A *Paean of Praise to Caitlin Moran – How to Be Famous

Publicity shot to accompany her book tour, sorry  don’t have the photographer’s name.

It’s 4.30 am. I am restless. I have a rule that if I am awake for more than 30 minutes then I am ‘properly’ awake and need to distract myself to go back to sleep. Tinnitus woke me this time; a mad insistent ringing noise in my left ear that made me convinced an appliance of some sort was plugged in somewhere calling to me to find it and unplug it from the force of electricity making it so shouty. A few minutes of searching and I realise that the noise is solely in my ear. You’d think I’d know after all this time but tinnitus is crafty, it makes some very strange noises. I do realise, of course, when I lie back down and the noise gets louder as I bury my ear into the pillow, that it’s just me and not my mobile playing night time tricks.

So, I am properly awake and have been so for more than 30 minutes ergo distraction is required. I tap on my bedside light. (All hail the genius that invented lights that come on in three easy stages, are touch sensitive and don’t wake a sleeping partner. Except when you turn them off. Bit of a design fault there as you have to go through all three stages of lightness ending with the brightest. But then when your partner opens their eyes it’s dark and you can pretend to be asleep…)

With some reluctance I reach for my copy of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be Famous. I am almost at the end and have been reading as slowly as I can. I sort of know what is coming next having heard her book tour speech in Bath a few weeks back but I am savouring the moment. I do not want this book to end. But I do want to get to the end. I have just finished it and am standing here in my dressing gown penning this because I want to share every glorious bit of it with you before I wake up slightly groggy at the requisite time and write a more sensible post. with proper quotes and everything.

Except I don’t want to share too much with you because I so want you to discover the joy of it for yourself.

How can I describe it? It is a novel for our time, very much of the zeitgeist, although it is set in 1995, when our main character, Dolly Wilde (fabulous name) is just 19. Something happens to Dolly of which she initially feels very ashamed (we’d now call it slut shaming) and the book charts her attempts to work out first just what is happening to her and finally how to deal with it.

As someone who is fascinated by the differing communication styles of men and women, I love the fact that Dolly has to talk out loud to work out what she’s really thinking, and will be quoting from it when running Speak Up seminars. It’s a very feminine trait. I love the bit when she says she sounds stupid when she’s not with good listeners, because she can’t work out what she thinks. Brilliant! A tip for us all there, I think, when we are interrupted at work by men and lose our train of thought (not just me talking, pukka research, darlings.)

Dolly’s final response is a very #MeToo moment but it’s more than that. It’s a message to teenage girls that sex is not all about pleasing the men or boys, cue dictionary definition of sexual intercourse, all geared to how men experience sex not women. But it’s more than that, too. It is telling us, as well as teenage girls, not to belittle girls in all their glorious passions and full on emotions, but to value and nurture them, to let them grow. It is a feminist book which makes you laugh out loud as well as cry.

I am in my sixties and have been a feminist for as long as I can remember, certainly since the 1960s. I still remember the confusion of being a teenage girl, still blush at some of my early ‘feminist speak’. I remember trying to make a case for it being OK for girls not to shave their armpits, aged 14, at a youth club debate and being laughed at loudly and forever thereafter being asked if I’d shaved that morning. I was trying to work out why girls were deemed second class. (They just weren’t ready for me in 1969.) I still have to say things out loud to work out what I’m thinking (although now I can blog which is a tad more risky but thank you for bearing with me). There is something about Caitlin’s Moran’s writing which strips me bare, takes me right back to those awkward, glorious, life enhancing/excruciating moments, when every single thing was deeply significant, adolescent years. I may even have a schoolgirl crush on Caitlin (OK, I do). I certainly wish I could write like her. I metaphorically kiss the tips of her DM’s. Caitlin you are a marvel.

You may have gathered that I wholeheartedly recommend this book to you. I think it is funny, poignant, and entertaining. More than that I think it is an important book. Will it stand the test of time? Is it a classic? I don’t know but I think so. It captures the moment and will explain to future generations just why the tide of feminism turned at this point in our history (Please, let the tide be turning. I have lived through so many waves of feminism I fear I will be swept overboard before equality finally arrives.) I am soon to become a grandmother for the first time (Oh joy!) and I will want my grandchild, girl or boy, to read this book.

I’ll end by quoting you something Caitlin wrote in 2016 in one of her Times columns. How to Be Famous is an entertaining manifestation of this open letter to young women everywhere. She is talking about being at one of her book signings.

I can tell instantly as when you step up, darling. I know. The posture, the sleeves over the hands, something in your eyes – you the girls who are struggling right now.

Some of you are hard and tense with overeating. Others, anorexic, feel like starving baby birds when I  hug you – a handful of brittle bamboo canes. Maybe your arms are furious with criss-cross razor lines, or studs in your ear, your nose, your tongue, where you have tried to reclaim your bodies from something, or someone, with the snap of a piercing gun.

Sometimes your parents are there – standing in the background, nervous, their faces anxiously projecting, “She likes you. Please make her feel better now. Oh Christ, don’t break her.”

Other times, your parents aren’t there, but still present – their carelessness or rejection as tangible as if they were standing a foot away, casting mile-long shadows.

What do I say to you girl – you beautiful girls? You girls who are having the Bad Year – the Bad Year where you cannot remember why you were happy aged 12, and cannot imagine being happy at 21? What can I say in one minute, two minutes, three minutes?

So many things. That panic and anxiety will lie to you – they are gonzo, malign commentators on the events of your life. Their counsel is wrong. You are as high, wired and badly advised by adrenaline as you would be by cocaine.

Panic and anxiety are mad, drugged fools. Do not listen to their grinding-toothed, sweaty bulls.

“What you must do right now, and for the rest of your life, is learn how to build a girl. You”

Here is a promise, and a fact: you will never, in your life, ever have to deal with anything more than the next minute. However much it feels like you are approaching an event – an exam, a conversation, a decision, a kiss – where, if you screw it up, the entire future will just burn to hell in front of you and you will end, you are not.

That will never happen. That is not what happens.

The minutes always come one at a time, inside hours that come one at a time, inside days that come one at a time – all orderly strung, like pearls on a necklace, suspended in a graceful line. You will never, ever have to deal with more than the next 60 seconds.

Do the calm, right thing that needs to be done in that minute. The work, or the breathing, or the smile. You can do that, for just one minute. And if you can do a minute, you can do the next.

Pretend you are your own baby. You would never cut that baby, or starve it, or overfeed it until it cried in pain, or tell it it was worthless. Sometimes, girls have to be mothers to themselves. Your body wants to live – that’s all and everything it was born to do. Let it do that, in the safety you provide it. Protect it. That is your biggest job. To protect your skin, and heart.

Buy flowers – or if you are poor, steal one from someone’s garden; the world owes you that much at least: blossom – and put them at the end of the bed. When you wake, look at it, and tell yourself you are the kind of person who wakes up and sees flowers. This stops your first thought being, “I fear today. Today is the day maybe I cannot survive any more,” which I know is what you would otherwise think. Thinking about blossom before you think about terror is what girls must always do, in the Bad Years.

And the most important thing? To know that you were not born like this. You were not born scared and self-loathing and overwhelmed. Things have been done – which means things can be undone. It is hard work. But you are not scared of hard work, compared with everything else you have dealt with. Because what you must do right now, and for the rest of your life, is learn how to build a girl. You.

Love, Caitlin

*Paean, as defined by the Collins English Dictionary –

A paean is a piece of music, writing, or film that expresses praise, admiration, or happiness.

This is, without doubt a paean of praise to the glory that is Caitlin Moran. I admire her and she makes me happy, very happy.

Women Writers Book Club

This seems like a good moment to remind you of our virtual book club which meets for the first time on 30th October. Much as I’d love to have you all round my kitchen table that probably isn’t possible. However, you are so very welcome to join us virtually. The rules are very simple, no poncing about airing of knowledge, be nice and have some fun and the author must be female and we will support the sisterhood! Speaking as someone who is in awe of anyone who manages to pen a whole book, let alone get it published, I am always very thrilled to meet writers and I have met our first writer we’re looking at in the club (henceforth referred to as #WWBC). She’s Jane Lythell and I met her at a book launch for Lucy Atkins, another fabulous writer. We are discussing her first book, out as a film next year (see, double value, book club can also be a film club for one night only!) If you want to read more please check this out Women, Writers and Wine.

Please do connect on Twitter, @JaneCWoods (I left Facebook in disgust a while ago and haven’t regretted it once) or on LinkedIn if you prefer. We’re using the hashtag #WWBC on Twitter. Or email me.

Changing People licences experienced trainers to deliver its International RenewYou confidence boosting programme for women.

Read more about it here.


Posted on October 22nd, 2018 by

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