isit was 2010, the end of a surprisingly poisonous decade for women. All the visuals were brutal: Amy Winehouse, bloodied, chased by paps; Britney Spears’ loss of virginity and her collapse, being cat jokes; the “Charlotte Church Countdown Clock” on her 16th birthday, when she would become legally fuckable.
I called my editor at the Times, and I said I wanted to do a reflection on how, in this current horrible climate, one might try to be a modern feminist. Was there a way for feminism to become popular again? “I am not a feminist, more … ” was a common slogan back then, when women tried to talk about inequality, but didn’t want to smear feminism all over their shoes.
“What topics would you cover? My editor asked. ” All. Big and small. And as much fun as possible. Handbags, lap dancing, Botox, menstruation, abortion, miscarriage, abusive relationships, comfort eating, how good fur muffs are, masturbating, having children, not having children, how good marriages are of £ 20,000 is ridiculous, loving your body, Katie Price, Lady Gaga, being fat, how we treat our models, what we call our vaginas, how we have to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. The title would be “How to be a woman” … “
I spun. “Actually, Nicola, I just realized it’s not a feature. It’s a book. Soz. Goodbye. “
Due to the way the publication schedules work, I only had five months to write it, while also writing three columns per week for The Times., and looking after children who are out of school for the summer. I wrote the chapter on pubic hair – “I’m going furry!” “ – while the kids rolled onto Brighton Beach in Zorb Balls. I wrote “I’m fat! “ in a bunk bed, with a sleeping child on my legs. I think most writers with children have stories like this. This is why this story of “Kubla Khan” stopping when a “person from Porlock” interrupted Samuel Taylor Coleridge still amuses me. Is this the only time a man has been interrupted while writing? Women have 50 ‘Porlock people’ a day.
It was physically painful – sit and write, seven days a week, for five months, really fuck your ass. But mentally and emotionally, it was a joy: I just allowed myself as many coffees and queers as I wanted, and never wrote less than 4,000 words a day. One day, I made 8,000. I started with a 6 km run, I worked on what I would write, while listening to the Prodigy: I was doing the air box and I was shouting “RARGH! Like a jerk. It was so exciting to be able to write all I wanted – to dig into the box marked “TABOOS” and remove them, one by one. I addressed the women as if they were bright, funny and messy mammals that I liked very much; most women’s writing at the time seemed to denigrate and scold us, before telling us to just “buy stuff”.
I ironically also felt a non-brotherly rage in case some other bitch could beat me to write a book like this. The terror of being intellectually contemplated clung to my chair. “Hysterical panic” is an underestimated value in writing. You never get Writer’s Block if you to have write 5,000 words a day, at a minimum. You just don’t have the time.
I thought he would do “good” – sell 60,000 copies and get a nice review in The Guardian. Instead, it sold over a million, in 32 countries. I walked to the subways where half the car was open; Kate Moss was pampered by reading it, topless, drinking champagne. It has been banned in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia; the women smuggled it in and organized reading evenings.
Ten years later when I wrote the sequel – More than a woman, around 50 – I had a luxurious 10 months, which is just as good: my knees are fucked up from all this current now, and my adrenal glands are battered. You can’t write all book in panic. But sometimes that’s the only way.