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.