Author Caitlin Moran in (Drunken) Conversation with Sophie Heawood – Part One
Talking body image, sex, cat piss, and walking in on Damien Hirst taking a shit.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
What with journalistic integrity and media transparency being the big issues of our day, I decided to interview Caitlin Moran, who has been a close friend of mine for years—and to do the interview in my kitchen, using a wide range of alcohol for background research.
There are three or four hours of tape recordings, most of which are so painful to transcribe that I have basically missed out most of what I said and just put Caitlin's bits in. We began by talking about her novel, How to Build a Girl, the story of a teenage girl called Johanna, who comes to London to be a music journalist, re-invent herself, and learn to give blowjobs. It's just been nominated for the PG Wodehouse prize for comic fiction, which I am really pissed off about, so I aired my grievances with Caitlin.
Sophie Heawood: Given that you're currently working on two screenplays and the second series of your sitcom, Raised By Wolves, as well as all the journalism you've been doing since you were a teenager, I was really annoyed when you managed to write a novel. I was hoping there'd be one form of writing you couldn't do but the book was poetry. How did you know that you could pull it off?
Caitlin Moran: I'm ashamed and embarrassed that I haven't written more novels, because when I was ten I absolutely presumed that I would have written about seven by now. I'm nearly 40. But I got kind of derailed by weed and pregnancy... Not at the same time.
What I love is that the whole way through the book, which is based on your experiences of working at Melody Maker, Johanna keeps pretending to hate U2 because all her male colleagues are obsessed with hating U2, and in her reviews she won't call him "The Edge," only "The Cunt." But all the way through she quietly loves them and is humming their songs to herself. I used to be a music journalist and that was exactly what it was like.
Yes, and now it's internet cynicism, you preempt other people's disdain and roll your eyes and go "O RLY" and just write cynical stuff. Because cynicism is armor. But armor limits you. You can't dance in armor.
I think it's very important you hold onto the idealism you had as a child—that's how you grow. Twelve-year-olds are often more switched-on than people in their twenties and thirties because they have such a strong sense of right and wrong. It's quite good to see the world in simplistic terms, you can get a lot done. Pete, my husband, always says the classic idea of cool is that you put on black sunglasses and a leather jacket and you don't really say that much. That's because you're scared. That whole Bobby Gillespie, Velvet Underground thing—it's far braver to wear a cardigan and throw your arms out and go, "I love Crowded House! I'm incredibly excited about baked potatoes! Life's going to be amazing!"
So your next book, the sequel to the novel, is called How to Be Famous...
Yes! Johanna and John Kite get together in the sequel, and he is not an asshole and it's great...
...and the third part of the trilogy will be How to Change the World—can I print this on VICE?
God yes, then we can copyright the title so no one can fucking nick it.
But this is confusing because How to Be a Woman was your non-fiction book, and then How to Build a Girl was the novel and they're all kind of about the same thing—i.e. YOU—and they all have the same name. How do you get away with this shit?
I just decided not to waste energy worrying about the rules and the way things have always been done. It's funny though, the number of people who have opinions on me and who think they know what I stand for, when my Times writing is behind a paywall so they haven't read it. If you just saw me on Twitter you would think I was just shouty and screamy: "Woo—here's a petition. Woo—here's a sexy picture of Bruce Springsteen." You wouldn't know the things I'm trying to do.
I remember when one of your editors at the Times was like, "Oh you've not written about the coalition's austerity measures AGAIN," and you were like, "Yes, AGAIN." I also remember sitting at your kitchen table at about 2 AM and you just crying because someone connected to the Tory party had said that if you were right about what the experience of poverty is really like, then they would have to rethink their whole plans. And you were just praying that he meant it and that he'd get back to you and he never did.
Was I actually crying? Fucking hell.
Well, your eyes were a bit watery. But you've never been overly bothered about how you look, which is one of the things I like to think we've always had in common...
I used to feel that I should look as nice as possible when going into a meeting at work, wearing a nice dress or heels for a photo shoot even though I couldn't fucking walk in them, and that I should be deferential. But I've realized that a lot of what I thought was to do with gender was actually to do with power. As I've become more powerful, I'll turn up looking really scruffy, and I'll interrupt people, nicely, but going, "No, that's not going to work, that's not right." Once you're the most powerful person in the room, that's how you can behave.
[Halfway through this conversation we go for a wander around my house for some reason. Caitlin sees her own book How to Be a Woman on a shelf and brings it back to the table so she can stab herself in the eye with a fork.]
That thing that Aric Sigman said about schools, that what we need to do to stop teenage girls thinking they're fat is get boys who are two years older than them and say what body images they like in women, to say, "We like pear-shaped women, we don't care about you looking like a model!" NO! For the last thousand years, women have worked out if they are all right or not by whether their body is what a man wants to fuck. What if you don't want to be fucked by a man? What if you don't want to be sexy at all? What if you're already building a city in your head? You're trying to make teenage girls feel better by saying, "YES, I WOULD have a wank over you"?!
Half the moms I know are feminists, and they don't let their daughters watch MTV and those kind of images. I can see why they ban it, it's out of love. But instead of banning it, in my house, the way I do it with my two daughters is we sit down and watch Rihanna and go, "OK, this is the 17th video in a row where she's in her bra and pants in a field wanting to fuck someone—let's look at the stats on that. Statistically, on at least five of these shoots she would have had her period or been suffering from a very heavy cold. The minute the cameras went off her they'd have put her in a massive puffa jacket and she'd have been freezing and crying and eating Nurofen. Just to get through the fucking day." I make sure that they know that.
As long as you empower teenage girls to have fun with it and question it and not feel they're being crushed by it. I don't think you should ever ban anything. But also let's make it clear that pop music is about people being sexy and wanting to fuck people. Lots of people hit out at Rihanna for always thinking about sex—of course she should be singing about sex. That's what pop music is about. I believe in tools, not rules. Not banning stuff.
You used to be fat and now you're not because you lost a lot of weight. Was sexiness a part of that?
I had hypnotherapy when I'd got really big, about ten years ago, and I was having to eat ice cream to write everything. He said to me, under hypnosis, imagine you're in a bikini on a beach and some men walk past you and go, "Mmm that's nice." And I came round out of the thing thinking: No, I don't want that to happen. His idea was that I was eating in order to be fat in order not to be fucked, because I was scared of the male gaze. I was like, "No, I like food and I'm going to be clothed at all times. I holiday in a cagoule in Wales. You're trying to prepare me for a holiday on a beach in Barbados with One Direction, which is never going to happen. I simply want to overcome my abusive relationship with food where I eat so much ice cream that my stomach hurts. Because I used to have to eat a liter of ice cream for 800 words. But the hypnotism did end that—it did work. I now don't have to eat to write. I just drink tea instead.
Something that has always interested me about your writing is that you manage to make strong arguments without slagging people off. Most big columnists fall under the sway of negativity.
When I slagged off Ed Sheeran at the Queen's Jubilee three years ago, I said on Twitter that if my children ever came home saying they liked him I'd put them in a weighted sack and throw them in the river. Literally 20 minutes later Ed Sheeran himself popped up in my timeline saying, "I'm sorry to hear that Caitlin, I love you."
[We are cackling now.]
Then in the next video he did he looked completely hot, and it had Muppets in it—I love the Muppets more than anything—and he was best friends with Taylor Swift. And now I've completely fucked my chances of being best friends with Taylor Swift. So that was the last time I was bitchy. If you don't like what exists now, don't spend your time criticizing the people who created it. Spend your energy creating the alternative. Invent invent invent. Can I have one of your real cigarettes? [ Caitlin has been vaping all night.]
Do you remember that night you were hosting a quiz at the Groucho and somebody nicked your Marc Jacobs handbag, and afterwards we were having a cigarette outside and the police turned up to talk to you. And we were just sort of giggling at the ridiculousness of any of this being real?
I know, they seemed to think it was a really big deal. It was a TINY Marc Jacobs bag off the Outnet for $300. In my life I have bought two branded handbags. Both bright orange—I like things that look like bollards or road signs. One of them, I had to put my daughter's knickers in when she pissed herself with fear at a Doctor Who launch party when a Dalek came towards her, and then the cat smelt the piss and pissed in it too, so it was ruined. And the other one got stolen after I'd had it for two weeks. So that's the end of it.
I've tried to buy posh clothes and they look terrible on me. I am of peasant stock. The Groucho banned me twice before they made me an honorary lifetime member. When I was 16, I was put up in the bedrooms there to do Loose Ends, and I brought a band back with me. We'd all done shit tons of E and we made plasticine animals and crushed them into the carpet with our feet. The second time, I'd been to a mustache conference, and it was 1992 so everyone was bisexual, and me and my friend, a girl, started getting off with each other in reception, and they got funny with us. We were going, "But Julie Burchill's a member here and she's bisexual!" And then Keith Allen was at the bar still wearing his Glastonbury backstage wristband from two weeks ago, and I'd been there too, and I went, "Why have you still got THAT on?" So him and Damien Hirst started following me round the club going, "Caitlin, you're dead, you're fucking dead," and I got banned again.
Were you frightened?
YES! [The story continues into some unprintable details about someone kicking in the door of a toilet cubicle looking for Keith but finding Damien taking a shit]. Anyway, then they made me a lifetime member and my bag got nicked and a couple of days later, a Net A Porter van turned up outside my house with a new Marc Jacobs bag on it, so I immediately looked on the website to see how much it cost and it was £1,500 [$2,200]. So I gave it away.
At this point the tape descends into a discussion of what it's like when you make a lot of money and all your friends, including, err, me, end up borrowing money off you. I am just going to stop transcribing it here because the sound of me eating and wheezing and going, "Let's go and look at my sleeping child!" is getting embarrassing.
After Caitlin went home I was sick. She emailed me the next day saying I probably shouldn't print any of it apart from the bit where she asked for a drink.
How to Build a Girl is out now in hardback, published by Ebury. The paperback comes out on April 9.
- Caitlin Moran
- Damien Hirst
- working class
- Vice Blog
- Sophie Heawood
- How to Be a Girl
- How to Be a Woman
- Keith Allen
- cat piss