Thank you Sue Townsend

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Thank you Sue Townsend

It was with great sadness that I heard Sue Townsend; creator of Adrian Mole (and much

more) died last week. She was the best selling novelist in the 1980s.


I loved her writing style; it seemed to speak so directly to me. And it always made me laugh.


"Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction" by Sue Townsend

A much loved and well-read copy of “Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction” by Sue Townsend

Astonishingly, Sue Townsend couldn’t read till she was 8. She failed the 11+ (an exam we used to have here in the UK that determined which school you went to from 11 – 18), and left school at 15.


Before her success, she worked as a petrol pump attendant, in a shop and in a factory. Apparently she hid her writing from her husband, who left her after a few years of marriage. She then became the single parent of three children.


Sue wanted to be a dramatist, and it was through her radio play about Adrian Mole, that really launched her career.


Sue went blind at 40, but continued to write her books, by dictating them. She was later confined to a wheelchair. She did not let her illness get in the way of her writing and, according to everything I have heard about her, she was unfailingly funny.


By a coincidence I recently read an article in the New Scientist containing a few theories what makes people successful.  Some assume that IQ is the key. But studies show that although there is some correlation it’s not as clear as you might think (though it does seem to help).


Growth mindset

According to the research of Carol Dweck of Stanford University, what can make a real difference is a ‘growth mindset’. This is a belief that your abilities can be improved by working hard and being dedicated. It’s a belief that your IQ, or your abilities, are not fixed and you can change them.


After hearing about Sue Towsend’s life it is quite clear that she never even imagined herself to be limited. Reading books was the thing that she said really made a difference. She was an avid reader from a young age.



Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia suggests that what she calls ‘grit’ makes a difference too. She includes motivation as part of ‘grit’. And willpower. This is the willpower to see things through to the end. A New Zealand study showed that people who had greater self-control as children were not only better off financially as adults, but were also healthier and more emotionally stable too.


Interestingly, whilst Sue Townsend clearly showed huge amounts of grit in continuing her writing in spite of all her health problems, it seems she did not show as much self-control when it came to managing her diabetes. According to Peter White from the BBC she seemed to have an approach that she might not have lots of time left so she might as well make the most of it (rather than giving up smoking and managing her diabetes more effectively).


I suppose that is not such a bad thing, just sad for those who loved her for all of us who loved her work, like me.


From the sounds of it, she did very much make the most of it and enjoy her life. And she certainly enhanced it for many others. Thank you Sue.


3 Responses to “Thank you Sue Townsend”

  1. April 15, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Yes, she was a wonderful writer and human being wasn’t she? Sadly missed.

    • April 15, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Yes a great writer, a real character herself and an inspiration to anyone trying to overcome major hurdles through sheer determination..

      I read an article years ago in the back pages of one of the Sunday supplements it was entitled ‘Its your funeral” and each week it invited someone famous to write what kind of funeral they would like.

      Sue had actually admitted that she had meticulously planned her whole funeral and had written it all down. With typical irony she said something along the lines of “oh and I want lots of tears” (as if she was ordering a new hat).
      I think there will be certainly lots of tears from those who knew her well but I expect that for most of us we will recall those funny, ‘laugh out loud’ moments reading Adrian Mole or her other books with fond memories.
      She had that writer’s skill of really getting under the skin of her characters
      so that we recognise their personal triumphs (and their pain) and so it was very real and honest writing. Its those moments of recognition when we compare it with our own lives and the silly things we used to worry about as adolescents that make us laugh so much.

      She will be sadly missed. Does anyone remember the books she wrote about the Royal family living on a housing estate? That was genius!

      • Nancy Slessenger
        April 17, 2014 at 7:07 am

        Yes, Carole, I remember the book. It was “The Queen and I”. A brilliant idea and beautifully executed. Thank you for the reminder.

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