We sat down with Daisy Buchanan at the London Book Fair to discuss her book and why non-fiction was the obvious choice for her...
1. Why did you choose to write a non-fiction book?
I should admit that one of the reasons I wanted to do non-fiction was because I could do this with a good proposal. I didn’t need to write the whole thing before. I’d had a couple other projects and commissioned writing before, so I took a week off to write the proposal. What's also great about non-fiction is that nothing you do in the process is wasted. It might take a little while, but you can shape and go back to things you've already written and use them in your next project.
It can feel like a slow process with non-fiction, admittedly, so it is important to be interested and committed to your subject. With my first book How to Be a Grown Up, I so clearly remember having the idea as I was just turning 30. I love self-help as a genre, but so often we already know exactly what we should do; all we want is someone to give us a hug and say it’s going to be OK. So, I wanted the book to do just that.
In my work as a journalist, I cover a mixture of personal and cultural topics in features, which I enjoy. I wanted to carry this over into a longer form and write a comforting, reassuring book.
2. What was your aim with How to be A Grown Up. What message did you want to get across?
The cure for everything is time. That’s what I wanted to get across in this book, because it’s about being in your twenties. You need to know that it really does get better, and to be able to laugh things off and keep a good perspective.
Since the book came out, I get a lot of people asking me for advice. I feel like an agony aunt! But my advice is that you have to just sit tight. My mum would always tell me this, but it’s boring advice that gets truer and truer.
3. What advice would you give to writers looking to work on a non-fiction project?
As I’m a journalist I think in a very structured way. Whenever the book felt daunting, I thought about each chapter as a series of features. If I was going to read a magazine feature, what was it going to be about? What case studies and other information could I pull into the piece? If you’re serious about writing non-fiction, thinking about the magazines you love isn’t a bad place to start.
If you read an article – something no longer than 1200 words – and think ‘I’d love to read more of this’. Well, if anything sparks that in you, then you might be about to write the book of it.
I know that I can write fast because I don’t get paid if I don’t write fast. My greatest motivation is fear. The biggest difference between writers who make it and those who don’t: tenacity. People who know the middle bit is long and awful. The beginning when you start is so fun, but the number of times writing the proposal and thinking my god this is a waste of time. What am I doing?
4. You had an agent before you started working on your book. What would be your advice for those looking to find an agent for their own work?
Social media is a great place to start. Before I had an agent, it seemed like this impenetrable world. I’d read books about the publishing and agent-ing process and thought it was a closed shop. I was stunned that agents are generous and so excited about talent, and really keen to see it and to celebrate it. For all we complain about it, Twitter is a lovely way of being in contact with agents. It’s easy to find out the agent of writers you love. Their job is to find great new voices.
5. Your second book The Sisterhood is about the ways in which women connect with each other. You have five sisters, so you must know a thing or two about that...What was the appeal of writing closer to home?
I love and adore books about family. There are so many novelists who who do it beautifully; Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild is one, and Nina Stibbe is one of the greatest comic writers that is and has ever been. If you want to write about family you need to look for people who you love and have done it well.
In The Sisterhood, I chose to tell a really positive story, I think. It's a love letter to my sisters and writing about people other than myself forced me to write in a different way. When it comes to writing about myself, I can be funny, but with everyone else I'm conscious of funny bordering on mean!
6. Any top tips you'd like to share with other writers starting out?
Getting as much writing experience under your belt as necessary is so important. The best thing you can do is to read and do your research, because the more you read, the more you know. With my podcast, You're Booked, it's not surprising to find out that all of the writers I talk to are passionate, passionate readers.
Secondly, you really can't be too thorough. You need to think about why that book idea is the right one for you and why you're the person to write it. Again, I think it's a lot like journalism. You could have the greatest idea in the world, but if there's also someone who could write about that subject, you've got to think of a very specific reason as to why you should be hired to do the job.
You need to be answering a question where you care about the answer.
7. A final parting word of advice?
I'm going to nick some words from Cathy Rentzenbrink. She said this about anyone who's ever attended a book event; there's no difference between you and the authors on the stage. You can do it if they can do it. It’s just getting through those moments of throwing your laptop out of the window.
Daisy Buchanan is an award winning journalist and the author of the critically acclaimed book How To Be A Grown Up. She's a regular contributor to TV and radio, frequently appearing on Woman's Hour, Good Morning Britain, This Morning, Sky News and the Today programme. Daisy writes for a wide range of publications including The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Times, The Sun, Grazia, Marie Claire and The Pool, covering everything from pop culture to mental health with a feminist perspective. She's a TEDx speaker, giving advice on how to get through the trickiest parts of your twenties in her talk How To Survive A Quarter Life Crisis. Daisy has been Grazia's in house agony aunt, writing the popular Dear Daisy column, and she’s currently the title’s Reality TV correspondent, covering Made In Chelsea with her tongue firmly in her cheek.