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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice