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Ambassadors

Sally Gardner

Sally Gardner (left) and her daughter Lydia Corry (right)

We are proud to announce that renowned children's author Sally Gardner will be joining us as one of the British Dyslexia Association ambassadors. Read her story below about how she grew to be a successful author of such books as The Tindims of Rubbish Island.

I was born in Birmingham, near the Cadbury’s chocolate factory, and I grew up in Gray’s Inn, central London, in Raymond Buildings. My family (my parents, my younger brother and I) lived there because both my parents were lawyers. When I was around age five they separated and later divorced.

I was badly bullied at school because I was different from other children. I had trouble tying my shoes, and coordinating my clothes, and I had no idea what C-A-T spelled once the teacher took away the picture. My brain was said to be a sieve rather than a sponge – I was the child who lost the information rather than retained it.

I stayed in kindergarten until I was really too old to be there and finally was asked to leave the school. This became a pattern that repeated itself throughout my learning years.

At eleven I was told I was word-blind. This was before anyone mentioned the un-sayable, un-teachable, un-spellable word dyslexia, which, hey-ho, even to this day I can’t spell!

I eventually ended up in a school for maladjusted children because there was no other school that would take me. I suppose this was the equivalent of what now would be a school for kids with ASBOs. I had been classified as “unteachable” but at the age of fourteen, when everyone had given up hope, I learned to read.

The first book I read was “Wuthering Heights” and after that, no one could stop me. My mother, bless her cotton socks, said that if I got five O-levels I could go to art school, and much to my teachers’ chagrin, I did just that. At art school, I shot from the bottom to the top like a little rocket.

I left Central St. Martin’s Art School with a First Class Honours degree and then went to Newcastle University Theatre, where I worked as a theatre designer. One of the first shows I worked on was The Good Woman of Szechuan by Bertolt Brecht which transferred to the Royal Court Theatre.

After that, I spent 15 years in the theatre but gave up working as a set designer because I found my dyslexia to be a problem when drawing up technical plans for the sets. Instead, I concentrated on costumes.

Ironically, when I went into writing, where I assumed my dyslexia would be a true disability, it turned out to be the start of something amazing. I was more than blessed to meet an editor, Judith Elliot, who was to play an important part in my journey to being a writer.

I strongly believe that dyslexia is like a Rubik’s Cube: it takes time to work out how to deal with it but once you do, it can be the most wonderful gift.

The problem with dyslexia for many young people – and I can identify with this – is that their confidence is so damaged by the negativity of their teachers and their peers that it takes a very strong character to come out of the educational system smiling.