Louise Rennison: Winner of the Funny Prize 2010 for Withering Tights

Louise Rennison
16 November 2010

Louise is the author of the best-selling Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series for teens. Withering Tights is the first in her new series.

Congraulations on your win!

Thank you. Michael Rosen is so charming, this morning he really bigged me and Louise (Yates) up on the BBC Breakfast show.

You are on a roll. You were 'Queen of Teen' last year.

Yes that was great. I had to go to the ceremony again this year and knew I wouldn’t win again but deliberately didn’t take my crown back, I don’t want to give it back ever.

The Funny Prize was born to celebrate funny books. What does it mean to you to win it?

I feel like it’s an underestimated skill to be funny. Roald Dahl was so funny and I didn’t read him as a child as I was from a very working class family and I don’t think it was the kind of thing we really read.

It wasn’t on your bookshelves?

I don’t think we had any bookshelves!

Did you read much as a child?

Not so much children’s books, just whatever was there. My uncle used to make me act out Shakespeare when I was about five.

When they got you up to do the Irish dancing? (you spoke about this at the awards ceremony as well as performing for us, and it's a bit of a running theme in Withering Heights!)

Yes, I was scarred for life! So I know as a grown-up Roald Dahl is top humour, and it’s the same for Just William, someone was asking who would be my hero and it's Richmal Crompton.

She was fantastic and Just William was hilarious.

The funniest children’s book. Still is I think.

Writing books that make you laugh out loud is quite a rare talent.

It’s lovely when you think you can do that with a book, sometimes things will absolutely make me laugh for ages. I don’t feel that she had as much praise for writing funny as she could have done.

So would you say this prize has filled a gap?

Absolutely, it’s the prize of all prizes for me, that’s why I’m really genuinely thrilled.

Do you think funny books are important to encourage reluctant readers?

I don’t write with that in mind. I don’t think 'I’ll make this really simple so they can understand it'. It’s what makes me laugh in the first place. I think I know what a funny book can do for you. P G Woodhouse is another of my favourites. I just know that I can get in that book when I’m not feeling so great and something will change in me.

I know you didn’t read a lot of books when you were a kid but in your books there are lots of books. Tallulah is a big reader.

Those are actually the kind of books I used to read. I used to avidly read gothic books, but the big difference is there wasn’t really a teenage market when I was growing up. I think when I was a young teenager of Tallulah’s age, books were things like Andy Air Hostess or Marjory the School Nurse or something like that – there were just two role models to chose from. It’s nice to bring Tallulah and Georgia into adult psyches.

Was Judy Blume around when you were a kid?

No, she wasn’t actually, that was sort of the generation after me. I think they came into the culture then.

You missed out on the Judy Blumes being swapped around school.

My sexual information was from James Bond books – a strange view of mankind!

What is it like to start a new series? Was it hard to let go of Georgia?

It was terribly terribly hard actually, and it was also very scary. It’s quite hard when you’re popular. It’s like being popular at school and then you suddenly decide to put your head down and study. I was really not very comfortable with starting a new character, but I felt kind of like I had to really and also it gradually became clearer.

It’s based on me really, I can’t really write about anything else. It’s a different part of me, it’s a place I was in, not as a teenager, but when I went to performing arts college. I felt just like her, I was so useless my dance tutor at college said that it made her feel physically sick to see me on stage!

What she was actually saying is, as Tallulah does, she is hiding at the back of the stage and that made it ten times worse. My friend and I rather cruelly used to go along to amateur dramatics in Brighton, and there’d always be a gangly one at the back trying to join in and not really fitting in, crashing into the scenery. You’d be riveted by them and watch them the whole time, and that was me really.

Little did they know that they were really centre stage and everyone was watching them!

Exactly. And things that happened to Tallulah, like bicycle ballet, that happened to me. I did a bicycle ballet and crashed into the stage area when I got my skirt caught!

Once I began to get that aspect of Tallulah it got more interesting. It’s terribly hard to get Georgia out of your head though, she’s so persistently around.

I love the connection that she’s her cousin.

Yes, that was the resolve for me, that they knew each other, it was a natural relationship.

So there’s potential for Georgia to turn up?

Yes, I just love the idea of Georgia giving appallingly bad advice. She’s useless so she’s bound to get her into trouble, and sure to tell Tallulah about the snogging scale!

It’s lovely to have the country setting in the north of England too, fresh territory for you.

I really enjoyed it. That was a surprise to me how much I loved Heckmondwhite. I loved it and I loved going back to all those characters that I knew as a teenager like Ted Barraclough, he used to make me hysterical with laughter. It was an excuse for a bit of a joke.

Can you tell us about your writing process? I've read that you write at a Natural Health Centre, is that true?

It is true, although it’s slightly changed as it was such a challenge to write Withering Tights that I was actually hauled into my agent’s office, which is an unknown thing, it’s never happened before. It was like getting detention really, and they all watched me through the glass wall, making sure I was writing! I would say 'I’m really hungry, I’ll just go and get a sandwich' and they’d say 'no no we’ll go and get it for you', so I was more or less chained up there for weeks. And as it worked so well and I got my deadline, I suspect they’ll try and do it again!

Was it you or your publisher who decided to stop Georgia?


You’d reached saturation point?

I wanted to express a different part of myself I think really. I might go back to her, I didn’t want to kill her off as I’m very fond of that world as well, and there’s more adventures there. But I did want to expand my horizons, going into the village and having this big place Dother Hall and a different set of characters, which is a bit too enticing really. As a writer I always wanted to do Fame which is not Fame, it’s a kind of English rubbish Fame. It’s less fame and more 'crickey'!

Do you work on other things at the same time when you’re writing your children’s books?

When I’m in the middle of it it’s hard to concentrate on anything else, but I am actually doing a musical stage version of Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging in the winter, which is already more fun than you can imagine, I'm turning into a set designer and director. I'm working with the comedy promoter who produces Eddy Izzard, Bill Bailey and people like that and he’s a good person to work with, we’ve already had some cracking nights talking about it. How we’ll do Angus and what will Libby be like and things like that.

So you are writing the script and you’ll have creative control?

It’s like my gift to myself as I had such a tough time with the film.

I wanted to ask you about that. What was your experience of Angus being turned into a film?

Well, all authors tell you the same thing – they go 'oh yeah, that always happens'. I wish they’d let me know before! They just take it over and they have no real regard for the writer, they think they are somehow incidental to the whole thing actually.

So they feel as though it‘s their words and characters to do what they want with? Was it very painful?

Yes it was really painful as it was me. It’s bad enough for any character, but when the character is actually based on you and somebody is actually making your own voice different to your own voice it's awful. Especially if you don’t think it’s as funny as you could make it.

So the stage adaption must be really liberating.

I think it’s very funny, I can have audience participation. I can have the girls do ‘lets go down the disco' dances in the aisles and boy bands!

Where will it be on?

We’re going to audition at the Theatre Royal Brighton, then I think it might go to the Edinburgh Festival circuit.

Great and there’ll be music too – are you helping to write that?

I’ll have a hand in it. I would certainly like to have a go at the lyrics as it makes me laugh.

I look forward to seeing that!

That will be after I’ve done the second Tallulah.

After you’ve been let out of your agent's office?

(laughs) I did once, very childishly pretend to write and I thought this is just ridiculous, pretending to write!

I’ve got a last question. Regarding the animals and children in your books. Particularly the twins in Withering Tights. I was unsure of the age they were supposed to be. They are almost demonic, they are quite scary!

I like them a lot. I tell you what is quite interesting though, the Americans who are publishing Withering Tights are a bit puzzled. I don’t think they know where Yorkshire is for a start. The other thing is they don't like the character Honey (the more 'experienced' girl). They wanted me to write her part really small, so out of revenge I’ve had some Hollywood star spotters come to Dother Hall and spot Honey and whisk her off to Hollywood because they really like her.

That's the ultimate revenge and that is being in charge of your own book isn’t it!

Thank you so much, that was really great and congratulations again.

Yes thank you. I’m absolutely delighted, it’s the best thing that’s happened to me actually.

Louise Rennison

Louise Rennison lives in Brighton, a place that she likes to think of as the San Francisco of the south coast. Louise thinks this is sad as it is nothing like San Francisco, being mainly pebbles and large people in tiny swimming knickers who have gone bright red in the sun. Although she lives in Brighton in reality, in her mind she lives somewhere exotic with a manservant called Juan.

Louise is the author of the best-selling Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series for teens. Withering Tights is the first in her new series.

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