South West Reading Passport 2016: Book to the Future

Daisy Johnson

Daisy-PortraitDaisy Johnson is a British short story writer. After graduating with a Masters in Creative Writing from Oxford University, she was awarded the A M Heath prize for best piece of fiction by a graduating student.

Her insightful weaving of English folklore and contemporary issues coupled with her uniquely honest prose make Johnson a writer to watch in the future…

Suggested book: 

Fen (2016)

Literature Works caught up with Daisy to talk about her book, Fen and why reading is so important.

The Reading Passport project promotes the idea that reading has the power to transport a person to a new world. Your book Fen explores a liminal land where anything can happen. Can you tell us a little about why this was an important theme for you?

I grew up in and around the fen which is an area of land between Cambridge and the Norfolk coast. The memory of that place seemed to have a pull on me. I remembered it very vividly, it stuck with me. It’s a liminal land because it was once underwater and then was pumped dry and used for farm land. So there is a feeling that it was never quite supposed to be like this; perhaps it never really wanted to be this way. It dreams, maybe, of being sea or mountains but it is neither. The town the stories are set is imagined but I wanted it to feel as if this was our world; everything that happens in the stories could have been happening in the next small, one-platform town from us. I wanted it to feel as if something was building, a pattern of strangeness that would eventually explode.

The book has roots in English Folklore. How did you first become inspired to explore this type of story in your own work?

When I was growing up we had a C.D of Greek myths. I think that was where I became interested in those sorts of stories. I listened to it over and over again. There are themes that reoccur in many myths and folklore: metamorphosis, women who live in the sea, animals being cleverer than they might first seem. People in myths also go about their business, harvesting, fighting wars, getting married. I wanted to write about what it’s like to live every day, going to work and then the pub, dealing with your family or your partner.

The Reading Passport is a project based in libraries. Do you have a memory of a book you discovered at the library?

Too many! I have very fond memories of the Lancaster University library because it was the first one I discovered on my own. The lights were motion censored so often you’d find yourself frozen in the dark between the stacks; sometimes birds would get in and fly around over the tops of the shelves. This was the first place I ever read Helene Cixous, Virginia Woolf, Angela Carter.

Oxford library is my local one now. I accrue, guiltily, library fines. I remember, not long after I’d come to Oxford, shelf browsing and discovering Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in the form of a letter and is inspired by the Leonard Cohen Song Famous Blue Raincoat. I hadn’t heard of it and might never have read it if it weren’t for the library.

Can you say, to what extent reading played a role in your decision to become a writer?

My parents had bookshelves that took up all the walls and every time we went to a charity shop there would be more to add to the collection. They gave me my first Stephen King which had his first three novels in and which blew my mind. There are still books that make me feel that way, like implosions. I nicked books from their shelves and, I think, because I was reading all the time it felt natural to be writing too. I don’t think I could have defined what a novel was or said why I was writing only that the people I admired were doing it so I wanted to as well.

At Reading Passport we were inspired by your use of English folklore and contemporary issues. Can you tell us what you’re working on next?

I am currently working on a novel which is set on the rivers and canals of England. It is inspired by another of those ancient Greek myths that so much of Fen comes from. The working title is Eggtooth which is the small tooth reptiles grow on the tops of their noses to help them break out of their eggs. It has some similar themes to Fen: what it’s like growing up female and what that means; what our parents give to us even unintentionally through nature or nurture, if our lives are pre-determined before we are even born by that. There is also a crocodile.

Thank you!

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