My inspiration: Pamela Butchart on Louise Rennison

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jul 8, 2015 in Rat News | Subscribe

Louise Rennison perfectly captures young teenage life (in all its cringy glory) in her brilliant, bestselling book Angus, thongs and full-frontal snogging.

Fourteen-year-old Georgia Nicolson is one of my favourite characters in children’s fiction. She’s completely barking! Each page of this (tres dramatique!) diary-style book had me snorting with laughter.

The account of the trauma of teenage life portrayed by the loveably hopeless Georgia is embarrassing, painfully honest and SO much fun! “I am 14 years old, Uncle Eddie! I am bursting with womanhood, I wear a bra! OK, it’s a bit on the loose side and does ride up round my neck if I run for the bus…” When I read Angus, thongs… I was immediately sucked into Georgia’s world.

As a character, Georgia is incredibly convincing. Within a few pages I had to remind myself that I hadn’t actually gone to school with her. As I continued to read about Georgia’s world, a surge of (carefully forgotten) memories/horrendous incidents from my secondary school years came flooding back to me. I became particularly embarrassed whenever I thought about my first year at secondary school (primary school did NOT prepare me!). I found the transition between primary and secondary school tricky (to say the least).

Pamela Butchart: When I first started secondary school I was labelled “weird”. I had weird shoes, an even weirder skirt, two pet rats and I played the spoons Photograph: PR

When I first started secondary school I was labelled “weird”. I had weird shoes, an even weirder skirt, two pet rats and I played the spoons. This had been fine at primary school (encouraged, even) but secondary school was a different beast. The girls in my year were quickly starting to become aware of boys and their looks and wanted to spend their weekends at the Wellgate Shopping Centre buying nail polish and testing make-up. This was a problem for me, since I was still firmly dedicated to spending my weekends searching for treasure (and was only interested in visiting “The Mall” if I ran out of square batteries for my metal detector).

As the year went on, I became more and more self-conscious. I began to shed myself of the old, “weird” Pamela so that I could blend in with everyone else. I went shopping for new clothes, gave up playing the spoons, violin and African drums and stopped reading in the playground.

I had not yet found my “inner Georgia”. I was weird, but I didn’t embrace it. I was inspired by Louise Rennison’s ruthlessly honest and bonkers account of mid-teenage life. Having previously written books about primary school only, I realised that reading about Georgia Nicholson and her teenage trials made me want to write about the first year or so of secondary school, when boys are not yet the worse of your problems (as is mostly the case for Georgia at 14 years old) and “fitting-in” can be all-consuming. I certainly had plenty (too much!) material from my own time at school to work from (and my experience on “the other side” as a secondary school teacher would come in handy, too of course). I felt inspired to dig out old letters from my teenage years upon reading the first page of Angus Thongs… which starts:

Sunday August 23, My Bedroom Raining, 10am

This reminded me of the (20 daily) letters my friends and I used to write to each other and pass between classes via an unnecessarily complicated post system (since mobile phones were still a couple of years out of reach). Etiquette demanded that EVERY letter adhered to the following introduction (the intros were often significantly larger than the main body of the letter, but that’s just how we rolled):

To:

From:

Date:

Time:

Place:

Mood:

Sounds:

Issues:

Thoughts:

(And the friendship test)…

My favourite colour:

Your favourite colour:

(When my friends started to become obsessed with boys this list was extended to include)…

I love:

You love:

(And on those “tricky” days)…

I hate:

You hate:

I was shocked at how embarrassing (and brilliant!) the letters were – we were mad! It took a while to remember what everything meant (we’d basically created a new language) but once I did that’s when I decided that I HAD to write a book about starting secondary school.

Reading Georgia Nicholson’s diary also inspired me to read my old diaries (this was not easy!). I wasn’t bullied, exactly, but it did seem that I got a hard time for almost everything that I did. I just couldn’t do right! For example, EVERYONE started getting perms, so I got one too (without telling my mum). But somehow I came out of the hairdressers looking like a sheep that had been in a fire and got “baa-d” at in the corridor for weeks.

To be fair, I think it was the same for everyone. The key to not standing out was to, well, not stand out. You’re perm had to be JUST right and not to “perm-y”. You could laugh at jokes, but you couldn’t snort. And you could only do 55.8% of your homework MAX without being labelled a “geek”. It was brutal.

Fitting in meant wearing the same as everyone else, acting the same as everyone else and generally checking your soul at the school gates upon entering. Eventually (thank goodness!) I began to care less about what people thought of me and embrace my “inner Georgia.”

If I wanted to come to the school Halloween disco as a fossil then I’d come as fossil (even if there was a good chance it might not be well-received, as is the case for Georgia when she chooses to dress as a giant stiffed olive). “Everyone laughed at first but then more or less ignored me. In a mood of defiant stuffed oliveness I did have a dance by myself but things kept crashing to the floor around me. The host asked if I would sit down. I had a go at that but it was useless.”

If I could go back in time I like to think I’d do it all differently. I’d rock up to school dressed as Rupert the Bear, enter the talent show and do a brilliant spoon solo. I’d probably also join the school choir and sing pnly in my awesome (male) operatic voice.

But I can’t go back, so I’ve firmly made it my mission to be 100% weird and eccentric EVERY DAY in school (as a teacher) and encourage my pupils to always be their own, unique selves too.

Louise Rennison and Georgia Nicolson inspired me to write Petunia Perry and the Curse of the Ugly Pigeon. It’s about a girl (not me) trying to survive the transition between primary and secondary school (still not me). There’s quite a bit of spoon-playing involved. (Ok, so it might be a BIT about me – expect for the “poo bit”, sort of).

Pamela visited schools in Cumbria this week as part of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour. The tour is organised by Scottish Book Trust and visits four local authorities in Scotland and two in England every year.

Article source: http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/jul/08/louise-rennison-angus-thongs-pamela-butchart

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