As her new novel, How To Build A Girl, is published, Caitlin Moran talks to Shane Watson about sex, self-harm... and why women should never tear each other down…
Caitlin Moran is standing in front of me, rolling up her T-shirt and then grasping her pale, floppy stomach in both hands to make her belly into a big ‘feminist smile’. This is what she did in front of 2,000 people at an event in Sweden to publicise her previous book, and got a standing ovation. ‘I think it’s very important as a female role model to just go, “Look, girls. I’m doing very well in my career, I’m earning pots of money, I am getting laid, I am really happy and I look like shit and that is fine,”’ she says, dropping back on to her chair, point made.
There are many things that are remarkable about journalist and writer Caitlin Moran. The cream blaze in her hair, put in for a Halloween party in 2001 and left in. Her ironic eyebrows. Her teenage-girl energy. She’s 39 and a mother of two girls, but could be half that age as she bounces into the Groucho Club in her signature denim shorts, black tights and DMs. She speaks faster than geniuses think, delivering perfectly constructed observations so funny and true that you want to write down every word, which is, fortunately for us, what Caitlin has been doing for the past 22-odd years.
At 17 she was writing for music magazine Melody Maker; by 18 she had her own column in The Times. Currently, she has two columns in that newspaper (she gave up her weekly TV review when she started writing her own TV series, Raised By Wolves), and in the past year has completed a couple of film scripts and written her new novel. Writing is as natural to her as speaking and, apparently, almost as fast. ‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘I find it embarrassing talking to other writers because they’re all, “Oh the hell of the blank white page.” Ha, ha ha.’
How To Build A Girl (the first of a trilogy... this is a 10-year plan) is prefaced with a note reminding the reader it is fiction, even though the basic facts of the protagonist Johanna’s life are pretty much identical to Caitlin’s experience.
This time Caitlin wanted to write a book with a relatable, working-class teenage protagonist – one who’s desperate for sex, a bit of a goth, a bit lonely and fat, and who has to make do with her mother’s hand-me-down bras – so it seemed weird not to plunder her own backstory. ‘It’s taken me years to realise how odd my teenage years were. I do sometimes think I made it all up.’ She lurches forward, eyebrows at maximum arch. ‘Maybe I went to Eton! Ha, ha!’
She’s also on a mission – to speak honestly to girls about everything that’s on their minds ‘to clear away all the bull***t’. In HTBAW she is open about having had an abortion and never regretting it. In How To Build A Girl she delves into self-destructive sex, self-harming and trying to be one of the blokes because being yourself is never good enough. All of it is brilliantly observed and delivered in that familiar self-deprecating voice.
Almost by accident Caitlin has become the spokeswoman for modern, non- judgemental, ‘use the c-word by all means’ feminism – the woman in charge of framing the new rules. ‘Well, feminism is not a set of rules,’ she says. ‘It’s a set of tools to analyse what’s around us.’ Although there is one big rule: ‘Don’t tear down another woman, whatever she’s doing. If we do that we are standing on a pile of rubble arguing with each other while the patriarchy lights cigars with tenners.’
‘How To Build A Girl’ is published this week (£14.99, Ebury Press) Read the full interview with Caitlin in this week’s Grazia Magazine.