Today we are chatting with Maura Pierlot author of Fragments: Journeys from Isolation to Connection
Read on for more about Maura, her book, and a giveaway!
Meet Maura Pierlot!
Maura Pierlot is an award-winning author and playwright who hails from New York, but has called Canberra, Australia home since the early 1990s. Her writing delves into complex issues including memory, identity, self and, more recently, mental health. Following its sellout 2019 season in Canberra, Maura’s debut professional theatre production, Fragments is being adapted for the digital space, supported by artsACT. The work is published online by Australian Plays Transforms and in print by Big Ideas Press. Maura is a past winner of the SOLO Monologue Competition, Hothouse Theatre for her play, Tapping Out. Her plays have been performed in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. A former medical news reporter and editor of Australian Medicine, Maura also writes for children and young adults. In 2017 she was named winner of the CBCA Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program, and recipient of the Charlotte Waring Barton Award, for her young adult manuscript, Freefalling (now True North). Maura’s debut picture book, The Trouble in Tune Town won the 2018 ACT Writing and Publishing Award (Children’s category) along with international accolades. Maura’s poetry, short stories, microfiction and essays appear in various literary journals and anthologies. Maura has a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate, each in philosophy, specialising in ethics. When she’s not busy writing, Maura visits schools and libraries as a guest reader and speaker, serves as a Role Model for Books in Homes, and contributes reviews for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s online magazine, Reading Time.
About: Fragments: Journeys from Isolation to Connection
I feel like I’m a piece, a fragment that’s missing all the good bits, but I don’t know where to find the rest … the parts I need to work properly. I bet they wouldn’t fit anyway. (Lexy, age 17)
Raw and real. Eight young people navigating high school and beyond, each struggling to hold on – to family, to friends, to a piece of themselves.
Perhaps you know them. The bubbly girl who keeps telling you she’s okay. The high achiever who’s suddenly so intense. The young teen with the fake Instagram account. The boy challenged by communication. Every single day they, and others, are working hard to keep it together. So hard, they don’t see their friends are struggling, too.
The action of Fragments takes place in the minds and hearts of an ordinary group of eight young people. Although set in Australia, their stories could take place anywhere. Through eight imagined stories, Fragments moves from a place of disconnection to connectedness. A brave and compelling work that speaks to our times.
From the author-playwright: “I wrote Fragments to start a conversation, to give a sense of agency to young people while reaching out to their peers, families and the community. In bringing Fragments to the public, I wanted to explore the healing that may come from looking outwards, from our connectedness to each other and our realisation that we are not alone.”
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
I’m not sure that I have a favourite character, but I relate to Freya and Lexy. I’ve always been a “Type A” personality. I was a high achiever in school and, in my younger days, a workaholic. I thought this was commendable but now I’m not so sure. Lately, I realise my early focus on career could have been a form of escape and have masked some underlying anxiety. When the planes crashed into the World Trade Centre, there was a seismic shift in my psyche and anxiety morphed into a sense of dread and despair. I was convinced something terrible would happen to me, or my kids. There was a pervasive audio track in my head, one at odds with my outward demeanour, just like Freya. I also identify strongly with the character, Lexy. I grew up in a lovely home with great parents and had many opportunities so consider myself fortunate. But there was another reality behind closed doors – a grittier tale of psychological warfare, dysfunctional family dynamics and more. There were many times when I longed to be anywhere else.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the book?
The title came first. Then the play, now the book, and soon the film. I knew that I wanted to write a play on mental health, and I couldn’t shake the image of fragmentation – distorted images in shards of glass. The concept of fragmentation was the basis for there being eight characters, each telling their story, with their journeys interweaving, sometimes in ways they don’t realise. After the play enjoyed a sell-out season in Canberra, Australia in 2019, the challenge was to reshape the work to produce in print. Meanwhile, devastating bushfires struck, then COVID-19, so it hasn’t always been easy to persevere but I’m so glad that I did.
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer from then to now?
The most important thing I learned is to back myself – to shake off the self-doubt that occasionally creeps in. I’m an overthinker so this hasn’t been easy at times, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I love how the cover captures the fragmentation of the characters, how they are pieces of themselves, searching for wholeness. I also like how the Perspex in the photo distorts the images, conveying our alienation from ourselves and others. Fragments is about finding our way to the other side.
YABC: What was your favorite book in 2021?
Children’s: Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave – a sensitive portrayal of bipolar disorder set on a wild, isolated island.
YA: Off the Map by Scot Gardner – A collection of stories with an Australian flavor, piercing the heart of what it’s like to be a young person in today’s world.
Fiction: The Truth About Her by Jacqueline Maley – a wise and witty debut novel about guilt, shame, motherhood that asks the question: Who has the right to tell a story?
Non-fiction: Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion – Incisive, honest and beautifully written, as always.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
Thanks to funding from the local government, I’m adapting Fragments for the digital space. The work is being produced as a series of eight short films with eight directors, each bringing their creative vision to one of the monologues. The films will sit online but will also be produced as full-length work. I’m working on an illustrated non-fiction series for children and writing a play that explores the fundamental end-of-life question.
YABC: Is there anything that you would like to add?
I would like to encourage people to reach out if they’re struggling in any way, to know there is always someone to talk to. I’d also like to suggest that we start reframing mental health in more positive terms. When stress at work is too much, we say they’re having a ‘mental health day’. The language we use to describe mental health – mental health issues, mental health disorders, mental health ‘problems, mental health illness – is negative, a deficit-based view of mental health. We all have our up and down days. The goal isn’t the impossible ideal of perfect mental and physical health but balance, supported by resilience. I prefer to think of mental health in circular terms. Our circles overlap with those of people in our lives and we can draw strength from these connections … if we can speak openly without fear of judgment.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
There are aspects to both that I enjoy and dread. But overall, I probably enjoy the freedom of drafting more. I’m a moody writer, I don’t set out with a plan, I just write what I’m living and breathing and feeling, what’s keeping me up at night. For me, writing has always been about clarity, curiosity and connecting – in a sense, it’s a form of communion with myself and the wider world. I enjoy the freedom of thought and expression that comes from writing. I enjoy searching within while looking outwards – creating, and inhabiting new worlds through imagination, insights, and inquisitiveness. I enjoy the drama. (Everything in life is essentially a story.) That’s the ‘art’ of writing. The ‘craft’ side of the equation is equally important, but I find it to be more far more tedious and less liberating than the initial flow of words.
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
I’d say it’s my ability to teleport. The organization, time management, delegating … all that comes naturally to me after so many years in business and juggling work, family and other responsibilities for so long. I pack a lot into a day and people joke that it often seems like I’m everywhere, doing something. Perish the thought.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
I work closely with Books in Homes Australia, a charitable foundation that provides books to children in need. Children get to choose their books from a wide selection of recent titles to bring home, and the school library also receives a copy. There are many authors like me who volunteer as Role Models, visiting schools in person, or lately online, to participate in the Book Giving Assemblies. I also sponsor a small school about two hours from Canberra.
Author: Maura Pierlot
Publisher: Big Ideas Press
Release Date: October 1, 2021
Content warning: “Fragments contains coarse language and mature themes. If you or someone you know is experiencing distress and needs help, please Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime. Crisis Text Line is here for any crisis. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds, all from our secure online platform. The volunteer Crisis Counselor will help you move from a hot moment to a cool moment.”
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