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Five minutes with author Abra Pressler

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A love story with food and Canberra at the centre? Two servings, please!

More is the debut novel from Canberra-based author Abra Pressler—and that’s exactly what you’ll be asking for when you finish this delicious morsel of a love story.

Centred on a sweet-toothed romance and set in Canberra, More is the story of Luciano and Anse, who fall in love via delivery app. How very 2020!

Abra, who has served at the helm of the ACT Writers Centre Board, is a fierce advocate for Canberra’s writing community and describes More as a balm for these strange times.

In celebration of the release of More, we sat down with Abra to chat food, romantic comedy and all things Canberra.

Tell us about More and the inspiration behind it

More is a contemporary romance about community, food, ambition and finding your first love in your twenties.

As aspiring chef, Luciano Jilani, dreams of reopening his late mother’s restaurant, but as a takeaway delivery driver, he’s barely making ends meet. Austrian diplomat Anse Meyer is an abysmal cook, relying on takeaway and frozen meals as he struggles with the demands of his ‘dream job’.

When they meet via the delivery app, it’s a chance encounter. But then, Luciano is assigned his order again, and again. Eventually, they become friends and Luciano offers to teach Anse how to cook. Their relationship develops through weekly cooking lessons where they make everything from simple bruschetta to a decadent chocolate pie.

When I moved to Canberra I was really inspired by the tight-knit community, how there’s a hamlet of shops in every small suburb, and how Canberra is a thriving young city that still often feels like a small town.

The connection the characters have to the city, both established and developing, is one of my favourite pieces about the novel. I love how Luciano is besotted with Canberra, and how Anse comes to love it through loving Luciano.

Originally, I wanted to promote Canberra as wonderful, unique and romantic city that’s more than a political bubble and encourage people to visit. I still want those things, but maybe come visit next year…

More centres on a relationship forged over a love of food and Canberra—is this the kind of wholesome content we need in these crazy times?

It’s been a really rough year for everyone, and I think events this year have forced us to examine the little things we take for granted and reflect more on taking care of ourselves and others.

For me, I’ve discovered that I can’t consume media that exists to scare or frighten me—I don’t enjoy horror movies, documentaries about serial killers or violent videogames.

Throughout my early twenties, I watched Bridget Jones’s Diary religiously when I was sad; whether from a breakup or a bad day at work. Romantic comedies have such a unique way of acknowledging our grief and insecurities whilst making us feel comforted and uplifted.

I wanted to explore those complex emotions through a queer lens, letting a gay couple navigate traditional genre tropes that cis-gendered heteronormative couples have often dominated on screen and in books.

Ideally, I want someone to feel comfort when reading More—to feel like they’ve escaped for a small portion of their day.

Whether they’ve found comfort in seeing themselves reflected in the characters, feel like they’re visiting a city they’ve never been to, or they’ve tried out one of the recipes in the back of the book.

Speaking of food—were there any particular recipes or Canberra restaurants that inspired the storyline? And what are some of your favourite foodie haunts and dishes in Canberra?

Definitely! Some inspired the menu, but mostly they helped me shape and represent Canberra in the novel. Smogue is a little café nestled in the Torrens shops with such a chill ambience. I used to live in Torrens and I wrote a few scenes there. I still like driving to Smogue to write if I’m feeling blocked.

The second is Ethiopia Down Under in Pearce. The chef is such a wonderful, kind, talented woman and the food is amazing. The Yayesh Wat (beef in coconut cream sauce) and injera (a sour fermented flatbread) are my favourites. Her restaurant was the reason I put Trattoria in the Pearce shops.

Going northside, I am a big fan of Ramantic in Braddon, Raku, and Bistro Nguyen, and I loved the recently closed Chaki Chaki in Braddon. My writing group often meets at Tilley’s too, and one of my favourite places for coffee is Bittersweet in Kingston.

Throughout the book, Luciano and Anse make a variety of food. One of my favourite recipes featured is sauerkraut. It’s simply salt, cabbage and a little bit of elbow grease. I made my mum a jar of it and it was gone within four days.

Tell us about you as a writer? What was the process of writing More?

I’ve been writing since I was thirteen. I’ve always loved telling stories—long stories. I couldn’t write a short story to save my life.

During University, I was the fiction editor for our student literary journal and majored in screenwriting. After graduating, I fell into freelancing, but I always dreamed of writing book after book after book. I wrote a number of manuscripts before I felt I’d written one that was ready for publication quality-wise, had a unique message and would appeal to a broad audience; which was More.

I wrote the first draft of what would become More as screenplay for an assignment at University, but though it earnt me a good mark, I didn’t feel it had legs to go further. Looking back now, the narrative lacked a strong sense of place. Around June 2017, I was burnt out by another project and decided to adapt my old screenplay.

I was surprised at how naturally the story flowed, and how well the characters interacted with each other and their community, flowing in and out of each other’s lives. I completed the adaptation by March 2018 and spent twelve months editing and refining it. When the book was ready, Luciano and Anse had become such a staple in my life it was hard to say goodbye.

Recently, I’ve toyed with the idea of a sequel focusing on another character in the book, and the idea is slowly gaining momentum, so I think it’ll be fun to revisit the community from another perspective.

What’s next?

My next big plan is to coordinate a launch for More when it’s safe to do so. It launched online on 30 May and I climbed Mt Ainslie to celebrate.

Previously, I’d been petrified of hosting a physical launch event but the reception to the book has been so wonderful, it’s helped me get over those jitters. Plus, having something to look forward to keeps us all going.

I’m currently editing a novella to be released in December and then I’m focusing on my next novel about a tennis player and a musician who fall in love over the summer in Melbourne.

I’m hoping to infuse everything I loved about living in Melbourne into the storyline; the diversity, the bars and cafes hidden in nooks and corners, the nightclubs, and the drag scene.

Find out more about More at abrapressler.com

 

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