Five minutes with... Sally Gardner

Published on: 09 October 2012 Author: Alex Strick

Alex Strick caugh up with award-winning author Sally Gardner about her book Maggot Moon, being a dyslexic author and writing dyslexic characters properly.

Sally Gardner

Could you tell us a little about Maggot Moon, and how you came to write it?

I had finished The Double Shadow and I was still deeply in another world. They often say the best time to write a novel is straight after you've finished one. During my research for The Double Shadow I had become fascinated with the 'what if' alternative histories. What if the Battle of Britain had decimated London into defeat? Then one idea that had begun to interest me was what if a man had never landed on the moon? When I started writing, out came the voice of Standish Treadwell.

What was your thinking behind giving the hero of Maggot Moon dyslexia?

I am dyslexic, it's the way I have been all my life, so I didn't have to give it too much thought. I have found that when someone tries to write about dyslexia they all do it through bad spelling and that is but the tip of the iceberg. It is a way of being, of seeing, it is who I am and so I wanted Standish to encompass my traits. I think, I hope, that through Standish, readers will see more of the beauty dyslexia holds, rather than all the usual negative traits people associate with it.

Dyslexia is generally described as being a learning disability – but you like to describe it as more of a gift – why is this?

Because it is not a disability, it's a gift. It means that I, and many other dyslexic thinkers, see things so visually that we have tangible worlds in our heads, I can build worlds I can freeze-frame, walk around, touch. I can read people's faces, drawings, buildings, landscapes and all the things in the visual tangible world very quickly, more quickly than many of my non-dyslexic friends. This is why you'll find the majority of the students at Central St. Martin's are dyslexic. We can portray the world through image so well because we think in images, talk in images. I paint with words, they are my colours.

Laypeople tend to make a lot of assumptions about dyslexia – and there is a strong sense that people don't understand it. Does it frustrate you that people assume that someone who has dyslexia cannot be a reader or a writer?

It's very frustrating, because I sit outside both of the groups. Non-dyslexic people often challenge my dyslexia – they don't believe I write my own books, or they think I don't really have it. Even when I explain that I have an editor, they don't buy it. Then many dyslexic people look at me filled with doubt also – how can I do it? Master the enemy? I can't be severely dyslexic. Most of them have been made to think there's no point in trying to be a writer, even if that's passionately what they want to be. The key is, not to listen to most people. If I had listened to the people who told me I couldn't do it, and there were very many, I would not be doing what I do. I would be living a 'What if' history. But then again, especially over the last two years, I'm gradually seeing people open up to, and become more interested in, the contradictions that are associated with being a dyslexic novelist.

Is it important to see other people – successful public figures – with dyslexia?

I think there really do need to be more publicly dyslexic role models for children and adults today. Although lots of famous dyslexics are not open about it. I mean, we have Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, who never proudly claimed their dyslexia, there's also Keira Knightly, who's more open about it. Then there are my personal favourites – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, John Lennon, and Einstein, who said 'imagination is more important than knowledge'. These are what I call 'outside the box' thinkers, and never has there been a time more than now, with the technology we have, and the world in the muddled up state it's in, that we need to be thinking outside the box.

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