A Writers Personal View of His Own Dyslexia
Gothic Artist and Writer Glenn James was diagnosed as Dyslexic in 2002, after a lifetime of wielding a pen! The Artist explores his feelings and experiences about the condition, in the hope that it will help anyone else who is wrestling with it…
I was diagnosed as being Dyslexic in 2002, and my friend Michele Clare the Artist tells a tale about it. On informing her of this on the phone, Michele maintains that, in a completely unconscious way, I went on to say “I think I’ll see if I can get anything from the Library on Dyslexia…”
Of course she laughed like a drain. I swear I don’t remember saying this, certainly not deliberately, but she has pulled my leg about it for years. It could be worse, I suppose, and at least she does so in a supportive way. I have had much unhappier experiences concerning the matter.
The truly ridiculous thing about the condition in my case, is that by nature I am a very driven writer. For a substantial period of my life in fact I have supported myself by writing. Professionally for a long time I was a Reporter and Radio Producer, writing scripts, short stories, and comedy sketches, to say nothing of a good 4,000 words on a Friday afternoon for a programmes Menu, links, and talkout. Then I went on to be a Verbatim Reporter of Criminal Law, (or “Logger!”), for 4 years, covering every kind of criminal trial, and frequently writing 20 sides of A4 a day. This was whilst writing my first novel, and keeping a diary since the age of 14! Perhaps I should have not so much said “driven” as “compulsive!”
The really annoying thing for me is that the words seem to flash straight down my arms and out through my fingers into the keyboard. I am incapable of dictating to anyone what I want to write, it has to come out on its own, and if I try to dictate it, then I become completely stilted. I am assured that the reason that Dyslexic people make mistakes in their writing is that their minds go much faster than they can type, and therefore their hands cannot keep up with their thinking. A lot of the errors are therefore typos. I don’t know how it is with other people, but I tend to misspell a word characteristically the same way every time. My wife says affectionately that at least I am consistent! I want to mention here, whilst I’m on the subject, that Angela has been like another pair of eyes to me. She frequently proof read my work to help where I have tripped up, and did so with helping correct any errors in my novel
“Skaler”, which is over 500 pages long… That’s love for you, and I pay hearty tribute to her now!
Thank god we live in the days of the word processor, with nifty spell-check facilities.
I am 38 now, and I started out trying to get my thoughts down on an ancient “Remmington Noiseless” Typewriter. This huge steel thing was anything but noiseless, and my father used to say that when I was working upstairs he could tell when I had got my teeth into it, because it sounded like a machine gun being fired!
The condition was pointed out to me as being a possibility by a couple of friendly college lecturers over the years, as I really did have a passion to write. I was the only student in the room whose face lit up at the announcement of a 3,000 word essay, and the main one consumed with humiliation and frustration, on regarding the numerous corrections on my biro written foolscap notes.
But I think I was in a kind of denial. I struggled for years, painstakingly going through my work with “The Oxford English Dictionary”, and never thought to ask for help. Unfortunately at the time, I had a number of less than sympathetic friends, one of whom (the editor of a fanzine) phoned me up at 11 PM at night once to delightedly tear apart my spelling. It turned out that he was boasting about this fact, and more to the point that he envied what I had written, rather publicly, and soon afterwards we parted company very permanently! This kind of thing can happen.
It’s alright if someone has the humanity to accept you are struggling, but occasionally you meet malicious individuals who take a delight in pointing out words here and there, which you have got wrong, with a rather smug grin.
All part of life’s rich tapestry, I suppose, but Dyslexia has some irritating knock on effects. I studied chemistry for two years, in an effort to boost my results when applying to Art College, only to keep hitting a solid brick wall when it came to Organic Chemistry. I loved the theory work and practicals, and for some reason I was notably good at Radiation Theory, but could I get my head around Organic Chemistry? I was like a bird hitting a window in a Warner Bros Cartoon. My teacher was hugely sympathetic, but I just couldn’t do it. But I am tenacious, and I kept trying! I wouldn’t let it beat me, and I got a reasonable grade. Years later, it turns out that I couldn’t do it because I couldn’t really see the equations!
I have reason to believe that my father was Dyslexic, and it does run in families. Dad was a proud man, who was ashamed that his schooling had been disrupted by the Blitz, and it would have been very hard for someone to convince him that he had an issue in this area. So, when it began to look like I was struggling with reading myself, my Mother and Grandmother took matters discreetly into their own hands. Subtly, so as not to embarrass my father, they encouraged me to read in every way, shape and form they could think of. My major treats as a child were in the form of books, and I was inundated with them at Christmas and Birthdays. And you know what? It worked. When I was 9 I bought a copy of “Doctor Doolittle on the Moon” from a school jumble sale, for 10p, and I absolutely consumed it. I have never looked back.
My only regret is that these two remarkable and literate women both died before I was old enough to understand what they had done for me. I wish I could thank them now.
I was also very lucky in that I became involved in radio. I had experienced the dream which inspired my novel Skaler in 1994, and I got involved in community radio. I did this partially to learn about how the press works, and partially to develop my writing skills and learn about life, but also because I wanted to develop my visual imagination. The characters in Skaler were all in my head, and I needed to learn how to look inside to draw them. Radio is a none-visual medium of course, and it taught me how to do this.
But by instinct, I had happened upon the very thing I needed: Dyslexic people think in pictures, which is one of the reasons that your mind goes faster than your hands, and by sheer coincidence I had become involved in a medium which taught me to capitalize on a condition which, although perceived as a curse, is a remarkable gift if you learn how to use it.
At least someone pointed out how I should find out for sure that I had the condition in a rather nice memorable way. When I was working as a Logger for Martin Walsh Cherer, (for the legendary and charmingly retiring Michael Ives) I was considering moving to London. I had an interview with the company which provides Loggers for the Old Bailey, and a very charming woman sat me down to work through their initiation tests. Of course, at a certain point I hit the window, as in my chemistry days, but this very intelligent woman said to me “I do believe that you might be Dyslexic. Why don’t you speak to your GP, and see if you can be assessed?”
No-one had ever said this before, not suggested testing. I dually was, and blow me if I was not shown to be Dyslexic as suggested all that time. By this point I was a working Logger, was half way through writing my first novel, and I was a University graduate who had managed a Radio Studio for BBC Radio WM. Irony is not the word, and although it did not deter me from my writing, it took a year or two before the indignation burned off and I adjusted.
During this period, I had a very unhappy time in a job where the situation was viewed less than sympathetically. This was after I had left Cherers, and not to put too fine a point on it life was absolute hell at work, and I took a period of time off with ill health. One afternoon I went walking over the fields by the River Severn, miserably contemplating a job vacancy as a carpenter, as my contract in the unhappy position was about to expire. Somehow I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t make the phone call, because I knew that deep down I am a writer, that is who I am, and I was heading home when I saw something extraordinary.
A man was on some kind of sponsored walk for the church, and he was striding energetically along in the gutter on the side of the incoming traffic. Over his shoulder he was baring a very long and beautifully made cross, as if enroute for Calvary… But because he was hiking across England, to make it easier for himself he had fixed a large bike wheel to the end, and he was marching determinedly along.
This was a revelation to me. I do not intend to imply the least frivolous disrespect to anyone’s religious beliefs, but what it said to me was this: “If you’ve got a cross to bear, stick a wheel on the end!”
I remembered then that there are societies for Dyslexic people, and good computer packages which help you vault over the problems. I laughed for the first time in weeks and from that point on came to terms with it. I have never looked back, and I am now a member of The Dyslexia Arts Trust.
Never let it beat you. I only want to add one final ironic observation. In 1998 I changed my surname for professional reasons, James coming mainly from an admiration for James Whale and M. R. James, and a tradition for using the name on my grandmother’s side. But it also came from the ancient translation of the name, which is “Know Thyself.”
But the final irony is that my given surname, which I changed, was “Reid.”