All Stirred Up
by Brianne Moore
Winter is a great time to escape into books that feature food, a bit of romance and family drama. Brianne Moore’s All Stirred Up offered a modern take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion that features competing restaurateurs, interfering family and the captivating backdrop of Edinburgh, Scotland. Susan Napier is fighting to save her family’s business when an old boyfriend emerges as her chief rival. Throw in a gossip blogger and family complications, and it is difficult to know how it will all end up. Moore shared her journey from inspiration to finished work.
AUTHORLINK: Tell me about your apprenticeship as a creative writer. Did you have a mentor(s) who offered advice that has stayed with you that you can share with us?
“I just wrote! I didn’t work with any specific mentors…”
MOORE: I can’t say I had an apprenticeship, really. I just wrote! I didn’t work with any specific mentors, but I did belong to a fantastic writers’ group called the Rogue Writers, and their feedback was invaluable.
AUTHORLINK: Where did the idea for All Stirred Up come from?
MOORE: I’d read several Jane Austen adaptations, updates, and spinoffs and started to notice that, while there are plenty based on Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility, there weren’t many based on Persuasion. That surprised me, because Persuasion’s story seems like one of the easiest to adapt to the modern day. It’s essentially about a bad breakup, and the couple finding a way to get back together. I think most of us have faced at least some part of that!
As a sort of playful exercise, I started to think about what I would do with the story, if I were to adapt it. And then I thought, ‘Well, why don’t I go ahead and do it?’ So, I did!
AUTHORLINK: You grew up around bakers and chefs. What is it about restaurant culture that made you think it would be a great setting for a novel?
MOORE: It can be a very dramatic, tough, cutthroat business that tends to attract very creative people, often with big personalities. So, it seemed perfect for a novel. There’s also definitely a dark side to the restaurant business—chefs can be a pretty hard-living lot, as Anthony Bourdain showed us in his fantastic book, Kitchen Confidential. There was so much potential for drama there, I couldn’t resist!
AUTHORLINK: You gave a nod to Jane Austen in your acknowledgements. How has her spirit infused this book?
“The story is built around strong female characters…”
MOORE: Jane is woven through the book in many ways. From a storytelling perspective, I tried to keep her balance of humorous moments and weightier subject matter, as well as contemporary social commentary. The story is built around strong female characters, some really growing and evolving and finding their worth, others being quite exasperating a lot of the time, which is something I tend to closely associate with Austen’s work.
I’ve also sprinkled little Austen Easter eggs throughout the novel: some of the chapter titles are quotes from her books, a minor character shares an anecdote that mirrors an event in Persuasion, and Susan’s grandfather’s name, Elliot, is a nod to Anne Elliot, Persuasion’s heroine.
AUTHORLINK: Talk about Edinburgh and the influence of place on the story.
MOORE: I was living in Edinburgh when I wrote the novel, and I love the city so much I couldn’t resist setting the story there. Like the two main characters in the book, there’s a lot of dynamic tension and contrast here: between past and present, wealth and deprivation. It’s an incredibly vibrant place that somehow becomes even more vibrant during the Festival season in the summer (which is when the novel is set). I really wanted to get across how amazing the city is, how much there is to discover, how fun and beautiful and steeped in history. It’s like no other place I’ve ever lived, and I put a lot of my own delight into Susan as she explores and falls in love with her new home.
AUTHORLINK: The book is a romance but is about so much more, loss, family relationships, addiction, finding your own value. How did you pull that off? Were you ever surprised at the direction the story took?
“I think a lot of these themes flowed naturally from the central narrative…”
MOORE: I think a lot of these themes flowed naturally from the central narrative—the previous breakup and gradual reconciliation of Susan and Chris. They broke up, in large part, because of the knock-on effects of pressure from Susan’s family and the loss of her mother. She had to overcome both of these things and find her feet before she could find her way back to Chris. And he, too, needed to go on a journey.
The addiction aspect of the storyline came about because I wanted Chris to have something to overcome as well. Originally, the story was entirely focused on Susan, as Persuasion is entirely focused on Anne. But a few chapters in, I found myself really wanting to give Chris more of a voice, and more of a dynamic backstory.
A lot of these themes are present in Persuasion, but I wanted to explore them further. The loss of Anne Elliot’s mother, for example, is mentioned but not really expanded on. Similarly, her relationship with her sisters: in Persuasion, Anne’s sisters are mostly annoyances or comic relief. I found myself wanting to dive into these things a bit more deeply.
AUTHORLINK: What were the greatest challenges when writing All Stirred Up and how did you overcome them?
MOORE: I’d say the greatest challenge was a sort of paralyzing fear that I wouldn’t do justice to Jane Austen. She’s such a great writer and is (quite rightly!) loved and admired by so many. There were lots of moments of, ‘Who am I to play around with her work?’ And there’s a tricky balance to be struck, between honoring Jane and also putting my own stamp on the story. But you just sort of have to have faith in yourself and power through and hope people will like it!
AUTHORLINK: Talk to me about your revision process when working with your editor. What sort of changes did you make? Any tips on revision for apprentice writers?
“The revision process can be tricky—your stories become so personal…”
MOORE: The revision process can be tricky—your stories become so personal, it’s easy to feel like editors’ suggestions are a bit of an attack or criticism. But they’re not—it’s the best thing in the world to have an outside opinion of your work, because there are often weaknesses or issues that you’re too close to the subject to see yourself. You always have to keep that in mind.
My editor was fantastic—really great at pointing out the bits she loved, which balanced out the editorial suggestions. We didn’t make massive changes, it was a lot of, ‘Can we expand on this?’ and ‘Maybe we should deepen this character a little bit.’
It can be a back-and-forth process; you shouldn’t feel like all of your editor’s suggestions are things you must do. There were a couple of moments where I said, ‘I hear what you’re saying, but I think we should keep it this way because…’
AUTHORLINK: You launched the book during COVID. How did you deal with the challenge of doing this when people couldn’t gather face to face?
MOORE: I’m not sure it would have made a difference if we could have met face-to-face: the book launched in the United States, and I live in Scotland, so I wouldn’t have been able to do in-person events anyway! This is my first book, so I don’t have anything to compare the launch and first few months of its life to, but I will say that social media was invaluable for promotional purposes. I’m pretty sure this would be true nowadays COVID or no COVID. I started doing a lot on Instagram, which I found to be a great platform for promoting the book and also has an amazing community of reviewers and book lovers that you can tap into. I’ve done a couple of virtual interviews, which has felt a tiny bit strange since you’re looking at all these faces on your screen instead of sitting down with a person actually beside you, but they have been a lot of fun! Plus, I don’t have to worry about what to wear or leave the house on a cold night to travel somewhere, so that’s been something of a bonus!
AUTHORLINK: What advice would you offer to apprentice writers?
“…don’t write something just because you think it’ll sell.”
MOORE: Be aware of your market, but don’t write something just because you think it’ll sell. Some of the greatest books have been experimental or passion projects the author started because it was something that they wanted to read. You’re going to be living with it and working on it for a long time, so it had better be something you really love!
Always remember that the first draft (and sometimes the second, and even the third!) is terrible. At that point, you’re just desperately trying to get your thoughts down on the page. Don’t worry about perfecting everything on the first go—just write. And don’t be discouraged if you look back during the process and hate what you’re seeing. You can fix it when you start revising. I also personally find it helpful to take a little time off after the first draft’s finished, before I start the revision process. At least two weeks; more, if you can manage it. It gives your brain a rest and can help you gain perspective on the work.
AUTHORLINK: Discuss what you are working on now.
MOORE: I’ve just finished the revisions for my next novel, A Bright Young Thing. It’s historical fiction, set amongst the British upper class in the 1930s and featuring a remarkable young woman who has to grow up fast after her parents die and she unpacks a slew of family secrets. There’s also a highly eligible earl, a socialite on the warpath, and a lot of inspiration from PG Wodehouse and the witty, stylish films of the period. It’s due to be published in summer 2021.
Aside from that, I’m in the very early stages of a story about a young woman going toe-to-toe with an autocratic king, but it’s rather slow going, thanks to lockdowns which are keeping my two young children out of school and nursery.
Brianne Moore was born and raised in a family of bakers and chefs. After a childhood spent in restaurant kitchens, she moved from Pennsylvania to Edinburgh, Scotland. She now lives just outside the city, by the sea in East Lothian, with her husband, two sons, and bulldog, Isla.