Coping with success: What’s next for writer Stefanie Preissner?

Stefanie Preissner

A second TV series, a book and a movie deal are in the pipeline, while Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope begins on BBC this week. Yet Stefanie Preissner still feels pressure to succeed, she tells Esther McCarthy.

Her debut TV series was a rating hit and struck a chord with a generation of Irish women.

But fresh from the success of RTÉ comedy/drama Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, Stefanie Preissner is only getting started.

2017 is set to be an extraordinary year for the young Mallow woman, with a second TV series, a book, and movie deal all in the pipeline, and the first series of Can’t Cope heading to the UK via the BBC.

It’s been a remarkable time for Preissner, who wanted to be a garda and never initially considered writing as a career choice. But it hasn’t come without hard graft.

“I have this second-album syndrome, this sort of worry of ‘What if I was a one-hit wonder?’” she says, with the sort of frank honesty that permeates her writing.

“It’s a burden but it’s also a driving force.

“I do feel the weight of it.

“I do feel like Pac-Man, almost; he can’t stop and go ‘look at all these things I’ve eaten!’ because the ghosts are still coming up behind him.

“I do feel a bit of pressure.

“I don’t particularly like socialising, but it’s lucky that I don’t because if I was trying to do all the work that I have to do, and a social life, and, God forbid, a family….

“I run a very tight schedule at the moment.

“I’m very ambitious and I want to be achieving, so it’s not that someone’s chaining me to a desk and whipping me to write.

“I really love my job, but I definitely feel the pressure of ‘I’ve got to keep it up’.”

There are plenty of people who want Preissner to keep it up.

‘Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope’ stars Nika McGuigan (Danielle) and Seána Kerslake (Aisling).

Deadpan Pictures, which produced Can’t Cope for RTÉ, recently inked a deal with BBC Three, which will broadcast the first series to UK audiences later this week.

A second series about the exploits of Cork twentysomethings Aisling and Danielle (Seana Kerslake and Nika McGuigan) and their adventures up in the big smoke is currently in production.

When we meet, the writer has just delivered the first draft of her in-development film project, closerthanthis.

It’s an adaptation of a book about two teenage twins and an exploration of what it’s like to grow up with a biological other half.

“They seem pretty happy with it so I’m really stoked about that, because, again, like Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, I feel like the characters in it are really important for young people in Ireland to have.

“It’s a real punchy, coming-of-age film. The characters are funny and they deal with things in a funny way.”

The film is part of a first-look deal with top Irish production company Parallel Films, and a potential pilot for Channel 4 is also in the offing.

A book is also on the way. 

WHY CAN’T EVERYTHING JUST STAY THE SAME? (And Other Things I Shout When I Can’t Cope) came about following a meeting with publishers Hachette, who’d seen her work on Can’t Cope and her hit play, Solpadeine Is My Boyfriend.

I’m exhausted just listening to all of this. How is she managing it all? 

“I wake up every morning at 4.30 and I write. I have to get up really, really early to do the work because there’s no other time.

“It started as jetlag, and then I kept it up, because I found that I was really really productive when I came back from Australia once.”

The book explores many topics, some related to her own life and memories. 

“It starts with me chatting about when I was a kid, I hated change so much that it caused me and my mam to go to the same apartment in the same apartment block in the same town on the same island off the coast of Spain for eight years in a row.

“It was the only way to have an enjoyable holiday because if we went somewhere else, I would be sick for the first couple of days. Just because I couldn’t stand to be somewhere new.

“Even now, I don’t like surprises. Now I struggle to push myself and also to go ‘you’re an introvert, you don’t particularly like socialising’ and that’s OK,” she says, agreeing that people are often surprised by this.

Her work ethic, she says, is partly inspired by two strong female influences in her life: Mam Bernie Keary and nana Eileen Keary.

Stefanie Preissner: ‘US audiences and British audiences are primed and ready for Irish voices.’ Picture: Nick Bradshaw

“My mother is an entrepreneur. I saw her as a businesswoman, she worked really hard for herself.

“My grandmother was a pharmacist. She trained in chemistry and pharmacy when women her age just didn’t do that. She owned her own chemist. She’s from Kanturk, she moved to Dublin to study and then opened a chemist here.”

Born in Munich, Preissner moved to Mallow with her mother when she was one or two years old (her mother and German father are divorced).

“I never really considered that I wouldn’t get somewhere because of my gender, which is a privileged way to grow up, I suppose. I was also a very strong-willed, tomboyish girl,” says Preissner.

“Mallow was great. I swam, I used to spend my summers with my grandmother, and Christmas. I was always with my nana and my mam for those holidays.”

Writing and Preissner’s other profession, acting, weren’t originally serious career considerations, with the youngster dreaming of a role as a top-ranking garda.

“I never wanted to be a writer. I was in Templemore for two weeks. I wanted to be a guard, the first female Garda commissioner.

“Then I got an acting gig, I went on work experience and I said I’d go back when the acting stopped.

“I got a job doing an Enda Walsh play in Cork city, Chatroom, and then it kind of went from job to job. I stopped getting acting work and I started writing, and that’s how it came about.”

She has vivid memories of travelling to Cork city every Saturday to hone this new and relatively unknown craft, and quickly learned that she was going to have to work hard. 

“I was never under any pretences as to what acting was going to be like, you know? I knew it was going to be a slog.

“I chose to do a degree in drama. If that’s not the most notional thing that came out of the Celtic Tiger then I don’t know what is.”

Her breakthrough was the success of Soldapeine Is My Boyfriend, the hit show which she wrote and performed and signalled her as a new voice in Irish comedy/drama. 

She’s been hailed as a voice of her generation, a label that she has mixed feelings about.

“I think we’re a generation that would absolutely resent the idea of having one person speak for us,” she observes.

“I think that I definitely speak to a certain fragment of a generation. But, I mean, I know people back in Mallow who have a pension, a mortgage, three children by choice, are married, have two cars, a TV licence. I also have some of those things. But I’m not their voice.

“If I deal with generational issues that some people relate to, then that’s great. But I do not speak for a whole generation. I’m just speaking from what I know, and if people relate to it, brilliant. I feel a responsibility to speak to those people, rather than for those people.”

Preissner is a huge fan of Friends, which she still watches every day (“there’s an amniotic comfort that I get from watching Friends”) and she would like to see more women in comedy generally. 

“I think women are hilarious. I don’t know if they’re funnier than men, but I certainly relate to their humour more, because comedy is based on shared experience.

“Recently I feel there are a lot of funny women on Twitter, which I think is a brilliant medium.

“We are sharp, we are quick, and brevity is the soul of our wit.”

While she is adamant that she’s going to keep writing “for the people who are watching”, Preissner will be watching the BBC Three launch of Can’t Cope with interest.

“The world has blown wide open, and I think that American audiences and British audiences are primed and ready for Irish voices.

“We’re not that different. We have different accents but we have the same struggles, the same relationship issues, the same insecurities.”

  • Can’t Cope Won’t Cope begins on BBC3 on Thursday.

  • Preissner will be presenting a new documentary series, How To Adult, on RTE Player next month


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