It's 4 o'clock and spitting rain in Crouch End in London. Caitlin Moran's eyebrows raise themselves over her computer monitor through the window of her writing shed at the back of her garden. In the kitchen of her house, she searches for cider in the fridge and settles for white wine and ice. Back in the shed ("Who doesn't want to be in a smug liberal cave?") there's a lone picture of David Bowie on the wall and a leopard print coat in the corner. She straddles her saddle-like chair, takes a sip of wine and starts to talk.
It's the first Friday of February, and earlier that day, Moran tweeted a Spectator article praising its subject matter of, as she put it, "the hot-take industry of commentators insistent that protesters, not Trump, are the problem". We'll return to hot takes later, but for now, Moran is wondering if Kellyanne Conway is just "one of those deep cover Joaquin Phoenix jobs" perpetrated by Denis Leary. "It's the 'f*ckpocalpyse' times 20. Literally, the year the historians will look back on and go 'shhiiiiiiiiiiiiit' for 250 pages in multiple books."
A couple of hours with Moran yields a transcript of around 12,000 words. She is famously chatty, famously hilarious, famously sound. She's also famously busy. There are the three columns a week for the Times, her landmark feminist book How To Be A Woman, the novel How To Build A Girl, the sequel she's working on right now, How To Be Famous, her collections of columns and essays, Moranthology and Moranifesto. There were two seasons of her Channel 4 sitcom Raised By Wolves, written with her sister Caroline and loosely based on their upbringing in Wolverhampton, the US version of which was ordered to pilot by ABC to be written by Diablo Cody.
She's just finished the film script of How To Build A Girl which starts shooting this summer. There were the speaking tours where women and girls queued for hours to hug her, like some kind of cross between Amma and Courtney Love. There is the backstory of graft and prodigy: home-schooled in a council house where she grew up the eldest of eight, a journalist with Melody Maker at 16, a TV presenter at 18, a music writer of brilliant humour and heart, a feminist icon. At home, she's ridiculously friendly and generous with the contents of her booze fridge.
Like most sane people, Moran is reeling from, and mildly obsessed to the point of distraction with, Brexit and Trump. But it’s the actions of what a subtweet (a tweet that refers to someone without directly mentioning them) might categorise as “some people” in the media industry that’s drawing her ire today, the latest genre of journalistic commentary that polices the tone of the left and equates careless conservatism with edginess.
“At the moment I feel they’ve got their arses hanging out, because people who were previously liberal – I’m not going to name names, I’m just subtweeting them with words – but there’s a load of people who have spent the last 20 years ostensibly being liberal and writing and broadcasting under the guise of being liberal because that was the way the cultural tide was, and generally we have had, wonderfully, 20 years of being a dick not being that fashionable.
“Because there’s been this tide turn of Trump and Brexit, suddenly they’ve started using words like ‘feminazi’ and ‘snowflake’ and adopting this alt-right language. First of all, I don’t think you guys know where this language comes from! Secondly, you’re buying into a bull market of dickishness. I really think this is the high tide. It’s not politics, it’s fashion. This mood and these words are simply fashionable at the moment. This is the high tide of being a c*nt, and the tide is going to go out and the problem is people are going to remember that you were the one saying this. You’ll just look like you were really easily influenced by what was going on. You’ll look like the pr*ckish kid at school who for three weeks was a New Romantic that everybody laughs at and we’ve got the f*cking pictures. Have the courage of your convictions to be a Goth for 20 years solidly. Don’t suddenly adopt these other outfits. They don’t fit you. You don’t know where this sh*t has come from. And it’s glaringly aware to everyone that these words are aimed at women, and people of colour, and Jews, and Muslims and stuff. We don’t forget this. We don’t forget when you use these words. And we, demographically, are going to take over the world quite soon. So, enjoy.”
Moran speaks in paragraphs of that size in a single breath, a rapid flow of astute clarity, nailing it every time, the culmination of someone who has thought a lot, read a lot, and certainly talked a lot. In Moranifesto, she details a conversation with her editor about how she wanted to forsake her humorous column in the Times Magazine and move to the op-ed pages so she could write about politics. Her editor insisted her column would stay where it was, where people who mightn't be that into politics would encounter it accidentally in her work.
In a way, it's odd how self-deprecating Moran is in the introduction of that collection of writing, because her thoughts on Brexit and Trump cut through issues other journalists have a tendency to skirt around. For example, now, in her shed, on David Cameron neglecting to quell what started off as the small Tory desire for a referendum that ended in Brexit: "This was a party problem. The demographic in the party was so tiny as well. To be really horrible and blunt, those people would have been dead in 10 years' time. It was, again, old white guys who gave a shit about this, 20 nutters in the back that people try to avoid at the party conference. Rather that doing your job, rather than knuckling down and going, 'I'm going to do my job, I'll discipline those people, I'll be unpopular in the party and will have to have some awkward conversations, people might not like me, I might not be all laid-back Dave anymore, I might have to be strict about these things and f*ck people off and do some proper politics and make some proper bargains,' it's like, nah, just chuck it out, let the people decide. That's an absolute failing of the idea of you being a public servant. The whole point is that we shouldn't have to decide this shit. The fact is now we're going to have to go out and protest and march all the time, to do things politics should have been doing."
Posh, white, straight men
And on the political demographic that has become responsible for Britain and its ills: “My presumption that a political class are born, that these are the leaders, the supermen who will do these things, they’re cleverer than us, they’ve learned more than us, they understand these things more, has – in time of meeting these people and seeing what they’re doing – been completely disproven. One of the problems that I have with this tiny, tiny well from which we pull people who get shit done in this country, the astonishing coincidence of how many people came from the same school and have power in this country – they came from Eton, wow, that really is a billion to one coincidence that’s happened – the problem is the automatic presumption that we have: that a posh, white, straight man, who went to the right school, and comes from a good background, and can speak the words, and looks confident, and has a relaxed manner, and can handle a debate because he’s been trained in, is the right guy to do it, he can do anything, is what has completely f*cked us.”
You don't need anyone on your side. You don't need anything. You can sit there with a pen and paper if you have to or a laptop and just write. You put everything into it and no one can f*ck with it
Six or so years ago, when Moran wrote How To Be A Woman, a book of brilliantly and beautifully honest, tea-spitting joy, she said she "absolutely knew what would happen with it" and was wrong. She thought it would sell 60,000 copies and get a good review in the Guardian, and that would mean she would get to write another book. The early signs that she might have underestimated the impact it would have (it has sold more than a million copies) began when she gave it to her agent and they passed it through to the publishers. "They were saying things like, 'this is going to change things, this is really big, as soon as the proofs came through they all disappeared from the box, I've got people ringing up, I've got a waiting list of people wanting to read this.' Because I'd never done a book before, I thought that was normal. As soon as it went on pre-sale, it went to number one. I thought that was normal. When I went to Waterstones, it was at number one on the day that it came out, and again I just, in the same way that I thought all of my friends would be famous, I thought that's what happens to a book. The launch party for that was so nuts. We had it in this place in King's Cross, and Steven Moffat who writes Doctor Who and Sherlock was there, that war correspondent who was killed, Marie Colvin, turned up really pissed. Germaine Greer. everyone was there. There was this rainstorm half-way through, and we were up on this balcony smoking and everyone crowded under this umbrella on a picnic table that turned over, and everyone was screaming. Looking around at everyone who was there: Miranda Hart and Emma Freud, all these people I got to know on Twitter, Nigella Lawson, they were all there. On one hand I was like, 'Is this normal, is this what you do when you do a book?', and on the other hand I was going, 'This is an astonishing group of people, and we've all come together through Twitter and it feels like something's going to happen now.' So just in terms of a moment where you suddenly realise what you've done is going to be big, that was incredible."
When the success of How To Be A Woman became clear, the thing she also didn't predict was how many young girls would latch on to it. They turned up at gigs and events shaking and crying, "like I was f*cking One Direction." She remained working from home, not going out. She says she doesn't hang out at events. It took her years to write in the first person in the Times because she thought it was too attention-seeking and weird. It took her years to admit she was working class or a feminist. She says she was careful not to draw attention to herself, while now, at the same time, "I'm very wary of women who get to any kind of prominence and power and go, 'Oh no! I'm just an idiot! It happened by mistake! I'm a fool every day! I will fall and I will tumble and I will let you all down!' It's like I'm a fully-grown woman, I've got two kids, I'm the oldest of eight, I've always been in a position of responsibility and I will treat it sensibly, I like hard work, I love it, and I feel totally capable of doing this. I can't imagine how happy I'd have been if I'd seen a woman say that when I was younger, rather than going evil or mental. I love Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, because they just stand up and say, 'Bitches take care of business: we can do this, we can cope with this, this is fantastic.' I think it's really important. Sometimes I have to catch myself because the easy joke to make is, 'and I'm just an idiot', and do a Bridget Jones. What you need to do is: I can do this and this is fantastic."
Girls and boys
In journalism and friendship, she says she has her two circles. "I've got my bitches, my girls, Lauren Laverne, Sali Hughes, Sophie Heawood and we go out for meetings and set the world to right over a lot of gin. Then I've got my boys; Dorian Lynskey, Hugo Rifkind, John Niven, and we go out and set the world to right over gin. I spent a lot of time studying. I'd been a cultural commentator for 20 years before I got any kind of fame, so I spent a lot of time studying what the pitfalls were. If you get angry or communicate emotionally that will come back and bite you on the arse. You set the tone in communication."
On writing, she half-remembers an Elbow lyric from New York Morning ("The first to put a simple truth in words / Binds the world in a feeling all familiar.") "It's this whole idea that human endeavour, if you're a writer or an artist, is that you want to be the first to put a simple truth in words. When you read the best things you go, 'Oh! I knew that! But I hadn't thought it, I felt it.' And that's the game, man. You can divide people who are doing stuff into two arenas, really: the people who are trying to find that stuff, find a feeling a turn it into words, and the ones who are just basically having a wank."
Right now, Moran has to finish How To Be Famous, the sequel to How To Build A Girl by the end of March. She's just finished the film script of How To Build A Girl which starts shooting in the summer. "I came up with a scene yesterday which is either the best thing I've ever done or complete insanity. That's the thing, you never know; is this where I've gone too far, or have I done this? But I think I've managed to boil down all of feminism into a one-minute animated sequence. Come on!" Cory Giedroyc is directing the film. There's another film she's co-written with John Niven that they're still working on, an endeavour called The Virginia Woolf Project ("which is her quote about when we refer to 'anon', it's usually a woman. And so I'm going back through history and trying to find these amazing women who did amazing things who we don't know"), and more.
I think women can't distance themselves from a lot of the feelings they have about being a woman
With so much on, you'd think the first thing to go would be her three columns a week for the Times. But no. "There's something so beautiful about it [the column]. It's a great discipline. It's like doing an hour of yoga every morning. It's still the hardest thing I think, just to land. You've got 850 words. There's been so many columns written, there are so many every day, there are so many blogs out there, everybody's writing columns. The thrill of finding a way to write about abortion where you come at it from an angle where you get some girl in Surrey going 'I had never thought about it like that, you've changed my mind', and also the thrill of writing for the Times, that's such a thrill and an honour. The thing I get the most is people going, 'Why don't you work for the Guardian?' Because the reader of the Guardian knows that shit. This stuff I'm writing, MPs f*cking read, it gets mentioned in Hansard, I'm getting CEOs of companies, the elite read this shit and no one else is saying to them, really, there aren't any other overweight, working-class, queer-friendly, Marxist-trained women writing this stuff about abortion and mental illness and ways of reframing the world. So I'm not going to waste that: the combination of the technicality of it and the fact that I can grab people by the lapels. I've got the front page of that f*cking magazine, man, people are just sitting there reading their breakfast on a Saturday, their guards are down, some hungover f*cking QC or MP is going to read that and it might change a vote. I'm not going to give that up." Moran fetches more wine, and rolls a cigarette.
Humour as a weapon
For someone from whom so many young women take their cues of confidence, who realised her humour is a weapon, a tool and a comfort, it's hard to imagine her not being that kind of beacon. But she talks about struggling to write a film, for example, assuming the format of mainstream cinema that is laid out had to be followed. "I spent 20 years knowing that I wanted to write films and books and things but going, 'but a film should be about a teenage boy who's been orphaned and lives with his uncle and aunt on a desert planet and then a robot comes and gives him a thing and then he finds a magical gun and they blow up the Death Star', and I don't have a story like that, and that's what stories are, so I'm f*cked, I can't do anything. And then it was suddenly going, hang on, all of the stories are like that, so what if I went over here" – she does a 180 degree turn in her chair – "and saw all the stories that have not been written? Suddenly I had this revelation. I was 33, trying to work it out and I think a lot of women, people of colour, any minority, you look at this crowded field full of white men and their stories and the establishment and go, 'How could I dodge through this? How could I get three minutes on Have I Got News For You? How can I get on Newsnight? Or get a column? Or try and get one thing off the ground on this crowded, crowded pitch, where they've all done this before me?' But then you go, 'No, swing round over here, no one's going in this direction. No one's doing this stuff.' When people go, 'That's taboo', you go 'No, that's unused material. That's a truth that needs to be dug up.' It's that Stephen King thing, you just have to dig it up. When people go, 'We've never done that before because there isn't a market for it,' well, there isn't a market for it because you haven't done it. Just look at your f*cking demographics man, look at how many women there are, look at how many people of colour there are." This awakening is currently being seen across television and streaming services.
"There was a point where one of my best friends said, 'We should go for a drink', and this was in April and I went, 'Yeah, I could do it last Friday in October?
When Moran's sitcom Raised By Wolves was knocked back ("with people going, 'We've already got A Woman Project this year and next year – literally a sitcom with a woman in it – and we've got one next year so come back in two years' time.' ") she wrote How To Be A Woman in "an angry five-month burst". The one thing you can do as a working-class girl, she says, is write. "You don't need anyone on your side. You don't need anything. You can sit there with a pen and paper if you have to or a laptop and just write. You put everything into it and no one can f*ck with it. I just put it out and then once you've sold a million copies of a book, suddenly you've got power. Suddenly everyone was like, 'Hey! Shit! We wouldn't have thought people would want to read about women, but they do! Amazing! So here's more things.' But that was the problem, I was offered so much stuff I just went f*cking crazy. To do a sitcom, wrote two film scripts in that time, wrote two books, the stand-up tour, did a world tour of promo, still doing three columns a week for the Times. I nearly died of exhaustion, and really f*cked my lower back. But now I'm just coming to the end of all the commitments I made, and now I can choose again what I'm going to do next. And the ideas that I've got are BIIIIIG things."
Dinner with Meryl Streep
Within that maelstrom and its aftermath, Moran maintains she has deliberately chosen "to be as unfamous as someone who does what I do as possible". Yes, she does speaking tours and the occasional interview, but she turns down television, all games shows, most appearances, red carpet events, photo shoots. She turned down dinner with Meryl Streep – "I really regret that. Apparently she cooked a pie for everyone." For someone initially famous for being a journalist, she politely refutes that description, "I'm not technically a journalist at all. I was never trained. I don't really do facts. But what I have had which is in common with most artists is just a point where you knew at a very early age, a fundamental, you didn't feel like you were part of things. You were an observer . . . I was thinking recently how How to Be A Woman had worked so well and why there are loads of problems that women have that I haven't felt, so I was able to observe them, write about them, and get some distance from it in a way that I think women can't distance themselves from a lot of the feelings they have about being a woman. I never went to school, I never went to university, I've never worked in an office, I've never gone on a date, I've never had to dress up for an event. I've seen other women doing it, but I've never had to do that. So I've never had to take part in it, so it doesn't feel embedded in me. I can observe it as a behaviour and sit here and go, 'But men aren't doing [those] things.' It doesn't come from an instinctive place, it's not innate to be a woman to think you have to do these things or behave in this way or take part in these rituals or feel this way about yourself. I've got that distance from it and I can observe it."
In the aftermath of How To Be A Woman, she worked six or seven days a week for three years. "There was a point where one of my best friends said, 'We should go for a drink', and this was in April and I went, 'Yeah, I could do it last Friday in October?' He admitted a year later that he thought I was trying to drop him as a mate." That first year, she knew what she was doing every 20 minutes of any given day. It made her quieter because she had to lie down when she had time off. She feels there's a strange correlation between fame and mental illness, a state of psychosis or schizophrenia where you think your voice is on the TV or radio or people are talking about you . . . and they actually are. It's an odd thing, being known. Sometimes she walks into a room and no one knows who she is, but she's aware of it either way, because no one ever tells you how many people in a room know you. It makes her overthink things. She pauses. "Which is why I now live in this shed."
Game of Thrones
Moran watches a lot of Broad City, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Fleabag, Catastrophe ("Sharon Horgan is a f*cking goddess"), but her biggest praise is kept for Game of Thrones – "One of a few public mistakes I've made in recent years was when it first came out I slagged it off because the first few episodes, fantasy is the straightest, whitest thing ever, and they were bumming Khaleesi over a f*cking rock and I was like 'I can't f*cking handle this. f*ck you.' And then you watch it unfold . . ." But the show's creation of a world, rival cultures, and the process of how those things are run, won her over, "like many people got really angry when Khaleesi got caught up in what was basically council admin when she took over whatever that f*cking place was. People were like, 'The bins are flowing', and she's sitting there with two dragons going, 'But I'm Khaleesi.' But that's exactly what it should be! You need to show how civilisations are built. It's not just about wars, it's about decisions, relationships, this is really important. Secondly, it seems increasingly clear to me that women are going to take over the world."
You look at your life and go 'Gasp! How can I have a whole life! What the f*ck am I going to do! I have to make all the decisions?
Game of Thrones comes up again later, when the interview is over, and Moran makes an incredibly compelling case for how its narrative correlates to the rise of the right in the US and what is therefore going to happen. It would have been great to record that speech and therefore remember it, but I suppose you'll just have to watch GoT.
Back to "the f*ckpocalypse", and Moran thinks the Women's March "rattled" the Trump administration because they didn't expect its tone and size, and didn't know how to respond. "The thing I would say if you're a young, angry man: don't go out and protest. Spend all your energy on convincing your mum and your grandma and your aunt and all the kids in that family, and do everything you can – drive them there. It's usually harder for women to protest, people with kids, older people, spend your energy on driving them there and then leave them. Because if the protest is entirely made up of women wearing pink hats and holding funny placards with kids in buggies and old grandmas, you can't send the National Guard out to that. That's why the future of politics is female. There are many things we can accuse women of, but being a violent, angry mob that are hellbent on destroying a city centre during a march? It's going to be really hard to pin that when the visuals are completely dissonant. That's why the most powerful image from the Black Lives Matter protests was that girl [Leisha Evans] standing there. You're in sandals and a dress. Come beautiful, come in fancy dress, come holding balloons, come holding funny placards, come with your children, come with your grandparents. The power that you have as a protestor is in your softness, is in all of the things that previously you thought would have made you useless . . . So, if I had time this is what I would spend my time organising. But instead," she grins, "I've sent two tweets, hopefully everyone else will work it out," Moran cracks up. "Sorry! Had to put a shepherd's pie in the oven! So I did a couple of LOLs, pointed out that Kellyanne Conway looks like Beavis from Beavis and Butthead, and now I'm done. I've done my bit. That's okay world, my pleasure!" Time for more wine. The previous Monday, there was a march on, so she texted her 15-year-old daughter saying she was going on the march with her friend, and asked her what she wanted for tea so she could stick it in the oven. He daughter replied saying, "All of my class are going, see you there."
After the apocalypse
Brexit hangs over Britain, and particularly London, indistinguishable from the rain clouds. Combined with the threat Trump poses to the world, Moran admits a sighing and rather pained thought process that has made her wonder whether she and her family should up sticks. "I have been seriously kind of 'give it a bit of time and see how it pans out over the next six months' and stuff, but I am for the first time in my entire life thinking maybe I won't spend my entire life in this country. I've always been so happy being British; the fact that we're part of Europe, I love our gardens, I love roses, I love the rain, I love the climate, I love the fact that anoraks are acceptable, I love the fact that we love dogs, I love libraries and books and that reasonableness and general irreligiousness . . . obviously there are many bad things about it, but there is so much I love about this country. The idea of living anywhere else was just inconceivable. But, when you've got Donald Trump tweeting about nuclear war on day two, you're kind of like, 'Hmmm, okay, is this like '38? Should I be selling up and f*cking off?' Then you look at a map of the world and we always thought New Zealand. I love Sweden, Sweden's f*cking amazing, there's so much going on there culturally. And Ireland. How bad is it going to get? Do I just need to move to another city and get used to another culture, or is it going to be, like, you need to have a well and a gun in the basement and enough dried food? There was that big thing about the Silicon Valley billionaires getting laser eye surgery because they assume at some point quite soon you won't be able to get contact lenses because society's going to break down. So on the one hand, okay, I know that consumption of cocaine in Silicon Valley is through the f*cking roof, so that could be that, but on the other hand, if when you were 12 and you read the novel Stark by Ben Elton, which is all about 30 years in the future where all the wealth is being aggregated in this tiny little group of 50 or 60 billionaires and they've got together and decided the planet is f*cked, and just scorch and burn, they're going to go in there and rape all the f*cking oil and gold out of the world and then they're going to piss off somewhere else and let society fight it out like rats in the street, and you're like, bloody hell, what if Ben Elton, alongside writing The Young Ones and Blackadder, invented the future? He just f*cking called it! . . . I looked at the future and thought: that's going to be great! That's going to be f*cking smashing! And here I am at 41 going, 'Oh God, have I got to buy a smallholding in Ireland and learn how to shoot a f*cking bow and arrow? Will I be f*cking shooting rats for my kids?' Circling back, there was a point, looking at Ireland, I thought I'd get a farm there. You'll be far enough away from the radioactive fallout, and let's face it, there's enough water there which is going to be one of the big resource problems of the next 20 years. And then I thought, I can't take my girls to a country where abortion is illegal. How could you do that? It's like having black children and moving to apartheid South Africa. It's that harsh. It's that negation of being a woman. I don't know, Sweden then."
Passionate, not bad-tempered
Moran's anger is righteous and passionate, but she says she doesn't lose her temper. She says she had quite an angry dad, "and it just looked quite unpleasant. It never seemed to get anything done." The biggest mistake she has made in the past five years, she says, is defending Lena Dunham following a piece she'd written about Dunham, and someone tweeted Moran about the controversy over the lack of people of colour on Girls. "And I was like, 'Why is this woman telling me to do my job? This seems like a really specious piece of whataboutery.' I'd had a really bad day and said I didn't give a shit, and that's not what it's about, it's a show about spoiled middle-class white girls fretting about their lives. And it was just one careless tweet and it blew up for six months, endless blogs about how racist I was and the problems with white feminism, and I suddenly became part of the problem . . . It made me learn a lot. I always thought I was a lovely equal person, this is what my whole thing is about; equality, increasing the lexicon, we all need to be represented, you need equality and balance, otherwise this is what makes the whole world go to hell in a handcart. But a concerted six months of people constantly calling you a racist, you go away and you read a lot, and you understand a lot more. I'd always instinctively known I was against being a horrible c*nt and being massively racist, but going out and learning a whole lot more about it, so that I could then help more because I had more facts in order to be able to write about it, worked really well for me."
We wrap up. Moran wants to know where Ireland's Repeal the Eighth campaign is at. We talk more about Trump and Steve Bannon, new TV shows and films. In the kitchen, her husband, the journalist Peter Paphides, has left the kitchen table. One of her daughters is in the next room playing City Of Stars from La La Land on the piano. Moran is at the table, filling glasses up with white wine until my taxi comes, talking about her and her friend's invention: "journey juice", those kid's fruit tubes emptied and filled with vodka for an on-the-road tipple. In the hallway, the cat gets in her way – "F*ck off!"
A while previously, somewhere around the third drink, Moran talked about the Ten Labours of Hercules, specifically the fifth task, cleaning the stables of Augeas, where the immortal livestock produced almost infinite dung. This was advice from Terry Pratchett, and, in Moran's retelling, "a stable that's filled with 10,000 years of shit, and it seems like an infinite task but he dealt with it in the way that everyone had always dealt with infinite tasks, breaking it down into a series of finite tasks. And that's kind of life, isn't it? You look at your life and go 'Gasp! How can I have a whole life! What the f*ck am I going to do! I have to make all the decisions?' Yeah, but you don't have to do it all at once. You just break it down into a series of little achievable tasks. Life is a to do list, and if you get a third of the way through before you die you've done well. That's all it is. You break it down into little bits. When you see people being anxious it's like: 'No, no no, just one at a time.' You can't panic if you're doing one thing at a time."
Mountains to the Sea presents Caitlin Moran in conversation with Declan Hughes at the Pavilion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin on Sunday March 12th. The event is sold out, but you can be added to a waiting list at paviliontheatre.ie