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>> Truth or Lie?

Truth or Lie?
27/03/2018

Truth or Lie?


Secrets, half-truths and lies swirl through the homes and school corridors of this small US town as rumours about teenaged Alice take on a life of their own. Author JENNIFER MATHIEU tells us more about THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE.

This is a hard-hitting, perceptive novel about growing up in a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business. The novel is told by four of Alice's school 'friends' and through their accounts, the reader gradually comes to understand the truth about Alice.

We asked author JENNIFER MATHIEU - author of Moxie - to tell us more THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE:


Q: You're a teacher by profession so what was your path to becoming a writer?

A: When I started teaching teenagers in 2005, I was curious about what books they were reading. I discovered a whole new world of YA literature that was quite different from what I'd read as a teenager - we didn't have many options then! So I started to write YA for pleasure and eventually gained an agent and sold my first book in the summer of 2012.


Q: Why do you write for YA readers?

A: Teenagers are a wonderful audience - they are so passionate, enthusiastic, and curious. I love the responses I get from readers. I also enjoy writing about the adolescent experience because I think it's such a crucial time in our lives when we really start to figure out who we are as human beings.


Q: Can you tell us how your ideas for The Truth About Alice developed?

A: When I was in high school I read an article in Seventeen magazine about a young woman in the United States who was ostracised and made fun of in her high school because of alleged sexual behaviour. They started a bathroom stall where they wrote nasty things about her, and the school refused to help her or do anything about it. The humiliation she felt stayed with me and many years later became a seed for The Truth About Alice.


Q: We learn, in retrospect, what Alice is accused of doing by narrators Elaine, Josh, Kurt and Kelsie. How difficult was it to unfold the story through their perspectives as they are all so unreliable?

A: Honestly, it was weirdly easy. I think because each character felt so real to me that when I was writing from their perspectives, it was like I almost forgot what the other characters thought or believed. I did have to keep a timeline about what each character knew and believed so I would stay consistent with the plot, but the voices came to me quite naturally.


Q: Their narratives also explore why they have each contributed in some way to the rumours about Alice; how do you also develop the readers' sympathy for them?

A: It's been my experience in life that hurt people hurt people. Very few people are nasty or mean unless they're sociopaths! I wanted to dig deep and discover what would motivate Kelsie or Josh or Elaine to do the things they did, and the reasons for their behaviour. I know they do awful things, but it's my hope that readers do have sympathy for what they themselves have been through.


Q: You show, through Alice's story, how lies can escalate and spiral out of control. Why did you want to tackle this, and how difficult was it to plan and structure the layers of lies?

A: The story was a bit difficult to plan as it jumps around in time and there are several narrators. To solve that I created a detailed outline with the months of the year going down one side and then each character's chapter on the other side, noting what they knew and what was happening to them.

It was definitely a book that needed a clear structure and plan before I started to write it. This was the hardest part of writing the book, but I wanted it all to unfold or be peeled like an onion, I guess, so as the reader moves forward it becomes clearer and clearer that nothing is at is seems.

In the end, the only person who really knows the truth about Alice is the reader - not even Kurt or Alice have the full story.


Q: How well did you understand your characters before you started writing their narratives?

A: Oh, I felt I knew them very well. Or should I say I feel I know them as they - like all my characters - are very real in my mind and still feel like they're alive somewhere out there! These characters came to me almost fully-formed, and the more I wrote them the more they revealed themselves to me.


Q: Your books including Moxie and Devoted, like The Truth About Alice, explore how women and their bodies are regarded by society. Why do you choose to explore these issues?

A: I'm drawn to women's issues because I am a feminist, and I think so many stories about women are often untold or not fully explored or they're told in very superficial ways. I'm a big believer that we should write about our obsessions or interests. Feminism, small towns, surviving trauma, religion, family dynamics - all of these concepts are very interesting to me, so I find exploring them in my books comes quite naturally.


Q: How important is being a feminist in your own life and how has it helped to shape your life?

A: Feminism is super important to me. What I love to tell young readers is that living my life as a feminist has made my life better and more joyful. It's made my friendships with women more authentic and less competition-based. It's made my marriage strong and satisfying because I married a man who sees my hopes and dreams as valid and who believes he is equally responsible for childcare and stuff around the house.

It's also made motherhood better because I feel like I have the opportunity to raise a son who is kind-hearted and hopefully I can temper some of the terrible messages our culture sends to boys about "being a man". I always say feminism is as much for men and boys as it is for women and girls.


Q: Has working as a teacher been important for you as a writer, in helping shape how you write for teenagers? Are there things you aim to do in your writing for this age group?

A: I think being around the rhythm of adolescence has been good for my writing as it helps keep my voice authentic. It also reminds me not to ever patronise or talk down to my readers.

I mostly aim to tell a good, complex story. I think a lot of people think writers for teens want to impart An Important Message. I do want students to reflect and take away something from my books - I think all writers do - but first and foremost I want to give them a great story with characters that feel real.


Q: What would you like young readers to take away from The Truth About Alice?

A: I once heard a saying - everyone has a story that, if you heard it, it would break your heart. I think if we all treated each other with that knowledge at the forefront of our minds, we would be so much kinder to one another. I'd love the take away from Alice to be that - to be kinder, to have more empathy for one another. To make human connections instead of tearing each other down.


Q: Where do you write and - given your working day - when?

A: I used to write at the dining room table, but I recently bought myself a fancy writing wedge/pillow and a small lap desk so I can write in bed - and I love it! I always write at night. I don't write for long periods of time given my schedule, but a little on a regular basis eventually adds up!


Q: Can you describe your ideal 'writer's shed'?

A: The ability to write in bed with some hot tea nearby and quiet jazz playing! And food delivered whenever I want it! Location - some place peaceful and beautiful. Ideally the mountains or the beach.


Q: Can you share three things about yourself that our readers won't know?

A: My parents are immigrants from Cuba and Chile, so my first language was actually Spanish!

I was the captain of the cheerleading squad in high school - something that still surprises even me.

I wrote my first book in fifth grade. It was called Mystery At Grandma's and it won a school-wide contest.
 
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