Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Paralympic Writing

by Hellen Riebold

For some time now I have wanted to write a blog exploring the dichotomy of being a dyslexic writer; a subject dear to my heart, as anyone who’s ever tried to decipher one of my Christmas cards will tell you.
I have always told stories. As a child I would make up vivid tales about being a school prefect at the junior school which were so plausible my sister, who is five years younger than me, was devastated when she arrived there herself to discover the ‘government bunker’ on the roof was merely a skylight into the hall.
As I got older the story telling took on a more destructive form and I was perennially in trouble for telling lies until one day, in my first year at senior school, Mrs Wright, my English teacher, kept me behind after class.
“Hellen,” she said, to start a sentence I have never forgotten, “you are a great story-teller. If you write the stories down as fiction instead of telling them as lies you’ll get on much better in life.”
I took that advice to heart. I wrote endlessly, making book after book from any scraps of paper I could beg from my Dad.
But that’s when the dyslexia really started to cripple me.  My writing speed was so slow that often my brain raced ahead as I panted along behind, desperately trying to hold on to an eel of an idea whilst endlessly tripping over simple words.
My Mum, seeing my struggle with the pen, did something I hated at the time but which I now consider as the greatest act of kindness I have ever encountered, at age 13 she sent me to evening classes to learn how to type. It didn’t help with my spelling but it did free me from the pen and my typing speed very quickly overtook my writing speed much like a leopard would overtake a snail.
I now had a hope of keeping up with my ideas but even though I became a dab hand with the Tipex my work was littered with spelling mistakes and gobbledegook . My typing teacher, who thought she was preparing me for office life, used to shout at me endlessly to check the spelling if a word looked wrong and I endlessly assured her I would just as soon as one did. We did not get on still, somehow, I passed the exams and my typing speed eventually caught up with my brain but I still couldn’t spell so I knew I’d never be a real writer.
Then came a little miracle. Well a pretty big one really. Someone invented the PC and Bill Gates wrote a programme that checked your spelling as you typed, put a little red wiggly line under the offending word and even helped you to find out what it should really look like. I was released! I saved and saved and saved until one of these little miracles could finally come home with me. Now I can write to my heart’s content secure in the knowledge that eventually people will be able to read what I’ve written and only laugh if they’re meant to.
I love writing, it gives me huge pleasure and it is something I know I can do. I do wonder, however, how many other writers there are out there with J R R Tolkien’s imagination trapped by dyslexic hands? It’s a bit like the wonderful Paralympic athletes, they have the necessary drive, talent and determination to get the job done they just need the right equipment to show the world what they’re made of.

And a wonderful friend to fix the mistakes the spell-checker doesn't find will also help! (Though you only had 2 of those)


  1. Lovely, poignant post. I have tears in my eyes.

  2. My wife is dyslexic, it had for many years been a heavy burden only added to by her family treating her as stupid. Its taken much effort to erase this and to get her to see what a wonderful person she actually is. Now we are able to laugh at things like the shopping list which sometimes even now leave bewildered.