Caitlin Moran interview (Sunday Business Post, Ireland)

Caitlin Moran has a new book out — a funny and thoroughly enjoyable novel called How to Build A Girl, so in honour of that, here’s my interview with her from 2012, when we chatted in a limo on the way to The Late, Late Show. . .

Special type of woman
14 October 2012 by Nadine O’Regan

Caitlin Moran has a dress in her bag that she’s thinking of wearing when she appears on The Late Late Show later, but time is ticking away. It’s already 8pm. The limo is due to arrive shortly, and Moran is still clad in her everyday gear of denim shorts, opaque tights and a multi-coloured bomber jacket with yellow deer on the front.
Her hair is an Amy Winehouse-channelling barnet of black with a large daub of silver-blonde through it. Her eyeliner is in a cartoonish Cleopatra curve. It’s a cute, alternative look, but not very Late Late Show.
Her Irish publicists look anxiously at their watches. The queue at Eason on O’Connell Street, Dublin, where Moran has been doing a public appearance and book signing, is showing no signs of fading.
Partly that’s because of the enthusiasm of the 130-strong audience. Partly it’s because Moran devotes so much time to each fan. She signs personalised notes on the books, offers compliments, doles out advice and even clasps her hands around one fan’s boobs for a photograph – much to the laughing delight of the fan in question.
Later on the Late Late Show, the non-appearance of the dress – Moran zipped onto the show still clad in her denim shorts and bomber jacket “‘with a soup stain down the front” – will become a talking point on the programme itself.
Moran has been brought on beside glamourpuss and Playboy model Rosanna Davison, and presenter Ryan Tubridy (whether for showbiz schtick or not) can’t seem to let go of the fact that Moran has rocked up to the programme in the same outfit she might wear to Topshop of a Saturday.
In a way, though, Moran’s Doc Marten-clad appearance is part of the point. An award-winning feminist author and columnist, Moran has won the love and respect of millions of women, not just for being honest about her life, but for being hilariously funny with it.
In her 2011 book How To Be A Woman, she laments her cystitis, refuses to depilate, contemplates weight gain and talks in a down-to-earth tone about big subjects including feminism, childbirth and abortion – the last of which is movingly narrated through the prism of her own experience.
The audience on the shop floor today is largely composed of young women, many of whom stare at Moran with a mixture of awe and adoration.
“I hate to disagree with you on anything,” says one girl in a mortified tone, prefacing a question.
Moran does few interviews, but has endless time for her fans. As she says goodbye to the final autograph-hunter, she doesn’t mention the crumpled dress, but muses as to whether the deodorant she’s put in her hair to replace the dry shampoo she left at home in north London is working. Then up comes the limo and the four of us – Moran with her two Irish publicists – leap in.
If giving an interview to The Sunday Busines Post in the back of a car fazes Moran, she doesn’t show it. If anything, she’s more worried about how I’m going to cope.
“Can you see your notes?” she asks. “Do you want me to switch the light on?”

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The Gumption to Go it Alone

Artistic Licence: The gumption to go it alone
Sunday Business Post, 29 June 2014 by Nadine O’Regan

Last weekend at the Dalkey Book Festival, I was putting my things away after doing a public interview with a film director when a lovely lady, brightly made-up and perhaps in her 70s, approached me. She said she had very much enjoyed the interview with Lenny Abrahamson and mentioned that she herself had had a long career in TV and film production before retiring to spend more time doing exactly what she was doing on that glorious afternoon in Dalkey – listening to talks, reading books and investing her time in the arts.
We had a nice chat, but before she finished, she said that it upset her that although she had bought lots of tickets for the festival, she couldn’t find a friend to bring with her to the event. ”So I said I’d come by myself,” she finished brightly, with just a whiff of strain on her features. ”And I had a wonderful time.”
Her comment stayed with me, because it illustrated a simple truth about life: whether you’re 18 or 80, sometimes it’s just not easy going to things by yourself, even though going to things by yourself has become ever more likely. More of us are single than ever before. People get married later. Marriages themselves are more likely to dissolve. We live more solitary lives, communicating endlessly – by social media, text and Skype – but we are less physically present with those we love. We talk, text and chat, but we are alone while doing it.
Meanwhile, it seems like there are more communal things to do than ever. Festivals sprout like fields of waving dandelions. There are author talks and gigs and theatre performances. With so much choice, it’s not always easy to find a friend who shares your appreciation of, say, a niche industrial metal band in town for one gig, or an esoteric film about knitting at the IFI. And money, for many, is tight. So the question arises: should you say, ”Hang it all” and go by yourself?
I do it often – partly because of the demands of my job – but I wouldn’t deny that it takes a certain amount of gumption sometimes, to step outside the door on your own. I’ll go to gigs by myself. I’ll happily take in a play flying solo. But I could relate to the look of frustration in that woman’s eyes – as she talked about ringing friend after friend – but then finally decided to put on a smart outfit, nice make-up and simply go on her lonesome to the event she wanted to attend.
On Monday I found myself near a cinema with a few hours to kill, and I slipped in to watch the new film The Fault in Our Stars, an adaptation of a John Green book I love. Not only was I going to the cinema on my own, as it turned out, but the cinema was entirely, gobsmackingly, empty. Not a soul had arrived to watch the story of two cancer-afflicted teens – not a soul except me. While I briefly pondered if this was what it felt like to be Kim Kardashian, booking out a private cinema, I had a more pressing concern – the film is a notorious weepie, and I wondered about the sheer embarrassment of bawling my eyes out alone in the cinema. (Not a dry eye in the house, you say? I can confirm with 100 per cent authority that there wasn’t.)
But even still I couldn’t say that I was put off. I was really glad that I got to see The Fault in Our Stars. And I was also glad that the lady had enjoyed her experience of Dalkey Book Festival. The arts is a pleasure – and sometimes the price of that pleasure doesn’t involve just money. Have a little pluck and the rewards can be correspondingly great.

 

Nadine O’Regan is The Sunday Business Post’s Books and Arts Editor. She presents Songs In The Key Of Life on Dublin station TXFM (105.2FM) every Saturday from 11am.
E-mail: nadine@sbpost.ie, Twitter: @nadineoregan

Orange is the New Black: set report from New York

Last year, I flew to New York for The Sunday Business Post to meet the cast members of Orange is the New Black and watch them film their final scenes in the first series — as the new second series goes out on Netflix, here’s a look back at what I found…

“Rolling!” The shout goes out around the set, and everyone quietens. In the cafeteria of Lichfield Prison, the inmates – dressed in their regulation prison garb of orange and beige jumpsuits – begin arguing.

Black girls, white girls, Latino girls: aggression cuts the air as they jab fingers at each other, clustered together tightly at the ugly table. Spittle flies as they make their points like battling rappers, each not giving an inch.

Even from a safe distance, listening in on headphones well behind the camera’s gaze, the air of intimidation is palpable – and impressive. We’re a long way from home, Toto. Even if, thankfully, we’re not actually in a federal prison, but on Stage E of the Kaufman Astoria studio in New York, the venue for the glossy new Netflix production Orange Is The New Black, a prison drama with heart and humour.

That we find ourselves here is testament to the muscle and might of Netflix, which extended its massively popular online streaming TV and film service to Ireland a mere 18 months ago, but already feels like an intrinsic part of our televisual furniture. Last January, its gripping political drama House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey, arrived onto Netflix screens. Now it’s time for Orange Is The New Black, a 13-show series based on a true story and helmed by Jenji Kohan, the creator of Weeds.

Considering as we have flown the whole way to America, it would be awkward indeed if the production wasn’t much cop. Happily, Orange Is The New Black is a piece of whip-smart programming, fitting in somewhere between Breaking Bad and The L Word in the televisual spectrum, with rich characterisation, an underlying comedic tone and some of the best casting I’ve ever seen on a series.

Set largely in a women’s prison — a federal jail populated by women who have committed so-called paper crimes — the series is based on the real-life experiences of Piper Kerman, who found herself doing jail time in the US when her international drug smuggler ex-girlfriend revealed to police that Kerman had been a small part of her operation. Strip-searched, intimidated and subjected to racial segregation, the Waspish Kerman had to adapt fast to cope with prison life.

In the series, the role is played by Taylor Schilling, who wears a bright smile to greet me, but nonetheless looks physically drained – and no wonder, they’ve come to the end of a gruelling process of shooting the first season, one which depicts her as naked and vulnerable in both an emotional and physical sense.

“Jenji requires a lot of all of us,” Schilling explains. “To go there, physically, emotionally. All of these stories go to the heart of whatever got these girls into prison. It goes to the heart of who they really are, and I don’t know if that’s ever really comfortable, as a human being.”

One of the first scenes in Orange Is The New Black shows Schilling in the shower, being soaped down by her then-girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon). It’s the first of several graphic, Sapphic scenes, which make a clear statement about the no-holds-barred ethos of the show.

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt — a review

Some months ago, a university lecturer in Toronto gained fleeting notoriety when he revealed that he refused to teach novels penned by female novelists, on the grounds that they were simply not as good as books by men. “I’m not interested in teaching books by women,” Professor David Gilmour said in an interview, provoking a firestorm of controversy. “What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. Real guy-guys.”
To which one can only respond: poor David Gilmour. Because although he might be guilty of sexism, he’s also missing out on some extraordinary books by women in recent times, the latest of which comes from the pen of Donna Tartt. The American author first found fame in the early 1990s, when she published The Secret History, a smartly captivating literary thriller that was eight years in the writing and sold more than five million copies worldwide. A dry spell followed, and then an uneven novel, 2002’s The Little Friend (revealingly, its working title was Tribulation). A sprawling suspense epic that contained much fine writing, it was hampered by the uneasy sense of an author who had many gifts, but lacked the driving force of a good story.
You’d have to feel sorry for the publishing house which shelled out a million dollars for it. The book they were really waiting on was this one, The Goldfinch, a near-800-page doorstopper which is an enthralling, dazzling delight and by some distance the best book I have read this year.
The title of the book refers to the painting by the Dutch artist Carel Fabritius, who died aged 32 in 1654, when the gunpowder arsenal in Delft exploded, turning sections of the city to ruins. That same year, Fabritius had painted The Goldfinch, a small but perfectly formed portrait of the pet bird, which is considered to be a masterpiece.
In the novel, The Goldfinch hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it proves to be the wire that threads through this masterfully penned tale, binding the pages and the characters together. ”The painting, the magic and aliveness of it, was like the odd airy moment of the snow falling, greenish light and flakes whirling in the cameras, where you no longer cared about the game, who won or lost, but just wanted to drink in that speechless windswept moment.” That’s the view of Theo Decker, the lead character-and narrator of the novel-whose troubled, peripatetic and mercurial life unspools before us in feverishly vivid, cinematic prose.
The story begins one day when Theo comes with his single mother to the Metropolitan Museum. With his mother having flitted off to view another painting, Theo is standing before The Goldfinch when a terrorist bomb explodes-and his delicate, elegant mother is killed in the blast, changing his life forever.
Much of this book is devoted to a subtle, but absolutely convincing, portrait of grief. Theo is just 13 years old when his entire world is snatched from him. His mother was special: caring, artsy and beloved by everyone. Her loss cannot be borne-New York is impossible without her; indeed, his whole life is impossible without her.
But Theo must continue, and he is an unusual fellow: deeply artistic, a scholarship kid, one who – although reeling from shock in the moments after the terrorist blast-still has the mental fortitude to obey a dying bystander’s instructions to grab The Goldfinch from the wall and save it. No one notices the small boy fleeing home with the small painting, and Theo’s clandestine ownership of The Goldfinch begins, wrapped in newspapers, hidden in suitcases, and increasingly the only constant in his life.
When the social workers step in, Theo gets shunted from home to home. He stays with the wealthy Barbours on Fifth Avenue, before his father (a treacherous figure) appears with dubious motives to bring him to Vegas, where Theo douses himself in alcohol alongside his charismatic new friend Boris, whose own father is a child-beater.
Late in the narrative, when Theo is an adult, Boris will offer up his interpretation of those blurry days. ”I was trying to have fun and be happy. You wanted to be dead. It’s different.” But for most of the book, we can only see through Theo’s eyes-and we feel deeply his alienation, his despair, his terror of becoming homeless and his desire to lose himself in the prescription drugs and illegal opiates he finds about his father’s house.
Theo is also his father’s child in more ways than we might expect. His morality code has been warped, and he behaves in ways we can understand, but not approve of. A murkiness rests in his depths, and will shape the book’s suspenseful closing movements.
Tartt draws her characters with a lively, finely tuned artistry, offering even minor characters Shakespearean-sized arcs. Theo’s closest ally in New York is his friend Hobie, an antiques furniture restorer-and subsequent teacher to Theo-who is described as ”haggard, noble-jawed, heavy, something about him suggesting the antique photos of Irish poets and pugilists that hung in the midtown pub where my father liked to drink”. Hobie’s relationship with Theo will form an important axis in the book, as will that of another of his carers: Mrs Barbour, from a society family, and ”so cool and blonde and monotone that sometimes she seemed partially drained of blood”.
One of Tartt’s largest gifts to her reader is her exhilaratingly brilliant use of language. She is not self-consciously virtuoso in this regard-you won’t find yourself scrambling for the dictionary every two minutes. But she is athletically precise: horses ”blow and nicker”, rosewood has a ”flowery, amber-resin smell”, the city gets ”prinked up” for Christmas.
There’s comfort in her language; it’s a Dickensian world so well imagined that, like Goldilocks, you can see yourself eating their food, sitting in their chairs and enjoying their beds. Although the sheer length of the novel might seem like a stretch, by the 500-page mark I was trying to read The Goldfinch more slowly, to savour every drop of the honeyed prose. If you only buy one novel this year, make it this one; it is a magisterial triumph.

Good news department

This coming Friday night, I’ll be gently setting three alarm clocks by my pillow and bracing myself for the earliest working day start I’ve had in quite some time.

On Saturday morning, I’m beginning a brand new show with the mighty Phantom 105.2, Dublin’s awesome indie-rock station. After seven brilliant years, The Kiosk, my old show, finally has no more tickets to sell. Instead The Breakfast Club will take its place, a new Saturday morning show in which I’ll be bringing you three hours of chat, tunes and excellent contributions from a roving bunch of music-heads, film buffs and theatre goers.

If The Kiosk sometimes bulged at the seams with its content, The Breakfast Club will have much more space — I’m looking forward to playing more of the music I love, and bringing in lots of deadly musicians, authors, artists and reviewers.

There is a certain amount of sadness with bringing one show to an end, even when it is to make way for a new one. Over The Kiosk’s seven-year duration, guests including Kate Bush, Quentin Tarantino and Arcade Fire paid visits to the show, and I’ve had some of the best times with brilliant reviewers and the great team who were part of the show over the years, including Derek Byrne, Sarah Anne Murphy, Johnnie Craig, Orla Ormond and — although he was never an official Kioskian — Cathal Funge, who has saved my radio bacon more times than I can count.

The Kiosk is a little part of my personal history by this point, a constant in my life when sometimes all else was in turmoil. When my Dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, I would do The Kiosk on a Saturday morning, with my little bag in tow, and then get the train to Cork and the bus to Skibbereen to spend time with him. Although the schedule, taking in my weekday newspaper job as well, was madness, and sometimes it showed, perhaps, in the presentation, the discipline of radio was a tremendous relief and a way to take my mind off things.

One of my favourite stories about my Dad — who passed away in 2009 — connects to the show. As my family tells it, one day, back when I had recently started presenting the show, Dad came to Dublin. At this time, my family didn’t have the option of listening to Phantom online at home, so no one back in Cork had heard the show. Always my proudest supporter, Dad arrived into the Westbury hotel, one of Dublin’s swankiest hotels, and informed the doorman that he was in need of a radio.

When the doorman explained that unfortunately this was something that they couldn’t supply — the Westbury instead prefer to have someone play on a grand piano — Dad was momentarily confounded. But he refused to be deterred. He turned on his heel and moved on to what I think was then known as Bus-stop Cafe on Grafton Street, a little coffee shop upstairs from a newsagent. There the usual collection of Dublin dwellers were enjoying their Saturday morning, listening to the radio (probably that Finucane lady, who’s apparently quite popular) and drinking their coffee. My father informed the waitress that the radio station must be changed immediately, because his daughter was on air right now, and he and his family (he had my mother and brother in tow) would like to listen to the show.

And so, without further delay, the entire coffee shop suddenly got to listen to The Kiosk — and listen rather intently, I would wager, as my Dad wouldn’t have stood for the sound to have been down low. As my brother drily comments of the morning they had, “I told him he’d better order a bloody big breakfast.”

The Breakfast Club kicks off at 8am this coming Saturday morning, with Game of Thrones actor Aidan Gillen, writer/musician Cait O’Riordan, and reviewers Eamon Sweeney and Cailan O’Connell. I hope — whether you’re still up from the night before or getting up with the lark (and the kids) — you can join us.

Online self-publishing: my Biz Post column (20th Jan, 2013)

What does it take to become a success in the world of online self-publishing? Is there a particular kind of novel that is more likely to do well in an electronic format? And if there is, how would one go about writing such a book?

These are the kinds of questions that you don’t find authors and publishers debating much yet, but perhaps they should. Glance around your nearest bookshop or Amazon.com, and you’ll find a million manuals that explain how to create a novel, using chapter headings such as ‘Learning Your Craft’ and ‘Ten Rules for Good Time Management’. But few of these manuals discuss the importance of the space into which a novel is delivered, and what it means for the authors who are publishing now.

Make no mistake about it: publishing online is a totally different proposition from doing it on plain old paper. Think of the strain on the eyes of reading in an ebook format, for example. Think of the harried reader who buys a Kindle to read on crowded commutes. Think of the modern world, in which a million types of entertainment compete for our attention. And think of who is succeeding in this new world, and why.

Many self-published books which began life in an electronic format have now succeeded beyond the authors’ wildest expectations. Take the eyebrow-raising Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James, for example; or new bestseller Wool by Hugh Howey, which is about to be turned into a big-budget Ridley Scott film; or Switched, the debut novel in the million-plus selling Trylle Trilogy by the 20-something Amanda Hocking.

What do these books have in common besides their humble origins? Actually, quite a lot. All the authors in question write within specific genres: S&M (EL James); dystopian fantasy (Howey) and trolls (Hocking). They are suspenseful and attention-grabbing, using blunt, effective (and sometimes very poorly rendered) prose to keep and hold readers. They are short, but allow for the possibility of sequels. They lack profound messages. “My goal was to keep people reading,” Hocking has said. “They have to ignore everything else and read the book.”

In his latest book, How Music Works, David Byrne talks about the importance of context in the area of music. The Talking Heads founder says that the type of music we make is vastly influenced by the space into which that music is delivered: so we get drums in a tribal space, which carry well over distance, and plaintive choir singing in a high-ceilinged church. At CBGB, for example, the small room lent itself well to the performance of punk rock – a sound which would have seemed ridiculous if performed in a church. The Ramones and Mozart both understood intrinsically what would work for their particular type of arena. They knew that environment plays a huge role in shaping the music.

For this new type of publishing space, it should be obvious that we need a new kind of book: one that grabs the attention fast, doesn’t bother with fancy language, relies on a clever idea and can be made into a series of books incredibly easily. Readers who choose to read in electronic formats will naturally want a different kind of prose. And the world of writers will have to learn to provide for that. So maybe it’s time for those self-help manual authors to take a leaf out of a new book – and begin to think about what it means to be a successful author in today’s world of e-publishing. After all, increasingly, it’s where the big bucks lie.