Review: Caitlin Moran & Sali Hughes at the Birmingham Literature Festival

By October 13, 2018 October 19th, 2018 Guest Blogs, Literary Events

Caitlin Moran and Sali Hughes are two of the UK’s most outspoken writers, journalists, and feminists – and they also happen to be close friends. This event for the Birmingham Literature Festival featured these two brilliant women in conversation at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

The event was first introduced by Antonia Beck the director of the Birmingham Literature Festival who opened by thanking everyone who supported the festival and made it possible. Then, Sathnam Sanghera, author of The Boy with the Topknot, and curator of the festival took to the stage to introduce Moran and Hughes and their extensive and impressive body of work.

Caitlin and Sali entered the Bradshaw Hall to rapturous applause and moved their chairs closer together before taking a seat on stage. They opened by explaining that their group of friends hold a meeting they call ‘The Women’s Quarterly’ where they discuss important issues, from gender equality to which tights are the best, their agenda is always full of things to discuss. For this event, they had decided to bring the ‘Women’s Quarterly’ to a live audience, producing a lucky dip bowl of possible conversation topics that they would choose in turn.

Under-rated Audiences:

The first topic chosen from the bowl was ‘under-rated audiences’, which Moran looks at in her book How to be Famous. She explained that teenage girls are the most under-rated audience, with bands even dismissing their teen audiences to regain their ‘coolness’. Boy bands, books, tv and films that teenage girls like are often seen as uncool.

Hughes and Moran then went on to suggest that while teenage girls are the most under-rated audience, women as a whole are frequently ignored or overlooked as an audience. Sali gave the example of books, the majority of which are bought by women and written by women, and yet a large portion of these books are written-off as ‘chick lit’ and deemed not as good as other books.

Being Working Class in the Media:

Sali Hughes finished school at 14 with no qualifications and ran away from home to London in order to become a journalist. After her final work experience with LOADED magazine she was offered a job and at last got her first paid role in media. She explained that working-class people trying to get into the media now, even those who are as good as if not better than her, cannot afford to work for free doing work experience and internships because their parents cannot finance them while they do so and until they finally get a paid role.

Caitlin Moran, who grew up in a working-class family from Wolverhampton, which her TV series Raised by Wolves is loosely based on, also added that due to a lot of the media moving to online and being free, the jobs for working-class people have vanished. Where years ago, a working-class person would have started a record label and then hired more working-class people, now most music is readily available online and these relationships have faded.

Hughes and Moran, then went on to add that while YouTubers are often scorned or overlooked as media figures, they are doing great jobs by learning the necessary skills such as lighting and editing, and of course, getting paid for a job in the media.

The pair ended this topic by discussing the idea that, in a few years’ time, we may, however, begin seeing lawsuits relating to some YouTubers, in particular, those who share intimate details of their parenting. They stressed that this lack of privacy for children and the way some YouTube stars guide their children’s trajectory for content may result in issues we’ve seen before with child stars from films.


The third topic was a short and simple one, wherein the pair discussed their dislike of clothing without sleeves and Sali triumphantly announced that one of her greatest achievements was getting ASOS to add a sleeves filter to their website.

Cat/Dog Theory:

The cat and dog theory was one of the most interesting ideas from the evening. While not actually Sali’s theory, she introduced it to her friendship group and to us as an audience. She explained that everyone in the world is either a cat or a dog. Cats are the planners and prefer order. While dogs are more spontaneous, say what they’re thinking, and jump at any chance of fun. The world needs a balance of both. Sali is a cat, Caitlin a dog, Sathnam also a cat. Sali and Caitlin have spent many a day discussing various celebrities and friends and deciding whether they’re cat or dog – it’s a fun game to play and they’ve invited the entire audience to start playing.

Just a note though, Sali adds “If you don’t know which you are, you’re a dog.”

Bad Boyfriends and How to Spot Them:

Another topic that Moran covers in her book How to be Famous, in which the main character is in a relationship with a band member and there are many red flags, that someone older with more experience would notice right away. Caitlin explained that most of these came from conversations she’d had with friends, including Sali, about boyfriends they had when they were younger.

Just a few of the red flags mentioned include; men who are obsessed with Jack Kerouac, men who believe their feelings are bigger than yours (“no one’s feeling are bigger than yours” Moran declared), men who believe monogamy is a bourgeoisie construct, and men who hate all their exes and revel in talking about them with you.

Muppet Face:

This topic refers to letters Moran constantly receives (from what she can only assume to be middle class, white men) who ask her why she insists on pulling a face in all her photos.

Caitlin explained that this is because she has “a round, peasant face” that looks better when she’s “moving it around.” Adding that she doesn’t want to compete with women who have sharp cheekbones, and she doesn’t want to be judged. “Jolly not sexy!” she states.

The Midlands:

Caitlin, of course, was the best one to answer this topic having grown up in Wolverhampton. She explained that coming from the Midlands doesn’t have the same identity as a ‘Southerner’ or ‘Northerner’, and people often aren’t sure what a ‘Midlander’ is. She best summed it up by using the words Della spoke in Raised by Wolves, “We’re not northern twats and we’re not southern twats. We’re midlands twats.”

Where Are Her Girls?

Where are her girls has very much become one of Sali’s catchphrases – and it was born from female celebrities who start doing odd things like posing in weird ways for photoshoots. Most women have a group of friends who turn up during these times as a support net with bottles of wine. But, Sali explains that when celebrities don’t disappear for a while and continue doing outrageous things, they clearly haven’t got this group of friends. So, “Where are her girls?”


How do we encourage men to be better feminists?

This was a brilliant question from a member of the audience, and Moran and Hughes explained that men need to be better feminists because the patriarchy hurts them as well as women. While women have the glass ceiling to fight with, men almost never get custody of their children.

Caitlin Moran also explained that feminism is a great supportive and progressive network which helps women achieve equality. Men, however, don’t have this network. The only Men’s Right Activist group is not progressive but instead wants to take back power from women. She explained that men need a more progressive network to begin making progress in the way Feminism has (and still is) for women.

If you could only listen to one Madonna song for the rest of your life what would you choose?

The last question of the evening picked up on a brief mention of Madonna earlier in the event and perfectly rounded off the evening. Caitlin’s song of choose was Vogue which she said she wants to be styled like when she’s buried while Sali’s was Get into the Groove.

Sathnam reappeared on the stage to thank Moran and Hughes for a wonderful evening before all three left the stage to Madonna’s  Into the Groove.

As we all flooded out of the Hall, chattering about who in our friendship circles is a cat and who is a dog, there was one last thing to do. Buy a signed copy of Moran and/or Sali’s books, it is the Birmingham Literature Festival after all.


This is a guest blog from Booksbird, reproduced with kind permission.

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