A Belated Thank You Letter to Louise Rennison

Dear Louise,

I’m sorry this took me so long. Being a year and a half late for anything is fairly inexcusable. Especially when my lateness is essentially indefinite, given the fact that you will now never see this.

But let’s forget that for a moment. You dedicated your life to making people laugh, so moping about things neither of us can change seems a little disrespectful.

I want to thank you. Not just for the laughs, which were many, but for something which I think your work was instrumental in achieving for me.

Like most people, between the ages of eleven and seventeen I was an asshole. And, like most eleven-to-seventeen year olds, I thought that was perfectly normal behaviour. I’m the first born, so my parents went into this experience just as blindly as I did. Due to this mutual blindness, we all ended up bumping into each other in the dark many, many times. There was conflict. That conflict was never due to a lack of love – quite the contrary – from deep love comes a desperation to understand your loved ones, and when you can’t achieve the level of understanding that you need, frustration builds.

My Mam, being a young girl herself once upon a time, knew to just sit back and let me ride out my phase. My Dad? He had a tougher time. I (lovingly) describe him to friends as ‘the most stereotypical dad-type that has ever existed’. He has his own armchair. He likes to put the football on. He laughs at his own (terrible) jokes. He sucks at technology. If they replaced JustGirlyThings with JustDadThings, my Dad would be the mascot. As a testament to his dad-ness, the concept of raising a prepubescent girl probably scared him to death. I don’t blame him.

He didn’t like you at all, at first. Considering the fact that I spent most of my rebellious phase completely buried in the Georgia Nicolson series, I’m not surprised in hindsight. It got to the point where, if I was being particularly horrible to be around, those books would be taken off me due to fears that they were a bad influence. Depending on good behaviour, I would eventually get them back. This happened on and off for quite a while. Until, one day, I got them all back. All except for one. Every so often, the missing book was replaced, and the next book in the series would disappear for a little while. I think you can see where this is going. Oddly, I didn’t grasp what was going on until one day I happened upon a very pink book lying on my Dad’s bedside table. That was the eureka! moment.

He was reading them.

I can summarise my Dad’s reading habits in two authors: Charles Dickens and Bill Bryson. I’m not home often anymore, but every time I am, you can bet there is a copy of Bleak House or Little Dorritt is lying on that bedside table. With that in mind, imagine my shock when I found …And That’s When it Fell off in my Hand lying there.

I didn’t say anything at first. If I knew anything about Dad, it was that he loved reading, and loved encouraging us to read. Despite his initial dislike for your work, he would still buy your books for me when they came out, and told me and my brother many times that he would “never say no to buying us a book”. So, for him to be reading something didn’t shock me. In my mind, he just picked it up because it was available. I decided to let it be.

Something else changed. Something which was subtle, and gradual. We started getting on a lot better. I don’t think that was only due to you, but I think you were certainly a large part of that for reasons I will explain in a moment. I was growing up, so I was beginning to ride out my phase and become much easier to be around, and when I had my moments (because, yes, I still had them) Dad seemed much more patient and understanding. Neither of us said anything, we just let life slowly get better and better.

Dad has a loud laugh. He just has of those voices that can carry its way through a whole house. One day I found him sitting in his armchair laughing at one of your books. Really laughing. This time, I’d caught him in the act. I had to ask.

I was somewhat right about his motivations for reading your work – he was curious. But it was a little more layered than that. He wanted to know what was making me the way that I was, to discover if it really was you that was turning me into the horrible teenager that I had been for those last few years. What he actually found was the same thing that I found; a funny, intelligent set of works that perfectly represented young girls trying to figure out who they were. I wasn’t being an asshole for the sake of it, I was being an asshole because I was confused. Of course, like Georgia, I didn’t know I was confused. I thought I knew everything. Reading your books now, at twenty-one, I can see the confusion in Georgia. Did I see it back then? Probably not. She changed just as frequently as I did, so to me her thought processes were the most logical thing in the world. The one thing I will always remember about our conversations regarding you was something Dad said; “every father who has a daughter should read these books.”

Now, I would describe my relationship with my Dad as damn near perfect. I feel the same way about both of my parents – the depth of their love for me is something I genuinely find difficult to comprehend at times, and I feel incredibly lucky to have them, and to have been raised by them. A lot of my motivation for success is so I can give them some kind of reward for all of the time, all of the patience, all of the love that they invested in me.

So, what on earth does that have to do with you? Well, you gave me something which pretty much all teenagers beg for: for adults to understand them. Yes, Georgia makes me laugh until I hurt, but there’s more to it than that. You helped me realise that all of my Dad’s frustrations were born of love rather than anger, and you helped my Dad figure out that I wasn’t lashing out at the world to hurt him or my Mam.

Sorry if this letter wasn’t particularly funny. I wanted it to be, but it just didn’t turn out that way. Kind of like you not expecting your books to turn out to be a very helpful guide for fathers. But I’m not thanking you for being funny, at least not right now. Maybe I will in another letter. But for now, let’s leave it here.

Thank you. And remember, never eat anything bigger than your head.