Ever since her Georgia Nicolson books, beginning with Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, Louise Rennison has aligned herself with girls in the throes of the confounding experience of adolescence.
Georgia and now her cousin, Tallulah Casey, the narrator of Withering Tights, allow young women to laugh at themselves and their travails, as they worry about the size of their “corkers,” or breasts, and when they’ll ever get to snog (kiss). The author says, “I luuurve it when the girls write to me and tell me the horrific things” they go through. Here she reveals what inspired many of the funniest bits in the book.
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A summer drama camp—what a terrific construct! Did you attend one in England?
I would like to say that I used my tremendously fertile what’s it…imagination, to create Dother Hall, but it is based on my time at visual and performing arts college. My audition piece was to be an embryo emerging into the womb. In fact, the teacher did say, “Use the whole room,” which was supposed to help. Despite my display of “egginess,” they let me on the course. I think, on reflection, for the sheer comedy value of having me on.
Were there specific people who served as inspiration for your characters? Jo, with her small round self; Vaisey, who’s obsessed with never having snogged; “violent” Flossie; and, of course, the Woolfe Academy boys.
Yes, most of my characters are taken from real life. Or, as they say, “used.” And sometimes I even lazily use their real names. I like to think they love me for this. Jo, for instance, is based on a friend of mine [called Jo] I was in a cabaret group with called “Women with Beards.” Mostly, as I remember, we went on stage in false beards and yelled, “It’s all boys’ fault! Thank you.” Charlie and Phil are based on two boys at college, and Cain—well, Cain is a mixture of Heathcliff and a moody boy I went out with in Yorkshire.
We loved that you brought in the Brontes from the get-go, with the fire on the roof of Dother Hall and Bob being mistaken for Mrs. Rochester. Part of what makes your book so funny is that the Brontes’ books are so serious. Did you choose Yorkshire as a setting, and then it seemed inevitable to bring in the Brontes?
Oh you can’t do Yorkshire without Em, Anne and Chazza. I've been to Haworth quite a lot and as a kid did a lot of storming around singing Kate Bush's famous “Wuthering Heights” song with my mates. It always rained. In fact, I have a hilarious photo of some American friends I took up onto the moors just outside the vicarage at Haworth. They were keen as mustard to see the romantic moors, until we actually got there. There was a force nine gale, and the rain was sheeting it down. You have never seen more wet and alarmed people.
Lullah’s nervous tic—breaking out into Riverdance, hands at her sides with her lengthy legs popping up and down practically whenever she gets stuck—is hilarious! How did that come about?
Well, again this is based largely on my life. When I was a little girl, I lived in a packed house with lots of my relatives, and on Fridays, the Irish part of it would go and have some Guinness. After a pint or two, they would rediscover their Irish roots. So they would stagger back, and the Irish records would be put on. I'd hear the “Hiddly diddly diddle, we're all off to Dublin in the green in the green!” and I'd think, “Oh, no.”
My gran used to shout up the stairs: “Get the child up and dancing!” And at about age 5 or 6, I would be put up on the table to do Irish dancing for them. My legs were so out of control and lanky that I once accidentally knocked my granddad’s false teeth out.
Many authors say that funny books are the hardest to write, yet your books make it look so easy. Is writing humor easy for you?
Well, it sounds so boring and serious to say that humor is hard to write! But I think if you have an instinct for it, it is a sort of quite big discipline. If I write something and read it later, and I think, “Oh come on, get on with it madam!” it will rankle that I didn’t get the joke or scene hilariously right.
However, having said that, my mum caught me reading aloud the corker-rubbing scene in Withering Tights, you know, when Cain spots Talullah trying to make her corkers grow by rubbing them with hiking socks…Anyway, I was laughing as I did it—the reading out loud, not the rubbing—and my mum said, “Louise, are you still laughing at your own jokes?” And I was!