WHEN the Royal Court recently axed a touring production of Rita, Sue And Bob Too, the work of Andrea Dunbar hit the headlines for uncomfortable reasons.

In a statement, the theatre said the play’s themes of “grooming and abuse of power on young women”...”feels highly conflictual”. Would Andrea have been offended? Probably not.

Andrea was 18 when she wrote Rita, Sue and Bob Too, which became a film in 1987. She had already written her first play, The Arbor. Both dramas, along with her third and last play, Shirley, depict life on a council estate. Andrea, who grew up on Buttershaw estate, didn’t make judgements, or offer solutions - she simply wrote about the life she knew.

Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile is a novel inspired by Andrea’s life and work. Shortlisted for the 2017 Gordon Burn Prize, the debut novel of Calder Valley writer Adelle Stripe is a compelling account of Andrea’s short life, set against the Thatcher era. Beautifully written, unflinching in its depiction of Andrea, it’s a bittersweet tale of the north/south divide, revealing how a shy teenage girl defied the odds and became one of her generation’s most significant dramatists.

Drawing on letters, scripts, newspaper cuttings and memories, this account of Andrea’s life is as honest and raw as Andrea’s own writing is. It offers an insight into the school and family life that shaped her as a girl, her relationships as a young woman, and the opportunities and frustrations that came her way as a writer.

“Art teacher Colin Smith told some of his colleagues about a girl called Andrea Dunbar. He had seen a copy of an essay she had written as punishment for not bringing in the correct ingredients in domestic science. Her teacher informed her the words ‘Why I Don’t Like Cookery’ had to be written neatly on two pages during her lunch break. What Andrea wrote - how cooking buns was a middle-class hobby and how joints of meat were far more practical for big families on Buttershaw - was communicated in a witty polemic comparing the impracticalities of her home life with the useless pursuit of cooking a raspberry pavlova.

“When the essay was passed around the staffroom, to howls of laughter, Head of Drama Tony Priestley was astonished at what he saw in front of him. She was the shy girl Colin had told him about, and hadn’t noticed before. It was obvious to him that she had a special gift for saying the right thing. And she was funny too. He tracked her down one day and asked if she’d like to join his class. What happened over the coming months would change Andrea’s life forever.”