Together with the Women's Prize for Fiction, we’ve launched Futures to highlight the talent of the next generation of female writers and support them to have the long and illustrious careers we think they deserve.
With short stories, a modern retelling of re-telling of the Oedipus myth and a horror novel (her most recent book, Sisters) to her name, Daisy Johnson, 31, is not a writer to be pigeon-holed. When her second book was shortlisted for the Man Booker, she became the youngest nominee in the prize’s history. She's currently working on her fourth book.
What is the inspiration behind your most recent novel, Sisters?
My most recent book is called Sisters and it is set in a remote Yorkshire cottage by the sea. For three months of writing it I was living in a camper van with my partner, teaching one day a week at York and the rest of the time parking on the Moors or in laybys on quiet country roads, both of us trying to work. The novel is partly inspired by the claustrophobia of those three months, also by the writing of Shirley Jackson who I was reading a lot at the time. A lot of my writing circles around something which is buried and is slowly coming to light, a memory which is hidden and revealed in fragments; Sisters is about family, motherhood and trauma.
Tell us about your journey to publication.
I was always astounded by books and words as a child, continuously scribbling away. I studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Lancaster and used to hide out late at night in the dark library, working on a secret trilogy which happily has never seen the light of day. After my degree, I did a masters in Creative Writing and wrote my first book, Fen, a collection of strange short stories set in the wetlands where I grew up. Understanding the process of publication, to begin with, can be like walking backwards in the darkness and it took me a while to find an agent and then a publisher for my first two books, Fen and Everything Under.
What motivates you as an author?
A number of different things. For each piece of writing to be better than the last, paying the bills, making the reader feel the way I feel when reading my favorite books.
What is your favourite book by a woman and why?
I’ve often reread The Bone People by Keri Hulme and been astounded by it. The rumor goes that when the judging for the 1985 Booker Prize winner was coming to a close a certain judge said it would win ‘over her dead body’. I think the best books divide us strongly.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
There’s a brilliant quote from Helen Garner’s diaries which I have been repeating to everyone I see and which I try and say to myself when I’m struggling and need some bravery. "The beginner will cling and cling to her thin first draft. She clings to the coast and will strike out into the ocean only under extreme duress."
What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a writer?
I once, jokingly, told an Italian journalist that I’d be a shepherd if I wasn’t a writer and there was a sketch of me in a dirndl holding a sheep to accompany the interview. That was a mistake. I sometimes dream I’m a cave diver or a mountain climber, in reality I would probably be, the way I was in my early twenties, a very content bookseller.
Which female author do you find most inspiring and why?
The writers Sarvat Hasin and Kiran Millwood Hargrave are an enormous inspiration to me. We met when we were all working on our first books and together we found agents and, eventually, got our work published. Ten years later we continue to read one another’s work, they are extremely meticulous and cut-throat editors. I am inspired by everything they write and by their general determination for each book to be better than the last.
Do you have any writing routines or ticks?
Writing can be hard enough so I try and not let any superstitions get in the way, I can do it wherever and whenever. At the moment I am working in the shed at the bottom of the garden which is quiet aside from the occasional patter of squirrel feet on the roof. Each book begins with a small idea which then balloons outwards. Early drafts are written as quickly as possible. No draft is sacred, the act of deleting and rethinking and beginning again is as important as the act of writing. Double or maybe triple the number of words are deleted as are kept. For each draft there are sacred books which I return to and which lie most often open on the desk so I can magpie away phrases or ideas from them. What else? Coffee in the morning, texts to myself in the middle of the night with ideas or new lines, enormous spider diagrams on A3 paper which inevitably get covered in tea stains and torn. At many points in the process the draft is printed out and scribbled on or chopped up and laid out on the floor, moved around, cried over and shouted at, ordered to behave.
What’s your favourite Women’s Prize winning book?
I love so many but I just finished listening to Piranesi by Suzanna Clark, read by Chiwetel Ejiofor and felt extremely overjoyed by it. My six-month-old son has suddenly deigned to nap once a day in the pram and so I listened to this while pushing him along. It was really one of the best audio books I’ve heard, I kept gasping out loud. I think Clark’s work is fearless in its reach and her use of language is astonishing, listening to it I kept going back to the draft of my latest work and knowing it had to be better.
What do you hope to have achieved as a writer in ten years' time?
The simple answer to this question is: I hope I am still able to write and that I am living off of my writing and reaching readers who enjoy my books.
More complicatedly: I want my books to stay with readers long after they have put them down, I want them to be written as well as I can possibly write them and to challenge me as a writer. I want them to move beyond plot and structurally and linguistically mirror the themes they explore, I want to push and cajole and knead language.
I feel very much that I am learning with every book I read and write and I hope that in ten years that sense of wonder is still with me. I am still astounded often by finding a sentence which feels perfect and thinking: there, that’s exactly it.
Vote for the Futures winner
In order to find our Futures winner, we need your help. Vote now for your favourite writer. Everyone who votes will enter a draw for the opportunity to win a £100 voucher to use at bookshop.org.
Exclusive reader offer
Get 10% off copies of all the Futures authors' most recent books from bookshop.org using the code FUTURES10.
You Might Also Like