Louise Rennison: The teen queen who never grew up

Author Louise Rennison's unique insight into young girls' lives comes not from parenting but from vivid memories of her own turbulent youth

From the sanctuary of one's 20s and 30s, it is easy to regard our teenage years as a gauche wasteland of hormonal-fuelled angst best airbrushed from history. In author Louise Rennison's world, that brief hiatus between the demise of childhood and the onset of adulthood is instead hilarious and rather tender.

Her bestselling character Georgia Nicolson has become an institution among young female readers. First published in 1999, five million of her diary confessions and those of her more sensitive alter ego, Tallulah Casey, have been sold.

Rennison is now billed as the "Queen of Teen" by her publishers HarperCollins in a burgeoning market for adolescent fiction worth £42m a year. Pitched somewhere between Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones, her first book Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging has spawned a hit film and this week it will become the subject of a musical.

"If boys get any of it I'm really thrilled," admits Rennison, a former stand-up comic with a personal history that makes her evocation of girly teen life all the more intriguing.

Her books are based not on the vicissitudes of parenting experience but on pin-sharp memories of growing up amid an extended family on a council estate in Leeds in the 1960s – something she puts down to her Irish-Jewish storytelling heritage. And while many aspects of the books are autobiographical – the embarrassment of parents, disastrous episodes of eyebrow shaving, humiliatingly dressing up as an olive – others are not.

The writer became pregnant aged 16 when she was little older than her character, Georgia. Her baby was given over for adoption and the pair met for the first time only 15 years ago when Rennison was a successful performer and her daughter an adult. She recalls their first conversation. "My Mum phoned and said: 'I've got someone to talk to you'. So we had the first talk. It was quite kindly – nervous but kindly for both of us. She said she had always guessed that I was very young but she didn't know anything about me," she says. Today she is perhaps unsurprisingly guarded when talking about her daughter, although she says the two are very similar.

Like many working-class families at the time, Rennison's moved to New Zealand in search of a better life when she was 15. She hated it and after a few weeks of bitter protest was sent back to Yorkshire to live with her grandmother. After returning her goodbye gifts, she started going out with someone from a band and was dispatched back to the Antipodes, where she promptly got pregnant "out of sheer boredom".

The child was adopted by her ideal family – the father was an equine vet and the mother a ballerina – and Rennison eventually returned to Britain aged 20, alone.

In the years that followed, she hung around with rock bands, went back to college and became a successful comic. But she had been inspired by working on a youth project in Brixton, where she developed a liking for teenagers. So when the call came to write a teen diary from a publisher impressed with one of her "self-obsessed" magazine articles, she leapt at the chance.

"There is a prevailing attitude that you should all grow up but I'm not really reassured as to what that means. I think growing up would mean that you are incredibly tolerant and easygoing, liked everything, curious about the world because you weren't so egotistically driven. But actually I don't see a great deal of evidence of that [in adults]. They get frightened. They very often don't have more love, they have more fear. And that is a very nice aspect of teenagers – they just don't understand. They just say 'yeah'," she laughs.

Rennison believes teenage life remains fundamentally unchanged from when adolescent readers had to make do with the pages of Jackie for bespoke entertainment. And she studiously ignores the arrival of social media, mobile phones and the internet. "I don't pay any attention to that. I'm a real Luddite... The gadgets are different, the fashion is different, the speed is probably different but the emotional journey is pretty much the same," she says.

There is also a certain sympathy for the poor young male. "It's a cruel world they go back to. It's not like girls, who I know bicker and fall out and can be bitches ...With boys, it's like bloody Top Gear. There's no comfort for them, there's no checking with anyone, because they tend not to tell the truth to each other, really, especially emotional truth. God forbid sexual truth," she says.

And while there have been religious protests in the past against her books, for all their dreams of snogging and sniggering innuendo, it is an ultimately chaste and strangely old-fashioned world she creates. "Although Georgia is a pain and relentlessly thinks she is funny, she is not an unkind girl. There is a deliberate choice to be cheerful and that seems like a moral thing," she says.

Ultimately, she likes to make her young readers laugh. "I don't feel responsible. I like to cheer them on and I talk to them properly but I'm not a teacher. I don't think it's my job to teach in that way. Writing books is a different job."

Angus, Thongs and Even More Snogging, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, 11 February – 3 March.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition