Daisy Hildyard’s Emergency is shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize. Following a woman stuck at home alone under lockdown while the world moved in similar rhythm, Emergency is a story that celebrates the persistently lively world, and aims to dissolve the boundaries between all life on earth. Daisy Hildyard’s Emergency reinvents the pastoral novel for the climate change era. Today, we had the honour of chatting with Daisy:
How has your own personal experience influenced Emergency?
It’s set in the place I grew up, and it’s a story about a young girl. She’s watchful, and a lot of what she sees around her doesn’t make sense to her: the way people act with one another, or justify their treatment of other animals. I remember feeling bewildered like that when I was younger and I still get it sometimes.
Why might a young woman (imagine an audience of 18-25, wanting to expand beyond YA books) not want to pick your book up and how would you convince her to read it?
It has an unusual structure: it doesn’t follow one plot, scene by scene, but pours out many shorter stories about things that the girl notices, which are all connected. So there are a lot of characters (some are animals, some are people) and a lot of things happening. It has a different feel to most novels, which work by telling a single story about a small group of characters.
First, and generally, I would tell a young woman not to let herself be intimidated by any book (or work of art or music, or anything) – what a waste of your time. All books are there for you to read, though of course different readers will bring different feelings and experiences to a story.
In defence of my own weird book…I would say that its form means that you get more stories, in comparison with a standard novel which might have a couple of main characters and one plot. So there are these two girls at the heart of the novel, but perhaps you’ll feel more for the bird who loses her nest, or the firewoman and the farmer who are having an affair, or the dead tree which comes back to life, or the spider who travels from Nicaragua on a banana. Let’s say my book offers 75% extra stories free.
Emergency and your academic work share a similar theme – intra and inter-connectedness of everything. What’s the most difficult part in translating these messages into a fiction work?
I need to avoid translating ideas into stories! When I write a story and it works, it feels as though I’m following something that’s new to me, rather than translating an idea. It has to feel exciting and very real. I think the ideas come in at a more fundamental level. This intra-and interconnectedness is just the way that I see the world now. But when I look around me, it’s as though that’s not the case. Organisations, governments, and also my own friends and family, can all talk and act as though we are not connected. So I felt that I needed to make my own book which gives a more truthful story, as I see it, about what it’s like to be living in this world now.
How did you decide whether the tone of Emergency would be pessimistic or optimistic?
Again, it never feels like a conscious decision, I just write what I can. A lot of what I try to do fails. When I was writing this book, it gave me an experience of the world as a place that is in big trouble. But even though the book made me think about emergency – extinction and inequality – writing it also made me feel that the living world is mysterious, resilient, lively, rich, diverse and vital.
Which other Rathbones Folio shortlisted book(s) (throughout the years) would you recommend to 18-25 young women?
Victoria Adukwei Bulley’s poetry collection Quiet.
Emergency by Daisy Hildyard is shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2023. The winner is announced on 27th March.