- I am posting a part of this article by Jane Davis because some of my fellow dyslexics who missed it first time around have asked to see it. I believe Jane's questions helped me present our dilemma more clearly. Jane's words are in bold type.
- If you haven't read Jane's novels I recommend them to you. Funeral for an Owl: Half Truths and White Lies: I stopped Time: These Fragile Things and An Unchoreographed Life.
- Part Copy of Jane Davis Author: Interview with Pelham McMahon Teacher, author, playwright
Pelham McMahon has lived through many traumas that are reflected in her writing, most notably her alignment to military issues through her husband (whom I also knew), father and brothers. Her latest work is a novel, written with the aim of helping women understand why so many soldiers find family life difficult after service, in comparison with friendships formed in their the military. Titled, Platinum Ten, Every Mother’s Son, she used what she speaks of as ‘the Beryl Bainbridge method of storytelling’. “Three or four strands plaited together, the same strands start from the top and should come out at the end.”
When and how did you discover that you had dyslexia?
Very early, although in those days it was called ‘word blindness’. After the war, we returned to Essex and I was there for my birthday in January 1946. I missed my own party because I was put in detention for failing the spelling B. My word to spell was one where I couldn’t see the difference – Implicit or Inplicit? When you said it, the sound could go two ways and I couldn’t decide which was right. All I remember is the teacher shouting at me. , “Can’t you see it?” But I could neither write the word, nor say it. In the end she softened her voice:“Now, why are you crying?” I said, “It’s my birthday and I’m missing my party.” She looked at me and suddenly came over from her desk to mine and gave me a silver sixpence. The next day Mother was summoned to the school and told I had a problem with words. My father said it didn’t matter as I’d probably only get married and have children.
Today, thanks to the British Dyslexic Association, I understand the neurological causes of dyslexia. Being forced to be right handed was not the sole cause of my trouble. There is also the possibility of an heredity link, in my case to my father, who – like Einstein – was a mathematical genius. But I felt ashamed of my spelling, my inability to differentiate between words, my complete lack of understanding of sentence structures, the sudden blankness when the order of words I was writing disappeared. (Even if they are on the page – they still vanish.)
How has dyslexia shaped your writing?
It stopped me from becoming a writer before I was ready. Years of rejection in every aspect of my writing career eventually led me to playwriting, which involved concentrating on dialogue. And, because I had lived a different life, I felt I had something to write about.
You describe your brain as being ‘cross-wired’.
Is that how it feels?Yes – both physically and emotionally. I was made to feel as if I was Educationally Subnormal, which distressed me more than I can say. I was an 11+ failure and I had to sit O Level English five times.
There is a strong visual element to dyslexia. I can look at words and sentences one day and they are meaningless. Words, phrases or even whole sentences can go missing, yet I think I have written them. So, I have to keep going over the work. Sometime I set work aside until I can ‘see’ again. For example, on one day I wouldn’t be able to see any difference between ‘pet’ and ‘bed’. The next day I might be able write without any problem, and the spellings and sentence structures would be correct. The real nightmare is that every dyslexic is different.
I know that you have found certain computer software very helpful in your writing. Can you tell us about that?
My late husband gave me my first BBC computer thirty years ago. It was a model much used in schools, a considerable step up from a typewriter! I am not brilliant with a computer – I still treat it as a word processor. Although, with practice, I have acquired some skills, my eyes aren’t what they were, and dyslexia hampers my progress. Microsoft spellcheck is no good to me. I use a dictation programme called Dragon Naturally Speaking. Then I use a separate editing and spellcheck package.
Pelham, you had a very specific goal when you turned to self-publishing,
Yes, some of those who have seen my plays being performed or have read my work have always said it shouldn't be lost. So at the age of seventy-five, I have set myself the challenge of publishing all my forty plays and several new novels via CreateSpace. I don’t want to feel as if I’ve wasted my life fighting this monster. My plays and novels are my legacy and triumph over a lifetime’s adversity.
Then last year, I joined ALLi and taught myself about self-publishing. My soldier book is out now and two more books are slowing coming together. Those who like my work particularly enjoy the elements of history or morality I always include.
For those thinking about dipping their toes, how easy did you find the process of self-publishing?
My first book took three weeks to publish because I didn’t understand the jargon, but I used the email customer support when stuck. It seems silly now, but at first I didn’t understand what was meant by something as simple as ‘Your Dashboard!’ Createspace patiently talked me through. All of my queries were answered quickly and I sent a thank you using the name of the person who had replied. Eventually, after thirty-four emails, I had quite a circle of kindness coming my way.
Now I am far more organised. I have everything I need ready (the back cover blurb, the description to go with the Amazon page and the cover photo) before I set up the title and ask for an ISBN number.
Am I smiling? “If you can read and write, thank a teacher!” I thank mine. Because I can read and write and see my work housed in book covers I have designed myself, no matter how challenging it is to do so.
Jane Davis is a member of ALLi [The Alliance Of Independent Authors] and the author of Funeral for an Owl, which won a National Prize. Since then she has published even more stunning work. I suppose I am a little biased when I say she is a brilliant storyteller. I recommend all her novels, they are available on Amazon.