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Interview with Grace Campbell in light of her debut novel ‘Amazing Disgrace’

If every teenager were to be given a copy of Grace Campbell’s Amazing Disgrace, the world would be a far better place for it. In her debut work, Grace has created a powerfully charged memoir that manages to make her personal experiences highly relatable. Grace strips her life bare and fuels this literary outpouring with a strong impression of vulnerability that takes into account the world of privilege and politics she grew up in. She unmasks traditionally shame-inducing human tendencies and reclaims them.

Running throughout Amazing Disgrace is Grace’s message that we all ‘deserve better than to feel ashamed of something that is completely normal.’ This is a book that confidently dismisses any idea of the taboo and strives to deconstruct the messages that society and the media are constantly bombarding us with. It is an immensely personal work (accompanied by trigger warnings for more sensitive topics) that is not designed to appeal to everyone, and probably won’t, but has been created with the intent to be a catalyst of conversation.

In this unprecedented lockdown period, Grace found herself without an outlet for her stand-up in the restricted comedy industry. On a Zoom call with me from London, Grace admits her decision to write a book about shame originated from themes she normally discusses with her audience. ‘Well, all of my comedy is about making people feel like they can talk about things that they’ve been taught are taboo but in a really normal dinner-table-kind-of-way.’

Breaking down taboos is not an easy job, but if anyone is up to the task it’s Grace. Her confidence smashes through any sense of shame surrounding issues like masturbation, sex, and relationships. An illustrated version of Grace riding a ‘dick-shaped cloud’ in pastel colours appears on the front cover, presenting an updated and unabashed idea of femininity.

Grace is just as open in person as her book leads you to believe and explains that ‘with the book cover, I want people to see that I don’t care. I don’t care whether people think it’s too rude. You think the book will be funny all the way but it’s also personal and sad and I like the idea that you can look at the book and you know you won’t feel embarrassed because I don’t anymore.’

Documenting theups-and-downs of teenage years and early adulthood, Grace revels in her vision of womanhood and all the messy encounters which make everyone human. Her writing exudes a comfortable, anecdotal voice and Grace admits that ‘it just came out of me and wasn’t that hard to write. We just want to feel like we’re being true to ourselves […] I had to really stick to my guns and remember not everyone will love it. But I think it will be so much more enjoyable for everyone to read if they feel like it’s come from deep inside of me.’ The realisation of her own feminism came quickly and at an early age for Grace as, growing up with two brothers, she explains how she was ‘hyper aware of how I was being treated differently from such a young age. There were manifestations as a child – I hated pink because it was so strongly associated with being a girl. I used to walk around with water spray and if something pink accidentally touched my skin I would spray the water on my body. But now I have pink everywhere! All over the book! It became much more solidified as feminism when I was doing A Level Politics and I was learning about the women’s movement.’

Grace is now deeply integrated in the current women’s movement with her activism group Pink Protest. This desire to empower young women stems directly from her experience growing up and attending an all-girls school. She says ‘I only know about my school, but we were indoctrinated in feminism. Not as a label, but we could do anything. None of us were compared to boys or each other. The empowerment in my secondary school was unbelievable. We really did think we were amazing.’

Currently undergoing huge setbacks such as the anti-abortion laws in Poland and Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court, the fight for reproductive rights is a divisive issue and one that requires support and discussion. Grace points out that it’s important to take care of yourself and prioritise your mental wellbeing; small-scale activism can have a big impact. She says, ’talking to men is such a big thing, I hope this comes across in the book. Relationships with men can be really powerful as you can force them to change their paths on certain things. I wish I’d had more tough conversations. It’s one thing we all do have the power to do. […] I didn’t write the book for men to enjoy it but I do hope that men will read this and while they read it they discover some things about themselves and think about some of the behaviours they’ve enabled in other men in their lives.’

Amazing Disgrace is a charged manifesto and a call to arms that feels at home in a society being revolutionised by the younger generations. It delivers uncomfortable truths in a frank and unapologetic voice and strives to impress the importance of self-acceptance upon the reader. Grace maintains that ‘naturally we do self-destruct, we don’t know what’s good and bad for us. We learn that over time’.

If you are ready to start learning, then consider Amazing Disgrace your place to start.

READ THE INTERVIEW:

Why have you written a book about shame? Was there a conversation or defining moment that made you decide this is what you wanted to write about?

Well, I think it’s that everything I talk about in my stand up. Before this I did stand up, and I still do, you know before Covid I mean. I needed an outlet, […] my comedy has always been about making other people feel like they can talk about things we’ve been taught are taboo in a really normal dinner-table-kind-of-way. You can see even from the cover that I don’t give a f*ck. It’s me on a dick because I don’t give a f*ck about what people think. If they think it’s too rude, they think it’s too deep. So people have read the book and said it’s amazing because you think the book is going to be funny all the way and it is funny but it’s also sad and it’s very personal, but I like the idea that you look at the book and you won’t feel embarrassed at all because I don’t. I don’t anymore. And that’s what I want people who read it to understand. Shame is an emotion everyone experiences. I really wanted to write it so that people could feel less alone and that’s something I’ve definitely been able to do in comedy. I want people to read it and then not feel ashamed of the things that I don’t think any of us should feel ashamed of.

When and how did you realise you were a feminist?

I’ve really always been one in terms of the way that I behave. Even as a child I was very cutthroat with men. I have two brothers and I was so hyper aware of how I was being treated differently from such a young age; I was just really sort of sensitive to that. And I would say there were manifestations of it as a child, for example, when I was a kid, I hated pink because I thought it was so sexist, that pink was really associated with being a girl. I used to walk around with water spray and if something pink accidentally touched my skin I would spray my body. It was to disinfect it because I thought pink was like poison. And now, I mean I’ve got my book here and it’s like obviously all over. It became much more solidified as feminism when doing A Level Politics when I was learning about feminism and the women’s movement. […] That’s why I think it’s so important that kids learn politics because even I, who grew up in this really political household, it wasn’t until I was taught it and given my own journey with it and it doesn’t feel like your parents journey that you’re tagging onto.

Currently in the news we’re seeing Poland and the potential of revoking abortion rights and then Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court. You have your activism group Pink Protest; do you have any thoughts on how activists should tackle these huge setbacks to women’s rights and the feminist movement?

We all feel really powerless, especially because of lockdown. These things, for example Amy Coney Barrett, are so out of our control that it’s really hard to know what to do with something as big as that. I do feel sometimes there’s a pressure for people to always be doing something, but you have to protect yourself first and foremost. If things are upsetting or triggering you, you have to protect yourself. I think activism can start in a really small-scale way. You can definitely do things in your university, in your friendship group. Talking to men; this is such a big thing and I hope this comes across in the book because the relationships you have with men can be really powerful as you can force them to change their paths on certain things. I wish I’d had a few more really tough conversations with some of my man friends when I was younger because I think that some things could have been different, and so I think that’s one thing that we all do have the to do. Right now, it’s so hard to not feel powerless, but I think activism can be anything from changing a law to changing someone’s mind.

On top of that, we’re both cis white women and I think that we do have a real responsibility to be listening and also supporting women of colour, disabled women, trans women and more marginalised groups than us. White women, we haven’t been good historically. When we talk about feminism, we always have to bring it back to intersectionality. Right now, there are too many white women who have just stopped when they feel like they’ve got what they wanted.

And coming back to that idea of having conversations with men, were you ever worried that the book wouldn’t resonate so well with men? I always think that you just have to do the most to get people’s attention; I think men will be intrigued by it. I definitely didn’t write the book for men to enjoy it, but I wrote it and did hope that men will read this and while they read it they discover some things about themselves and think about some of the behaviours they’ve enabled in other men in their lives. I hope it does that.

And finally, who is your feminist icon?

I mean there are so many, and I really love answering this question. I think right now Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is just everything, always on the money. And then I’m reading this amazing book by bell hooks called All About Love and it’s completely blowing my mind. It’s endless but right now, those two.

Image: Ella O’neill