Interview With Author Lorraine Pestell (A Life Singular – Part One, Contemporary Romance)

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lorraine

In your own words, please describe your book….

In short, the six-part “A Life Singular” serial is my life’s work. It represents my innermost wishes and is the sum total of my experience, all wrapped up in a story about love and wisdom.

As someone who has lived with the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for over thirty years, I turned a childhood fascination with celebrity and the popular music world into a sometimes-tender, sometimes-stark love story with two aims: first, to inspire fellow sufferers of mental illness to rise above and make a success of their lives; and second, to use the universal medium of romance to encourage non-sufferers to understand and even love us ‘weird’ people while we try to live a ‘normal’ life.

The serial also showcases beautiful Melbourne, Australia (currently Number 1 on the World’s Most Liveable Cities list, vying with Vancouver for top spot each year), along with other aspects of my adopted country. As the story unfolds, it spirits readers around the world as my protagonist and his celebrity family follow their destiny.

Proceeds from book sales go to two Australian non-profit organisations helping children in need: The Smith Family (http://www.thesmithfamily.com.au) and the School Volunteer Program (http://www.svp.org.au).

What is the genre?

Excellent question! The most appropriate standard genre is Contemporary Romance, although I’m keen for this classification not to constrain my readership. With the two goals described above, I don’t want to miss out on reaching folk who might benefit from this exposé of complex social issues. World Health Organisation statistics estimate that there are up to 350 million people with a mental illness at any one time in the developed world, so for this reason I would love my books to roam free of genre restrictions!

What inspired you to write this book?

I have always sought to understand my fellow human beings in all their glory. Well, most of them, at any rate… When I was a child, I was often to be found holed up in my bedroom writing — you remember: real writing, with a pen and paper — mostly journalistic pieces about news bulletins I had seen on the television. I would try to focus on the backstory, i.e. what causes people do the things they do?

Consequently, when my own life took a series of regrettable twists and turns (and continues to do so…) and I regularly came up against ignorance and intolerance of so-called sub-standard people like me, who do not always reflect the attributes and behaviours valued by mainstream society, I decided to convert my cute, teenaged love story about a pop star and a rock guitarist into a vehicle to address these barriers to harmony.

The potential impact of my writing was brought home to me when I launched “A Life Singular – Part One” in Perth, Western Australia, in front of 80+ people from all aspects of my life in the world’s most isolated city. As soon as I uttered the words, ‘In April 2003, I committed suicide…’ I watched 80+ jaws drop open and 160+ feet begin to shuffle uncomfortably. My friends and associates had absolutely no clue as to what I’ve been through, so practised have I become at pretending to be normal.

I am not normal, and neither are many of my fellow sufferers. Our symptoms require the same remedies as their recognised and well-understood physical counterparts, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and even cancers. Neglected mental illness can become a genuine disability and force us to lead underproductive and unfulfilled lives. Regardless of the original cause of our mental illness, without appropriate treatment and support, normality will remain an illusion.

If the statistics are accurate, today’s society is missing out on some much-needed extra ideas, energy and effort. Up to 350 million individuals are not fully-functional and therefore excluded on some level. I hope by reaching as wide an audience as possible, I can go some way towards demystifying the complex world of the human mind and help people to value difference as much as similarity!

Will this book be a standalone or part of a series?

As the title suggest, this is the first of a six-part serial which follows our handsome billionnaire rock star, Jeff Diamond, through the process of writing his autobiography. Following old-fashioned, three act dramatic structure, Part One begins with his wife’s murder and the outpouring of both private and public grief at the loss of one half of Australia’s favourite celebrity couple.

Parts Two to Five follow Jeff and his teenaged children back through their spectacular life. We find out how the couple first met, and the chapters chart how Lynn Dyson, a privileged child-star, came to terms with the scars of her lover’s violent childhood, and how together they turned themselves into much-loved megastar philanthropists who took the world by storm.

Difficult and very real societal problems, such as childhood neglect, domestic violence, substance abuse, addiction, and the myriad mental health conditions which result, are dealt with across the rest of the series, dominated by the couple’s enduring love and their endless pursuit of wisdom.

Suicide and the eternal question ‘Whose choice is it to live or die?’ run through the whole story, until Part Six takes us beyond this resolution in an unexpected but inspiring way. I know this because I have already written ‘THE END’ 

What books are similar to this one?

So far, I haven’t come across anything very similar to “A Life Singular”. Contemporary authors such as Jodi Picoult, Christos Tsiolkas and even Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” spring to mind, since they tend to weave social and emotional issues or motivating messages about life and love into their novels.

There have been many biographies containing accounts of living with mental illness, and obviously a large number of non-fiction books on the psychology and self-help shelves. Useful case studies about surviving mental illness and trauma are often directed deliberately towards sufferers and their families, whereas I am attempting to ‘preach to the unconverted’ by using universal fiction themes.

Much of my inspiration comes from 18th and 19th century European literature (Hugo, Dostoyevski), and I also admire the writing of Paulo Coelho (“The Alchemist”). Each part of the “A Life Singular” serial owes its roots to a particular classic novel, all of which maintain a strong social justice undercurrent.

Where can readers find your book?

Parts One and Two are complete at the present time, and I hope to finish the remaining parts at six-monthly intervals. In order for the nominated charities to receive maximum benefit, I am selling all e-book formats directly from my website: http://www.ALifeSingular.net. I can also ship paperbacks within Australia and to New Zealand, but unfortunately this is not a cost-effective option for farther-flung locations.

For people who prefer the normal channels, these books are available in each regional Amazon store. The link to the US site is http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00C5FH6SW. Part One is also sold from Xlibris Publishing’s website (http://bookstore.xlibris.com/Products/SKU-0503662049/A-Life-Singular–Part-One.aspx) and via their nominated outlets.

Can you tell us something about the writer behind the book?

For my sins, I have spent almost thirty years in the Information Technology industry by day; a career which has taken me from my birthplace in a north-western suburb of London to most European capitals, two years in New Jersey and New York and a short stint in sultry Singapore, before I achieved my other lifetime ambition of migrating to Australia before the turn of the millennium. Yes, I am both a geek and a nerd!

My great loves, in addition to reading and writing, are my dogs, a bottle of smooth Tempranillo, chocolate of any and every kind, far too many cappuccini and an eclectic taste in music. I learned the classical guitar as a young girl, love to sing and have played in several amateur bands and choral groups. Physical exercise has been an intermittent obsession, largely consisting of running and gymming, following the sage advice of many psychologists and counsellors. However, the older I get, the less inclined I am to add this particular torture to my day!

Volunteering for not-for-profit organisations is very important to me, again as valuable therapy which takes me away from my own demons. I provide professional consulting on a pro-bono basis and have served on arts organisation Boards, as well as mentoring teenagers who are going through challenging times. Like my gorgeous protagonist, I believe that an inclusive and holistic approach to education is the key to solving the majority of our 21st century world problems. (I wonder where he got that idea from?)

Tell us one thing about you we wouldn’t know?

Well, I could tell you that I once committed suicide, but I’ve already let that particular cat out of the bag…

I once wrote a deposition in defence of a man who threw his four-year-old daughter off Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge. [Darcey Freeman case, 2009] You’d have to wonder why anyone would do that, wouldn’t you?

I was driven to do this because I campaign for fathers’ rights in Family Court matters, having seen too frequently the resulting hardship this imbalance leaves in a child’s upbringing and the damage done to the deprived parent’s mental health.

Please let me add that this DEFINITELY DOES NOT MEAN I am opposed to same-sex marriage in favour of the “traditional” family. Indeed, I believe the best environment for children is when they are surrounded with as many positive and diverse role models as possible!

However, too often a well-intentioned father is denied access to his kids after their family fractures, usually motivated by his former partner’s vindictiveness rather than the best interests of the children. No-one benefits from this situation. <end of political statement> 

[By the way – in case my amazing parents happen to read this blog – in no way whatsoever were these views shaped by my own childhood!]

What has been the best moment in your writing career?

The best moment in my writing career so far was also the most unexpected… As mentioned, I have spent far too many years of my life in front of a computer screen and therefore would freely label myself an out-and-out e-chick. Yet when I received the first printed copy of “A Life Singular – Part One”, with my cover design, my name on the spine and my words inside, I was totally unprepared for the pride and sense of achievement I felt.

As one of my early reviewers remarked at the Perth launch, a reader doesn’t get a true sense of the length of an e-book, except by following the circle on the blue line as it progresses from left to right at the bottom of the screen. Not until the point at which my work had physical dimensions and weight did I truly feel like an author.

How did you come up with the title of your book?

The title “A Life Singular” has caused the most controversy in the publishing process (aside from my split with Xlibris when they tried to censor Part Two, but that’s a whole ‘nother story…). Most native English speakers are not accustomed to seeing an adjective follow its noun, and therefore cannot easily stretch their minds to accommodate it. However, as a tribute to the Latinate languages that enrich me, I riled against local pressure to swap the two words around. Not to mention the fact that “A Singular Life” already exists; it was written in 1898 by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.

The serial centres on a man writing his autobiography. Therefore what is it about? A Life. What kind of life? A life singular. The word ‘singular’ has many subtleties of meaning, all of which are examined in the story. The most compelling of these is the conjoined life of two soul-mates. “Everyone has a life singular. One. Unique. Extraordinary.”

How long does it take you to finish a novel?

About as long as a piece of string…  I have set myself a target of finishing the remaining four parts by the end of 2015, which will be a luxury if I remain unemployed or a significant challenge as soon as I re-enter the workforce after moving back from five years on the other side of this gigantic country. A far less significant challenge, though, to the prospect of no income for the same period!

Only time will stand in my way. I have the opposite problem to writer’s block, and in fact the evolving story constantly wakes me up in the middle of the night and demands I note down each spontaneous flash of inspiration, on pain of not returning to sleep before dawn!

The serial’s plot ends in 2016, having started in 1972, and therefore my scheduled timeline will see the story conclude in contemporary times.


How can readers connect with you?

The Internet era is a most exciting time for writers and readers, since we can enjoy a much more intimate and interactive relationship than previously. I love to hear people’s opinions of my work and am hungry for insights as to how it is received by a wide cross-section of our global community. For example, one of my former IT colleagues hated my hero with a passion until almost the very end of Part One. This was exactly the reaction I was waiting for, to see how long it would take to explain the types of reactions and defective thought processes going on behind the scenes in afflicted people’s brains.

I welcome as much contact from interested readers at possible, and can be traced to the following hangouts:


Do you have any other books already released?

Part Two was released in December 2013. Travelling back from 1996 to 1972, Jeff uses his own memories and Lynn’s diaries to piece together the first few months of their unlikely love affair. There’s quite a lot of sex and an abundance of love, plenty of laughter and some tears, but as the young star wrote in one such quotidian journal: “More than these sure-fire signals, by far the stronger drawcard was the prospect of entering into a full-on relationship with a man so tempestuously indignant about unfairness in the world. If anything, this side of her handsome stranger was even more attractive than his smouldering looks and eager body.”

What are you working on now?

Part Three is approximately halfway to completion. I’m currently working through the forced separation of two teenagers in love in the early ‘seventies, as architected by Lynn’s parents, who are ambitious for their gold-plated daughter and seek to steer her clear of this romantic rebel boyfriend who has stolen her heart and her innocence. But of course they are reunited by the end of Part Three. This does not constitute a spoiler, because otherwise why would Jeff be writing an autobiography on behalf of his dream girl in 1996?

The plan is to release Part Three by June 2014. Advance reviewers most enthusiastically accepted!


Thanks for letting us interview you!

You’re most welcome. Thank you for inviting me. Best wishes to you and your readers for many happy hours spent lost between the pages in 2014.

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