I remember going to school the first day and saying, “When can we learn to read? That’s all I’ve come for.” I was bitterly disappointed when the teacher said I’d have a year of play first; I was determined that I was going to read and knew I’d enjoy it. But I struggled to learn, partly because at the time the method was to get children to recognise whole words and partly because I was dyslexic. From the age of about five or six I remember my father’s interest in science fiction. His bookshelf in the living room was stuffed with books. I was pumped and primed with motivation to read, yet felt frustrated that I wasn’t getting anywhere.
When I couldn’t read by the age of seven, my mum bought the Janet and John books and taught me herself – the way she’d been taught, learning the sounds the letters represented, decoding the sounds, building up the syllables, then building up the words. This is similar to the method introduced by the government a few years ago, synthetic phonics; any method that works for a dyslexic will work just as well for everyone else.
Once I could read, my world opened up. I was still having problems with maths and co-ordination, but at nine I had a reading age of thirteen. A new headmaster came to the school. He arranged for me to have help with maths and spent what seemed like hours trying to teach me to throw underarm as well as overarm. I hadn’t even realised there was an underarm!
The first SF book I read from Mr Spikins’ new school library was Return to the Lost Planet by Angus Macvicar. I also joined the local library in Shepperton, and read A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle four times in that year. I almost knew it off by heart. At home, I read a lot of the books in my dad’s bookcase, including some science fiction. I got more and more intrigued by it, especially when Dr Who came along.
One afternoon, on the way home from school, I walked past the film studios with my brother, only to see a lorry-load of daleks being delivered. I rushed home for a camera and met my classmates there. A photo taken of me and my friends that afternoon surfaced a few years ago in a calendar produced on the back of the Dr Who revival. But I did get bullied because of my interest in SF, as well as the fact that I had red hair, and I was often miserable due to my problems with maths. It was almost made worse because I was top of the school for English now.
I was fifty before I learned that I have dyscalculia, dyspraxia and some features of dyslexia. Not that I’ve let it stop me. I’ve run shops and done all the bookwork (perfectly), and have been a professional trainer.
It was almost inevitable that I would start writing down my own story ideas, and so I did at about fourteen. Some pieces survive in my modern writing from that time, though not completely in their original form – I’d like to hope I’ve moved on a bit from then!