In conversation with

Daisy Buchanan

journalist, author, host of You're Booked podcast

daisy buchanan writer

Introduction

Introduction

Daisy Buchanan is a journalist covering women’s issues, from sex and body image to and feminism and female friendships. Her first book – How to be a Grown Up – is part memoir, part self-help manual, while recently released The Sisterhood tells of Daisy’s experience of growing up with five sisters. “I have always loved stories about families, and stories about women,” Daisy says, “especially women who find strength in their vulnerability, women who survive adversity by becoming really resourceful, and women who are funny!”

Daisy’s championing of women made her a natural choice to be a contributor to Sonder & Tell’s first book Comfort Zones, for which she’s written about cultivating resilience. She says: “I think there is a misconception that resilience is something we have to learn, but it’s a muscle we all have that gets stronger with use.” Daisy is also the host of the chart-topping You’re Booked podcast which sees her trawl through the bookshelves of her interviewees. Naturally, we asked about her favourite stories.

Question and Answer

Have you always been a writer?

My sisters and I have always been storytellers, I think – possibly because we have always been readers. When I was little, I constantly made up songs – structured songs, with three or four verses and a chorus, and I’d pick out the notes with one hand on the piano. I’m not musical at all, but I think that being immersed in pop songs as well as books turned me into a writer! Also, my parents are Victoria Wood superfans, and her words and work were quoted so often that it felt as though she lived in her house. I think that good rhythm is the key to great writing, and Wood indirectly taught me everything I know.

Do you feel it’s key for writers to develop their own personal brands on social media, and is that something that comes naturally to you?

Oh, lord! Maybe, and it did once, but increasingly less so! When I left my first journalism job at the teen mag Bliss, and went freelance, Twitter allowed me to develop a career. I didn’t know any editors, or anyone who might want to employ me, but I was able to create and share work that led to more work. At the time, it seemed democratic and revolutionary. It didn’t matter who you were, or where you were from, you simply had to be funny. And it’s hard, really hard, to ‘build a personal brand’ on there now and do your thing when everyone else on there seems loud, abusive and furious.

I probably shouldn’t say this, but I really struggle with Instagram and I often wonder whether I might have more professional opportunities if I were better at it, it does not come naturally to me at all. I love a caption, but I’m a terrible photographer and I’m never sure whether to be earnest and honest or a bit glib. In real life, I’m both, but I’m not sure that it translates! However, developing and recording a podcast has ‘helped the brand’ (gah!) – I think almost certainly because I just love talking to writers about books, and I’d do it if our only listener was my deaf, deceased great Auntie Joan.

daisy buchanan journalist
kings cross book barge

You’ve had a column at Grazia, The Telegraph and have written for The Guardian, The Sunday Times (among many others!). What do you think makes a good feature?

You need your news or trend hook. There’s a saying in journalism – ‘three’s a trend’ and I think it’s all about having your ears permanently open to it. One pal taking up crown green bowling is slightly eccentric, but if two different pals are at it, you can pitch it to the Evening Standard. I love reading about people’s lives, and I think that some personal detail can be an extremely effective way of drawing a reader in. However, I think it’s important not to do this gratuitously. It’s all about revealing enough of yourself to serve the story, and no more.

Which magazines do you think are covering women’s stories in interesting ways?

The big glossies are made by some seriously talented teams, and I think the content keeps getting stronger – Red, Elle, Marie Claire and Grazia are all very different, but they are all written by smart women writing for smart women, and I think that’s an increasingly powerful proposition. I’m absolutely heartbroken that we’ve lost two of my favourite online magazines in the last year: The Pool and The Debrief. These were almost futuristic in their outlook, they weren’t afraid to be irreverent, and they could cover big and small stories so quickly and thoroughly. I think both titles were committed to changing the media landscape by commissioning a diverse range of writers – I think this is what we should all be concerned about. And I LOVE The Cut, New York magazine’s style section, for people who care about politics and sex and culture and memes and astrology. It is magnificent, we need more of that sort of thing. The Midult is also fantastic – Annabel Rivkin and Emilie McMeekan are running the smartest, funniest site in town. It’s genuinely, rivetingly, Dorothy Parker level witty.

red magazine
"The big glossies are made by some seriously talented teams, and I think the content keeps getting stronger"

Can you tell us a little about the narrative of your first book, How To Be A Grown Up?

With HTBAGU, I hoped to take examples from my own life (and the lives of others, with permission!) and write about that first period of our lives where nothing is planned or predetermined. When I was a child and then a teen, all I wanted was to be ‘grown up’ – I did not really enjoy any aspect of being a child, I just wanted freedom and control – and then when I got there I was crushed by the sense that I was doing it wrong. I think that I’m part of a generation that perhaps had more choices, yet fewer opportunities than ever before, and I wanted to explore that, as well as writing an ‘advice’ book that made readers feel good. I think we all know what we’re doing, we just want permission to believe we’re good enough to do it. I like to think of myself as a Millennial Yoda, but with a Maria Tash habit.

how to be a grown up
the sisterhood daisy buchanan

And what about The Sisterhood?

Oh, I am so proud of The Sisterhood! It’s a much more conventional memoir – I’m the eldest of six sisters, and so it’s a book that looks inward, at our relationship, and outward into more conceptual sisterhood, and how relationships between women are thrilling, complex, all consuming sources of joy and fury. My lovely friend Flora described it as “Nancy Mitford meets Fleabag” and I can’t think of a better compliment. I really hope that if there is a woman in your life that you love, you will get something out of it.

Three tips you would give anyone thinking about writing their first book?

Don’t get it right, get it written, is the advice I always need to remind myself to take. Everything is so much better in your head than it is written down, it’s not a time to be a perfectionist, just crack on!

Also, the beginning is thrilling, and the middle is hell. The only thing that separates aspiring authors from authors is that the latter can bite down on a metaphorical cushion and push through the evil stretch when you are made of self-doubt and you hate every single one of the thousands of words you have written.

I think that it helps to be regular – journalism is a bootcamp for writing, and I have to write every day whether I like it or not. I think that when you’re getting into it, it’s more useful to write 50 words a day for a month than 5000 words one day, and then nothing for weeks.

Why did you decide to start the You’re Booked podcast?

I love a pun, and I remember coming up with the title in the shower. Originally I think we wanted it to be much more about minor reading crimes. I loved The Adam And Joe Show, and they used to have a feature called Vinyl Justice. Adam and Joe would go to pop star’s houses, dressed as joke shop policemen, and tell them that their records were terrible, and You’re Booked seemed like the perfect literary version of that idea! While I try to keep to the spirit of it – people can be so bloody pretentious about reading, and I think there should be jail sentences for people who get sneery about Sweet Valley High – it’s become a series of conversations about our ruling passions and the way that books have the power to shape our lives, and that every single book becomes different in the hands of every reader. So something that started as a joke has become quite profound at times. Story of my life!

youre-booked-podcast
"It’s become a series of conversations about our ruling passions and the way that books have the power to shape our lives"

What are the most exciting books you’ve come across thanks to your podcast interviewees?

I consider myself a devotee of Noel Streatfeild, but Sarra Manning’s collection included some adult titles I knew nothing about – also, Sarra has an original paperback copy of Eve’s Hollywood that want so much I would happily go to prison for stealing it. I constantly think about Cathy Rentzenbrink’s Pride And Prejudice with three quarters of the cover missing as the gold standard for battered book love. Charlie Connelly had an amazing, beautiful book that had been written by his great, great, (great) Uncle, a gothic plagiarist specialising in tales of incest and nuns! I think Andy Miller should get a prize for the most eclectic collection, we went from Proust to Moominvalley In November.

moominvalley in november
"think Andy Miller should get a prize for the most eclectic collection"

What is it about the idea of Comfort Zones that appealed to you and why did you want to contribute to the book?

I think of myself as someone who is always trying to get back into her own comfort zone, and I’m desperate to make other people as comfortable as they can be. I think there are so many forces and voices determined to limit our power by making us feel a little bit less, a bit frightened and weak and vulnerable, that we’ve forgotten how to feel good in our skin. Then I thought about it for a little while and realised I live outside my comfort zone. I’m always doing battle with my own nature, and I think many of us are similar. Metaphorically, we’re all hurling ourselves into freezing plunge pools because we know we’ll feel so good when we can get out again.

“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”

Joan Didion

How did you come up with your topic for the CZ essay? And what’s the key message?

My interpretation is quite literal, I think. I wanted to write about Resilience because I often write about how we should lean into our softness, and our vulnerability. I think there is a misconception that resilience is something we have to learn, but it’s a muscle we all have that gets stronger with use. At least once every three months I need to read Joan Didion’s On Self Respect, and I constantly think of her line “I lost the conviction that lights would always turn green for me”. Resilience is so terrifyingly adult – it begins when we realise the world doesn’t have a plan for us, and, knowing the path might be precarious, we choose to proceed anyway. Moving forward can be really, really difficult, and it takes time. We don’t know our reward waits for us at the end of the path. But, as Harry Hill says, there’s only one way to find out…

The Storylist

Books

  1. Scribble, Scribble by Nora Ephron
  2. Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith
  3. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
  4. The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy
  5. Look at Me by Anita Brookner
  6. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Magazines

  1. Red
  2. ELLE
  3. Marie Claire
  4. Grazia

Websites

  1. The Pool
  2. The Debrief
  3. The Cut
  4. Midult
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