So far, it’s been a strange holiday.
A ratbag feminist book tour road diary.
Before we begin, you ought to know that right now, I’m in my seventh hotel room in ten days, wearing a stranger’s shirt and eating pasta with my hands. I spent all night discussing queer sexual liberation and the inhuman philosophy of the global anti-gender movement and trying to be somewhat charismatic in the process, and when I got back to the room at midnight was so hungry and tired after the event tonight that forgot to ask the delivery app for cutlery. So here we are, one part deliciously fancy to one part horrible goblin , same as it ever was.
My life is quite hectic and confusing right now, but I’m pretty sure I’m having fun.
For most of the past month, I’ve been on book tour in Europe. It’s hard to explain to my loved ones in the Anglosphere just what ‘book tour in Europe’ has meant in my life in the years since my first ever book, Meat Market, more or less exploded in Germany. I’m pretty sure my family don’t really believe me. I don’t really believe me, half the time. My friends in California do believe me, but because none of this has yet been made into a mini-series they don’t care, which is simple and refreshing. Nonetheless, in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and parts of Italy, I’m famous in the way that has me repeatedly trying to convince interviewers and events organisers and photographers that it really is a mistake, on multiple levels, to refer to me as Britain’s Biggest Feminist.
When I say this, people nod and smile politely, possibly identifying English false modesty at work. No, really, I tell them- usually at the end of a long day of interviews when the analogies start becoming more hallucinogenic- think of me a like Nutella.
Yes, I say, the hazelnut spread. That Nutella. You see, in Europe, Nutella is what you get from the corner shop when you’re too broke or stoned for peanut butter. But in America that stuff is classy. You can get a expensive torte of it in posh bakeries. I once saw something called a flourless Nutella ganache cake for twelve whole dollars a slice in a New York cafe. I’m sure it was scrumptious. Nobody’s saying that shit doesn’t taste good. It’s just not a thing in the same way in the place it’s from.
Anyway. I started this post backstage at the arts theatre in Zurich, in between trying to cram some calories into my carcasse so I’m not too weird during the performance. There were three hundred people out there, and apparently a large waiting list. In the U.K, Sexual Revolution didn’t even get a launch, although it did get quite melodramatically reviewed. By contrast, last week I was asked to sign someone’s skateboard. I swear to any available gods that I’m not making this shit up.
I’ve been interviewed in every major newspaper and magazine. I’ve got to discuss the book in public with the most brilliant thinkers who have all read the work and taken time in their own precious lives to think about it. I go into bookshops and my book is there next to books that I read and worshipped as a kid or as a young eriter trying to form my own style. Gen Z Crystal dumplings show up asking for reasons to carry on being awesome. I learned a new way of blow drying my hair especially to impress them. Better still, I know that my book doing well is objectively helping a small independent left wing press who are an absolute dream to work with. Bear of all: I can’t speak the language very well. So if there’s blowback, I can’t read it. Score one for strategic illiteracy.
It is an absolutely bonkers. In these countries alone- I’m not just famous, I’m exactly the kind of famous a person who does my sort of work would choose to be. Exactly the kind I would choose if I could have sat down and designed it. But I also have the experience everywhere else of that not being the case, so I know that these things are not an arbiter of objective worth. And, of course I worry about what the British call getting above yourself.
I worry about that because it’s something I’ve been told off for seeming to do, without meaning to, as far back as I can remember, because Britain is a country where being conspicuously weird rings all the klaxons of class paranoia in other people. These days, if I ever get a round of applause, I’m braced for impact. I can’t help it. It happens automatically. But this time, because the difference between here and home has been so ludicrous, I have felt able to actually enjoy it, just a little, and not just awkwardly turn around and start clapping someone else. One thing I’ve learned from taking these little holidays in being taken alarmingly seriously as a cultural figure is that it doesn’t actually matter whether or not you think you deserve it.
People have given you their time and attention. That matters.
The funny thing about Foreign Fame, if you’re from the Anglosphere, is that you get to experience it unadulterated by long-term personal status. You get to take a holiday in being fancy, and then go home where nobody really notices, because English-speaking countries are exactly as parochial as you imagine. It doesn’t register with anyone who might want to employ or sleep with you unless you directly tell them how long you signed books for this week, at which point you just sound like a bit of a tit.
What I’m saying is that as well as being flattering and exciting, this is also quite overwhelming and exhausting, even more so than last time I was here, four years ago, and this tour has involved a lot of work, including from my brilliant publishers and co-hosts whose other writing and activism is utterly inspiring. I don’t really know what to do except, you know, my job. I’ve got a part to play, and the part seems to be sort of Feminist ratbag rockstar. Which was a thing I always secretly hoped it might be possible for someone to be. But I’m trying to relax and play the part. Feminist rockstar. This was a thing I always secretly hoped it might be possible for someone to be. Someone ought to be able turn up in a new city in a beaten up leather blazer with their hair slicked back and talk about class and gender and power to people who find it exciting and a little bit dangerous. Someone ought to be charismatic and clever and punk enough to take intersectional feminism and create a goddamn sensation. I still find it highly implausible that that there’s anywhere in the world where I’m expected to be that someone, but I can’t fault the aesthetic. Great character concept. No notes.
I’m essentially LARPING as the sort of Mary Sue I used to write in my mid-teens. It’s fun. I’m a fan. Are you kidding? Of course I’m a fan of this avatar of pop-culture anti-capitalist feminism the people of various European nations seem to have summoned into existence. I’m still not sure I’m the best person for the job, but I’ve always thought someone should do it, so I’m doing my best. I make my notes diligently. I plan my outfits carefully in advance. I don’t want to disappoint anyone.
So, of course, at midnight the night before the tour began, after two hours stuck on the runway, the crammed late night flight to Berlin was cancelled. I made it onto the first plan the next morning, but my carefully-planned and diligently-packed bag, well - it didn’t. I eventually arrived at Kino International in a sweaty, breathless mess of executive dysfunction. After four hours’ sleep in the clothes I was standing in. With five minutes to go before curtain call.
The event at Kino International was utter joyous chaos. This is the part of Trashbag Touring Feminist Writer life I’m most suited to -the slapdash goblin energy, turning up in the nick of time in a strange city and saying Fuck it, let’s do the show right here.
Yes, it’s a show. Even more so because we’re talking, every night, about dark and important and traumatic things. Rape culture and misogynist violence and heartbreak and fascism and how hard it is to be human while the haunted house of white supremacist patriarchy collapses around you. This stuff is heavy. It’s important to give it some buzz.
So I’m leaning into it, doing the show every night, and living my best ratbag life on the road, wearing borrowed shirts and eating pasta with my hands, and a keycard to a hotel room whose number I have forgotten, because there’ve been that many. Best of all have been the long train journeys through Central Europe in springtime. I’m meant to be working on my other projects then, but sometimes I cheat and just watch the scenery, suspended in the magic restful hours when you’re definitely going somewhere but haven’t yet arrived. I only wish that feminists toured slightly more like bands did. Not so much with the groupie, but it’d be nice to do this in an actual group. I suppose what I’m saying here is that this might be even more fun with a drummer, or maybe a bassist to get into low-stakes, high-energy scrapes with and sneak out of the breakfast buffet with our pockets full of crackers.
I wish I could take you with me. For now, I’ll wish you goodnight.