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The Dyslexic Reader by Peter Turnham

Writing.ie | Resources | Developing Your Craft
Peter Turnham

Peter Turnham

I am dyslexic and seldom read a novel, which I suspect is a common experience. Until my own novel writing career took off, it didn’t occur to me to question my situation. My reading was almost exclusively confined to non-fiction, with various aspects of science being my go-to read.  Probably like a lot of dyslexics, I didn’t question the fact that I found novels slow going, and therefore boring.

This all changed a few years ago when I snapped my Achilles tendon! Faced with months of inactivity, I resolved to find a project which could be pursued from a seated position. I decided to write a novel which for a dyslexic who never reads novels and can’t spell, was obviously a ridiculous idea. The absurdity of the idea appealed to me; as an open-ended endeavour it required neither success nor failure; it only needed to occupy my time. The result has been three novels, with a fourth on the way, and to my profound surprise, people tell me they are not at all bad. My experience as a dyslexic writer has taught me an enormous amount, and it can all be equally applied to the dyslexic reader.

The art of creative writing is a craft, which like any other takes time to learn. I did not initially warm to the idea, but to my surprise I became thoroughly absorbed by it. This was the point in my ongoing learning process when I questioned why I enjoyed non-fiction at the expense of fiction. I could be completely absorbed in a book or article about, say, climate change. Despite my slow pace of reading, the content captured my full attention.

However, my novel reading experience is hopeless. Not that the novels had little to say; it is because the books didn’t capture my interest within the period of my limited attention span. Attention deficit is the norm for dyslexics, and this is the essential difference between fiction and non-fiction. You would expect a page of non-fiction to tell you something specific and interesting about the subject in hand, but this does not necessarily apply to fiction. It is essentially a balance between your personal reading pace and your attention span.

I have attempted to read novels, where after a chapter or two, I asked myself, “what is this book actually about?” Quite often (horrible generalisation) it might be dialogue between characters which appeared to have little or no obvious relevance to a coherent story. The author was probably painting a picture, showing the characters or plot to the reader by subtle nuances in dialogue and description. The mantra is “show, don’t tell,” and when it works well and the reader discovers the characters or plot by themselves, it can be most satisfying. The problem is that the writer has already lost the dyslexic audience.

We all know there are issues for the dyslexic reader concerning font, print size, line spacing, and so on. These issues are important for some people, but in my opinion a significant factor for the dyslexic reader is the pace of the story-telling and characterisation. If you are a slow reader and the story line is slow to emerge, well, you can see the problem.

My suggestion is for the dyslexic reader to find a novel which has sufficient pace to capture their interest within their alotted attention span. This might not be easy to spot initially. Murder mysteries or action thrillers are more likely to be fast moving. A suggestion might be to choose a genre which suits you and then open it at a random page. You need not know the characters or the plot; just read a couple of pages and think about your reaction. Is it going anywhere? You are only looking for the writer’s style, not trying to understand the story. Are you left wondering what happens next? Are you intrigued by one character or plot? If your reaction is that nothing of interest has really happened, then maybe the pace of that book is too slow to capture a dyslexic’s attention.

A lot of authors would justifiably say this is a terribly unfair way to assess their work, and so it is! The dyslexic reader might have unfortunately chosen the dullest page in the book, but at least they have given the author a chance. Ideally, from the dyslexic’s point of view, every page should progress either the storyline or the formation of a character. This is especially true for the opening pages of a novel

In my novels, I have tried to maintain momentum; for me pace is essential. It isn’t the case that I have chosen to do that for the benefit of the reader. I do it for the benefit of the author! When you combine a creative imagination with a short attention span, the result is a relatively fast-moving storyline. Not that my writing process is fast, it’s not, it’s glacial. So the problem for the dyslexic writer is the frustration of keeping pace with your thought process, while being slowed down by the handicap of dyslexia.

A novel written with pace is not altogether a bad thing. When a reader says they cannot put a book down, the pace of the writing may well be a contributory factor. While I have no empirical evidence to back up such a claim, I suspect dyslexic readers are more likely to enjoy novels written by dyslexic writers.

(c) Peter Turnham

About None Stood Taller:

This book is a window into Britain’s secret wartime past, step through it and this inspirational story of life and love will make your heart soar.

It is March 1941, large swathes of the East End of London lie in ruins. Lily Heywood is just one more victim of the Blitz, lying beneath the rubble of her home. An unbreakable spirit, this is not the end for Lily, it is merely the beginning. Defying the expectations of her background and social class, she embarks upon an incredible journey that will take her from the ashes of the Blitz to the very top of the British wartime establishment.

This is Lily’s inspirational story, her life in wartime London, the lifelong friends she makes in the Women’s Land Army, and the two men that she is torn between. Heartbreaking one moment, and heartwarming the next, from the very first page right through to the wonderfully unexpected conclusion, you will be unable to put this book down.

Lily’s life changes dramatically when she is employed by Edward the Earl of Middlebourne. Initially employed to manage His Lordship’s stately home and estate, she is unaware of his connection to military intelligence. Lily is invited to partner Edward in the formation of a new section of the Special Operations Executive. Their role is to provide the crucial intelligence which will enable the D-Day landings. Don’t just read about wartime Britain; experience it first hand!

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Peter Turnham describes himself as an accidental novelist. As a semi-retired businessman, his life was very active, until a snapped Achilles’ tendon confined him to a chair for several months. Unable to be active, Peter turned to writing and discovered a hidden talent. The result was his first novel “Autumn Daffodils – Charlie’s Story”. This was quickly followed by a second novel, “Autumn Daffodils – Joanna’s Story”.

His third novel is historical fiction this time, a gripping story set during WWII entitled “None Stood Taller”. The narrative covers the period from March 1941, during the Blitz in London, and ends on D-Day in 1944.

Peter lives in the English Cotswold hills with his wife and collaborator Carol. They have three adult children and four young grandchildren. They operate a holiday cottage, as well as fishing interests. Peter is involved with a range of activities as varied as fly fishing and cabinet making. He is also interested in many aspects of science, including the environment and climate change. Of all his many interests, writing has now become his number one passion; further novels will follow. For more information about Peter, and to read “The Author’s Inside Track” about the two “Autumn Daffodils” books, visit his website www.peterturnhamauthor.com

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