‘There’s a deliberate choice to be cheerful and that seems like a moral thing.’ Louise Rennison (interview with The Independent in 2012)
Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging was published in 1999. At the time I was a barrister in my late thirties with a one-year old baby, my usual reading fare a weird mixture of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (gripping) and Chitty on Contracts (less gripping). I probably bought Angus with the intention of giving it to one of my godchildren but I definitely read it first (this happened quite a lot). I remember it for the simple reason that it was one of the funniest books I’d ever read. It came back into our house when Honor was about eleven. And there were sequels and they were as good as the ridiculous titles promised they would be. How did Louise Rennison get away with those titles? I’d love to have heard her pitch ‘Luurve is a many trousered thing…’ (although ‘…And that’s when it fell off in my hand…’ was a step too far for her US publishers who changed it to ‘Away laughing on a fast camel’ which isn’t nearly as good). Hon is dyslexic, she didn’t read very many books cover to cover but she did read the Georgia books – being ‘easy to read’ was in our house a very good thing. I got Hon’s old copy (dog eared – it had plainly only just survived a summer holiday) off the shelf in her bedroom and reread it this month when I heard that Rennison had died. I was so sad when I heard the news that I felt uncomfortable – as though I was intruding into the space that should be reserved for people that knew her. Maybe to know her writing was to know her a little, those that did know her remarked again and again in lovely tributes on her warmth and warmth is something that comes across in nearly every line that she wrote (even when her characters are being shockingly rude).
Georgia Nicholson is a brilliant character – ok, she attracts more than her share of disaster and accompanying humiliation (I’m with Lucy Ivison on identifying the ‘mortifying monobrow make over’ as one of the all time best teen humiliation scenes) but she’s funny and self-deprecating and resilient and very easy to love. The character as well as the bravery of the comedic writing (it just pushes that extra bit) are hugely inspiring. It’s not easy to be that funny on every page even when you are talking about knickers and boys (both of which admittedly are inherently comic). She makes funny look effortless. And her playfulness with language is genius. Wodehouse would surely have appreciated lines like ‘I am over-excited. I’m hysterical, I may have to slap my own face in a minute at this rate’ (from Withering Tights) or ‘I can already feel myself getting fed up with boys and I haven’t had anything to do with them yet’ (from Angus – that’s my personal favourite).
Louise Rennison was a prolific writer: ten books in the Georgia Nicholson series and then in 2010 when she couldn’t arrest the development of Georgia any longer the baton was passed to Georgia’s drama mad little cousin Tallulah Casey. Because our own books are teen comedies with a drama mad protagonist neither of us read the Tallulah Casey books (we were neurotically worried that Rennison’s strong comic voice would get stuck in our heads and sort of seep through into our work) but I got to pick up Withering Tights and A Midsummer Tights’ Dream this week and although I’ll own to missing Georgia, they were of course brilliant. Rennison knew what she was talking about, to get into her Performing Arts course she had to ‘be’ an embryo – acting has its very own brand of built in comic humiliation. Withering Tights won the Roald Dahl prize in 2010.
The day after Louise Rennison died Honor and I were in Waterstones Islington handing out certificates at the Islington Teen Reads Awards to an audience of prolific readers and we asked them how many of them had read her books. Some hands went up but not as many as we’d expected (mostly girls, Rennison said herself ‘if boys get any of it I’m really thrilled’ – but they should give them a go). At the time I thought that that was a shame (and there’s work to be done recommending them and keeping them alive in every media) but it does mean that for lots of new readers her books are a wonderful treat to come. If you haven’t read them then– as she’d say – ‘you don’t know what you’re missing my fine-feathered friend.’ Enjoy.