Caitlin Moran: 'There's no such thing as oversharing'
- 6 July 2014
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
She made being a feminist fun with her best-selling manual, How to Be A Woman - now Caitlin Moran is back with more life lessons to share in her debut novel.
"Life basically divides into two things," explains journalist and critic Caitlin Moran, when we meet to discuss her new book How to Build a Girl.
"Things which are amazing at the time. And things which are awful at the time, which then turn into amazing anecdotes."
Moran shared a plethora of amazing - and brutally honest - anecdotes in the award-winning How to Be a Woman, a book she says was "a pleasure and a privilege" to write.
With lashings of humour she tackled everything from body hair to Lady Gaga, boobs to abortions, inspiring a new generation of feminists along the way.
Now her experiences have been channelled into a work of fiction.
Some may find the character of Johanna (a fat teenage girl living in a Wolverhampton council house, who heads to London to become a rock critic) strikingly similar to Moran. But she says Johanna was about creating a new kind of heroine.
"It does make my [daughters] anxious that every book they read about a teenage girl, they are at the end of the world, fighting off monsters or being savaged by vampires," she says.
"It's so great that there are things like Divergent and The Hunger Games out there, but they're set in horrible dystopias where a girl has the burden of saving the world.
"You know what, some days just getting on the bus with your skirt on the right way round is as much of an adventure as that."
Moran describes herself as "repulsively chatty", adding, "my main effort is shutting myself up". She admits she has suffered from writer's block. Once. "For about 20 minutes," she clarifies.
If this novel does well, she has plans to continue and make it a trilogy - made up of How to be Famous and How to Change the World.
"The best way to start a revolution is in a novel," she explains.
"I'm not very good at leading a parade or charging parliament, because I've got quite a dodgy back and I like to sit down. My way to do revolution is to sit and write instead, while smoking a cigar."
Since How to Be A Woman, do you have a lot of women wanting to 'overshare' slightly about their own experiences?
There is no such thing as oversharing! I appreciate these stories, bring them on, I love it.
I've never seen a taboo that I didn't want to run into the middle of and smash up with a wooden spoon, whilst going 'Rah!'. But in order to write about taboos, you have to talk about the things you've done, be very honest and make yourself very vulnerable. Anytime anybody says, "Ok, you've shared and that makes it easier for me to be me", I feel I can share more.
There are things that I would never have written about five years ago - [before How to Be A Woman] that I can now write about in The Times. It does feel there's a massive need - in the world of sidebars of shame, perfectly managed careers and all this enormous pressure - that it is useful for someone to just turn up with their hair all over the place, with a face that is quite meaty and pudding-like, with holes in their tights, talking honestly about life.
I do this thing with my live show where I get my belly out. And I make it into a big smile - my 'feminist smile' [Moran lifts her t-shirt up and gets her belly out, squeezing it in the middle to illustrate the point]. When I do this on stage I get women come up to me crying going, "It's the first time I've seen a normal looking woman's belly without a big circle around it with 'Eurgh!' written on it. You're happy and you're kind of wobbling your belly around and going 'that's ok'."
Is the concept of 'building a girl' something you identify with?
Hugely. Only the first third of How to Be A Woman was about your teenage years and there's so much I'd learnt about the little tricks you need in order to get through what is really quite a gruesome time. There's a certain point where you have to go "I can't blame my parents for this or expect them to sort me out, I need to build myself".
I very much enjoyed working on a variety of different inner voices that would talk to me. For a while it was Courtney Love, just kind of swearing and going "have all the fun!". Now it's a cross between Rizzo from Grease, probably Oprah Winfrey and maybe Lorraine Kelly, all just giving me really sage advice.
How to Build a Girl opens with the main character Johanna masturbating, which differs from your average novel about a teenager. Have you aimed it at teens or women harking back to those years?
The books that I loved when I was a teenager were ones that were not written for teenagers, but you read anyway. You know, Jilly Cooper books, The Bell Jar, The Catcher in the Rye. This book is written for adults in the knowledge that teenage girls will want to read it.
I didn't want [her] to have to go and discover her sexuality. That's really boring. Most girls have sexual feelings from the year dot, and it's such a driving force for her. She is a 'Lady Sex Adventurer' - because I wanted to come up with another word for slag. When you say, "the main character sleeps with a lot of people", the reaction is still... [Moran gives a sharp intake of breath]. That's just so nuts!
So much fear is put into female sexuality; "Bad things will happen to you, you'll get attacked, you'll have diseases, people will take advantage of you." Sex is the most human exchange you can have. You've got to go out there and get your anecdotes.
Writing novels and sitcoms [Raised by Wolves has been commissioned by Channel 4] is new for you, how do you feel about putting them out there?
I grab a wooden spoon and I bite down very hard, and I do not take it out of my mouth until it's all over. I've been a critic for many years and I know how it works. At some point, everyone's going to have a go at me, but I'm not going away! I'm on a mission and I'm not going to stop - I love what I do so much.
Obviously if bad things happen I will cry, but I will absolutely carry on because the only way out is to write your way through it. Either that or get blindingly drunk, but I can't take the hangovers these days. Bit of a 'one evening wonder'.
Is there anything at all that can still embarrass you, or anything that you won't talk about?
I wouldn't talk about my husband. He's a dignified man, he didn't ask for this. And I don't say things about my kids. But anything about my life.
I want to see what I'm scared of and how I can overcome that fear, how I can get rid of shame and then talk about it so other people can - because that's kind of my job now. I need to work out why it took 37 years for me to feel I can flap my belly out at someone in an interview. I suspect the answer is because it's simply not appropriate!
How to Build a Girl is out now.