Vale Sue Townsend — my favourite author

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‘Lo the flat hills of my Homeland.

When I was about 11, about 3.5 years after it was published there were suddenly these whispers about an awesome book. A book — apparently for kids — that was pretty much banned by our library, and every other library. And this book was “The Secret DIARY OF ADRIAN MOLE aged 13 3/4”.

No one I knew had a copy I could borrow. But some kid purported to have read it back in New Zealand (where he had just migrated from) and said it was incredible. There was certainly a “buzz” about it despite the fact no one knew much about it.

I might have asked my dad to buy it for me — but I am not sure. Now I think about it I don’t think I ever asked my dad to buy me a book. We were so poor in those days. And books were free from the library or if you asked for a book — it was through that evil scholastic book club at school. And yes — it was evil.

EVIL BOOK CLUB

You might think that a book club at school is a very proper and grand and worthy institution. It cannot be “evil” — right? But when I was a kid, it was horrible. And this was because we just couldn’t afford this luxury — and thus it was such an ordeal every month. Everyone in the class would get this lush catalogue and you would get so close to all these books you really, really wanted — but then you’d have to accept that they were unachievable. Meanwhile you’d get these deadshits in the class just ordering as many books as they could and you knew they wouldn’t read them — it was mostly posturing.

And then, a few weeks later they would get presented with their orders — usually on a Friday — in class-time — and like it was their very own personal Christmas. The rest of us suffered while we watched them gleefully receive their booty.

I really hated that shit until in year 7 my dad finally had a decent job and he splurged and I suddenly got a chance to be THAT DICKHEAD who got to buy a few books. It was only once — but it was incredible. A maybe revenge.

BACK TO ADRIAN

Anyway. I am pretty sure it was just before Christmas in 1986 when I finally got a hold of Adrian’s secret diary. I was in Sydney visiting my mum and we were in Balmain and happened upon a bookstore and I begged her to buy me a copy. She must have been a soft touch, being the parent with visitation rights. (But then maybe I had asked mum to get me a copy because I was too worried about the potential content to ask dad — I don’t know.)

And then reading the book that night – it lived up to all my expectations — and more. It was so irreverent and being a diary (maybe just accidentally) such a kid-friendly format for a novel. I was so excited about this book I can remember reading out-loud passages to my semi-illiterate friends. I suppose they tried their best to be as enthused.

Why me and Adrian connected is pretty easy to explain. In my mind Adrian was 13 and I was only 11 but getting an insight into an “older kid” was full-on. I loved the comedy and I loved Adrian as a dweeb. I adored Pandora just like he did. Just like Adrian I desired that complex and hardcore woman who was tough and brave and formidable. And lastly I also knew he was the tragic hero in a succession of domestic dramas that I could really relate to. There was a sadness about all his adventures. (Indeed in the sequel Adrian has a breakdown and runs away from home.)

And his mum — Sue Townsend in disguise — was just a bit like my mum. It was all falling into place. But it was his beautifully naive belief that he was an “intellectual” which really connected with me. I really felt I was also cursed by “thinking too much” but mostly— worrying too much.

Me and Adrian were super-worriers.

Ultimately I learned that these books were not “kids books” — they were clever and profound satires of the Thatcher era, of adolescence, and of just life in general. There were characters from all ages, all classes, all political persuasions and even cameos from other nationalities.

I have read the Adrian books over and over. I will continue to do so. And I have read pretty much everything else Sue has written. (The Queen and I is probably the best).

Goodbye Sue and thank you, thank you, thank you.

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