Part One of Interview here
How did you become involved in the riot grrrl book? How easy or hard did you find to write your chapter?
I was emailed and invited to submit a brief for one of the chapters (I was allowed to pick one) by the book's editor, Nadine Monem, in late 2006/early 2007. She had read my essay on riot grrrl on The F-Word website, and got in touch with me on the back of that. I was rather cynical about it because they weren't a publisher I'd heard of before, and I thought it was highly suspect that they would want to invite me to write for it because I'm not a published author, or a professional journalist, so my first thought was that they were a vanity press or an author mill. I had a brief look around the Author Beware site online, but couldn't find any reference to them, so thought I'd submit a brief on the off chance.
I figured that they would invite loads of people to submit briefs, then narrow it down, then invite several people to write first drafts, then pick the best first draft, pay everyone else the first draft fee, and commission the best one to complete a first draft. That wasn't what happened, and I did end up turning it down at one point because I thought the deadlines were ridiculous, but then I decided to take a chance on it. I made sure I had a clear plan of how to do it, how to go about it, how much time it was going to take, what it was realistic to research and include, what it wasn't, but I knew it wouldn't be perfect, and that there was no way I could include everyone. I did it because I figured that the chance of being offered another chance to write about riot grrrl for a book was highly unlikely, and as such it was like dangling a big carrot in front of a rabbit. I think they knew that when they commissioned the book actually, because we were all a bit like that.
It was very hard to write and research, but mainly because of the time constraints involved, by the time I had a definite commission for a first draft, I only had six weeks to write and research it, so it basically meant I had no life for six weeks. I got up early, went online, researched, went to work, came back, had my tea, researched, went to bed, then got up and it started all over again ... for six weeks. After that, it was pretty much a waiting game, so I got on with other things and got my life back again. By the time they'd published it, I'd pretty much forgotten about it, and was giving up hope of it ever being published.
One of the things I liked about your chapter was the way it broadened riot grrrl's influences beyond the usual reference to punk bands like The Slits. When you did your e-mail interviews, what were some of the lesser known influences that were cited?
Quite a lot of the email interviews focused on punk actually, which was fine, there were some mentions of the sixties groups like the Shangri-Las and the Girls In The Garage stuff, and one or two people mentioned C86, Beat Happening... Grunge was mentioned quite a few times, but I decided not to go there in the end because it would have meant doing a whole section on Courtney Love and her relationship with riot grrrl at various times, and it would have taken up too much room, plus I think it's old ground, and it's been gone over a lot already, so it would be a bit like re-hashing the Sex Pistols on the Grundy Show in full detail, which I was also keen to avoid. There are certain aspects of punk's cultural history, and of riot grrrls where you tend to think 'Oh God, please don't make me discuss this again, it's so boring, and everything has already been said so many times already' and Courtney Love was a bit like that. There are lots of interesting things that can be said about Hole, in their own right, but there's also a lot of unneccessary bullshit, and I didn't want to clog my chapter up with episodes such as her thumping Kathleen Hanna.
I had a section on riot grrrl lyrics, which I scrapped in the end, where I did discuss Hole and the lyrics to songs like 'Awful' and '20 Years In The Dakota', but they were the interesting bits in a very weak section of the chapter so they got scrapped.
Another influence, which was only mentioned by one person, but was very interesting, was Olivia, and the impact of lesbian singer songwriters and the independent spirit established by Olivia as a label on later singer/songwriters of a riot grrrl ilk. This would have been very useful to refer to had I been doing the singer/songwriter tradition, and I knew what they meant when they brought the connection up, because there perhaps is a connection between those acts, on that label, at the time, and someone like Ani Di Franco, or possibly even the earlier material of Cat Power. I think of riot grrrl singer/songwriters, people like Lois Maffeo, or The Crabs, come out of more of a punk background or performance art background, but that doesn't mean there isn't a link because someone, somewhere, must have made them pick up an acoustic guitar, but establishing that link would have taken a lot longer than I had, unfortunately, so I went for the easier to prove option.
What kind of response have you had to the book? What was it about riot grrrl that you think continues to inspire people? How do you think riot grrrl will evolve in the future?
We haven't had a massive amount of coverage of the book, so what little coverage there's been has been broadly supportive, but some of it has been slightly tinged with a slight patronising edge, so there's been a lot of summaries of riot grrrl that have been breathtakingly simplistic, but that's tended to be in things like listings for the book launch event that the publishers did in conjunction with Ladyfest London. The feature we had in the Independent was OK, and I got a interviewed by a very nice lady for a show on a Dublin radio station called Access All Areas, which is on Phantom FM on weekday mornings. There was something strangely surreal but very satisfying about hearing Bikini Kill's 'Rebel Girl' going out on daytime radio at 11am.
I have had some comments about my chapter being badly researched, or covering the same ground as the earlier chapter by Julia Downes, which focused on the history of riot grrrl, but I think a certain amount of overlap was inevitable because the history of riot grrrl is so bound up in music anyway. As to the bad research, I'd draw people's attention to the fact that I only had six weeks to write and research the chapter, which was well over the 10,000 words asked for. In the end, I also have job and have to do such neccessary things as eat and sleep, so clearly it was never going to be perfect. I'd accepted that before I took on the chapter, but it can still grate when people pick you up for making tiny mistakes that you wish you'd time to double check the detail on, but simply couldn't cram into an already overloaded schedule.
I think riot grrrl continues to inspire people because it was matriarchal, but in a gentle, easy, slightly passive way, it was matriarchal but very, very pissed off. Also, I think it spoke to girls who in earlier generations might have got into feminism through something like 'Spare Rib' or Reclaim the Night or Greenham Common, but who didn't have those opportunities and outlets, and who, in the early nineties, were probably finding feminism something of a closed shop. It was something you studied at university, it wasn't something you could own or feel a part of it you happened to simply be thirteen and pissed off with being groped in the classrooms and corridors ast school because you had to first engage with all these other issues like equal pay, work and children, things like that ... which, whilst important, tend not to feature very highly on the day to day agenda of the average teenage girl because they are, or seem at the time to be, years away. Issues like sexual harassment in schools, sexism in advertising, public safety, they were rarely addressed by feminism in the nineties, and still aren't really because I think feminism is still fixed on the whole careers and kids thing, which is fine if you are a woman with a career and kids, but to those who have jobs rather than careers, and who either don't have or don't want children, it's somewhat less pressing as an issue.
How riot grrrl will develop in the future will depend very much on how it continues to be written about, if it does continue to be written about, and on who the next wave of girls will be. For many people, riot grrrl died out in either 1993 or 1994, but I think, even if you believe that, you can make a very strong case for a post riot grrrl diaspora, which is now essentially in it's Ladyfest age. Where it will go next, post Ladyfest, I don't know. I have a feeling it's going to become increasingly academic in tone, increasingly middle class, and increasingly inaccessible, but I would like to be proved wrong on this.
Part Three of Interview here
THIS E-MAIL INTERVIEW TOOK PLACE IN APRIL 2008.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MAY 2008.
COVERS OF RIOT GRRRL FANZINES FROM MY OWN COLLECTION.