Q&A: Sue Townsend

Sue Townsend

Sue Townsend, 60, was born in Leicester. She left school at 15 and worked in a series of unskilled jobs. In 1978 she joined a writers' group at the Phoenix Arts Centre, Leicester. Her first book, The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾, and its sequel made Townsend the best-selling novelist of the 1980s, and she went on to adapt Adrian Mole for both stage and television. She has suffered from diabetes for many years, and in 2001 was registered blind.

When were you happiest?

Flying over the Australian outback in a jet, looking down at the incredible orange scenery, the uninhabited hills and gullies, listening to Tchaikovsky on my headphones and drinking champagne with a cigarette in my hand. It was 1984, I'd been to the Adelaide Book Festival and was going back to my husband and my children.

What is your greatest fear?

Being trapped inside a burning car.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Lack of confidence - every time I start a new piece of work, it seems I have to spend a long while under the duvet thinking I can't do it.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Lack of empathy.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Walking around a book shop at Heathrow airport with a very thin Betty Jackson silk skirt tucked inside my third-best knickers.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cream and black Aga. It is the heart of the house and people congregate around it.

Where would you like to live?

Where I'm living. I know this house and we've made the garden to our taste - it's perfect. We've been in this house for 23 years.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

That's easy - everything. I used to think I had nice arms, but I don't even think that any more.

What would your super power be?

I would change the climate and make sure everybody had rain. I would stop starvation by making the land completely fertile and stop big corporations from grabbing more than their fair share.

What makes you depressed?

I seem to be able to get depressed quite easily without any reason.

What is your most unappealing habit?

Shouting 'What fresh hell is this?' when the phone rings.

What is your favourite smell?

My front garden. There's a myrtle bush and lavender and something else I can't identify, and the smell is overpowering and absolutely beautiful.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Watching Jeremy Kyle in the morning and Judge Judy at night.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?

My children - I should have treated them more as individuals, rather than lumped them together as 'the children'.

What, or who, is the greatest love of your life?

Books were, when I could read. I am not counting people because I think we take it for granted that if you are with your husband after 30 years, then he is.

Have you ever said 'I love you' and not meant it?

On several occasions, when what I was feeling was a kind of burst of happiness, which is not love.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Obsessive, obsessional.

What has been your biggest disappointment?

Losing my independence.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

I would share Oscar Wilde's cell in Reading Gaol. He would have someone to talk to and I would learn a lot.

When did you last cry, and why?

Staring down at a blank piece of paper.

What is the closest you've ever come to death?

In a car that turned over and over and was flattened. The police came and thought everybody inside was dead, but we crawled out.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

If I had my sight back, I'd be all right, because I could wheel myself around - at the moment I am dependent on other people.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

That my children appear still to enjoy my company and all read books.

How would you like to be remembered?

As somebody who wrote serious comedy.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

To live with all of your senses.


Interview by Rosanna Greenstreet

The GuardianTramp

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