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I based Adrian's looks on John Major; A career in writing didn't come easily to Adrian Mole creator Sue Townsend, she tells Laura Davis.

Byline: Laura Davis

IT'S the name that comes to Sue Townsend first - a name in place of a face or figure, which sums up a character in a simple pair of words.

So it was with young Nigel Mole, the 133/4-year-old diarist of Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

Hang on a minute - Nigel Mole? But that's who he was, at least while he remained undiscovered - the first three months of his diaries discarded in an old refrigerator box.

The author describes her rebirth as a professional writer as "coming out of the closet" but in fact it was her manuscripts that had been hidden in the closet - in the cupboard under-the-stairs to be exact.

"I knew it wasn't good enough," she says of her secret stash of work.

Although she had been writing since she left school at the age of 14, it wasn't until she was in her 30s that Townsend turned it into a career.

Persuaded by her second husband to join a writing group, which secretly submitted one of her plays to a local theatre. Womberang, starring 12 women and one man, won a Thames Television competition and it was finally time for Nigel Mole to come out from under the stairs.

The change to Adrian was implemented to distance the sensitive teenager from the fictional author Nigel Molesworth, supposed writer of the Down With Skool! books based on Geoffrey Willans's Punch column.

"They're both non-threatening names. They're not macho names like Steve or Rocky," says Townsend, who will be appearing at the Sefton Celebrates Writing Festival in November.

"Names are very important and we have such rich pickings in Britain - there are so many nouns that are also surnames, like Tree or Hedge.

"I believe your name influences you. I think it's a crime that children are embarrassed by their names."

Townsend was a definite "Susan" until she joined the theatre and switched to "Sue".

"I am a Susan really, who's slightly more serious than Sue," she says.

"I think Sue wears bright red shoes with high heels and Susan wears orthopedic, clumpy shoes."

So her protagonist had the right name and a personality - "I knew he would be someone very sensitive, who watched and listened rather than joined in, that was passionate about books and who felt he wasn't like other boys" - but no discernible appearance.

"I couldn't imagine what he looked like until I saw John Major on the television and Margaret Thatcher was introducing her Cabinet," says the 66-year-old writer.

"There was this geeky looking man at the back of the group. I said to my children, 'My god that's Adrian Mole'."

She imagined her readers as the mothers of teenage boys - "I just felt that they needed help".

And she was keen to remind parents of the secret dialogue taking place inside their children's heads.

"I often get people in the audience saying, 'My daughter is my best-friend, we can talk about anything' and I think, 'That's very nice but you wait until she's 30 and starts to tell you about the time she'd taken acid and had tea with grandma'," she explains.

"There are parents who believe everything their children say and it's not until they begin to search the bedroom, perhaps, that they find stuff they really wish they hadn't found."

Adrian Mole was 44 this year and about to become a grandfather, despite some readers criticising Townsend for letting him grow up. There will be another book, she says, although his opinions on the coalition government may remain unaired because by then she expects it will have fallen apart.

She is currently writing a non-Mole novel, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, a task made more difficult by her poor eyesight - she was registered blind in 2001. Townsend now dictates her novels to her eldest son and grand-daughter, a process which her editor believes has improved her work.

"It could be that when you speak the words aloud you know whether the rhythm's right or wrong," she says.

"But because I always say 'oh no' it becomes an embarrassment so we don't actually talk about it in great detail."

* AN AUDIENCE with Sue Townsend will take place at Crosby Civic Hall on November 9.

CAPTION(S):

Alison Steadman and Stephen Mangan as Adrian and his mother Pauline Mole in Adrian Mole the Cappuccino Years. From top, Sue's best sellers The Diary of Adrian Mole aged 133/4 and The Queen and I; bottom, Adrian from the first TV series
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 23, 2011
Words:750
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