Helen Monks was Birmingham’s first young poet laureate, acts and has won numerous writing awards.
And yet of all the books the uber literate 22-year-old read growing up from Tolstoy to The Female Eunuch, one of the actress’s favourite lines is ‘wank away the pain’.
The line, spoken by Helen’s character Germaine while masturbating, is from Channel 4’s new comedy-drama Raised By Wolves.
Helen says: “I think it is just brilliant. When I read that line in the script I couldn’t wait to say it! Raised By Wolves is quite rude. I was so embarrassed when my dad came to see the screening in Wolverhampton.
“The show’s about knickers, shopping, getting your first period and masturbation. Thankfully they didn’t show the masturbation scene at the screening.
“I’m absolutely dreading it being screened on television. My mum sat me down and reassured me by saying ‘you must never sense yourself’.
“Germaine is discovering masturbation but teenage girls don’t talk about it but they do do it and teenage boys do it all the time and we know about it.
“Showing it validates something that already exists.”
The drama is a biographic written by sisters Caitlin and Caroline Moran – the former is a broadcaster, Times columnist and author – and is set on a Wolverhampton council estate.
And note to all, it is most definitely not Shameless!
In case there was any doubt, on set the cast were banned from saying the ‘S’ word for fear of upsetting the director.
Helen explains: “The big thing Ian the director banned was the word ‘Shameless’ on set.
“Television either reflects or idolises life, that’s what art is for.
“Raised by Wolves does both and it’s shown in a beautiful, happy, loving way. Shameless focuses on the broken bits. Considering such a huge population in Britain lives on council estates it shows that just as life, particularly in a culture of benefit street.
“What’s exciting is all the characters, particularly Germaine, love themselves believing they are great. You often see people being insecure, particularly because Germaine is bigger but that’s not mentioned in Raised by Wolves.
Helen stars as Germaine and 18-year-old X+Y film actress Alexa Davies plays Aretha. Germaine is based on Caitlin and Aretha on Caroline.
Amazingly, Helen almost clinched the role purely by turning up at a book signing.
She reveals: “I went to see Caitlin at a book signing event and ran over to her to get my booked signed.
“She remarked how I looked like a Moran and I joked and said I could play her life story. She responded ‘you should’ and exchanged an email address and I went for the audition!
“Getting to know Caitlin when I started reading the script genuinely I can say how much of what I read and you will see is so real.
“There’s no pretence with Caitlin and Caroline.They’re not interested in fame or anything else like that.
“I could relate to my character Germaine not in the home schooling but my parents told me to wear sensible knickers and don’t think of what other people think of you.
“I went to a massive all-girls comprehensive where most were fiercely intelligent and were reading similarly literary books to the characters in the show. My brother was reading Tolstoy at 13-years-old.
Germaine and Aretha’s lives aren’t really dysfunctional although their upbringing is so unusual. It’s Aretha who says ‘it’s very ordinary things done in an extraordinary way’.”
What’s unusual about the character’s lives based on Caitlin and Caroline Moran’s real life is, seen as a family of hippies, they had home schooling and during the day were taken on trips round the park, busying themselves by slinging mud at their house with no daily structure.
Helen says: “Their bond with each other brought out the extremities in each other. Caroline is a massive introvert and Caitlin is an extrovert. The girls are polar opposites so where Germaine experiments with masturbation Aretha amusingly reveals: “Not even I have seen myself naked” as she is so private with herself!”
There are numerous funny scenes in the show and one that springs to mind for Helen involves a relationship with the heartthrob character Lee Rimes in a ‘will he won’t he notice Germaine’ quandary.
Helen recalls: “Germaine was retelling a story to a friend of how the last time Germaine spoke to Lee he threw a dog at her!
“But she’s blinded by love and she lives in this fantasy world where he loves her. Her cousin is normal, beautiful and popular and Germaine thinks she is too.”
Legally blonde it isn’t but Helen admits that the lure of the ever-changing wardrobe almost had her begging to take home her character’s clothes if not for one thing – the young actress wore a fat suit to look the part for her 15-stone character.
Helen said: “I want to borrow all of the clothes. It was like playing dress up. There were no rules with this and Caitlin said ‘go wild and go to town’.
“When she was growing up she dreamed of wearing the clothes my character wears and she wasn’t allowed to so I get to wear her dream clothes.
“Germaine is often in old Victoriana and the description in the script was, ‘Elizabeth Taylor (50, 60, 70s actress) at one of her husbands’ funerals’ so I wore pinched in waists, amazing lapelled dress jackets, spotty netted hats draped over my face and Victorian-style boots.
“Sadly it was all made to fit me wearing my fat suit so I wouldn’t fit into it. The fat suit was my favourite thing ever and so curvaceous and womanly, though I would rip it off at the end of the day as the smell was awful. I now know how I’ll smell when I die.”
A far cry from Helen’s role as patron of the World’s Words Festival in 2007, or when she toured her poetry with the London Mozart Players and had her poetry commissioned by the BBC, Birmingham Library, Birmingham City Council and Brook Sex Advisory Clinic!
Her radio play One Day, won the BBCs young writers competition ‘Radio Online’. When Helen’s not acting, winning playwright awards and writing poetry, she pens for feminist online magazine The F Word and feels feminism is still relevant in 2015.
Helen says: “The term feminism comes in many forms and comes with a lot of stigma. If you just say ‘equality’ you imply it’s something that really exists. In 2015 we still don’t have equal pay and have forced marriages and on TV it shouldn’t just be about talking about it.
“Caitlin and Caroline, by putting their show on TV they are normalising women on TV.”