I couldn’t read until I was nine. The first four years of my school life were spent happily gazing out of windows or dreamily listening to conversations happening in the classroom next door. Everything was intensely interesting, the colour of my teacher’s shoes, the many varieties of Care Bare lunch boxes piled up in the corner, the smell of daffodils. I never ever felt stupid, but I did sometimes feel a glimmer of sadness that everyone could understand the chalk symbols on the board, which remained a mystery to me.
When I was eight my dyslexia was discovered. Suddenly there was a reason for my inability to connect with words or numbers on the page, and instead drift off into magical worlds. My school- Crofton Junior School had done every single possible thing to support me. My head teacher spent countless lunch times with me trying different ways to get me reading, my teacher gave up her breaks to write down the stories I narrated so my work could go up on the wall. But the financial responsibility of managing my dyslexia fell to my parents. After three months of private after school classes finally I was reading. All I had needed was a different approach, learning every letter of the alphabet as it were a character in a land of stories: Letterland. Stories were always the key.
As an author, I don’t let spelling or grammar get in the way of the work. To me being able to write has nothing to do with being able to spell, the creation of Narnia was not dependent on the spelling of it, though of course as adoring readers we all know how its spelled. My point is imagination, the art of creating beautiful sentences or discovering bright eyed characters shouldn’t be hindered by the placement of a comma. Write it however you can. Correct it later.
I found the inspiration and focus to write professionally when my daughter was born. Being on your own with a very young baby can be isolating, the mechanics of our world had to revolve around her. We became night owls, who slept through autumn afternoons. I found a delightful joy in writing in the snatched moments between night and dawn.
Discovering diversity or lesser known perspectives is a theme that runs through all of my work. As an author, as a mother, as a person with an awareness of minorities passionate about telling knew stories, creating work for a contemporary audience. So many of the books my mum read to me, (those classical boos we all love) were brilliant at expanding my imagination, teaching me empathy or giving me a taste for adventure but not at exploring diversity or the world in all its wonders. Every child deserves to have their life represented by the power and beauty of story. That is something I will never stop fighting for, because that is where the magic happens.
Harper and the Fire Star by Cerrie Burnell and illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson is published by Scholastic, on sale now