"The places we are born come back to us. They disguise themselves as words, memory loss, nightmares. They are the way we sometimes wake with a pressure on our chests that is animal-like or turn on a light and see someone we'd thought was long gone standing there looking at us."
Following the release of her debut novel Everything Under in 2018, 27-year-old Daisy Johnson was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize – the youngest person to be nominated in the history of the awards. A harrowing reworking of the Oedipus Myth, Daisy's novel is set against the murky backdrop of an Oxfordshire house-boat community where memory and time are elusive, subjective concepts.
Ahead of her appearance at the 2019 Sydney Writers' Festival, go between the lines with Daisy Johnson as she explores this year's theme and who she's looking forward to hearing from in the program.
The theme of this year’s Festival is Lie to Me. How does this theme resonate with you and your work?
What a great theme. Everything Under, my novel, is all about memory and how sometimes the memories we have betray us, and are not the way they seemed. A lot of the characters in the novels lie to one another but they also lie to themselves. They lie to themselves about the past, about the way they feel, and their impact on the people around them.
I write a lot about family and how the people we grow up with change the people we become. Families are hotbeds of lies and tiny deceptions that grow, I’ve always been interested in this – a white lie that spirals. The theme of the Festival implies a call for a lie, the almost want of it and the characters in Everything Under can relate to that, a lot of them have chosen the lies they are being told.
What’s on your own reading list ahead of the Festival?
I’m excited for the authors I’m doing events with, I will have to reign in my fan-glee a little. In particular an event about monsters with Sarah Perry and Krissy Kneen. I’m looking forward to rereading Sarah Perry’s Melmoth which I thought was an incredibly brave book and which gave me nightmares for weeks. I’ve never read Krissy Kneen but her novel Wintering sounds just up my street, monsters, and metamorphosis.
Who are you most excited to meet?
Where do I start? I’m especially looking forward to hearing Oyinkan Braithwaite whose books sounds great. I’m also an enormous fan of Lanny by Max Porter so its exciting to hear him speak about that. It is possible I might have to bring an empty suitcase with me…
What’s the most interesting question you’ve been asked by an audience member?
That’s a tricky one. So often the questions meld into a pleasant blur or you move into autopilot. I like the questions which have never been asked before, the ones that surprise me or put the book into a new light. I think that the work ceases to belong to the writer as soon as it is published and I like it when it changes in the reader's hands, takes on a new life. Someone once asked about the symbolism of the dog in the book and I’ve been thinking about the answer ever since.
Read more: Daisy Johnson's Vanity Fair, interview
Read more: Author Q&A with Big Issue North