Daisy Johnson: “If I weren’t living off my writing I’d be a shepherd”

The author on Beyoncé, Stephen King and irritating waxing adverts. 

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Daisy Johnson was born in Paignton in 1990. She is the author of the short story collection “Fen” and the Man Booker-longlisted novel “Everything Under”. She lives in Oxford.

What’s your earliest memory?
The smells of the houses we lived in when I was a child. I also remember sleeping in the attic room of a house that looked out on Ely Cathedral and deciding to write notes to the cathedral, which I then had to go pick out of the neighbours’ gardens.

Who was your childhood hero? And who is your adult hero?
My parents were, and always will be, my heroes. For originality, I’ll say that Beyoncé insisting on having 23-year-old Tyler Mitchell as the photographer for her Vogue shoot this month, making him the first ever black photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue, should make her all of our heroes.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?
I read every book as a writer rather than just a person. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing. The last book that impacted me was Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, which is out in November and is stupendous.

Which political figure, past or present, do you look up to?
Ada Lovelace. Though not a politician, her life, everything she achieved, is political. 

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?
I know a lot about Stephen King, I could also do well with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?
As a woman every time and place looks pretty bleak. I could live alone on the Desert Island Discs island, surrounded by odd luxury items and washed up records.

What TV show could you not live without?
My mum and I have been watching ER on repeat since I was about 15. Our opinions have changed on the characters as we’ve got older: we used to fancy the male doctors and now we think they’re all awful.

Who would paint your portrait?
Tom de Freston, whom I lived with for three years in Oxford, is one of the most wonderful and weirdest artists around. I’d love to see what he’d come up with.

What’s your theme tune?
Currently, it is Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?
Most recently a friend said something like: you can be grumpy, but you can also just be happy. I’m trying to live by that mantra.

What’s currently bugging you?
Adverts for waxing products where the women have entirely hairless legs.

What single thing would make your life better?
Winning the Man Booker Prize. I’d also love, right now, a cup of coffee and some cheese on toast.

When were you happiest?
During a week when every day the writing went exceptionally well. The words flew out of me, not a single day let me down.

If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
I would always have written. If I weren’t living off my writing I think I’d like to be a shepherd.

Are we all doomed?
Of course. Even if we don’t die from global warming or a nuclear event we are fast moving away from any sort of happiness that will enable us to exist without feeling we are living doomed lives. l

Daisy Johnson’s debut novel “Everything Under” is published by Jonathan Cape

This article appears in the 25 August 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Will Labour split?