Daisy May Johnson - How to Be Brave - Interview (Q&A) - Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books #7


It's time for another lovely interview with local debut author Daisy May Johnson. How to Be Brave was published back in July 2021 by Puskin Children's Books and has one of my favourite book covers of the year. This loveable mystery should appeal to both mystery seekers and action armchair lovers. 

We carefully put some questions together, under the flicker of glorious candlelight, with the hope to reveal more about the book and the author. So sit down with a cup of Yorkshire tea (possibly a slice of cake) and enjoy the interview. If you would like to support the author by reading a copy of the book then you can purchase it right HERE 
  • What keywords best describe your debut book, How to Be Brave?
I would go for: buns, nuns, ducks, friendship, boarding school, and adventure (and I think my narrator would ask for Victoria Sponge to be added as a keyword...!)
  • I understand that you love libraries and particularly visiting them. With the restrictions over the last year, do you feel this has hindered your writing and creative flow?
Libraries are very important to me. I'll never get over how amazing they are. I think the fact that we have spaces where people can better themselves - for free! - is one of our greatest achievements. The restrictions over COVID have proven challenging, for sure, not just for my reading of comic books and taking out reference material for book two, but also for those times when I wanted to work in the café and listen to the world around me. As a writer, I love that noise and vibrancy and I'm incredibly grateful to all of the medical personnel and the scientists who developed the vaccine because they gave it back to me. 

It's also worthwhile paying tribute here to all of the remarkable library staff who - the moment that COVID hit - pivoted their services to deliveries, kerbside collections, lucky dips, distanced browsing, enhanced electronic delivery, zoom book clubs and so more. Librarians come into contact with all parts of society - some of them incredibly vulnerable and/or isolated - and the power of their work has never been more impressive. 

  • There seem to be a lot of authors (including celebrities) deciding to write for children at the moment. What were your reasons for selecting children as your audience?
I've never wanted to write for anybody else but children. I used to work in a public library and honestly, the Summer Reading Challenge was one of the best times ever. There's nothing better than young readers who are giddy with excitement over a book that they love. Why would anybody not want to be part of that? And with regards to the other part of this conversation, I think there's some nuance to be had about the position of celebrity authors. I have all the time for them if they understand where they are, what they're doing and do it well, and I think something like Nadiya's Bake Me A Story does this excellently. There are others though, that I have a lot of issues with! 
  • How do you go about writing realistic characters and can (or do) they take you to places you have no control over?
I think the idea of realistic characters in fiction is something really interesting because it's an inherently artificial space, right? A book is a created and crafted thing, so there's always going to be that edge of the unreal about anybody who lives within it. What I think you need to do is to find the legitimacy - you have to find justification for what your characters do and make it feel legitimate. If readers believe why something happens and what the rationale behind it is, then that something will work. One of the things I wanted to do with How To Be Brave was to do and feature a lot of things that didn't normally appear in children's fiction but I didn't want to be tokenistic about it. I had to have it all work within the rules of that world. I had to have the story earn the things that I wanted it to do. 
  • How would you describe the music soundtrack to your book?
Oh this is interesting! Okay so for me when writing it, I listened to a lot of 90s pop and also an enormous amount of Ben Platt, 1930s music, Nicki Minaj, and movie soundtracks. I suppose in a way that eclecticism would carry over to the soundtrack of the book itself - the big, scopey sounds of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack would overlap some Noel Coward before Siobhán Donaghy would cut in and we'd finish off with Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal doing "What You Own" from Rent. A little bit of everything, really, but all of it full of heart and feeling. 
  • How would you define brave and do you think our concept of this has changed in literature over the years?
I think sometimes bravery can be characterised as a very big thing. I read a lot of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century fiction and sometimes it's quite startling what these stories give to the reader. I picked up a batch of Boy's Own annuals from this period recently and every other boy was either nobly sacrificing himself for King and Country, going to the end of the world as part of the Empire, or doing remarkable acts of bravery for his friends on the battlefield. It was eye-opening stuff.

For me, I found interest in the small and quiet acts of bravery in the world. I wanted to explore the very intimate and personal side of what it meant to exist and to make sacrifices for the people that you love - all those little acts of bravery that perhaps nobody ever knows about but happen every day. People are complicated. Adults, children, all of us. And we do a lot for the people that we love. It's kind of cool to explore that. 
  • Would you have read your book as a child?
Yes! I would have read it for sure - and would happily read it now :) I was always able to roam throughout the library and would just pick books from wherever looked interesting. Obviously, some choices worked better than others, but that sense of empowerment was really important to me. 
  • You have received some lovely quotes from readers on the internet. What has been your favourite comment and why?
I was very touched by the lovely review from Sophie (aged 9) at the Book Nook (https://booknookuk.com/2021/06/08/how-to-be-brave-by-daisy-may-johnson-reviewed-by-sophie/) because it came with art! The first ever! (I'm still not over how amazing it is).