‘The seed for Everything Under was a Greek Myth that I’d wanted to write a retelling of for a long time.’
In this Man Booker 2018 longlist interview Daisy Johnson tells us what her favourite mythological story is and how the next novel she’s been working on is a horror story set in Yorkshire.
What’s it like being on the longlist for the first time?
It’s difficult to even put the feeling into words. I was babysitting when my editor rang me and asked if I could go somewhere private. I went out into the garden. I thought something awful had happened and then she told me I’d been longlisted. It has changed my life. Not only because so many more people are now reading Everything Under but because I feel a confidence with the writing that I’ve never felt before. Everything Under was a slog to write, often wonderful, mostly a little torturous. Getting longlisted, especially on such an exciting list, has said: it was worth it, you made the right decision to keep going. I’m floating.
What inspired this story and the relationship between mother and daughter?
The seed for Everything Under was a Greek Myth that I’d wanted to write a retelling of for a long time. It was the challenge that first drew me to it. It’s a myth that I wasn’t sure would translate to contemporary times and I was excited to try. Though the seed was there from the start the novel is unrecognisable from those early drafts. It only really became the book it is today after a trip along the winding rivers of Oxford on a canal boat which I knew instantly was the place these characters would live.
It was only, also, in the later drafts that the mother and daughter relationship became so central. Once it was there it became clear this was what the book was really about. I wanted to write about women who are mother’s and daughters and who find it difficult to sit within those roles. I wanted to write about the impact of family on the people we become when we grow up. I also wanted to write about language and how the language our family speak to us in a way makes us the people we are.
Your book deals with mythology. Do you have a favourite story?
I’ve been obsessed by myth for as long as I can remember. There are something about the stories, tangled and dark, filled with the weird and wonderful. I love metamorphosis: the stories of women turned into trees, of gods turned into cows. In particular I love the story about the birth of Athena who sprung fully-formed and already armed from Zeus’s skull.
Favourite Man Booker-winning novel?
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a few things at the same time. There are always short stories composting at the back of my mind. The ones I’m working on at the moment are all retellings, some of Greek myths but also a few which are retellings of more contemporary tales.
The main thing I’m working on, however, is a horror novel set in Yorkshire. It’s giving me strange, scary dreams so I hope that means it will frighten readers.