08/05/15 - How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran has been making quite a stir recently.  From a regular column in The Times, to a career as a bestselling author, to most recently co-writing Channel 4 sitcom Raised by Wolves, her particular brand of candid and unashamed feminism seems to be everywhere and I for one could not be happier.  As a big fan of her work, I was therefore very glad to be able to spend a couple of hours in her presence on her recent tour.

How To Build A Girl is her latest publication.  I got the hardback when it first came out and, like many others, absolutely devoured it.  With the release of the paperback edition of the book, Caitlin did a whistlestop tour of the UK, hitting the cities she'd missed the first time around.

If you're familiar with Caitlin Moran's work, it's easy to see similar elements within this novel.  Although it is clearly influenced by her own experiences, she has made it very clear that How To Build A Girl is in no way intended to be autobiographical.  The plot follows fourteen-year-old oddball Johanna as she escapes from her large and eccentric family on a Wolverhampton council estate to the bright lights of London to embark on a career as a music journalist.  The most important idea within the book is that of reinvention, that as a teenager you can stop being the person your parents have started to shape and become someone entirely new and entirely you.  Prevalent, as well, is the idea that this 'building' process isn't exactly straightforward and although you may not get it right the first time, there is always the opportunity to do it again.  The book is wickedly funny, addressing a plethora of issues including class and sexuality with a total lack of embarrassment which is incredibly refreshing.  It's an absolute must-read, particularly for teenage girls and young adults...or for anyone who wants to relive the excruciating and exhilarating feeling of being that age again.

But back to the evening in question...

I can honestly say that I haven't seen so many women in one place since I left my all-female high school.  This wasn't a surprise, but it certainly made for an interesting evening.  The atmosphere in the theatre was buzzing as everyone filed into their seats, partly due to a pre-show tweet from Caitlin asking for audience participation.  

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.  Although it was billed as a book tour, the marketing I'd seen all seemed to be more apropos for a comedy event than a promotion of a novel.  Would there be readings from the book itself?  Would Caitlin be in conversation with an interviewer?  Would it be an academic discussion?  

The best way I can describe the evening is that it was a celebration of womanhood with no topic off-limits.  Caitlin strode onto the stage in her Docs, sporting that trademark winged eyeliner and backcombed hair, beginning an evening that could easily pass as a stand-up comedy performance.  In what felt like a series of short essays, she brought light to topics ranging from feminist struggles to the arguably more trivial matters such as maintaining female body hair, with some celebrity anecdotes thrown in for good measure.  A sense of solidarity was palpable from the off, and the men in the room (admittedly very much in the minority) were welcomed into the 'wombiverse' as everyone was encouraged to stand on their chairs and declare their feminism at the tops of their voices.

Caitlin set out the agenda for the evening by declaring two halves separated by an interval.  The political portion (what she called the 'kale smoothie' part of the night) was followed by a second half full of the bawdy anecdotes for which Caitlin has made a name for herself.  The combination worked really well as although I don't think of her as a particularly 'preachy' feminist, I can understand why the more activist part of the evening may not have been to everyone's tastes.  Regardless of whether or not you agree with her, you can't help but respect Caitlin's straightforward attitude to the issues she feels strongly about.  She believes that feminism should be a set of tools to help women survive in a male-dominated world, rather than a set of rules used to police our behaviour.  And it wasn't exclusively about women's issues either, but a discussion about how a more equal world would benefit everyone and how pop culture helps to influence society's consciousness more effectively than any politician could hope to.  Also, you have to love a woman who talks so honestly about menstrual mishaps, her body's imperfections and sexually harassing Benedict Cumberbatch on Twitter.  There's something about her infectious enthusiasm that makes her the sort of person you would want to join you at the pub.

There was a fantastic part of the show where Caitlin talked about the idea of reclaiming the voice in your own head.  Don't let it be the voice of a nagging parent or a spiteful friend - choose to make it a positive voice, one that will support you and encourage you.  When we're bombarded from all sides by how we're supposed to look or behave, it's easy to forget what's best for you and it's difficult to function when the one person who should always be on your side (i.e. yourself) is constantly getting at you.  Caitlin said that the voice in her head had become the lovely Lorraine Kelly, soothing and advising her when she needs it.  As predictable and cheesy as it may sound, I'm aiming to make the voice within my head that of Caitlin Moran.  I think I could benefit from that in all sorts of ways. 

Unfortunately, from what I can glean from Twitter, this spate of live shows may be the last that Caitlin is doing for the foreseeable future which in my opinion is a massive shame.  If you missed out and would like to get a little taste of the wise words of this inspirational woman, there are plenty of opportunities on the good old YouTube and I would recommend that you do!  One of my favourite videos is from a talk she did about how to get ahead in creative industries which you can find here.

How To Build A Girl is now available in paperback from all major UK book retailers.


  1. This sounds like it was so much fun! I've always intended to go and see Caitlin live but never got round to it, sounds like I'm going to miss out now :(!

    The thing that I love about Caitlin is that she makes you want to be her, but not because she is perfect. She's a really attainable role model and I hope one day to be as fierce as her!

    One thing I don't understand though is how she can claim 'how to build a girl' is not based on her own life - surely if she really wanted us to believe that she'd at least have set it in a different city?!
    Emily x

    1. If the opportunity ever comes up again, you should definitely try and see her - she's absolutely brilliant live and it was such an uplifting evening.

      I totally agree with you and I'm trying really hard to channel my inner Caitlin whenever I'm feeling a bit timid, and as you said, it's totally doable :)

      Haha that's a very good point - it's not a problem that she takes so much inspiration from her own life, but there's no reason to pretend that the book is any different from the other work she's done which IS autobiographical!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! :D

  2. I love Caitlin Moran - she has such a great writing style and great ideas. Can't wait to read this during the summer. Sophie xx

    1. You'll love it - I think it's definitely a fantastic summer read as although it covers an awful lot of different topics and issues, it's really funny and difficult to put down! Enjoy it, and thank you for leaving me a comment :)