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>> How the past can shape your future

How the past can shape your future

How the past can shape your future

Teenaged Lexi is starting at a new school, again, and hoping that - this time - she can last a year. Because she has had to leave every other school when her past has caught up with her... We ask author TE CARTER to tell us more about ALL WE COULD HAVE BEEN!

Q: All We Could Have Been is your second novel after your debut I Stop Somewhere. What was your path into becoming an author, and what other kinds of work do you do / have you done?

A: I've always loved writing, and I can remember writing as far back as my memories go. With that said, I played around with the idea of being a writer when I was younger, but it was mostly an idea as opposed to an actual plan. As I got out of school and began working, I would plug away at things, sometimes more actively than others, but it was still a hobby more than something I was pursuing. At some point, I did actively try to get published, and the process was disheartening, so I gave up for a while.

I floundered in different careers - everything from retail to education to counselling to finance. I eventually reached a point in my career where I was moving around so much, and I was unhappy with every career path I'd chosen to that stage, so I made a very rash decision to quit everything and pursue writing seriously.

It resulted in a lot of manuscripts that were rejected and a lot of frustration as I tried to decide what stories I wanted to tell and which ones I needed to tell, but it also set me on both my current career path (which is in career development, ironically) and allowed me to focus on creative writing as well.

Q: In All We Could Have Been, you look at memories and how they can shape our future. Why did you want to explore this idea?

A: My writing comes from a very personal place, which is why I tend to be somewhat reserved and private when it comes to talking much about it. Having experienced significant trauma in my life at various points and knowing how these things can shape the way you experience later events, I have always thought about how much of our perception is based on our personal journeys. It was something I hadn't seen a lot of work addressing, so I decided I would gather my own thoughts on the topic.

Q: What is strongest for you in triggering memories - smell, sight or sound? Was there a memory from your earlier years that helped trigger the idea for this novel?

A: I think it's smell. There are certain smells that can bring me back 10 years in a moment. Sounds are second, as songs especially can put you in a certain place based on when you first heard them or if they played a role in a major moment of your life, but smell does it much faster.

As far as memories that triggered the novel, there are a few themes to the story but the main plot point includes the events that happened with Lexi's brother five years earlier; this was based, unfortunately, on a real situation that happened in the town where I grew up.

Q: Your narrator, Lexi, has terrible memories from the past that dictate how she lives her present. What journey did you want to take her on through this novel?

A: My primary goal was to let Lexi define her journey. When dealing with trauma and facing struggles with mental health, it's important that there's no one saying, "This is how you have to do it". We all handle situations differently, and I wanted to show that through Lexi and the people around her.

Her situation is terrible, yes, but it's hers, and despite how it affects others, only she can define what it means for her. That was the main thing I wanted her to learn, and I also wanted her to see how these journeys played out a bit for other people so she could realize that there's no one way to move forward.

Q: Did you need to research how past trauma can continue to affect people?

A: I feel like I should say, yes, I do a ton of research when writing, but the truth is, I don't. I write from my own experiences, and it's important to me that it's clear it's only one perspective on these experiences.

If I had set out to write about trauma as it affected various people - maybe capturing the point of view of multiple people connected to the same trauma - I'm sure I would have approached it differently. However, my goal was to tell one person's journey, but in so doing, hopefully also note that it's just one journey out of many.

Trauma plays out differently for a lot of people, and I tackled this a bit more in I Stop Somewhere; still, I feel like it's impossible to capture all the ways it can affect a person, and I think even if you talked to 100 different people and got 100 different answers, the 101st person could come along and tell you their experience was nothing like the first 100.

Q: You also look at how Lexi is judged, because of a past that was inflicted on her. Was this something that you also needed to research, perhaps through media stories, and also how we might all guilty of judging people through our own personal lenses?

A: Again, this story is heavily based on something real that happened where I grew up, and while that was quite different in many ways, I have never forgotten some of the aftermath. What I decided to do was take that memory, my own experiences with this topic, and some of the interactions I saw daily through social media or in how we judge and define celebrities, bringing them together into one girl's story about recapturing your own narrative and defining yourself without the input and judgments of others.

One thing I tried to capture as well is that even Lexi, who knows firsthand how hard it is, does this at times; we all do, and it's less about pretending we don't and more about recognising the role we all play in trying to take over other people's stories.

Q: Like many teenagers, Lexi struggles with her identity but are you also exploring through the novel how our childhood, memories and friendships help to shape us - all things that Lexi feels she has lost?

A: Lexi has had a really tough time of it, but her story isn't that different from anyone's, when you really think about it. Ryan has his own crisis of identity, as does Marcus, and we even see this to a lesser extent through some of the girls Lexi befriends.

The scale and the details might change, but we all struggle with defining ourselves, letting go of what other people think of us, and trying to decide what pieces of our lives that are beyond our control (where we grow up, how we're raised, the people we love and hate, etc.) deserve to play a role in telling our stories.

Q: Are there books you read or films you saw as a teenager that helped create the person you are today?

A: Well, I'm definitely dating myself here, but I always say I survived high school because of certain books and films. My favorite novel growing up was The Catcher in the Rye, which is really cliche, but it was the first time I'd read something with a character who was deeply conflicted in a way that made me feel like my own experiences and perspective didn't make me "wrong" somehow.

I, of course, loved the John Hughes films, but I can't say I really related to them on a personal level. My favorite film as a teenager was either Penelope Spheeris' Suburbia or Fire Walk with Me (the Twin Peaks movie). I haven't seen Suburbia all the way through again since I was in high school or in the first years of college, and I can't even imagine what I'd think of it now. I almost don't want to watch it again because of that. And I won't even try to guess what my love of Twin Peaks as a teenager says about me! My parents would probably be shocked that I was even watching these movies.

Q: What top three books / authors would you recommend to our YA readers?

A: For YA books, even though they're nothing like my writing, I really love the His Dark Materials series. I also adore the writing style of The Book Thief, and for something contemporary, I think Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was a refreshingly realistic look at illness, mostly because it illustrates how detached we often are from these huge moments that play out in other people's lives except for theoretically.

Q: Where and when do you prefer to write? What are you writing now?

A: I definitely prefer writing at night, and I prefer writing somewhere quiet where I can be alone.

Right now, I'm working on a few ideas, although nothing has been sticking lately. I think writing has gotten significantly harder for me after being published. Because I write from such a deeply personal place, it was easier to do so when there was no reality in which anyone was reading those thoughts. Now, I agonize over every sentence and feel like I'm saying everything wrongly.

I've stepped back for a bit to take a break, and I only just got back into working on something again because I needed to return to a place where I was only writing for the catharsis of it.

Q: What are your favourite escapes from writing?

A: I absolutely love film. I'm a huge fan of foreign, classic, and indie films, so I'm always looking for some obscure film that inspires me. And I play a lot of video games. Admittedly, it's sporadic, because I go through times when I don't want to play, but when I find a game I like, I can lose all sense of time and place. Right now, I'm replaying Borderlands, and it's just such a joy to lose yourself in a game as ridiculous and chaotic as that.

All We Could Have Been by T.E. Carter is out 2nd May (7.99 Paperback, Simon & Schuster)

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