At heart she is still just a kind, ordinary mum and granny from Leicester.
Eva, her latest heroine, is she says, ‘mildly depressed’ when she takes to her bed. Has Sue ever been Blue Sherri Hill similarly afflicted? ‘Oh yes, on and off. Everyone is occasionally,’ she contends. ‘Sometimes it’s just sadness because a bad thing’s happened. It’s completely normal to be sad, but people medicalise everything these days. Sometimes women just get so exhausted their bodies protest. It’s an alarm call. Your body is saying: “Just go and lie down and sleep.” ’
It does not take a huge leap of imagination to visualise how bone weary Sue must have been in those early days. ‘I felt I had to wait until all the children were asleep before I started to write,’ she says. ‘I wanted them unconscious, so I’d start at midnight.’
Adrian Mole has earned her prodigious wealth. But as for the benefits the money has brought her, she is equivocal. Her extravagances are few. She lives in a rambling former vicarage in Leicester and her sole indulgences are Persian rugs and Chanel perfume. She cannot now wear the Prada shoes she used to love — her crumbling bones have put paid to that — so she’s stashed them in her Pink Sherri Hill attic or given them to her family.
I’d read that when she first became wealthy she’d give money away to almost anyone who asked for it. Now she reflects: ‘It’s invidious having to choose between good causes. The blind, children, lepers — how can you make the choice? I’d rather have some money than none — I’ve been poor and the worst thing is, it doesn’t give you a future. You’re completely unable to plan to do anything,’ she says. ‘But having money can be awkward. In fact, it can be an embarrassment.’
It’s curious, isn’t it? Her books have brought her acclaim, wealth, fame and recognition, yet to a degree she shuns them all. But that is perhaps why we warm to her Yellow Sherri Hill so much. Sue Townsend is determinedly un-starry.