Today I have the wonderful Julia Green to answer a few questions about her latest novel, This Northern Sky, which was published by Bloomsbury at the beginning of July.
1. I fell in love with the Hebrides through This Northern Sky. What drew you to such an unusual setting?
I first visited the Outer Hebrides when I was a student – I had an amazing summer on the islands of Harris and Lewis with friends, and the place and the experiences I had there stayed with me, as a vivid memory. I use some of these experiences in This Northern Sky. I love remote places – islands in particular. I like the feeling of being cut off from my normal life! In earlier novel, Breathing Underwater, I use another island setting (St Agnes, one of the Isles of Scilly). I feel most relaxed and happy in places like these – being immersed in a simpler, wilder kind of life, connected more closely to the rhythms of the natural world, seems to suit me. When I started thinking about Kate’s story, I knew I needed a remote, wild setting, and the Hebrides seemed the right place. I went back to visit the islands to do research, and my wild, windy week on a different island helped me write the story. Kate hates the island to begin with – she can’t see the beauty or feel connected to the place, but little by little her experiences change her. I’m really glad you loved my version of the Hebrides (my setting is a fictionalised island, that combines aspects from different islands, and is a mixture of close observation and my imagination). You should go and visit the islands in the Outer Hebrides! This summer, I visited North Uist – an extraordinary, beautiful, wild place.
2. Kate was drawn so vividly that I felt everything she did and I came away feeling like I’d known her for years. Do you write detailed backgrounds and profiles for your heroines before you start writing?
I’m pleased you felt that way about Kate. Yes, I spend quite a lot of time writing in my notebook about my characters. I think about them, and what motivates them, what they want, what they are like. I have a series of questions I ask myself, to help me get inside their heads. When I’m working with my MA students, I help them do this for their own characters. Getting the voice right is key: I take time over this. I try things out, experiment. I do lots of drafts of a novel, honing the writing, too.
3. Environmental issues rarely make it into contemporary YA. Why did you decide to include them in This Northern Sky?
That’s a great question! No one else has asked me about that. The environmental theme arose from the setting and the characters, and from my research trip. The wind farm debate was a real issue for the island I stayed on – people passionately for and against. It was like a ‘gift’ to me, as a novelist. I knew I wanted to show Kate beginning to ‘open up’, to start thinking about other issues beyond her own immediate family and the problems there. I knew Finn would care deeply about the natural world. Before I went on that trip, I wasn’t sure what the issue would be – and then when I started talking to the island people I met, I realised this could be the answer. But it was very complicated, and I didn't want to sound preachy or go on about it too much! I did lots of reading to try and understand all of the issues involved, but I left most of it out of the novel. Thinking about it now, perhaps it’s odd, really, that there isn’t more about environmental issues in YA fiction. Loads of teenagers care about the planet, and what we’re doing to it. Incidentally, YA author Lucy Christopher and I are going to lead a course about ‘writing the wild’ in fiction for young people, next year.
4. Sweet or savoury?
5. Favourite word?
6. Current read?
Daphne du Maurier’s first novel, The Loving Spirit, because I’m in Cornwall on holiday at the moment, near where she lived and set many of her novels.
Thank you, Julia! Make sure to check out my review of This Northern Sky and read the book to fall in love with Kate and the Outer Hebrides.