Caitlin Moran keeps having a dream where she’s bought a new house, and it’s not as good as the one she already has. In the dream, she feels regretful, realising she should have stayed in the old house.
“I presume that is my brain going: this is as good as your life has ever got, don’t try and do anything else now, carry on as you are, don’t try to overextend yourself or suddenly change your track.” Moran is prolific and generous in everything; writing, making, chatting, doling out advice. You could transcribe her thoughts verbatim and immediately file them as columns, and they’d be much better than what most people wrote that week.
If only there were more Moran to go around. She has had incredible success built on talent, graft, and good cheer; multiple awards for her journalism and columns, authoring one of the 21st century's landmark books on feminism, an acclaimed sitcom and speaking tours that pull in thousands of whooping fans. There seems to be endless fuel in the tank. Yet overextending is something she is now wary of. The five years that followed her million-plus-selling 2011 book How to Be a Woman, were relentless. During the first two of those years, she worked seven days a week, often until 2am or 3am, lying on her kitchen floor after her children had gone to bed absolutely shattered, wired and nervous.
Teenage fans are the best. They will give you everything. They will give you electricity and power. Why would you reject that or walk away from it?
These days, things are slightly less frazzled. She discovered yoga and is testing a way of how to talk and write about it without sounding annoying. Her output remains remarkable. Since How to Be a Woman, she has published the collection of columns and interviews, Moranthology, and another collection of columns and essays, Moranifesto, and the 2014 novel How to Build a Girl. The sequel to the latter is the new and brilliant How to Be Famous, which reacquaints us with the young music journalist Dolly Wilde, who is now navigating a toxic relationship with a comedian in 1990s London, and a much more pleasant relationship with a rock star, John Kite.
How to Be Famous is about a young woman grappling with how to get her own career on track, and the impact of fame of those around her. It's about revenge porn, and women claiming ownership over sexual assaults and dodgy sexual experiences. While Moran was writing, the Harvey Weinstein stories were emerging and the #MeToo movement was blowing up. The actions of her lead character in the book are not dissimilar from the many women who have come out publicly to tell their stories throughout that movement.
“It was like, F**k, this is what they’re doing – it works,” Moran thought, as art and life collided during the writing process. “I was on the right track.” The book looks at gender politics in the music industry, from the reluctance of male rock stars to accept the fandom of teenage girls, to the lack of women on the pages of the music magazine Wilde works for. The protagonist addresses the fallacy of male musicians turning their backs on the young women who offered so much love.
“That pleased me greatly to write that,” Moran says, “That’s something I wanted to say to four or five people in the mid-’90s, but didn’t at the time. I just waited until I was 43 and put it in a book instead … Teenage fans are the best, they will give you everything, they will give you electricity and power, they will give you a mandate, why would you reject that or walk away from it? A lot of the bands [in Britain in the 1990s] went off and recorded difficult, inaccessible albums after their first teenage success because it was like, ‘No, we want to go back to the men again.’ Why do you want to go back to a male fan base? That’s crazy. That’s a real hardwired sexism that you have.”
The 1990s absolutely fizz in How to Be Famous, where Moran escapes the traditional Britpop narrative for something far more insightful. "I just never again want to see Noel Gallagher walking into No 10," Moran says, of the one-dimensional take on how the 1990s was about white, straight, male, Britpop and nothing more.
“From having lived through it, the period before Britpop was incredibly fertile and colourful. It was the most musically diverse decade that I can remember. Rap and hip-hop was doing incredible stuff, trip-hop was happening, British bands like Pulp and Suede were gender-bendery and working class, out for vengeance against the middle classes. Bands like Manic Street Preachers were very political. All of that has just been forgotten. Riot grrrl was happening, the backlash to grunge, fanzines, girl-only gigs – you never see that in the story. We’ve just got this one story that it was just Britpop, Blur versus Oasis, and then everybody started taking heroin, and then Radiohead came along. It was so much more diverse than that.”
That eye for what women live through is central to Moran’s work. Her astute and accessible analysis of feminism is always enlightening. Her next book will, among other things, look at how feminism can be extended to men for them to join in the fight for gender equality.
“There are so many more good men, I truly believe, than bad men. And I think one of the problems that we’ve had with feminism is there has been this belief that men cannot be feminists, men shouldn’t join in, ‘Men we’ve got this, don’t come in and mansplain’.... [So] there are no good men leaders standing up, tribal elders going: ‘Young men: here’s another way.’ ”
Feminism, she says, is among other things about expanding women’s choice, talking about women’s power and how no opportunity should be unavailable to women. “The idea of what a woman is has changed and increased and multiplied so much in the last hundred years in such a positive way. So when you hear these younger men going ‘Women are winning now, women can do more than we can, women are oppressing us,’ you have to listen to that and go: that it is true to them.”
Moran says there has been little that could be deemed the equivalent of progressive, inspiring, feminist literature for men recently. “The one thing that seems to be such a glaring gap at the moment in culture and literature, is men writing those kinds of books, good men forming those kinds of movements, inspiring men, going ‘Let’s talk about the fact that the biggest cause of death for men under 50 is suicide.’
“That’s huge. That’s as huge as it being one in four women being sexually assaulted or raped. That should be a springboard for a movement in itself, talking about how can we expand. When we talk about equality and the breaking down of gender boundaries, it’s good for both of us. “We’re being sexually objectified and raped and paid less, but you are losing custody of your children and you tend to take your own lives.
“That’s the whole point of breaking down these gender things, you should be able to talk about your feelings, we should be able to walk down the street without being catcalled ... but at the moment, women are doing all of the hard work.
It's only the contrarians and the outrageous men and the far-right men who have any sort of platform or who want to address what young people are doing
“One of the planks of the next book I write is that I think there needs to be an open invitation to good men to join the fight. At the moment, particularly because of the way social media works, it’s only the contrarians and the outrageous men and the far-right men who have any sort of platform or who want to address what young people are doing, who want to try and invent what men are in the future.”
She presents a call to action, “Good guys: you’ve got to come on board with this. You’ve got to start writing different films, different books, you’ve got to start giving lectures, writing songs about this, addressing this in your comedy. Because at the moment, in this huge void where good men are like ‘Oh, a lot of feminists told us we should leave it alone, and this all seems a bit icky’, all this terrible stuff is happening. So I think that’s the key thing. Good men need to go, ‘Okay, if not me, who?’ It’s you! You have to step up and do this now. You have to talk about this.”
Moran's sitcom, Raised By Wolves, written with her sister, Caroline, won the Rose D'Or award for best sitcom in Europe (previous winners include Catastrophe, The Inbetweeners, The IT Crowd, Extras and Peep Show), but Channel 4 failed to continue the series beyond two series.
“Yeah, that was f***ing annoying,” Moran says, lighting a cigarette in the back garden of her house in Crouch End in London, bottle of cider in front of her, repeatedly letting the dog in and out of the house depending on its fluctuating demands, husband and kids pottering around the kitchen, her chin spotted with what looks like baby blue chalk, but is actually the consequence of leaving a face mask on for too long while writing.
The sitcom may have ended (an American version written by Diablo Cody for ABC stalled), but on-screen vindication is nigh. The film adaptation of How to Build a Girl, starts shooting in early July, starring Beanie Feldstein – a revelation in Lady Bird – and Alfie Allen, known to millions as Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones. Moran has written the screenplay with John Niven.
“I hope it’s comforting to anyone thinking of writing a screenplay that when I started the sitcom, I’d never written a script in my life, and I’d have to ring up my sister who had written a couple of plays and just go ‘How do you start it off?’ ”
Whenever she writes a book, Moran has a list of things she has never seen before that she wants to see. Such representation correlates with the advice she has for writers. Writers, she thinks, have to ask themselves, “What kind of people am I not seeing? What stories am I not seeing? What words am I not hearing? What tone am I missing? What spaces are there in popular culture at the moment? What am I hungry for? What when I just get a glimpse of something [I haven’t seen before] do I think, Oh my God, I want to see more of that.’ You’ll have a list that will extend to the next 100 years. I’m already panicking. The list of things of want to write is just crazy, so I’ll have to give up smoking at some point. Otherwise I’m going to die before I’ve done half of these f***ing books that I’ve got ideas for.”
The speed at which Moran talks compresses so much into an hour-long conversation; chaos capitalism, Brexit, superhero films ("It doesn't matter if you're wearing a f***ing cape or doing it for the security of the galaxy … We need to get away from these narratives where the whole thing is you kill loads of people to win."), geology, writing sex scenes ("My ultimate objective is if I can make one teenage girl have a really happy w**k to that sex scene at the end [of How to Be Famous], then my job here is done"), the Repeal movement, the simplicity of being young in London in the 1990s ("We were all just wandering around in dungarees taking very, very good ecstasy"), and being "the nation's dirty auntie".
Dinner with Naomi Campbell
The only time Moran appears slightly stuck for words is when asked if she’s proud of her accomplishments.
She tilts her head and looks off to her left. “It’s difficult, because I live on this chair, in these Crocs, in this top. I so rarely leave the house. I try not to have a perception of what I’m seen as out there.”
She takes a drag of her cigarette, “I’m pleased I’ve not been a d*ck. I think I’ve done some useful stuff. It’s difficult when you’ve got so many ideas in your head of what you want to do, you’re kind of like, ‘Well that was all great, but I’m really thinking about all these things in the future and hoping they’re going to be great.’
The vision I always had for my career, even when I was 10, is that I didn't want to be famous, I just wanted to be known by other creative people, and I wanted my writing to be known
“As soon as you finish a thing, you don’t really get to feel the pride of it, because you’re like, ‘I’m on to this next stuff now.’ If I had six months off and was reading through my back catalogue going ‘Oh, that was a good point very well expressed, well done, five out of 10.’ I guess on my deathbed I’ll have a swell of pride if I get people to read out my clippings. For the moment, I love the work. I do love my job. On the few occasions I let myself have a day off, I’ll go for a swim in the Ladies’ Ponds and then I’ll tell myself that I should do something else. And before I know it, I’ll find myself in front of my laptop going ‘Here’s some notes for some stuff’. That’s what really excites me.”
Moran works about three or four years ahead. Her next book is a sequel to How to Be a Woman, called More Than a Woman. The one after that is "if you imagine Margaret Atwood rewriting Weird Science".
She’s writing a film with Niven about a “swashbuckling” female historical figure. Her own fame is growing, and moving into film-making will surely add to that. As she says, she rarely leaves her house, and turns down most fame-related things. “I will not do red carpet. When people are like, ‘Come and have your picture taken with me.’ No, I would prefer not to. Premieres? No. I get offered all these free designer dresses. No. Dinner with f***ing Naomi Campbell, no. I just want people to read my stuff … The vision I always had for my career, even when I was 10, is that I didn’t want to be famous, I just wanted to be known by other creative people, and I wanted my writing to be known.”
How to Be Famous is published by Ebury Press