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Dyslexia’s special gift helps Alan write his first novel

Monday 16 November 2020

Alan and his wife Frances

Always near the bottom of the class, always one year behind and usually labelled ‘a slow learner’ by teachers, I really struggled at school. I chose to read comics rather than books, because they were mostly pictures, and if I looked at the page long enough, the words would settle.

This was in the 50s and 60s, before dyslexia was properly understood, and I was more likely to be reprimanded for sloppy spelling than supported in class. Any exam situation terrified me, and I’m still very uncomfortable in any kind of quiz or learning environment; but I have learned to live with it.

My father probably wrote my application letter for my first job as a clerk at 17, but I hated it, and after a series of low-level jobs I disappeared, and worked abroad for a few years. When I returned to the UK, I got a job in an estate agent’s office and I realised that I was good with people, and good at selling; but I decided I was happier in a practical environment and moved into the building trade.

I read a lot of books and newspapers now, but – because of my dyslexia – my short term memory is not so good, so I quickly forget what I’ve read. I can still get some letters and numbers mixed up, and filling in forms remains a challenge, but I have found ways around that. I usually take a couple of forms home and remove the pressure of having to write in front of people, or I ask someone to fill the form in for me.

However, I realise now that my dyslexia has given me a special gift of observation, and people have often told me that I describe things in an unusually colourful way. I don’t have to think about it, these phrases just come into my head; often unexpectedly.

I live with my characters

My wife, a keen reader, kept encouraging me to write this ‘stuff’ down, and I started to write short pieces using just one finger, on my smart phone. Sometimes my grammar is not great, and I misspell words, but a spell check programme picks that up.

The story that became my first novel – Arc of Doubt – just got inside my head, and when I’m writing, I submerge myself in the lives of my characters. Some of the incidents in this book are based on my own experiences while working in Australia, but the story and characters are mostly fictional.

My novel – more than 83,000 words - is being published this month, and I have almost completed the first draft of my second. I have plenty of ideas for more storylines and characters, and lots of short pieces of text are saved onto my phone and the PC.

The system excluded me

I have two reactions to completing my first book. First, I feel the elation of success. Second, I feel I have overcome the system that I believe failed me and excluded me. That early experience stayed with me for a long time and it made life difficult during my formative years.

However, once you’ve tasted success in any field, you can stand on higher ground.

My advice to anyone with dyslexia? Everybody can be good at something, you just have to find it. So, have a go – you’ve got nothing to lose, although at first it may be difficult to realise that. If you are writing, start with something short, just let it happen and get it out. You don’t have to read it to anyone but yourself.

Encouragement is essential. I’m not an expert, I’m just a beginner at this really, but if anything I say could give encouragement to others; that would please me immensely.

Support in schools

Arc of Doubt is published by Backleg Books and is available on Amazon. The author will be making a donation to the British Dyslexia Association to further its work in schools. Instagram: @ahpilcher