LONDON - British author Sue Townsend, whose books about awkward teenage diarist Adrian Mole sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, has died at the age of 68, her publishers said Friday.
She died on Thursday after suffering a stroke, surrounded by her family in Leicester - her hometown in central England and the setting for Mole’s angst-ridden adolescence.
Townsend was a prolific writer but won worldwide fame with the publication of “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾” in 1982, which sold 20 million copies worldwide.
Mole’s self-important writings gave a witty insight into the trials and tribulations of teenage boys, as well as life growing up under prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
A working-class teenager with intellectual pretentions, Mole poured out his frustration with his dysfunctional family, his school friends, his spots and his hopeless love for the middle-class Pandora Braithwaite.
Two years after the first book was published, a follow-up was released, “The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole”. Together, they made Townsend Britain’s best-selling novelist of the 1980s, and made Mole a cult figure for a generation.
Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling led the tributes to Townsend, saying: “She gave me so many laughs.”
Townsend continued the Adrian Mole series through the 1990s and 2000s, following him as he became a father, ran a book shop and overcame prostate cancer.
A “passionate socialist”, she moved her satire from Thatcher to Tony Blair, the ‘New Labour’ prime minister who she felt had betrayed the working class.
“Sue Townsend will be remembered as one in a handful of this country’s great comic writers,” said Tom Weldon, chief executive of Penguin Random House UK publishers.
“She was loved by generations of readers, not only because she made them laugh out loud, but because her view of the world, its inhabitants and their frailties was so generous, life affirming and unique.”
Success did not come easily to Townsend. Born in Leicester in 1946, the eldest daughter of a postman, she left school at 15, married at 18 and by the age of 23 was a single parent with three children.
She held a series of jobs including factory worker, shop assistant and youth worker, writing in secret until she finally joined a writers’ group in her thirties.
At the age of 35, she won an award for her first play, “Womberang”, and begun her professional writing career.
Her many hits included “The Queen and I”, which imagined Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family living in social housing after a republican party wins power in Britain.
Townsend was plagued by poor health throughout her life. She had a heart attack in her thirties and suffered from diabetes for many years, which by 2001 caused her to lose her sight.
It also caused her kidneys to fail and in 2009 she had a transplant from her son, Sean. In recent years, neuropathy in her limbs confined her to a wheelchair.
But she continued writing by dictating her work, and her final novel, “The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year”, was published in 2012 and has so far sold more than half a million copies in Britain.
Journalist Caitlin Moran was one of many writers who paid tribute to Townsend, saying on Twitter that she was “one of the funniest women who ever lived”. Townsend leaves behind her second husband, Colin Broadway, and four children.