British author and comedian Louise Rennison, whose bestselling books about the hilarious and relatable misadventures of teenager Georgia Nicolson made a splash on both sides of the Atlantic, died on February 29; she was 64.
Rennison, who was born in 1951, came to the children’s book world via a rather circuitous route. She grew up in Leeds, Yorkshire with her parents and extended family sharing a home until the age of 15, at which point she moved to New Zealand with her mother and father. In her 20s, Rennison was back in England living in London and working at a series of jobs while she pursued her dream of being a performer. She first got real traction in both writing and performing when she created a one-woman autobiographical stage show called Stevie Wonder Touched My Face in the 1980s, about her experiences living in Notting Hill. The production was a hit with fans and critics and Rennison spent four years performing the show all over England. It was also adapted as a BBC television special.
Following that first success, Rennison received a flurry of offers to write for radio and newspapers. A column she penned called “Dating Over 35” for a London newspaper caught the eye of Brenda Gardner, publisher of Piccadilly Press, who approached Rennison about writing a book for teens. “It was about being single in your thirties and how any man you met would either be an axe murderer or lived with his mother,” Gardner told PW. “Louise was neither thirtyish nor single at the time. I thought she could write a funny teen diary.” With that, Georgia Nicolson and her slang-filled diary entries were born.
On the official Georgia Nicolson website Rennison recalled, “The main character Georgia is really based on my experiences of when I was 14. I wrote the book to make myself laugh. I always wrote what I remembered making me laugh when I was that age. I didn’t attempt to teach. I didn’t attempt to do anything except I wanted Georgia to be a decent person. I wanted her to be someone who is a bit stupid and self-obsessed and difficult and funny and rude, and a bit jealous and all those other things. But I wanted her to have a good heart.”
In Gardner’s view, “That was the gift that Louise brought to publishing for teens – a fresh funny zany look at life. It was because Georgia Nicolson was her. And it resonated with adults and teens globally. She found humor in baboon bottoms, sex gods, and thongs. And she invented her own language, having given up on asking teens to tell her what was in and out – she said ‘every group told me a different story’ – fabbity fab, gorgy porgy, Geoggers, nippy noddles, and, of course, full-frontal snogging.”
The first book about Georgia, called Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, was published by Piccadilly Press in the U.K. in 1999 and by HarperCollins in the U.S. in 2000. “It was a little risky asking someone with only stand-up comedy plus other sundry jobs to write a novel,” noted Gardner. “And I remember phoning her quite often to see how it was going, always to be told fine. She delivered about a month late, and I read it on a Sunday afternoon, pretty much chortling the whole way. It needed a bit of tinkering, but it was very good. Taking it to New York a few months later I just asked all the editors to read the first page and everyone was interested. HarperCollins U.S. made a definitive offer and thankfully they didn’t change the title. No one had heard of snogging in America at the time!” Rennison went on to write 10 books in the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, both for Piccadilly and HarperCollins U.K., and in 2010 launched a new series featuring Georgia’s 14-year-old cousin Tallulah. Withering Tights (2011), the debut volume in the Misadventures of Tallulah series, was awarded the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2010.
In addition to her YA novels, Rennison wrote and performed two other stage shows and was a contributor to British radio programs Woman’s Hour and The John Peel Show as well as a collaborator on various projects with other comedians.
Ann-Janine Murtagh, executive publisher for the children’s division at HarperCollins in the U.K., provided this statement about the author her company had published for nearly 20 years: “Publishing Louise was a joy. She was beautiful to know and saw the funny in everything. Bold, brave, irreverent and wise, she leaves us with a million happy memories and a legacy of laughter with her wonderful books.”
And Gardner offered this additional remembrance of her author and friend: “Her warmth, generous spirit, and above all this ability to see humor even in those difficult teen years – I’m ugly, my nose is too big, the spot just lurks – inspired so many of us to love her dearly. Her death is a sad loss in a world that needs all the joie de vivre it can get.”