In 2015, she won a two-book deal with publisher Jonathan Cape for a collection of short stories and a novel. The short story collection titled Fen was published in 2017. Set in the fens of England, it draws upon the memories of the area where Johnson grew up. It comprises a set of linked short stories, focusing on the experiences of women and girls in a small town. Johnson describes the collection as liminal and mythic. The collection won the 2017 Edge Hill Short Story Prize.
Johnson followed Fen with her debut novel, Everything Under, in 2018. The novel focuses on the relationship between Gretel, a lexicographer, and her mother and is set against a backdrop of the British countryside. Gretel grows up on a canal boat with her mother and they invent a language to use between them. Gretel’s mother abandons her when Gretel is sixteen, and the novel starts sixteen years later with a phone call. Johnson worked on the novel for around four years, starting it at the same time as her short story collection to challenge herself to write something longer. She went through at least five drafts of the book (which she has said had seeds in her studies of the Greek myth of king Oedipus), made several changes to characters and setting, and for a period, it was titled Eggtooth.
Everything Under was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. Johnson is the youngest author to be shortlisted for the prize.
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