Dyslexia Awareness Week: An Author’s Tale

Author, Journalist and inadvertent political comedian Joel Cornah talks about dyslexia awareness week.

This week has been Dyslexia Awareness Week and the British Dyslexia Association has themed it as ‘Positive about Dyslexia’. I have struggled with accepting my dyslexia over the years and have often tried to outright ignore it. This hasn’t really worked. So, being positive about it may just be the thing.

I’m an author, and a journalist, so reading and writing are sort of the cornerstones of what I do. I have had to learn new ways to deal with it, and to cope. The frustration and often the depression that arise from it can be crippling at times, and so we dyslexics often have to factor it in.

Audiobooks have been my main way of consuming books for most of my life, so I should probably mention the fact that my first novel, The Sea-Stone Sword, is about to become an audiobook! Watch out for that.

A History

When I was first diagnosed, back in primary school, I was almost immediately put into special needs classes. This lasted for the rest of my primary and secondary education with varying degrees of effectiveness. Secondary school saw me and others with similar learning difficulties put into separate classes to keep us away from the ‘normal’ students. Later, I had a teaching assistant sit with me during classes to help along the way while keeping me in the room with the other students.

At the time, this all felt very alienating. It was very ‘othering’. We were marked out as different, as less-than, and were often open to ridicule. It was very easy to feel stupid, to feel like you didn’t really have a chance to fit in, even if you tried.

By the time I came to university I stopped telling people I was dyslexic. For my entire three year course I didn’t mention it at all. I took extreme measures, double, and triple checking my spelling and grammar, scheduling an extra hour or so for reading set material, and so on. It felt like I had to put in twice as much effort just to achieve the meagerest results.

After university I could have just stopped reading and writing as a passion. But, that didn’t really happen. Telling stories and creating characters was something I had done since I was very small, and books were always the medium I felt worked best. So I decided to write a novel or two.

The Dinosaur Prince

Growing up with three younger siblings, we developed a lot of stories together. Often these surrounded the characters we gave to their dinosaur, dragon, or penguin toys. I got very passionate about these stories and the world around them and by the time I had finished my GCSEs, I wanted to write them down properly.

When I left university in 2010, I had a somewhat extensive back catalogue of material and so I drafted the first novel of this dinosaur world. It was called ‘The Dinosaur Prince’ and ended up being around 200,000 words long. And it was kind of terrible.

I knew it was terrible at the time and so I invested in writing workshops and editorial advice. Too long, too silly, and too complex. Very few first time authors get 200,000 page manuscripts approved. Especially not when they are riddled with spelling errors.

I went to a writers festival in 2012 feeling dejected and uninspired. But it was there that I overheard a conversation about small press. Independent publishers, they said, were always more open to new talent than the big, established people. The only drawback was they had a smaller budget, so this person was advising their friend to send something smaller.

Sitting on a stone bench, I took out a notebook and wrote the words ‘Rob Sardan and the Sea-Stone Sword’, and I took the train home, brimming with new ideas.

The Sword-Breaker

Writing The Sea-Stone Sword was both a joy and a nightmare. I contacted friends who I trusted enough to proof read it again, and again, and again. There were times I felt at the end of despair, unable to finish. Many dark days passed when I couldn’t even bring myself to write another word because what was the point?

It was during this time that I looked up the British Dyslexia Association. Their use of positive messages about dyslexia were, I admit, quite jarring. For someone who had felt so intensely negative about the condition, it was a real struggle to come to terms with ideas of positivity. It felt wrong. It felt fake. It felt like trying to ignore the problems.

But, in conversations with others, it slowly became less so. And when, in 2013, I got an email from Grimbold Books (award winning independent press), saying they wanted to publish my book, I almost refused to believe it.

Take me to the Miliverse

Since then, I have gone on to publish another novel and three novellas, as well as a handful of short stories. I got a regular contributor position here at Sci-fi Fantasy Network, and started a twitter account that has (at time of writing) over 14,000 followers.

People have told me that much of my writing wouldn’t have been possible without my dyslexia. I do not know how true this is, and one of my constant sources of anxiety and unhappiness is imagining a world where I didn’t have it and wondering how much better my books would have been. Or, at least, how much quicker I could have got them finished. And how many more books I could have read.

The thing about dyslexia is that it can grind you down. Links between dyslexia and depression are not uncommon, and the ways we deal with it in modern society need drastic change. Dyslexia is also massively underdiagnosed in girls, due in part to social conditioning that leaves many teachers devaluing the work girls do and their contributions. Thus making it more difficult for those who struggle to speak up, or be noticed when they do.

There are big social and political changes that need to happen to make life better for dyslexics around the world. Things like Dyslexia Awareness Week are just one step towards that.

Find out more at: http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/fundraising/dyslexia-awareness-week

You can buy my books at Amazon, Waterstones, or anywhere that sells books!

Full list of my books and where to buy them: https://joelcornah.com/home/books/

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Joel Cornah
Joel Cornah is an author, journalist, and blogger. He is the author of a number of novels and novellas including; The Sea-Stone Sword, The Spire of Frozen Fire and The Silent Helm, with the upcoming novel The Sky Slayer, expected some time in 2016. He is an editor for The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Network, head of the Doctor Who department, and member of the Tolkien Society. He is a frequent blogger for the Pack of Aces blog, focussing on issues of Asexuality in media, specialising in sci-fi and fantasy.