Name Lorraine Pestell
Where are you from?
I was born in Harrow, a north-western suburb of London. A global gipsy, I have lived in many corners of the globe, moving to Stirling in Scotland for university, then working in various European capitals, the USA and Singapore. I had a lifetime ambition to be in Australia for the turn of the millennium and emigrated to Melbourne in 1999. Apart from a 5-year stint in Perth, Western Australia, I’ve been in the world’s most liveable city ever since.
A little about yourself, i.e. your education, family life, etc.
The eldest of four, I had a mix of private and state school education before applying to the furthest university from home, in order to make my first strike for independence! I studied for a BSc in Management Science with French Language, aiming for a career in business because I was never confident enough to believe I could make a career out of my passions: music, writing and dogs (not necessarily in that order)…
I “fell” into IT quite quickly after graduating, largely for two reasons: one, it would allow me to work anywhere in the world without needing to re-qualify; and two, there’s scope for creativity in designing systems to solve real business problems. I’m still working full-time in IT after thirty years, which has certainly been a huge advantage when it came to digital publishing and mastering the vagaries of social media.
I developed chronic clinical depression in my early teens, which escalated rapidly to constant thoughts of suicide. Low self-esteem and a lack of understanding of my own condition unfortunately left me vulnerable to abuse of many types. A violent marriage and several other nasty life events left me with compound PTSD, culminating in a suicide attempt in 2003.
After seeing the devastating effect this had on my parents, I forced myself to seek yet more counselling and educate myself about mental illness, having promised them I’d delay my still-much-craved demise until after their own. Throughout these turbulent times, my passions remain music, writing and dogs (not necessarily in that order)!
I write for therapy, since it’s the only place where I can truly be myself. Many friends and associates encouraged me to write either my autobiography or a self-help book, but I decided to focus on a contemporary fiction serial instead. This pretty much brings us up to date!
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Lorraine: I am currently working on Part Four of my six-part novel serial, “A Life Singular”. I hope to release it in March 2015, and the remaining two parts will be released in the following 18 months.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Lorraine: I have always written, for as long as I have been able to read. In my childhood and adolescence, I became fascinated by the backstory behind news items or current affairs; wondering what drives people to behave the way they do. Invariably, there is much more to learn about a situation than what we first see or hear.
My novel serial began life as a typical teenage romance created by a lonely introvert, where my dreams of becoming a pop star led of course to true love. In my twenties however, as mentioned above, I began to broaden the same story to explore the human condition, adventures in mental illness and the important choices we make between right and wrong.
Writing became an invaluable therapeutic tool for me, and remains so to this day, along with a series of four-legged friends.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Lorraine: To be honest, I’m still not sure what a writer is, what an author is and when one transitions from one to the other! I’ve resorted to DifferenceBetween.net in order to answer this question, whereupon I found the following quote: “We often use the words author and writer interchangeably. But indeed both these words are quite different. A writer is a person who writes a book, article, or any literary piece, while an author is essentially the person who originates the idea, plot, or content of the work being written. At times, the author and writer can be the same person.”
In which case, my whole career has been spent writing, mostly via a keyboard into the computer; initially through writing computer programs, and later endless, endless, endless business cases, project plans and strategy documents.
I first considered myself a writer (and author) intending to publish in 2008, when I believed my rampant ramblings had become well enough formed to stand on their own as a story or plot.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Lorraine: As I’ve already hinted in earlier answers, my inspiration lies primarily in finding an enjoyable way to demystify and de-stigmatise mental illness. Like many others, I regularly experience discrimination, victimisation and abandonment as a result of symptoms I did not choose. With an estimated 50% of the population likely to experience a depression-related illness at some point in their lives, it would be great to make a positive difference to so many people’s quality of life.
Therefore, by choosing the universal theme of love, along with our endless fascination with celebrity, my two main goals for the books are: first, to inspire fellow sufferers to rise above their symptoms and make a success of their lives; and second, to encourage non-sufferers to tolerate, support and even love us in our quest to live “normal” lives.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Lorraine: I write in the third person and largely from a male perspective. Many people ask me why I chose a male protagonist, for which I have one tentative theory and another more concrete reason.
For the former, I have always identified more closely with men than women, choosing a male-dominated career and having little interest in typical female pastimes. The latter is more deliberate, in that it is often harder for a man to open up about mental illness, given that uneducated opinion tends to equate it with weakness, and also because men don’t naturally talk openly about their problems.
By making my protagonist a highly successful rock star who hides very dark secrets, it allows me to illustrate the contrast between outside and inside much more starkly. Hopefully it will also encourage male readers to seek or provide help too…
I also play around with the passage of time throughout the serial, using both flash-backs and flash-forwards. Lastly, because the books often deal with harrowing or difficult topics, I also use a lot of humour, particularly in dialogue.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Lorraine: The main premise of “A Life Singular” is of a celebrity writing his autobiography after his soul-mate is fatally wounded by a rogue gunman. Therefore, the story is primarily about a life, and a very singular life in each of this complex word’s meanings: the soul-mates lived as if they shared one life; the combination of two such different personalities into a partnership that achieved so much was unique; and their spectacular careers in the entertainment world’s spotlight made their life truly extraordinary.
Notwithstanding the fact that I later found out that Elizabeth Stuart Phelps wrote a book called “A Singular Life” in 1898, I had already chosen to use European word order for my title, paying homage to the Latinate languages my protagonist and I are so fond of.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Lorraine: Yes, as we find out halfway through “A Life Singular – Part One”, we are all in a minority of one, i.e. everyone is different. I’d love for my writing to help readers to open their minds to what lays behind people’s eyes. For whatever reason someone is different to us – whether religious beliefs, political views, ethnic background, mental state, sexual orientation or even introvert versus extrovert, we should never measure a person by who we assume they are.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Lorraine: All of it! Certainly my characters live in a privileged world of wealth and acclaim, but there are many celebrities and figures of world renown in this position, with the most notable recent examples being Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams.
The mental scars my protagonist bears are sadly the fate of far too many children born into situations of neglect and abuse, and the ability of a loving relationship to turn life around for a person with depression is absolutely realistic, yet far, far too rare, I’m afraid.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Lorraine: Although “A Life Singular” is by no means my own story, I call on many of my own experiences and symptoms to illustrate how the characters’ minds work and how different situations affect them. There are many events in the books that have basis in true stories either of people I know or which have been in the media.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Lorraine: My literary influences are definitely European authors from the last few centuries, particularly Victor Hugo, Eugène Ionesco and Honoré de Balzac. In recent times, I love Paulo Coelho’s work, and the book that originally hooked me into reading was “Watership Down” by Richard Adams, which was recommended to me by my fantastic English teacher, Miss Baker.
Each of the six books in my serial is twinned with a particular classic novel by a favourite author.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Lorraine: I have two books on the go currently. One is “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez, who sadly passed away last year, and the other is “Pieces of You” by JF Elferdink, which I’m reviewing for a fellow indie author.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Lorraine: I review many books by new, indie authors, since I believe we need to support each other on our intrepid journey. One stand-out début I read last year was “Fragile Peace” by DJ Bowman-Smith, a fantasy which made me glow inside. And in complete contrast, the funniest book I found last year was “Mörön to Mörön” by Tom Doig, a New Zealand-born Melbourne resident who cycled across Mongolia with a friend.
My most awe-inspiring recent read was Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries”, which won the Man Booker prize in 2013. It’s a whopping 850 pages long, every single one of which held such magic, and it gives me hope that people might be willing to submerge themselves into my own, very long books in a similar way.
And I ought not to omit the wonderful Graeme Simsion, who’s a fellow IT professional from Melbourne and wrote “The Rosie Project”. This charming and romantic comedy is to Aspergers what “Rainman” was to Autism. “The Rosie Effect” has just been published, and Graeme’s working on the screenplay for the first book for Sony Pictures.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
Lorraine: I’m currently a couple of weeks away from final draft stage for “A Life Singular – Part Four”. I hope to release it in March this year, with Parts Five and Six to come over the following 18 months. It’s my aim to release the final book by the end of 2016, which will see it set in contemporary times.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Lorraine: I always dedicate my books to someone who has assisted me with the serial in a big way. Part One was dedicated to the three high school students whom I mentored through an Australian charity for disadvantaged children, The Smith Family (http://www.thesmithfamily.com.au). Along with another similar organisation, the School Volunteer Program (http://www.svp.org.au), these two organisations provide an invaluable service to young people struggling with challenging lives. Sales proceeds from my books go to these two non-profit organisations.
Part Two is dedicated to my old dog, Jed, who died at 14 last year. I have since taken on a 7-year-old rescued Belgian Shepherd, so she should really share the honours going forward! Part Three is for a very good friend, Mike Stambrey, and Part Four will be dedicated to Jenny Bax Alvarado, who is my eagle-eyed proof-reader and provider of feedback extraordinaire.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Lorraine: I would love to be able to give up my well-paid IT job and focus on writing full-time, but I don’t anticipate being able to do so unless a miracle happens. If a movie company wishes to catapult “A Life Singular” into the big-time, like “The Rosie Project”, I seriously doubt I would hesitate to tender my resignation!
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Lorraine: With hindsight, splitting the story into six parts was probably not enough. Each book is very long, which puts some readers off, although others have said how much they enjoyed plunging so deeply into a great story. Once Part Six is complete, I may go back and subdivide them as new editions.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Lorraine: Miss Baker, my early high-school English teacher, not only introduced us to literature and nurtured my love of reading, but she also brought the structure of language to life. Probably a pre-cursor to my IT career, deconstructing a sentence and learning how to parse its constituent parts have put me streets ahead of virtually everyone I know when it comes to writing with confidence. I have no qualms in bending certain rules either!
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Lorraine: I’d love to, thank you! Here’s a sneak preview of “A Life Singular – Part Four”, due out in March. Our millionnaire rock star protagonist, Jeff Diamond, is visiting his father for the first time in ten years. He’s in a Sydney prison, serving a life sentence. His son wants to settle a score with the man who left him with significant physical and mental scars: endless nightmares, paranoia and debilitating phobia. He proudly sets out a few photographs of the success he’s achieved in spite of his past.
“‘Just because someone likes what you don’t like doesn’t make them queer, Dad,’ the young superstar insisted. ‘Look at my life! I bet your mates’d trade places with me any day. Look at my bloody car…’
Jeff leafed through the small selection of photographs again and dealt one of him sitting in the driving seat of his sleek, black Aston Martin, with its personalised licence plate beneath the front grille. He could sense his father was impressed, and that was good enough for him. He was willing to bet that if he left this picture with his father today, it would soon find its way around the other inmates, regardless of the lack of kudos it might receive in his presence.
‘What I like…’ he continued, taking the photograph back. ‘That poncy, queer stuff, as you call it, has brought me more success than you’d ever have. Think about it, man. Why the hell wouldn’t I have wanted out of that life? What was there for someone like me to gain? None of those gangs had it easy, did they?’
His father sniffed. Jeff could tell the old man’s patience was running thin too, but he had waited many years to talk to him like this.
‘Sure they had money, flash cars and the rest… But those blokes had to watch their backs wherever they went, just like you.’
And just like me, come to think of it, Jeff conceded, though only to his own conscience. Hopefully his dad didn’t possess the intelligence to see through the gaping hole in this particular argument. A huge pang of longing broke free of his heart during this small epiphany, leaving him short of breath. The smartest arse-end of a pantomime horse in history, patiently waiting in their favourite Sydney hotel, would have pounced on such a careless flaw in an instant.
The superstar carried on, determined to make his point. ‘No wonder you don’t care about being in here,’ he shrugged. ‘Much safer than being on the Stones, isn’t it? Much less to worry about; watching your back the whole time… What was it about that so-called life you wanted so badly?’
Paul Diamond raised his right hand to his forehead, moving his finger around in a circle and mimicking the deranged grin of a madman. ‘You’re crazy, mate,’ he jeered. ‘What the fuck are you talking about? You always were so fucking weird. Wanting to know everything and coming on all high and mighty, like you knew better than the rest of us.’
‘Yeah. Maybe I am crazy,’ his son nodded, refusing to be riled into raising his voice again. ‘You made me this way. If not from birth, then certainly from the day you ended up in here.’
‘No, Dad,’ the young man sighed, wondering how much longer he ought to prolong this discussion in order to complete the acquittal either to himself or to his gorgeous lover. ‘Fuck you. What made you think I’d be into the gangland way of life? Your own dad wasn’t.’
‘Me own dad?’ the prisoner echoed. ‘What a useless piece of shit he was. No spine, no guts. At least I stood up to the bastards… How the hell would you know anyway? You were just a kid.’
‘Yes, I was just a kid. And so was Lena. Exactly my point, but whatever… Your father didn’t want you doing all that shit, but he left you alone, didn’t he? All I wanted was for you to leave us alone too. I didn’t care what you did with your life. Just don’t drag innocent kids into that messed-up, sick world of yours. It wasn’t fair, Dad. Look what it did to Mamá…’
Jeff waited for the faintest sign that his mother’s life and death held some significance for the man on the other side of the table. He thought he saw a faint flicker of disturbance flash across the deeply-lined forehead. Did those sunken eyes blink infinitesimally more slowly for a few seconds?
Maybe not. It had been a very long time since this deadbeat had been required to feel anything, the philosopher supposed. Indeed, if their roles were reversed and he himself were faced with spending the rest of his life in prison, there was little doubt he would be hard pressed to want to feel anything either.
‘D’you know who paid for Bubshka’s funeral, Dad?’ the twenty-four-year-old asked, leaning forward again and laying his hands flat on the formica surface between them. ‘And for Mamá’s, for that matter?’
‘Fairies at the bottom of the garden?’ the old man snapped back, clearly very proud of himself for thinking of something so facetious to say to his jumped up, university-educated wuss of a son.
Jeff gritted his teeth, ready to lash out. Instead, he pointed an angry index finger back at his own chest.
‘Me,’ he spat. ‘I paid for them. A teenaged kid, working in the butchers’, hacking up dead animals into snags and chasing round after idiots who couldn’t run their own lives.’
His father faltered, suddenly whithering into his seat. ‘Then I guess I should say thanks.’
The musician drew breath, momentarily floored by this unexpected expression of gratitude. His natural reaction was to disbelieve the prisoner’s sincerity, yet his well-trained, conciliatory side opted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Jeff Diamond could be very persuasive. People often told him so. It seemed that his persistence had paid off. Perhaps the pitiful sentimentality in his words had penetrated the old man’s thick skull after all.
‘Listen, Dad,’ he continued, doing his best to smile. ‘When your mum died, I was sixteen and I didn’t even feel sad. I was totally fucked in the head. To me, hers was just another unhappy soul released from that shithole of a life while I was still stuck there trying to make sense of it all. You know, I dragged Lena along to the funeral, and she cried! She hadn’t seen Bubshka in two years and she still cried. Me, I just sat there and thought about girls.’
Jeff’s father sat forward, the previous malice gone from his eyes. ‘Listen, you Countdown clown, I didn’t even get to go to my mum’s funeral,’ he mocked. ‘I’m the one banged up, eh? I didn’t get to go to me wife’s funeral neither. No-one told me ‘til after it was over.’
It was strangely heartening to hear the old man fight back, even though there was no real venom in his tone this time. The musician reached his left hand across the table and squeezed his father’s wrist, chuckling chuckled at the hurtful jibe.
‘I know. I’m sorry about that too. Would you have wanted to go?’
If he were honest, Jeff highly doubted the hardened criminal would have attended his wife’s funeral, had he been free to make the choice at the time, minus the facility of reflection during his many years of incarceration.
Paul flicked his arm upwards, instantly belittling his son’s gesture of reconciliation. No longer disturbed by the rejection however, the celebrity slowly withdrew his hand and placed it on his thigh under the table. He recognised himself in his father’s behaviour, or rather his former self, pre-Lynn; the self who would go to any lengths not to reveal his true feelings. This path to reconciliation was destined to be a slow process. Thinking he should draw the meeting to a close, his blood chilled with fear at having to go through this several times.
What was it that they had started today? And where might it end?
The millionnaire sighed and cursed his naïve expectations. It was unlike Lynn not to have warned him of the need to take things slowly and that it would take time to break through. But no, Jeff smiled. The more likely scenario was that she had deliberately left him to come to this conclusion on his own, so as not to discourage him at the outset.
Christ Almighty! This woman was so absolutely perfect for him. There was no clear end in sight, nor even a real understanding as to the end he sought, yet the new husband had to own up to a definite catharsis taking place deep inside.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Lorraine: Only having enough time to do it! With a full-time job, spending time with a dog who spends all day on her own, and various volunteering commitments, I can never spend enough time doing what I love best.
On top of this, I recently invested in a publicity campaign in the US and UK, which has required me to prepare for radio interviews at all sorts of strange hours of the night, to fit in with international schedules.
The marketing campaign has presented an additional challenge for me, particularly with UK journalists who have a penchant for the salacious. Even though my books are most definitely not about my own trials and tribulations, they want to focus more on dragging up my traumatic past than concentrating on the message of my books.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Lorraine: I would have to say Victor Hugo, although I like different writers for different aspects. I love Victor Hugo’s ability to describe the inner workings of his characters’ minds, and to rarely repeat an idea or expression even when it belongs to a central theme of the novel.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Lorraine: I tend to travel in my memory, since most events in my books are set in places where I have lived and worked. Occasionally I have driven to a particular Melbourne location to soak up the atmosphere if I think I’ve forgotten some details. With Mr Google, Ms Wikipedia and their innumerable e-friends, these days there is far less need to travel for fact-checking, although I have found some howling geographical and cultural errors in books written by authors about a country they don’t know too well!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Lorraine: I was very fortunate to come across Ida Janssen from Amygdala Design (http://www.amygdaladesign.net/) via Twitter. Ida lives in Norway, and we collaborated on the covers over e-mail. I provided stock photographs and some of my own, and it was amusing trying to explain dry, brown Australian landscapes to someone who spends most of her life surrounded by snow!
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Lorraine: I am fortunate never to find writing hard, which is lucky because my sanity depends on it. The words simply tumble out of my fingers, and I often wake to six or seven yellow sticky notes on my bedside table, covered front and back with nocturnal scribbles! If anything, the hardest part is switching off and concentrating on work…
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Lorraine: I am constantly learning, both about myself and about others. My most important early lesson was plucking up the courage to let someone else read my story. It took a long time to offer it to a few friends, and I was always too shy and tongue-tied to “sell” it. However, as soon as I made the decision to set it free, all my fears mysteriously evaporated!
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Lorraine: I feel it is a little presumptuous of me to offer advice, but I would encourage writers not to be afraid to write from the heart. I have been blown away by feedback from readers who have appreciated the depth and complexity of emotions I have my characters express.
What I will also say is that, being an e-chick of considerable vintage, I rarely read physical books myself. However, when I received the first ever paperback copy of “A Life Singular – Part One”, with the cover I helped to design and my photograph and biography on the cover, the level of pride and satisfaction I felt was most unexpected. The size of an e-book is hard to discern on an e-reader, apart from percent complete or a dot on a thin blue line, but when I saw the dimensions and felt the weight of my words, I realised how much work had gone into creating this rather old-fashioned object.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Lorraine: Only “Thank you!” I love hearing how my books affect readers, whether positive or negative. I’m always really interested in people’s reactions to my central characters and the challenges they have in dealing with life’s complications.
This serial is my life’s work, and I truly hope it helps in some small way to reduce the hardship felt by many sufferers of mental health issues, and also by their families and friends.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Lorraine: No, but I expect my mother would! She remembers absolutely everything, and probably even still has all our books in the loft. The earliest book to leave an impression on me was “Watership Down” by Richard Adams, which I read at 12 years old.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Lorraine: Absolutely everything makes me cry, particularly if I haven’t taken my medication! And I use humour as a defence mechanism, always cracking jokes in the office to make the people around me happier and to stop them finding out about “the real me”.
When Robin Williams finally managed to end his life, so many social media comments told of people’s surprise that someone so funny and talented could wish to commit suicide. I completely understand; depression is not something we can control by forcing ourselves to be happy. In fact, it’s exhausting to continually pretend we’re happy for everyone else’s sake, as my protagonist knows only too well! The reality is, “If you’re sad, you’re sad.”
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would like to meet and why?
Lorraine: Wow! Only one? Well, Victor Hugo, obviously. Or probably Elvis Presley. As usual, I would like to discover their backstory.
I wanted to meet Barack Obama when he first won the US Presidency, to ask him to start preparing a successor immediately. Eight years are simply not enough to effect lasting change.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
Lorraine: She should never have come!
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Lorraine: Spending time with Nikki, my 7-year-old Belgian Shepherd dog, whom I took on as a rescue case in August 2014. She has many behavioural issues which we’re working through, but she’s incredibly affectionate to those she trusts. We spend hours in wild spots chasing rabbits and foxes, although neither of us stand a chance of catching any!
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Lorraine: I watch very little television; mostly the news and the odd drama. There was an Australian series called “The Code” that aired last year which was well-written with sophisticated characters. Similarly with movies, I prefer art-house to mainstream. Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” with Cate Blanchett was amazing, and “Seven Psychopaths”, starring Colin Farrell and Christopher Walken, directed by Martin McDonagh, was hilarious.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Lorraine: Food – chocolate and indian curries; colour – green; music – anything with complex lyrics, e.g. Don Henley, Billy Joel, Alanis Morissette.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Lorraine: I have been an IT professional for over thirty years now, so I suppose I would have continued to do this. If I couldn’t be a writer in my spare time, I would have left this world by now.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Lorraine: Yes, my serial’s website can be found at http://www.ALifeSingular.net, and I blog on writing and mental illness at http://ALifeSingular.com. I’m also on Twitter as @LorrainePestell, and my Facebook fanpage is https://www.facebook.com/ALifeSingular
ecause sales proceeds from my books go to two Australian charities supporting disadvantaged children, I usually direct people to my website to buy e-books (and physical books within Australia). The charities receive more money this way. The website link is http://www.ALifeSingular.net. Unfortunately, it’s not cost-effective for me or readers to ship real books outside Australia.
I’ll also provide UK and US Amazon links – not sure which you normally use.
A Life Singular – Part One (UK)- http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00I2CQAX4
A Life Singular – Part One (US) – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I2CQAX4
A Life Singular – Part Two (UK) – http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00HAVJEMC
A Life Singular – Part Two (US) – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HAVJEMC
A Life Singular – Part Three(UK) – http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00LLB9LIO
A Life Singular – Part Three (US) – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LLB9LIO
Thank you, Fiona, for featuring me on your blog. We independent authors really appreciate the exposure you afford us! Best wishes for 2015 to you and your readers.