Caitlin Moran: Woman of good repute

Caitlin Moran tells Hannah Stephenson about the film adaptation of one of her novels, and her latest tale of a young journalist battling against revenge porn.

Caitlin Moran. Photo: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images.

Outspoken feminist, bestselling author and award-winning columnist Caitlin Moran is one entertaining — and exhausting — individual.

Her fast-talking, expletive-filled chatter is amusing, opinionated and feisty in equal measure, as she talks about everything from her upbringing on a council estate in Wolverhampton, the eldest of eight children, to her experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Her book signings go on for hours and often seal friendships as people wait, although she’s also witnessed the occasional punch-up when there’s a bar close by, she observes wryly.

“You see girls walking towards you and you think, ‘Oh my God, in 10 years’ time, you are going to change the world. You have such an air of destiny about you’. I like to tell them that, that they have an incredible aura about them.

“People used to say that to me when I was younger and it does change the way you think about yourself.”

In Moran’s case, it certainly proved true. She published her first children’s novel, The Chronicles Of Narmo, at just 16 and became a columnist for The Times at 18, while her bestselling books include How To Be A Woman and Moranthology.

Her latest novel, How To Be Famous, is the second in a semi-autobiographical trilogy following the adventures of Johanna Morrigan, a 19-year-old columnist (known as Dolly Wilde) for The Face, who makes a name for herself against a backdrop of 1995 London at the epicentre of Britpop.

While climbing the career ladder, she has ‘bad sex’ with a loathsome young comedian who videos them in the act and then shows the video to his friends. As the story of the sex tape spreads, Johanna sets out to wreak revenge on the comedian, while her romance with a rock star she’s lusted after for ages develops.

“She’s a clever teenage girl writing a column about how people are screwing up their fame, and then finds out that there are many kinds of fame and the fame that she gets is notoriety,” Moran explains. “

Even though it’s the Nineties, there’s so much revenge porn now, and I wanted to write how a teenage girl would deal with revenge porn and sexual shame.”

There is a ‘Me Too’ reference, although Moran believes she wrote the book after the real campaign began.

She herself experienced sexual harassment during her early career, but didn’t realise it immediately.

“When I was working for magazines, the first time I asked for a cover feature, the features editor told me to sit on his knee and come and talk about it.

“In my head, I was thinking, ‘I’ve always been a fat and unattractive child. I’m now being sexually harassed — is this an upgrade?’"

"I just dealt with it as I would deal with an annoying brother, I just sat very heavily on his knee and bounced up and down and said, ‘Yes, I’d like to write a feature, please’. He gave me the feature and never did it again.

“Another guy tried to sexually shame me by telling people I’d had sex with someone from the office. I made him stand on the chair in an editorial meeting and apologise to everybody for spreading rumours about me.

“I ended up marrying the guy that he was spreading the salacious gossip about — he is my husband now.”

That man is Times rock critic Peter Paphides, whom she met at 19 and married at 24. They have two daughters — Dora, 17 and 14-year-old Eavie — who are, unsurprisingly, both feminists.

“I’ve got pictures of them dressed up as suffragettes on marches with their placards. We’re all excited about Trump coming here. We’re going to march against Trump — that’s going to be a big family day out,” says Moran.

While her writing and social commentating have earned her great acclaim, Moran is now dipping her toes in the movie world, as her first novel in the trilogy, How To Build A Girl, is being made into a film starring American actress Beanie Feldstein, best known for her role in coming-of-age hit, Lady Bird.

“I’ve always wanted to make movies, I’ve always wanted to make TV, so it’s been the best thing. We’ve got an incredible cast and some incredible cameos — famous people who like my books and have very kindly agreed to be in it.”

She is clearly in control of the project. Moran is executive producer, has penned the screenplay, and selected the band who will write songs for her fictional pop star.

She’s been involved in casting, the settings, wardrobe, make-up, the lot. “It’s basically the story of my life and I know what’s right and what’s wrong,” she asserts.

She’s even helping Feldstein with her Wolverhampton accent, by sending her recorded tapes of her voice.

“I realise now, because I’ve lost my accent, that I’m basically doing an impression of Noddy Holder,” Moran quips.

“Beanie Feldstein looks a bit like me. When we started developing the script, it was a leap of faith because the chances of finding a young actress who’s big and curvy, brilliant and charming and beautiful... you just don’t get those actresses coming along. Then Lady Bird came along and there was Beanie Feldstein.”

While there is great humour in the novel, towards the end the tone becomes more punchy, as Johanna seeks to put her own feminist point across and put the comedian in his place. “My modus operandi is to lure people in with jokes and sex and dirty stuff, and then hit them with the politics and the feminism.”

The third book will be set in the present day, when Johanna ventures into politics.

“I wanted there to be a story that girls like me can read and go, ‘Oh God! I could be a politician! I could change things! I could go back to a system where working-class people with great ideas can change things for the benefit of their kinds of people’.”

Today, Moran writes a celebrity column, and says the nature of celebrity has changed since she started writing it a few years ago.

“Coming from a council estate in Wolverhampton, I realised very early that there are three kinds of power: Political power, financial power, and the power of fame. This is a more accessible power, particularly if you’re working class, than any other.

“The biggest change in the last 20 years is there’s a famous class who are famous just for being famous,” she adds.

“Before the turn of the century, you would have been famous just for having done something creative, like writing songs.

“As the gossip press got bigger, these people who just wanted to create things would be interviewed on who they’re shagging, what they’re eating, what’s their exercise regime and have they put on weight."

“We invented reality TV, and we invented people who just did the famous bit. We hived off the celebrity gossip but away from the fame and creativity bit, which was previously the only form of fame we had. That’s an incredibly benign thing to do.”

But she doesn’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing though.

“If you look at why celebrity gossip exists, it’s because there are a million instances every day when you need to have a conversation with someone you never met before that lasts for two or three minutes.

“You don’t want to talk about politics or the weather, you just need something vacuous to talk about.”

How To Be Famous is out now

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