Caitlin Moran talks Raised By Wolves
Caitlin Moran’s new sitcom Raised By Wolves starts on Channel 4 tonight. She talks to Giggle Beats about the inception of the show, working-class sitcoms, revisiting her childhood for the programme and more.
What’s the concept of your sitcom Raised by Wolves?
Me and my sister Caz were part of a family of eight children who were home educated on a Wolverhampton council estate. We just couldn’t understand why we’d never seen anyone like our family on television. Putting aside the education thing, why you never see working class families on council estates who aren’t engaged in selling drugs and having sex with each other and riding tiny bicycles around and talking slang and going to nightclubs. The depiction of the working classes seems to be bizarre on British television. So that’s what we wanted to write. Plus we had a lot of material about being a weird family that we wanted to use.
Where did the idea to do this originally come from?
It came from wine. We got very, very drunk in 1999 and decided we should write something together. We humbly called it “The Genius Project” and we had two ideas that we discussed over a lot of wine. The first one was a sitcom based around two detectives, one male, one female, who ran rival detective agencies in Brighton, and we went quite a long way down the line of mapping that one out until we realised we were writing Moonlighting. So the second one was “Let’s just write about our family.” We’d spent most of our childhoods making sitcoms with our dolls anyway. I honestly can’t say whether it was my idea or Caz’s idea, because by that stage we’d drunk so much wine we’d merged into one purple-mouthed creature unable to say “I’d like the bill” and being carried out of the restaurant in a wheelbarrow.
That was 16 years ago. What took you so long?
I got pregnant. I fell on some sperm.
Was this by any chance the same night you’d drunk a whole load of wine?
It was certainly around about that time, yes! So Caz would come round every so often, watching my belly getting bigger, going “Yeah, well done! You’ve fucked the fucking sitcom. Well done.” And you know how writers will do anything to procrastinate. You’ll clean the entire house, you’ll ring everybody. She was like “This is the most extreme example I have ever seen of a writer avoiding writing something. You’ve made two human beings and shat them out your vagina. Well done.” So when the children were old enough to go to school, we resurrected it. We took it to the BBC and to Channel 4 in 2006. And the BBC rejected it because they said they’d already got a sitcom with women in it, and they weren’t due another one for two years.
Was it a weird experience, writing about something so personal?
The only time it became weird was the first day of the auditions, when 50 Arethas and 50 Germaines turned up. There were 50 angry redheads and 50 fat, voluble brunettes, and it was like a room full of me and Caz. And that was very weird. We’ve drunken of the ‘shroom tea in our time, but we’ve never hallucinated anything as weird as that.
Did it give you a different take on your own childhood, revisiting it for this?
Well, the thing was when we started writing this we were still quite near our teenage years – I was 23 and Caz was 21. So when we first started writing it, it was all about the teenage girls – all about Germaine, Yoko and Aretha. And by the time we got around to writing it this time – I’m the mother of teenage daughters now, I’ve got a 134-year-old and a 12-year-old, and Caz is the auntie to them. So then we were writing it from the mum’s point of view. It’s the same thing when you read Adrian Mole, and you think “Wow, this is a book about Adrian, he’s really cool.” And then when you read it as a grown-up you think “Oh my God, Adrian was just a know-nothing dick, his mum’s the cool one.”
Much of the humour in the show stems from the weirdness of your family’s situation. When you were growing up, were you aware how different you were? And was it funny back then?
We were made to realise how weird we were by constantly being chased and people shouting things at us. That was a very clear indication that Wolverhampton gave to us that we were weird. But we read a lot and we watched TV, so we knew there was a brilliant lineage of outsiders out there who we related to, from Camus to Rik and Ade in Bottom. We were like “Yeah, we’re on the side of the outsiders, man. That’s fine. Us and David Bowie. The squares don’t get us. One day we will triumph.” And of course, if you’re saying things like “Yeah, I’m an outsider like Camus and Bowie,” you’re just going to get more stuff thrown at you.
You were home educated. What form did that education actually take?
Absolutely none whatsoever. When the parents asked if we wanted to be home educated, they said “We can take you out of school, but you will educate yourselves.” There’s a big strain of home education that believes it should be child-led education. Or, indeed, entirely child-done education. So for the first year we did absolutely nothing at all. We just sat around and watched TV. Which was great. We ate a lot of cheese and watched a lot of musicals and Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. And then as we all approached 14 or 15 we’d become quite panicky and go “Shit! Shit! We’re going to have to get our arses into gear here, we have no qualifications, we live on a council estate,” and so everybody took themselves off into adult education, did GCSEs and A Levels and went off to University. Apart from me, I’d already started being a writer by that point, so didn’t go to University.
There seems to be a strong intellectual strain in your family. What do you out that down to?
Our parents did a really clever thing. Was the oldest, and when I was about 5 they showed me a huge suitcase they had under the bed and went “When you’re older, you can have this.” And they’d open it up and show all the books inside, all the children’s classics and adult classics, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, The Brontës, Anne of Green Gables, Alice in Wonderland. And the house was full of books as well. We went to the library every day, and that was the greatest treat, and the biggest punishment was not being taken to the library. Books were seen as the best and most delightful things. Other than cheese. We revered cheese, babies and books in our house. We talked about books all the time. We published our own magazine – circulation 4 – where we would review our favourite books. We lived in a very literary house. And our dad was a great believer in the notion of the progressive working class. It was a good house to be self-motivated and to learn in. All without actually having a single lesson from our parents.
Is your own domestic life now similarly unconventional?
No, no! My kids go to school. Even though home education can be great for education, it’s cripplingly lonely. It’s very noticeable that me and Caz have written a sitcom with each other, because we have no friends. Socially, it’s like “hey, my entire social circle has variations on my face and the same surname and DNA!” So I’ve chosen not to home educate mine. I’ve learned an enormous amount from Della [the mother in Raised By Wolves] – now I parent a lot more like Della than I ever did before.
Do you think growing up with seven siblings in a small house with not very much money made you value material things more or less?
Certain things I really value. Towels. When you’ve smelled all of your siblings on a towel, you really value clean towels. I hoard them. And similarly black 60 denier opaque tights. With five teenage girls in that house, if you went out on a Friday night, the arguments over who would have one of the three pairs of tights we had between five people would be absolutely vicious. So as a consequence I’ve got three drawers full of tights and three shelves of white towels that don’t smell of anyone I’m related to. But that’s it. When we go away – all the siblings go away on holiday – we rent caravans on caravan sites in Devon. We love a caravan site. The smell of bacon frying in a thin pan at 8am on a caravan site is absolutely pivotal to our sense of well-being.
Did you enjoy the process of writing with Caz?
We fought like cat and dog. It was amazing. It was always over the tiniest things. There was an argument about whether Della wears pants or not that went on literally for four days. We mention it now in interviews and it all starts up again. It got a bit brutal!
What do you think of the end product?
Have you seen Singing in the Rain? There’s a blonde character called Lina Lamont, a dumb spoiled actress, and they watch their movie that’s an absolute turkey, and everyone’s going “Fuck, fuck, it’s an absolute turkey,” and she goes “Well, I dunno. I liked it!” And I’m so Lina Lamont about this, in a way that I’m not with my books or columns. We’ve watched this now about ten times at various screenings for press and cast and stuff, and every time I laugh like a fucking loon and sit there like Lina Lamont going “I liked it!” Caz is like a serious auteur – she’ll be going “I can see the flaws in this, I know how we can improve series 2, that was a really bad edit,” and I’m just like “I liked it!”
The performances are astonishingly good, aren’t they?
Yes! To cast mainly unknown people who haven’t had that screen experience –the casting director was just extraordinary. And she (Rosalie Clayton) also had to make sure they were people who could do the Wolvo accent – there are not that many. There’s not much call for it in the trade. Nobody at the National has yet done Macbeth in Wolvo accents. They did an extraordinary job – I’m blown away by them every time. They are so, so good. Rebekah as Della is amazing – we knew we’d got the best Della we could possibly get when she came in on the first day and said “Guys, I want to play Della like Clint Eastwood, like she’s the lone gunman who rode into town, and that’s how she’s mothering these six children.” And as a consequence she plays Della completely differently to how she was in the script, and it’s proper genius.
In doing all of this, has it made you nostalgic for those days? How do you see them now?
Yeah. I guess I just remember laughing an enormous amount. There wasn’t anything else to do. There was a two year period where our television was taken away because we couldn’t pay the bills. We just always laughed. There’s still no-one that makes me laugh as much as my family. So to write a sitcom with Caz was brilliant. My brother James is going to help us write series 2 if we do it. Having as many Morans as possible sitting around a table joking is my idea of heaven.
Raised By Wolves is on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm.