Thanet Writers Question Daisy Buchanan
Hello! My name is Daisy Buchanan, and I’m an author, journalist and broadcaster. I host the podcast You’re Booked, where I interview well-known writers beside their bookshelves and ask them about their reading lives. I’m the author of several books including How to Be a Grown Up and The Sisterhood, and my debut novel Insatiable will be published by Sphere in Spring 2021.
Like most writers, I was constantly making up stories, songs and poems when I was little—I remember borrowing and stealing exercise books and always having painful lumps on my right index finger because I was scribbling away all the time. At secondary school, I wrote and directed plays, then at university I fell in love with journalism. I wrote arts pieces and features for the student paper—I really wanted to be Caitlin Moran and I was always smuggling in jokes…after graduating, and getting fired from my first job, I got a job as the least important person in the Features team on the teen magazine Bliss. Because it was such a small staff, and the budget was so tiny, I got to write everything from my first day—from real life stories to celebrity interviews to features on dating and confidence. I was so, so lucky—I think that in that first year at Bliss, I had more fun, support, encouragement and fulfilment than lots of people experience during their entire careers. I would have paid them to come in! (And to be honest, I earned so little money that I practically did…)
Reading widely has always been a huge part of my life, and I believe it’s vital for writers to read as much as they can and as broadly as they can—every single book can be a masterclass. Funny books are my favourite things, writers Nina Stibbe and Sue Townsend are brilliant at comedy economics—no word is wasted! I grew up reading Victoria Wood and French and Saunders script books (my parents are huge fans) and I think that their genius has defined the rhythm of my writing. My husband Dale Shaw is a comedy writer (his books include Letters of Not, F*** This Journal and Painfully British Haikus) and when I write I’m trying to make him laugh!
See above—trying to make my husband laugh! I know it sounds horribly pretentious, but I can’t not, I suppose. I think I express myself better on a page than I do out loud, and when I’m thinking about an idea—whether it’s fiction or just a broader thought—writing it down helps me to feel it out. I’m the eldest of six sisters, and sometimes I wonder whether I turned to writing to express myself because it’s very hard to make yourself heard when you’re one of six!
I wish I was more disciplined. Rumour has it that Anthony Trollope (it may have been someone else) would write until 6 p.m. every day—if he finished a book at 5:37, he’d start the next book! I used to do a lot more in the way of journalism and opinion pieces and I loved the forced discipline of that, when an editor emails at ten and says “I need this by lunchtime” and you feel as though you’re sitting in an exam hall. You can’t overthink it; you’ve just got to meet the deadline. I’ve just finished my novel edits, and when I was struggling with procrastination (let’s be real: Twitter) I would set my phone timer to 60 minutes, put the phone in the other room and force myself to get my head down, but I don’t think I can write for more than three or four hours a day. I try to write nonsense in my journal first thing in the morning, rather than going on the internet, a sort of brain dump, in pencil. I’m not sure if it’s good for my writing but it’s good for my mental health!
Asking questions, all the time, and then trying to write an answer. Writing is all I wonder how that feels? What if this happens? Who would do that? At the moment I’m reading Craig Brown’s book about the Beatles, and there are so many people whose lives were changed by minor interactions with the Fab Four—there are so many examples of people whose lives are outlined by a couple of sentences, and you start to imagine their whole story.
Over the last few years, I’ve been living with and managing an anxiety disorder. Touching masses of wood, I’d say that it’s something that doesn’t define my life in the way it once did, I’ve got much better at applying a bit of compassion and context to things. But URGHHHHHH—right now, I’m thinking about the next novel and a new project that is looming. Both are really exciting prospects, and I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to do them, and that inner voice is still saying Ah, but you’re a terrible writer and you can’t do it and your brain is about to seize up and stop delivering and this is where you get found out. It’s like when a key won’t work in a lock. You can bash the door, break the key, have a panic attack and decide to start camping on the pavement or you can take lots of deep breaths, do some slow, gentle wiggling, and try sneaking round the back. Every time I manage to start a new project, it’s because not writing it has become scarier than writing it.
It’s almost exactly a year since I sent the first draft of my novel to my agent—and I was so, so proud of myself. Writing non-fiction has never seemed quite so daunting—it’s very much a case of say what you see. Writing non-fiction books was a bit scary, but it’s much easier to break the task down and think of it as a lot of journalism stuck together. To write 90,000ish words that contained a compelling universe, believable characters and an ending that made a reader glad they had stuck with you—for years, it was all I wanted to do, but I thought it was completely beyond me. And to write it ‘on spec,’ knowing that there was no guarantee of publication or pay, there were so many times when my brain told me I was being a naïve, grandiose idiot and I should sack it off and do some paid work—some nice, steady copywriting or something. Lots of really lovely, exciting things have happened around the novel since I sent that email at the start of last May, but staying motivated and hopeful and silencing my brain enough to get to the end of the first draft is definitely my biggest achievement.
It’s a bit of a cliché, but don’t get it right, get it written. I think that we’re all held back by that pressure to be perfect—we want to sit down and produce ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee,’ and we’re terrified that when we get our ideas down, we’ll hear ‘Chopsticks.’ Every first draft is ‘Chopsticks.’ That is fine. Every single writer you like has written hundreds, probably thousands of terrible sentences before they wrote the words that captured your heart. Ten terrible words are infinitely better than no words at all.
My podcast, You’re Booked, is about to come back (we’re working out how to record under lockdown!) but it’s definitely worth listening to the archives. There are so many great writing tips from people who might surprise you—from people from the world of comedy, like Jenny Éclair and Richard Ayoade, to people who are probably sitting comfortably on your shelves like Erin Kelly and David Nicholls. My newsletter Further Reading is loosely linked to the podcast, every week I write a ‘lightly literary’ essay about books I love, with a particular theme—e.g. the power of a makeover or a celebration of laziness (hello Bertie Wooster!). If you are looking for a cheery read, The Sisterhood has loads of jokes. If you like books about families, I think you’ll enjoy it. (And I would love it if you ordered it from The Margate Bookshop!) Insatiable is available for pre-order at the moment. Nothing makes me feel as awkward as self-promotion, and this is a long paragraph of self-promotion! If there are any authors you like, pre-ordering their books is a truly brilliant way to support them, especially from independent bookshops, it genuinely makes a difference—it can mean that bookshops really get behind authors, decide to have in-store events, and so on.
Well, at the time of writing, lots of staying at home baking banana bread! I’m about to start ghost-writing a book, and I wish I could tell you more than that! I love ghost-writing, I think it forces me to be quite disciplined and rigorous, and it means I can be dead nosy! I’ve got some ideas for the next novel, and I’d love to try to write a screenplay. I just need to convince myself that it’s a “fun, creative experiment” not a “disaster waiting to happen.”
© 2020 Daisy Buchanan
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Daisy Buchanan is a journalist, author and media commentator.