Writing Before I Could Read

Updated: November 25, 2016

Many readers have complimented me on my ability to write with ‘eloquence’, ‘humour’, and ‘clarity’, in the face of the daily challenge of overcoming my disability, which has delayed the completion of my books.

Thank you to everyone for your kindness. Whatever talent I may have for writing is, in many ways. the gift of many other people’s patience, as well as my own. It is a story which will be familiar to some, but surprising to others.

My love of words is one of my Mum and Dad’s few lasting gifts to me. They both encouraged me to write, but my Dad was the eloquent one, with almost perfect grammar, and spelling, which I have never had. Thankfully, he encouraged me to write, although my dyslexia, and terrible typing, must have been painful to him. Mum, who could not spell either, read to me whenever she could, mostly from American classics. My Canadian Foster Family, who are now precious friends, tell me that I showed a love of words much earlier in life.

For people who have only known me for a relatively short time, my enjoyment of books and my determination to write, have been slightly difficult to explain. It is true that my eyesight and visual perception only improved enough to make reading a pleasure, or even particularly useful, as the most remarkable ongoing part of My Serrapeptase Adventure, which began in 2006. Books and writing have been part of my life for many years and I was determined to write, despite doing so being physically difficult and often painful, before I learnt about voice recognition in the early 1990s.

Fortunately, I grew up with a family and friends who enjoyed reading, and many of whom were happy to read to me. Perhaps it would be fair to say that what I think of as an enjoyment of books could be more accurately described as enjoyment of the spoken word. As a child, I was fascinated by radio drama, without my eyesight being a problem.

As a very young child, I enjoyed the stories of Thomas The Tank Engine, and several years later, I met Rev W V Awdry, the author of the original stories. Although I was still too young, at that time, to have meaningful discussions about ‘being a writer’, I am sure that it was at about this time that I first formed the idea that writers were ordinary people who enjoyed sharing their stories, and that ordinary people, like myself, could be writers too.

Later, the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, known as The ‘Little House’ Books, were read to me. I think my parents thought that they would give me an idea of my American heritage. I am not sure that they taught me much about my own history, but the books are filled with simple, evocative descriptions, which provide a springboard for the imagination, which was sadly lacking from the television films.

When Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing her classic ‘Little House’ book series in 1932, she had no idea of creating fame for herself or the places where she had lived. She wrote simply to preserve tales of a lost era in American history, the pioneer period she vividly recalled from her growing-up years on the Midwestern frontier in the 1870′s and 1880′s. When Laura completed her eight-volume series in 1943, she had achieved a lasting and substantial literary picture of pioneer life as she had experienced it in Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, and South Dakota.

www.lauraingallswilder.com

In the ten years from my early teens, I enjoyed writing poetry. Although none of my poems was formally published at the time, I was honoured to be invited to take part in a number of local, and national, poetry festivals, workshops, and recitals. At one of these workshops, I met one of the UK’s best-known performance poets, Benjamin Zephaniah, of whom it is said:

Young writers have said that the accessibility of his work has inspired them to take up writing, many record sleeves bare witness to the fact that he has inspired many of the new generation of rappers, and of all the performance poets that emerged in the late seventies/early eighties he is one of the few that is still going strong. He has thirteen honorary doctorates in recognition of his work and a wing in a west London hospital has been named after him.

Zephaniah believes that working with human rights groups, animal rights groups and other political organisations means that he will never lack subject matter. He now spends much of his time in China, but he continues working throughout Asia, South America and Africa, and is as passionate about politics and poetry now as he has ever been.

www.benjaminzephaniah.com

Although Benjamin’s style is, of course, very different from mine, I learnt a great deal from him and his encouragement, which is among the inspirations, to return to writing poetry in the future.

When studying for examinations at the end of my time at St Rose’s, I was honoured to meet one of England’s best-loved writers. The poet and novelist Laurie Lee, who was best known for his novel, Cider With Rosie, which was one of the books I was studying at the time. It was my privilege to meet Laurie on a number of occasions and to have the opportunity to talk with him about both the process of writing and about the places and the people, who inspired him.

Once he discovered that I was studying Cider With Rosie, and that reading was difficult for me, Laurie gave me the gift of an audio recording of him reading it. When I met him again sometime later I bought a copy of the book, which he autographed for me, including a comment that I had “heard it already”. Perhaps, like my more recent friends, Laurie also found it surprising that I wanted the printed book, despite both of us knowing, at that time, I could not have hoped to read it.

Like so many people who met him, I will always remember Laurie as an immensely gentle and kind man, with a great sense of humour and a tremendous appreciation of beauty. I was privileged to count Laurie and his wife as friends.

I was also blessed with wonderfully talented and creative English teachers at St Rose’s, and later at Wycliffe College, who introduced, and read, so much more of our amazingly rich and diverse language, via works as different as Harper Lee’s, To Kill A Mocking Bird, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with more modern classics from authors including John Steinbeck, and Melvin Barry Hines, best known for the novel A Kestrel For A Knave (1968), which he adapted for Ken Loach’s 1969 film Kes — quite a challenge to read aloud to a bunch off teenagers, but deftly overcome by a wonderful teacher, who is a great friend today.

Set in this background, my own modest skills are, perhaps, a little less surprising than they may first appear. Writing is something I enjoy, and reading has become easier with time, and escaping the medications, which impacted my eyesight for decades. I truly enjoy learning, and sharing my story with anyone who may be able to benefit from my experiences, but also because reading and writing, enables me to remain in contact with wonderful people around the world.

Thank you again for your encouragement to me, but above all, enjoy your language, treasure it. It is the best way to tell the world who you are, and to tell those whom you love who they are. You can break its rules, but you cannot break your language, except by not using it.

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