Sue Townsend: ‘I hate it when people call me a national treasure’
Interview from 2010 with Adrian Mole author on seeing her best-known character grow up, blindness and receiving a kidney from her son
Adrian worries about emotional detachment. Are you detached, too? “I have a certain detachment. If I gave in to my emotions, I would cry me a river.”
Do you have plans to kill Adrian Mole off?
The only way I’ll kill Adrian is when I die myself.
What’s your relationship with him like now?
I made the mistake in the early books of making him not very attractive. But I have recently fallen in love with him. He has got older. He has taken advice from women on clothes and hair. Tragic happenings make him attractive as well. He has come to learn you don’t need things. There is joy in seeing a tree come into blossom.
Do you feel the same yourself?
Adrian Mole, c’est moi.
The Prostrate Years includes startling comedy – a dead guide dog chapter…
It is the third dead dog Adrian has buried. He asks: why does everyone ask me to bury their dead dogs?
If you had not been registered blind, could you have written this way?
No, I wouldn’t have dared.
Have you got a guide dog?
No, but we have Bill, a black labrador.
You once likened yourself to a golden labrador?
Yes, I hate it when people call me a “national treasure”. It takes away your bite and makes you feel like a harmless old golden labrador.
Any other labrador attributes?
Yes – I am usually overweight. I have had to be interested in diet because of being diabetic for 30 years and having kidney failure. Did you know I had a transplant last year?
I read that your son donated his kidney – that must have been traumatic…
Not for me. But for him, I think – he was giving away a healthy organ. It was incredibly brave.
Did you have counselling beforehand?
No – a talk with a vicar. I am surrounded by counsellors. My sister is a counsellor. My daughter is training to be a counsellor. A lot of my friends are counsellors.
And could you be a counsellor?
I have been, unofficially, for years.
Was it useful talking to the vicar?
No. I had my husband and son in the room. That was a mistake. I might have wanted to talk about how scared I was about my son and couldn’t.
Were you frightened for yourself?
Once I found out I would be given a morphine drip I could control, no.
How is your new kidney doing?
It’s fine! You can see it [points to a pouch-like accessory to the stomach]. They didn’t put it in my back because the arteries aren’t that good. They put it here so I can feel it. It is really odd. It’s like feeling a baby. It’s doing well.
Congratulations! But you have been cursed with such outrageously bad health. How come, unlike Adrian, you seem not to be a hypochondriac?
I am the opposite. I ignore myself until it gets acute. I had TB peritonitis at 23.
And is the diabetes a tyranny?
A total tyranny – I have never managed it properly. I am the world’s worst diabetic.