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The Light That Gets Lost

Natasha Carthew

When Trey witnesses the murder of his parents as a child, he spends his teenaged years planning his revenge. He is eventually sent to the correctional Camp Kernow for young people, where he plans to enact that revenge.

There, the regime of farming and butchering is tough but gradually, Trey begins to bond with a small group of friends and to see his beyond his desire for revenge.

However, when the adults in charge of the camp abandon their charges, events soon get out of control and violence errupts. Trey has to decide whose side he is one and whether it is his past, or his future, that will win through.

We were able to speak with author Natasha Carthew about The Light That Gets Lost and she answered the following questions for us:

Q: The Light That Gets Lost is set in Cornwall where you live. How important is it for you to know the area you are writing about?

A: My settings and where I am physically are so important for me as a writer. I do a lot of my writing outside where I can see the sky and the moors, and the settings in my stories are quite wild. You can put your characters wherever you want and I don't want them to be somewhere where they have phones or television; those get in the way of storytelling. I have to have them in a world where you can really throw things at them and see how they cope.

Q: Why do you choose to write in the local dialect? Does this make dialogue harder to write?

A: I write in dialect because that's how the characters talk in my head, that's how they all speak. For me it's like watching scenes in my head, almost like a film, and I just write it down as the words are spoken.

I'd be worried about writing dialogue that wasn't in dialect because when it's like this, the characters almost write the story themselves.

Q: Your characters are often very disturbed young people who need to turn their lives around. How do you manage to think your way into their mindset?

A: I was a very angry teenager, a wild child. I did things as a student that I shouldn't have done so I find it easy to write about these kinds of characters. It's good to be able to tap into that time in my life.

There can be things in your life that turn you upside down and you go off the rails and eventually you just become that kind of person. I can see how that happens to young people and the question is, how do you find a way to get your life back on track again?

The books I write show that, while you might have messed up your life so far, you can turn things around at any point. Reading about characters who manage to do that can help change a person's life because it opens up their world and its possibilities.

In the end, Trey finds friends who become a kind of family to him. It doesn't matter what your past is or where you came from, if there is just one person around you who isn't interested in drink and drugs, it can help change your life.

Q: The young people in your story end up at Camp Kernow that promises much more than it delivers. Have you based the camp on a specific place?

A: I wanted the camp to sound perfect and to those who have never been there, it does, because they think the young people sent there are learning a trade; but no one really wants to know if that is the case or not.

I was thinking about young offender institutions when I wrote that and I have done some research into that area. I don't think young offender institutions work because they are so overcrowded and because they are not focused on rehabilitation. These units need to be smaller and to be more caring.

No one at these institutions has the time to get to the crux of the problems of the young people who have been incarcerated there. I remember the story of one girl who was in and out of care, she was adopted and then she was unadopted; that was her life. Where was the love? She had so many social workers and staff involved in her life but inside she was just very angry. That's what I meant about the 'light that gets lost'.

Q: So although there is a sense of dystopia in the novel, these are very current issues you're exploring?

A: People might read The Light That Gets Lost and think it's fantasy or dystopia but I don't think we are far from the kind of world where young people are locked away and forgotten about, because it's easier to do that.

Look around at the economy, and decisions that are being taken and which are making it harder for people who are already poor to get by; or education, where companies invest in academies simply to make money. Cornwall, where the book is set, is beautiful but we have a big housing problem. Local people can't afford to buy their own house because so many have been bought as second homes, so people who are already poor are being made poorer.

Parts of the book are quite dark but I think all writers know that you have to say it like it is; I'm not going to pretend that everything is rosy. There are things going on like environmental damage, which young people see and think about. But I also show that things can get better.

Q: Your main character, Trey, wants to exact revenge for something that happened to him in the past. Did you always know if he would choose revenge or if he would overcome that desire?

A: At some point we all have that feeling of wanting revenge, the desire to repair a wrong, and it's very emotive in a character; readers will be rooting for him. I knew that Trey was seeking revenge but also that at some point that desire would be overtaken by something else. In the end, we see that revenge is a futile emotion, it burns you up, eats you up.

I like the fact that his anger, that uncontrollable impulse to burn things with fire, is ultimately used for good.

Q: Things get very violent at the camp where they are incarcerated. How dark can literature for young people be?

A: In the story, the young people are left to their own devices behind this fence; they are shut away from the rest of society and it gets very violent. It's an expression of what society is doing to these young people.

A lot of them have anger issues and there is a pecking order that comes into play. When that happens, you only need one or two people to say 'let's do this or that' and it raises the bar of what they will think about doing.

How far can people go when they are being driven to do things in a crowd? Look at the looting that happened during the riots in the UK; when normal people see others looting they think it's okay so they join in. It's the same with violence and I do think you could quite easily get into that situation. In the story, it's a question of survival; kill or be killed.

As an author, I've a responsibility to be honest with young people. I'm interested in truth and maybe that comes from the harshness and grittiness of my own background. You tend to write about what you know and what you're interested in. I often advise young people to write about what they know; I think that's a good starting point for writing.

Q: Can you tell us about your next book?

A: It's called Only the Ocean and it is set entirely at sea; I have broken out of the moors! It's about a girl who has had a baby and who wants to escape from everything, so she decides to sail to America. Her journey isn't a simple one but it helps her understand where she really wants to be.

Q: You started writing as a poet before moving into YA fiction. Are you still writing poetry?

A: Yes I still write poetry and at the moment I'm putting together a collection. I approach that as if I'm writing a book because I want my poems to tell a story, to have a shape and to show a journey. It makes putting together a collection a lot harder.

Q: What do you do to relax?

A: I like to relax by reading, or walking in nature. My favourite time of day is first thing in the morning and I can't wait to start writing when I wake up. I make a cup of coffee at 7am and then I'm off. I sit outside and write in my little cabin in my back garden. In the winter, if it's still dark I have a little lamp I can write by. In the summer, people often think I'm just sitting outside in the sun; they don't realise I'm actually working.

Being outside works for my writing because my characters are predominantly outside so they are there with me. I love to feel the elements and to be able to watch the sky and the clouds and trees; you can write what you see.

I run 'wild writing' sessions because, when people are outside, you see them relax in a way that they don't in front of a computer. If you live in a city then you can still experience this by going to a park or sitting by a river.

Q: How hard is it to make a living out of writing?

A: It is hard, and while there are things you can do to help support yourself like workshops and events, you have to write because you love it. It's not an easy nor a glamorous job and if you ever sat down and worked out your hourly rate, it would be in pennies rather than pounds! But to me it's still the best job in the world and it's something I love doing.

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The End:
Charlie Higson

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