LONDON — No one ever tried to make a movie out of “The Female Eunuch” or “The Second Sex.” But when London Times columnist Caitlin Moran published her autobiographical feminist manifesto “How to Be a Woman” this summer, it sparked a bidding war between the U.K.’s leading film companies.
Described by its publisher as “part memoir, part rant,” “How to Be a Woman” draws on Moran’s unconventional life experiences to put forward her own version of feminism, but with jokes.
This involves a frank and frequently hilarious discussion of issues, including pubic grooming, the naming of female body parts, the pleasures of masturbation, the horrors of childbirth, guilt-free abortion and the merits or otherwise of Lady Gaga and media personality Katie Price as role models.
Film4 topper Tessa Ross fended off a strong challenge from Eric Fellner at Working Title to snag the rights — not so much by offering vast amounts of cash (though Moran admits that helped), but by bribing her with cigarettes.
“Tessa is the kind of woman I love,” Moran says. “She’s brilliant, fierce, a proper feminist and a bit nuts. And when she took me to lunch at the Wolseley, she had a pack of (cigarettes) in her bag, even though she doesn’t smoke, because she thought I might like one. That’s what she had that the others didn’t.”
Moran is co-writing the script with her sister Caroline, with whom she has also written a sitcom pilot for Channel 4, titled “The Big Object.”
Now 36, Moran was a teen prodigy, the eldest of eight children brought up by hippie parents with no money in a three-bedroom house in working-class Wolverhampton.
She left school at 11 to avoid being bullied for being, in her own words, “a freak,” won a writing competition, published a novel at 15, became a music journalist, then a national newspaper columnist and TV presenter before she was 20. She has written for the London Times ever since, and was named critic of the year and interviewer of the year at the 2011 British Press Awards.
“How to Be a Woman” has sold 150,000 copies in the U.K., where many female readers greeted it with a rush of gratitude. Harper Collins will publish it next year in the U.S.
“I wasn’t surprised by its success, because there was such a massive hole where something like this should be,” Moran says. “Someone who says, ‘Bollocks to all this, I’m just going to relax, take off these uncomfortable shoes, let my belly hang over the waistline of my trousers which I bought one size too small because that’s what we do, flop down and tell you the truth about what’s it’s like to be a woman today.’?”
It’s not obvious material for a movie, but Moran says the film will draw on her adulthood, while sitcom “The Big Object” will tackle her adolescence. “I’m Woody Allen-ish, in that all I can do is write about myself,” she explains. “(The movie’s) going to be about having the worst boyfriend ever, and how you dump him. There won’t be characters called Caitlin and Caroline, but there will be a Caitlin Moran-style narrator, so you’ll get the rants that way.”
Ross allowed Moran to pick her own producer, so she went for Nira Park at Big Talk, the company behind “Attack the Block” and Edgar Wright’s fanboy comedies. Big Talk has an overall deal with Studiocanal, which is co-developing “How to Be a Woman” with Film4. Moran is repped by her film and TV agent Rachel Holroyd at Casarotto Ramsay.
On the page and in person, Moran is a whirlwind of words, ideas and gags, which come tumbling out with little attempt at self-censorship.
She describes her decision to write a film as “a massive act of Wolverhampton revenge on behalf of womankind for all the shitty movies we’ve had to put up with for the past 30 years.”
The success of the book is in danger of turning Moran into what she claims to dread — a celebrity. After her unhappy flirtation with TV presenting in her teens, she has resisted many offers to lure her back onto the smallscreen. “I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want to be recognizable. I just want to be a writer behind my desk.”After bursting onto the media scene as a teenager, she says she spent five years in her 20s getting high, then the next five having babies, and it was only when her youngest daughter started school three years ago that she rediscovered her drive. Two days later, she sat down to start writing her sitcom, and she says she’s worked at least six days a week ever since.
“Being very, very stoned, and then very, very tired, got in the way, but the minute you are stuck on your own for nine hours a day with a baby, you can’t wait to go out to work and earn enough to pay someone else to look after them,” she laughs.