Winning a commission to write a new Adrian Mole story
We’ve blogged before about visiting the Sue Townsend archive at the University of Leicester. When we saw the news that there were to be commissions for new Adrian Mole stories to celebrate his 50th birthday, there was no question – we had to try and get one!
We put on our thinking caps about what Adrian Mole might be doing in 2017 and created a pitch. We were completely thrilled to be accepted, so we wrote the piece ready for the celebrations.
We re-read the books so that we could capture the voice and reference any key information. It was a reminder of how very clever and funny they are. If you haven’t revisited Sue Townsend’s work for a while, give yourself a treat.
Part of the commission included the opportunity to visit the Sue Townsend archive again in the Special Collections at the David Wilson Library. This time there was a chance to go and see behind the scenes. There is an environmentally controlled room filled with shelving. There are many boxes filled with Sue Townsend’s work, but luckily it’s all indexed on the website, so that if you visit you can request the documents that you want to see.
Adrian Mole’s birthday
There were several sessions during Sunday 2nd April 2017, Adrian’s actual birthday. They were hosted by Leicester University and sponsored by Penguin Books (who have issued a celebratory volume of Mole’s poetry to coincide with his birthday).
The first session was The Art of Adrian Mole with Caroline Holden Hotopf. Caroline created the cover illustrations for the books when they were first published. She told the group lots of fun anecdotes. When she needed a picture of the Moles’ dog (referred to always as “the dog”) she saw one, in a park in Hackney. She asked the owner’s permission to photograph the dog and the owner even invited her back home, so that she could photograph the dog in different settings. Caroline recreated the dog picture on the flipchart for the workshop
The afternoon sessions all took place in the lecture theatre, and it was laid out with party bags for all attendees. These were very exciting, with a book, a programme, some cake, chocolate and even an Adrian Mole pen!
Sue Townsend: Playwright
The first of the afternoon sessions was Sue Townsend: Playwright with Carole Hayman and Janette Legge.
This was a fascinating introduction to the work that Sue Townsend did in the theatre. A good deal of this was before the Adrian Mole novels made her a household name. Carole Hayman, who directed her early plays in London described their first meeting. “I wrote to you and you never replied”, “That’s because I couldn’t read your writing!”. Apparently they learned to communicate using block capitals or typed manuscripts after that. Janette Legge told us about being an actress in the plays, playing multiple roles to keep costs down.
Carole and Janette did a reading from a television script, called Spinney, that was never produced. It was a very funny scene, showing the tensions between a property developer who wants to build a squash club and the locals who want their community centre to remain.
Reunion: The Birth of Adrian Mole
The next event was Reunion: The Birth of Adrian Mole with Simon Dixon, Geoffrey Strachan and Caroline Holden Hotopf.
This was a fascinating look at how Adrian Mole came to our attention in the 1980s, chaired by Bridget Blair.
Simon Dixon looks after the archive in the university and he showed us some of the literary treasure trail that is held in the archive, documenting the journey to publication. He set the scene, telling us how the character, initially called Nigel Mole, was featured on BBC radio, and it was suggested that it could be turned into a comedy novel.
Geoffrey Strachan, who was the publisher at Methuen then took over the story and told us how he helped to bring the book together. He had strong ideas about the format and cost of the book, insisting that it should be kept below £5 so that teenagers could afford it. He also said that the book’s publication coincided with a new set of BBC plays, which helped to boost its sales into bookshops, which is a considerable hurdle with a new author. He saw Caroline’s work in a gallery in London and brought her in as the illustrator for the books.
Caroline had several things to show the audience, including the deluxe edition of Adrian Mole. This is quite rare as it had a small print run, but features more of her delightful illustrations, many of which are locations in Leicester that Sue Townsend told her were in the book. A really special rarity that she has in her possession is a vinyl LP of the musical, that she also did the artwork for. When EMI sent her a copy, she found that one side featured the Rolling Stones. She called EMI to tell them and they said it was a pressing error, so it’s possible that she has the only copy of an LP with both Adrian Mole and the Rolling Stones!
Recollections from the first Live Action Mole
Simon Schatzberger took to the stage. He was the actor who first played Adrian Mole in the stage adaptation. He was a young-looking sixteen when he got the job, and took us right through the process from audition to production (with lots of re-writes) to taking the show to the West End. Like many of the speakers during the day, Simon spoke with huge warmth about Sue Townsend. It was clear that she was loved not only because of the wonderful work that she created but because of the person that she was as well.
Author Bali Rai had worked with local schools to bring some new writing to the celebrations. He had given them a very loose remit of “my Leicester” to see what they came up with and then helped them with editing. The pieces that were read out were astonishing. Some were moving and some were extremely funny. There were some very talented young voices; hopefully they will continue to write.
The three commissions were introduced by Corinne Fowler, from the Centre for New Writing, as the final event in the lecture theatre.
First up was The Age of Convenience by Maria Taylor. It was a monologue narrated by Adrian, lying sleepless in bed as his 50th birthday approached:
“Mum is a great-grandma now, but she has taken up social protest as a hobby. Other seventy-two year old women would’ve taken up crochet.”
Second was Rocking On by Marilyn Ricci. This was a monologue about Adrian’s birthday celebrations in Skegness. It featured some stage directions, so she had someone to help her read it out:
“Whatever happens I’ve got to stop my mother making a speech when the clock ticks past Midnight and it’s officially my birthday.”
Our reading was last. Let Them Eat Custard Creams takes the form of a letter from Adrian to the Arts Council, protesting at their refusal of a grant for six thousand pounds for snacks for the Westcote Library Literature Group.
Read the story here
We left the lecture theatre and went to enjoy some party food. There was a fabulously retro buffet featuring sausage rolls, pork pies and cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks. Frances Quinn, former winner of the great British Bake Off had made a cake, decorated with Mole-themed motifs and there was a wonderful display of Caroline Holden Hotopf’s illustrations for us to look at.
Within moments, Iain and I encountered someone from the Arts Council and someone who works for the Leicester Library service. Luckily for us, they both approved of our story!