Louise Rennison: Comedian who became a bestselling author of teen fiction best known for 'Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging'

Using her memories of being 14, she created the slang-filled diary of Georgia Nicolson, a good-hearted adolescent constantly up for the latest social challenge

Nicholas Tucker
Tuesday 08 March 2016 19:54
Louise Rennison: Chatty and convivial
Louise Rennison: Chatty and convivial

It's OK, I'm Wearing Really Big Knickers, Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? and Stop in the Name of Pants – her titles say it all. The stand-up comedian turned children's writer Louise Rennison, who has died aged 64, had a rare gift for extracting maximum humour from topics felt by adolescents to be super-important but which surrounding adults tend to play down or ignore.

She was not always as popular with teachers and librarians, with a couple of public readings cut short over what was seen as objectionable material. But Rennison always came back loudly in her own defence: “Show me a girl of nine, 10 and 11 who hasn't discussed lips, breasts and bums with girls of the same age.” This frankness extended to writing about teenage sex and lesbianism in the same unabashed tone. Named as the Queen of Teen in 2008, she was adored by adolescent readers in more than 30 countries.

Born in Leeds 1951 and retaining her accent ever since, Rennison grew up in a three-bedroom house on a council estate which was shared with grandparents, an aunt and a cousin, with sister Sophie arriving later. She enjoyed an affectionate childhood and attended her local all-girls grammar school where, she recalled, “We spent the whole day trying to find things to be amused by.”

But things changed when the family emigrated to Wairakei in New Zealand when she was 15, and she desperately missed her friends at home. “Out of sheer boredom,” as she later put it, she conceived a daughter two years later which she instantly put up for adoption, having previously made sure there was a respectable middle-class couple ready and waiting for her. Returning on her own to Britain she then spent some years in London, working in odd jobs including dental nurse and adventure playground leader. She finally moved to Brighton, where she lived for the rest of her life.

Chatty, convivial and with dancing listed as one of her hobbies, she soon became a popular figure in Brighton's alternative comedy circles. Having previously enrolled on a Performing Arts course, she drew on her talent for self-deprecating humour in her pioneering and prize-winning one-woman show, Stevie Wonder Felt My Face. This was based on an actual meeting with the famous blind singer, describing him, whether accurately or not, looking visibly startled after he had got round to her prominent nose.

She toured with this show for around four years, and it was later adapted as a BBC television special. In another show, she stated how nice she found it when her current partner came in to talk while she was still in the bath, only later realising he was perching on the loo for more earth-bound reasons. She was also a leading member in an all-female cabaret group Women with Beards.

In 1998 she was invited to write a teenage novel after a publisher had read her column in London's Evening Standard and approached her about writing what Rennison described later as “A sort of teenage Bridget Jones, because the kind of thing I wrote was so self-obsessed.”

Delving into her memories of being 14, sometimes forgetting to give recognisable characters from her youth pseudonyms, she created the slang-filled diary of Georgia Nicolson, a good-hearted adolescent constantly up for the latest social challenge in her life. Her fictional daily journal is full of jokes, while also recording regular oscillations between moments of apparent triumph and agonies of embarrassment.

Often laughing as she wrote, Rennison invented her own brand of slang rather than going for quickly dating current usage, with “fabbity fab fab” and “nippy noddles” making their first entrance to the English language. Published to general acclaim in 1999, the finished result, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, came out with equal success in America the following year.

After selling more than 2.5m copies it was made into a successful film in 2008. Nine more books were to follow, featuring Georgia and her mostly doomed efforts to find the right boy. Particularly haunting gaffes included gatecrashing a party dressed as a stuffed olive and accidentally shaving off her eyebrows. Like so many of her mini-disasters, these were actual events from Rennison's own past. In 2010 she started a new series involving Georgia's 14-year-old cousin Tallulah Casey. The first title, Withering Heights, won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize for that year.

No longer living a frugal existence after her publishing success, she remained a sunny if occasionally argumentative character. A keen drinker, she would sometimes bring a gin bottle with her on social visits and get through at least half of it before going home.

In an article about dating over the age of 35 she once wrote that this was basically pointless because if you are still on your own by then there must be something wrong with you. But she enjoyed a number of shorter relationships herself and had legions of friends, including many of the alternative comedians visiting Brighton, some of whom were later to achieve fame elsewhere.

She was reunited in 1993 with her daughter, then in her twenties and working in London in financial services. They quickly became close, with Kimberley Billing staying in constant touch up to her mother's death following a short illness.

Louise Rennison, comedian and author: born Leeds 11 October 1951; one daughter; died 29 February 2016.

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