. I write about places that mean something to me – often they are wild, remote places at the ‘edge’ of things. I try to evoke a strong sense of place so my reader can see and hear and feel and touch these places too. But the place is more than simply a setting, where events happen. The setting itself plays a part in the story. It’s the place which helps Kate to change and ‘grow’.
Realistic settings, as opposed to ‘fantasy’ ones, allow me to explore the things that I care about: the real experiences of our lives. Family, friendship, love, loss, birth, death… Through my writing, I am trying to engage with this real, complex, troubled, fragile, beautiful world we find ourselves in, and to show, as best as I can, how “infinitely precious” it is.
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