Unseen Sue Townsend material on show

The life and works of the author Sue Townsend are being celebrated in an exhibition in her home city of Leicester.

Handwritten manuscripts of the Adrian Mole books, original artwork and a newsletter with her first published work are among the items featured at the University of Leicester.

Image copyright Ben McMillan

They span her entire career from the 1970s, when she was writing in secret, including the years she was a member of the Phoenix Writer's group in Leicester and her last published work - The Woman who Went to Bed for a Year.

They also include insights into the creation of her famous Adrian Mole books, which were originally written about a boy called Nigel.

Image copyright University of Leicester/Sue Townsend Estate

"The idea came in the summer of 1975 when her son Sean asked 'Why can't we go to safari parks like other families'?," said Dr Simon Dixon, the university's digital humanities and special collections manager.

"She said in that moment she heard the voice of Mole. She wrote the first two and a half months of diary entries in a single sitting, put them in a drawer, and forgot about them for five years.

"She didn't think her writing was good enough to show people for many years."

Image copyright University of Leicester

The archive was donated to the university by the Leicester-born author in 2005 but remains in the ownership of her family.

Correspondence with editors and the estate agent particulars of on a house in Leicester that inspired the setting for her book The Queen and I, are also in the collection.

The exhibition features Townsend's first published work - in a community newsletter - about encouraging parents to let their children read comic books.

Image copyright Caroline Holden-Hotopf

Illustrator Caroline Holden-Hotopf has also donated some of her rough drafts for the cover artwork.

"It was decided that when Adrian Mole went to press that the main characters wouldn't appear in the illustrations, just possessions and furniture that gave you a sense of the character," said Dr Dixon.

Townsend's work is one of the biggest collections held by the university.

Image copyright University of Leicester

"She was very good at keeping things so we have a very full record of her writing and of her life," added Dr Dixon.

Townsend was left blind after suffering from diabetes for many years and had a stroke in 2012. She died at her home in April after a short illness.

Image copyright PA

The free exhibition opens on Friday at the university's David Wilson library and runs until January.

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