A Soundtrack for Fen: a Short Story Collection by Daisy Johnson

CB - Jun - Fen Daisy Johnson’s Fen, according to publisher Jonathan Cape, “is a place where animals and people commingle and fuse, where curious metamorphoses take place, where myth and dark magic still linger. So here a teenager may starve herself into the shape of an eel. A house might fall in love with a girl. A woman might give birth to a – well what?”
It’s the kind of mercurial WTF title that nailed itself of its own accord into our June 2016 Book Recommends… And, given I was looking at some articles on music and writing, I just had to ask Daisy if she’d like to share something of that nature as relates to Fen.
Here’s what she had to say… (NB. Links to Apple Music / ITunes provided where available)

1) Nina Simone – Why? (The King of Love is Dead)

When I was growing up there was only one CD in my parents’ car and we listened to it to and from school every day. I don’t remember what it was but it was some sort of compilation and it had this song on it. We lived in the fen, somewhere between Ely and Norfolk. It’s flat, dark land and when I think of it I think of listening to Nina, looking out of the windows.

Fen is a collection of short stories about women and girls living in a little, middle-of-nowhere town. Something is skewed in this flat town: a girl turns into an eel; foxes run wild and clever and men are eaten alive.

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2) Marika Hackman – Cannibal

I don’t tend to listen to music while I’m writing. I write in cafes a lot and there is something about the background buzz of voices, other people’s tinny choices through headphones, milk being steamed that works well for me. When I’m at home there is that semi-detached noise: other people’s toilets flushing, a dog in a garden, televisions.

Music that means something to me comes accidentally, overheard, on the radio, from passing cars. The soundtrack for Fen is sneaky, like flood-water, there before I’ve noticed. I’ve seen Marika Hackman live a couple of times. Her album is about taste and touch, smell. It’s about hangovers and insomnia and ghosts. Cannibal is on the Fen soundtrack because it’s visceral and bloody and that is what I hope Fen is too.

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3) Bitter Ruin – Diggers

There’s a line in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams where Brick is talking about drinking, says he can’t stop, that he’s waiting for the click: “It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.” Writing Fen felt a bit like that. What often came first, for a story, was a voice or a certain line. The click would take a while after that, a lot of word wrestling and debating and when it finally did come it felt like relief. There is a point in this song which feels a little like that tension which is then released, like a valve. The trick of writing, perhaps, is how to keep that tension in the work, keep a bubbling sense of strain.

TB – Not on Apple

4) Beyoncé – Formation

Often what strikes me about a song – in the same way as with a story – is the structure of it. Formation is a song that sounds almost like a mistake, all these disparate thoughts and rhythms that shouldn’t work, that twanging, the speaking in the middle, but that come together seamlessly so you realise you were the mistaken one. There are stories in Fen that are like that and I think they are the hardest to write: how to make a jigsaw and then hide all the cracks.

TB – Not on Apple


5) Laura Marling – The Captain and the Hourglass

The thing about the fen, the most important thing, is that it used to be flooded and it’s so flat it feels as if it could flood again any moment. I don’t know what it is about water but it’s in everything I write, the collection is infected with water, and my new novel is about canal boats. Laura Marling’s work seems similarly infected; this is my favourite one of her songs.

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6) Cassandra Wilson – Sign of the Judgement

Writing is hard. It’s not coal mining hard but it’s tricky, head-aching work. It gets into your bones and then your bones hurt. To turn off my ticking brain I run or bake bread or I watch television. This is a song from True Detective. If I could write a television show it would be that. There is a line that goes: “This place is like somebody’s memory of a town, and the memory is fading. It’s like there was never anything here but jungle”. The town in Fen must feel like that, as if it is just biding time before the jungle comes, except the jungle is water.

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Fen is out on June 3rd but Foyles bookshop are selling a preview pamphlet with two stories from the collection – You can order that here…


You can read more about Fen on our June 2016 New Book Recommends page and over at Waterstones.com (link below) – and check out more musical inspirations and writings of select books and graphic novels here…

CB - Jun - Fen
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