24.04.2012

Sue Townsend reveals how sight loss has affected her life

Sue Townsend reveals how sight loss has affected her life

By Emily Tait

A significant proportion of people have read Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole books, which follow the trials and tribulations of a young man as he comes to term with things that affect his life and grows to deal with them and make the best out of every situation.

What many people may not realise is that the author herself has had to battle her own personal hurdles, particularly over the last ten years, as she has gradually lost her sight.

The 65-year-old was diagnosed with the blinding condition diabetic retinopathy in the late 1990s, which slowly robbed her of her eyesight to the point where she was classed as blind in 2001.

Though it has not stopped her from publishing three Adrian Mole books over the past ten years, Townsend recently revealed that the loss of her eyesight is the most difficult thing she has ever had to come to terms with.

Speaking to the Independent, the bestselling author noted that the challenges presented by her condition are a daily struggle.

"Our brains are conditioned to expect functioning legs, feet and eyes. For me, the inability to read has been the most painful change; I've not properly got over that, as it's all I ever did other than write," she explained.

"The first thing I did once I'd made some money was switch to buying hardback, as I no longer had to wait for paperbacks to come out, which was a joy."

After her sight first began to fade, she used as many tools as possible to enable her to continue writing books, but even this became difficult as the problem worsened.

She told the Daily Mail that she now dictates all her books to her son Sean, as she is even unable to see writing created using the thick black felt pen she bought after first being registered blind.

"Sometimes when I'm dictating a book, I'll ask Sean to read back a sentence six or seven times. He doesn't complain - although he could well be mouthing, 'die, die!' and I wouldn't know."

"We've been through some terrible deadline crises together. He’s never lost his nerve. Never. He continues to believe in me. He says: 'I know you'll do it, Mum,' even when we’re both knackered at three in the morning," she added.

Sean also dictate letters she sends to readers – something that she has done more than ever since being diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, as many people who write to her share their experiences of living with the condition, in addition to their love of her work.

Despite noting that when her sight started to go she was "militantly cheerful" about how she would cope, the author said that she has started to mourn not being able to read.

"After my husband and children, my biggest pleasure was reading. I miss the whole experience. Anyone who is in the house will read to me - they're not self-conscious now - and it does bring them a little closer to my world," she explained, although Townsend refuses to let it drag her down completely.

She told the Mail "I've never raged about blindness. It was my own fault. I was responsible. I didn't look after my diabetes properly. I didn't keep my blood sugar at the right level. It's the simple truth."

In spite of everything that has happened and the fact that she is now confined to a wheelchair, the 65-year-old is determined to continue writing and recently published her latest novel, The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year, which she vows will not be her final work.

by Emily Tait


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