Sue Townsend: I taught myself to read with Just William
The recently departed Sue Townsend explains how she identified with 'Just William', had read a lot of the classics by the age of 13 and loved meeting Kingsley Amis.
Novelist and playwright Sue Townsend is best known for her Adrian Mole books, which have sold over eight million copies and been adapted for radio, TV and theatre. Her latest novel, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, is available to buy in both paperback and hardback editions. Sadly, Sue passed away earlier this year.
William—The Outlaw by Richmal Crompton
I was afraid of my primary-school teacher because, when we had to read out loud, she’d slap our legs if we got a word wrong. As a result I didn’t learn to read until I was eight, when I stayed at home ill for three weeks. My mum brought a pile of Just William books home from a rummage sale and I taught myself to read with William—The Outlaw.
Apart from his social class (I used to wonder why he had a gardener and a maid), and the fact that he broke into houses and committed burglary (he’d be in a secure unit nowadays), William and I lived much the same life. Like him, I’d roam the countryside until dark with my friends, doing all sorts of dangerous things that my parents never knew about.
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Once I started to read, I never looked back. By 13, I’d worked my way through a lot of the classics (I’d buy them cheaply at Leicester market), but this was the one that changed how I saw the world. I hadn’t thought of people in terms of dual personalities before—the reader both despises and loves Myshkin, because he’s simultaneously good and bad. I stopped looking at the world in black and white and understood that it was immensely complex.
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
This is one of the funniest books ever written, and I’ve read it again and again. If I ever need reminding about punctuation or perfect phraseology, I turn to Lucky Jim. Amis wrote with such style. I can quote great passages by heart and often make conscious references to the book in my own writing. For instance, Jim has to go to a madrigal-singing weekend at Professor Welch’s—I forced Adrian Mole to go and listen to madrigals, too.
I was lucky enough to meet Amis once and I found him incredibly easy to get on with. He did a wonderful impression of a motorbike being fired up on a frosty morning.
The TV adaptation of Adrian Mole is available to buy here £9.99