It was with great sadness that I heard on the News this morning that Sue Townsend (the creator of Adrian Mole) has died, at the comparatively young age of 68.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ms Townsend some years ago, when she did a book-signing at Waterstones in Manchester. She was witty, down-to-earth and extremely approachable, and seemed genuinely pleased and surprised that people liked her writing.
A few years later, I was (very briefly) a member of a book club. The book I chose for the group was Sue Townsend's The Queen and I. I must confess to being more than a little shocked at how few other people in the group saw the book's true message. I had to explain to them in detail that it was not an overt criticism of royalty, but a very clever social comment.
And that is true of many of Sue Townsend's other books. She takes a situation and applies it to a character (or, in the case of The Queen and I, a group of characters) who is/are hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with it, and by so doing paints a vivid picture of that situation in a way which speaks volumes to the reader. In the novel Rebuilding Coventry, a woman who has always had a roof over her head suddenly finds herself homeless and penniless in a strange city. In the later Adrian Mole books, the author shows men what it's like to be sandwiched between single parenthood and increasing responsibility for ageing parents. And in The Queen and I, people who have always been rich and privileged find themselves literally having to count every last penny. There is a wonderful scene in the book where the Queen goes shopping, and discovers, when she comes to the till, that she has to put something back because she doesn't have enough money to pay for all the items in her basket. But she would have done, if she had not previously had to pay an extra 30p to take her dog on the bus.
Sue Townsend's influence extended into my own household. In the first Adrian Mole book, Adrian asks his mother for an excuse note when he misses a morning at school. When he hands the note to his teacher, he discovers that his mother has written Adrian did not come to school this morning because he did not get out of bed until 12.45. This spawned a whole series of spoof excuse notes throughout my sons' school years. For some reason, though, the boys didn't seem too keen to give their teachers notes along the lines of Please excuse [name of son] from Games today because he absolutely loathes it. But we did all have a jolly good laugh.
Sue Townsend was a great lady who gave us many great stories. It is very sad to think that there will be no more from the same pen.