Wednesday, August 8, 2012

So Sue Me - Townsend and Grafton

or Girls Named Sue...

It was only recently that I found out a gem piece of trivia, courtesy of Mental Floss magazine. Did you realize that children's author Shel Silverstein wrote the Johnny Cash hit “A Boy Named Sue”?! For some reason that really surprised me. And for some reason that also got me thinking of authors by the name of Sue.

Sue Grafton (M) is an award winning author of detective novels, which have been published in 28 countries and 26 languages, including Estonian and Indonesian. She was born in 1940 to novelist C.W. Grafton and Vivan Harnsberger. She graduated from the University of Louisville in 1961 with a B.A. in English Literature, with a minor in humanities and fine arts. Grafton began writing when she was 18, taking four years to complete her first novel. She continued to write but found limited success with her novels. She then turned to writing screenplays, working for the next 15 years. Her screenplay for Walking through the Fire won her a Christopher Award in 1979.

Grafton had long been fascinated by mysteries that had related titles, such as John D. MacDonald (M) titles with colours, and Harry Kemelman's (M) titles that deal with the days of the week. She became inspired to write her alphabet series while reading Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies (M). Gorey has a wicked sense of humour and this treasure is an alphabetical picture book of children who dies by various means.

Thus inspired, Grafton's titles all start with a letter of the alphabet, i.e. A is for Alibi. These novels feature the private investigator Kinsey Milhone. Grafton has said that “the mystery novel offers a world in which justice is served. Maybe not in a court of law but people do get their just desserts.” I have often wondered what she will do once she runs out of letters. I guess we will find out soon enough since her latest book is V is for Vengeance.

But we know that she will not go back to screenplays as she has refused to sell the film and television rights. She says that her time as a screenwriter has “cured “ her of the desire to work in Hollywood, so much so she has threatened to haunt her children if they sell the film rights after she is dead!

Sue Townsend (M) is another author who writes series. Born in Leicester England in 1946 , Sue only learned to read when she was eight. She left school at 15 and worked at a number of remedial jobs and wrote in secret. When she had the time to write I am not sure. She had 3 children under 5 by the time she was 22!. It was not until 1978 that she joined a writing group. The first work she presented to the group, Womberang, ended up winning a Thames Television Playwright Award.

She has since written a number of plays but it is her Adrian Mole series (M) that brought her international attention. These books have sold over eight million copies and have been adapted to radio, television and theatre. Readers have followed the adventures of the character from the original novel The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 ¾ to Adrian Mole the Prostrate Years. I love that Adrian did not stay one age but “grew” along with me.

Adrian Albert Mole was born in 1967 and grew up with his working class parents in Leicester. He is an only child until Rosie is born when he is 15. Mole is an average boy in many ways, and he does well in school and does have friends. He thinks of himself as a thwarted“great writer”. As a young man he moves to London to take a job as a chef in Soho. This does not work out and he ends up working in an used bookshop. There is of course a great deal more to these stories, which I will leave up to you, dear readers, to discover. One bit of trivia I will add is that Townsend is legally blind since 2001 due to complications from diabetes and has woven this theme into her work.

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