The author, journalist and podcaster opens up about female sexuality, her brilliant new novel and the sapphic books that shaped her
BY ROXY BOURDILLON
Daisy Buchanan loves a horny heroine. She’s not afraid to write gusty, funny, female main characters with sexual agency and voracious desires. But the stars of her gorgeous, engrossing novels also have extremely relatable hang-ups. They grapple with self-esteem, shame, body image, career success (or lack thereof) and the eternal conundrum of how to be a “good feminist”. Make no mistake, these are bonkbusters with depth, exploring the joys and contradictions of navigating modern womanhood in all its messy, murky glory.
As well as being the author of five brilliant books, Daisy is a journalist with bylines everywhere from Grazia to The Guardian, and the host of hit literary podcast, You’re Booked. In excellent news for saucy bookworms everywhere, she also has a brand new novel out. Limelight tells the story of Frankie, a twenty-something with a dead-end job and a perfect sister, Bean, who she adores but can’t help comparing herself to. But Frankie has a secret: an account on an erotic photo-sharing website where she posts risqué nudes for a small group of online fans. When Bean gets sick, and Frankie’s high-spirited but misguided mum launches a national campaign to #BeKind4Cancer, Frankie’s alter-ego is exposed and her whole life blows up.
I couldn’t put Limelight down. What inspired this novel?
I’m always interested in sexuality, how we feel about ourselves and how we express it. I’m really curious about this tension I have where I resent the patriarchy and the male gaze, but I’m totally a product of it. So I wanted to explore the story of Frankie, this woman who doesn’t like the way she looks in real life. She feels like she’s too big, which is the way I have often felt about myself. But she is in control of her image when she’s online.
I’m so gripped by this idea of Frankie’s self-objectification.
I’ve got younger sisters, and we say this with so much love. We say, “But aren’t you worried it’s going to come back to haunt you?” rather than: “Be naked whenever you like, no one should ever judge you for that.” What Frankie finds in the book is that if you’re doing it from a place where you’ve already got really solid self-esteem and it’s an expression of something good that you feel, it’s great. If you are seeking validation, it becomes trickier.
I found the tension between Frankie wanting to be a “good feminist” and having this secret existence being naked on the internet really interesting.
I’m always thinking about that point in your life, that reconciling what you want, desire and crave as a woman. I have felt like I didn’t have any other currency [apart from how I looked]. What’s so weird is that when you’re a kid, you have a concept of that very early on, that heteronormative idea that it’s important for a woman to be desirable and pretty. We’re so quick to blame and shame someone when actually, what else are we supposed to do when we don’t know what our own power is, because there are so few things the world gives us encouragement or reward for?
You never shy away from female desire and sexual expression in your novels. How do you feel about writing sex scenes?
Firstly, I want my heroines to be horny. There are books I’ve read where the sex sort of just happens to women. They are an object of desire. I want to write a story about women being like, “I want to get laid!” I want to write sex scenes to turn people on. I absolutely get high on my own supply. A lot of my sexuality is based around fantasy and thinking things up. Really, that’s where my first novel Insatiable came from. I started doing it for myself for fun thinking, “Let’s see what happens”. I can’t tell you how unexpected, moving and delicious it’s been to hear from women who think it’s sexy and feel reading that book has been a fun experience.
I was very into Insatiable. When I started reading it, I didn’t realise quite how queer it was going to get, and I was so delighted when it did!
I’m so happy to hear that. I am married to a man. I have lived a very privileged life in terms of my own sexuality and visibility. I do identify as a queer woman. I’m also always anxious about that, because I feel like I have had such an easy time with it. I know that with my queer sisters and lesbians, it’s really important to me to be a good ally.
As a fellow queer woman, I just want to say please don’t feel that your voice is less important. Your perspectives and experiences are totally valid. You’re still a member of the community and that’s wonderful.
That’s a really lovely, generous thing to say. Thank you. I’m realising how now, more than ever, it’s so important to be visible and show your support. I live in Margate and it’s a very tiny town, but that has got a vibrant queer scene. Fabulous artists, fabulous bars and we do a brilliant Pride.
Will you be attending Margate Pride this year?
Absolutely! Last year was my very first sober Pride. I stopped drinking almost exactly a year ago. That was really special and actually, it was a much more meaningful and celebratory experience.
I‘m a little bit addicted to your podcast. Do you have any queer book recommendations?
I think that queer people are the best creatives, artists and storytellers. When I was a teenager, one of the most formative books I read was the Tales Of The City series by Armistead Maupin. That squeezes my heart. And I remember the first time I saw and felt sexy, exciting queerness on the page was when I read Valley Of The Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I was so turned on by that.
So I picked up Valley Of The Dolls because it’s glamorous, camp and retro, and then when it got really queer I was like, “Well, this is bloody awesome!” Are there any other queer novels you’ve read and loved?
Ooh, I loved Rosa Ranki-Gee’s Dreamland. It’s very dark, very intense, but she’s a brilliant writer. Rosewater by Liv Little. She’s phenomenal, so vivid and poetic. And there’s a queer relationship that is a bit of a slow-burn in The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard.
The Cazalet Chronicles was another one where the queerness took me completely by surprise. I didn’t expect a sapphic love story in the middle of this sweeping, historical family saga, but it was so beautifully done.
I love the warmth of it and the intimacy, that slow-burn with Rachel and Sid, the exquisite tenderness. I’m about to hand my next book in and I’ve got a day off from writing today. I’m thinking, “Ooh, I could go and re-read the Cazalets in a hammock!”
Limelight by Daisy Buchanan is published by Sphere in hardback. Daisy will be in conversation with Rebecca Humphries at this year’s Primadonna Festival (28-30 July). Day and weekend tickets available now primadonnafestival.com