Sue Townsend: 'Losing the ability to read has been the most painful change'


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The Independent Culture

Adrian Mole would be the same character today as he was 20 years ago Those sensitive, bookish boys and girls are a type that will always exist. They're on the periphery of each social group – all they really want to do is read or record how angst-ridden and miserable their lives are; that's timeless.

Most people feel overlooked They want to make their mark but they feel that they haven't been given a chance to shine. But I believe even the most unprepossessing youth can be talented when they find something of interest; they just need the opportunities to find something they're good at.

I'd love a day devoid of responsibilities I've often thought about going to a hotel just to have a day away from everything. But even there you can't get any peace, because room service knocks on your door and says, "Can I make up your bed ?" They take no notice of the "Do Not Disturb" sign.

I took my sight and mobility for granted [Townsend is partially sighted following complications with diabetes and is confined to a wheelchair.] Our brains are conditioned to expect functioning legs, feet and eyes. For me, the inability to read has been the most painful change; I've not properly got over that, as it's all I ever did other than write. The first thing I did once I'd made some money was switch to buying hardback, as I no longer had to wait for paperbacks to come out, which was a joy.

I am quite reclusive as it's difficult to fit a wheelchair in a crowd of people, craning my neck to talk. And I always seem to get trapped with the party bore – as I want to be out the way in a corner, when they find me it's difficult to escape.

I'm spectacularly disorganised I wrote my latest book in seven different notebooks scattered throughout my house. After the book had gone to print the people I work with were still finding notebooks filled with stuff for the book, much of which would have proved quite useful if it had been found in time.

Watching 'the Jeremy Kyle show' is my guilty pleasure The other day he had a man who had slept with both sisters. It was the usual fare; blackened stubs for teeth and he could hardly express himself apart from in soap-opera language – "obviously" is the latest word in these shows. I enjoy it but at the same time I'm weeping. When working-class people had work they would not have lowered themselves to be on that show.

I find some sounds unbearable The other day I was listening to a reporter on Radio 4's Today programme deliver a live broadcast. She was describing the scene in Syria when a mortar bomb went off and then all you could hear was a woman screaming because her husband was dead. I thought, "My god, that's what open-mouth grief sounds like." It was unbelievably horrible.

Sue Townsend, 66, is a novelist and playwright. Her new book, 'The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year', is published by Michael Joseph, priced £18.99