How Sue Townsend (& Adrian Mole) taught me to write

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I may have been sad about the passing of Sue Townsend but my child self was devastated. My child self once gripped Adrian Mole’s Secret Diaries with Ribena-stained hands flicking through the pages from under my Rainbow Bright duvet. I relished the unfolding of his hapless life identifying the bumps in his road to adulthood, as my anticipated rites of passage. It didn’t even matter that he was a boy and I was a girl, I related to the irrational despair of my family dynamic and the ‘poor me’ strop that comes with the ignorance of youth.

Adrian Mole created a marvel from the mundane. I was now in a world where reading about the washing-up could be something of entertainment and detailing how your life rolls out can be like nudging a red carpet along an otherwise dusty Leicester Square pavement.

Adrian Mole taught me to write. I always liked writing. At first it was drawing when my little fingers couldn’t coax pens to string out words, but once the dots,Ts and serifs of my name were mastered, I felt armed with a bow, I just needed an arrow.

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When I was young, I found a pale blue hardback journal on a book stall sale with a feeble silver lock to keep nosey eyes out. It was as thick as a kung-fu chopping block. The endless pages were like freshly fallen snow on sledge-fit hills. I bought the book with my £2.70 per week pocket money and knew I had now found something to write – my little life, in this big book. Like Adrian Mole, I would imagine I was the lead in my own novel.

 I’ve still got this diary and when I do the annual house-move to chase cheap rent, I often accidentally unearth it from the keep-safe Nike Air shoe box. When I’ve got the guts to cringe at myself I’ll flip it open and allow myself to time travel. I remember, as well as how bad my spelling was, how enveloped I was in a little world that once felt gigantic. In reality, back then, family life was at times dramatic and dysfunctional. Empty cans and broken glass occasionally tarnished an otherwise cherished childhood, however what concerned me most was if Raphael from Class 7 fancied me or not, and how much I despised my billowing curls which caused much amusement to cruel classmates. It was all jammed in-between the lined pages of my secret diary.

A diary can serve as a yardstick, recording the present and giving hindsight in the future. It’s both embracing for the moment and provides free insurance for later in life when you look back and think – I survived, and I’ll do it again. I still write diaries now and they are my most cherished possessions.

I hope diary writing is encouraged in young people today. Something other than a spasm of emotion in a Facebook status update or a 140 character virtual burp. If not just to record some literary scaffolding to one’s life, but also to encourage the relationship of pen to paper. To feel the satisfaction of when a good pen bleeds wet ink into its surface and explore one’s handwriting which can be as unique as the way someone walks.

Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole serves to inspire young people to unapologetically document their life without vanity, and without counting fags and calories a la Bridget Jones. It also gives adults who may have let the fug of maturity cloud their memories of the hardships (without inverted commas) of straddling adulthood, and remember that in relative terms – kids have it tough too.

Here’s hoping Sue’s books are passed down for generations to come to help propel a nation of diary writers and if nothing else, to keep the cost of therapy down.

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Sue Townsend – 1946 – 2014
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