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Monday, 23 August 2010


I recently gave a speech to some prize winners at a school and it went down well - it was written for the losers as well as the winners. I thought I'd share it with you, too:

Today is a celebration for all of you prizewinners who’ve worked very hard and are being justly rewarded for pushing yourself that little bit further.

It is also about the sterling work of your teachers who have encouraged you and helped you to achieve what maybe some of you thought was impossible. Not forgetting the support and love of your proud parents, who have in many cases made great sacrifices for you to be at this excellent school.

But alas, olay, that leaves quite a few of you sitting there thinking “I have won nothing again”, and who’s parents might be wishing, “, if only you had.” What I want to say comes from personal experience,

that winning happens at different stages of our lives.

As the great scientist Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I think imagination is the key to dreaming, and dreams lead us to imagining the impossible and making it possible.

Here I have to be honest in saying I never ever once won a prize at any of the numerous schools I was sent to. The closest I have come is to have the honour of being asked to speak to you today.

If the truth be told I spent most of my education being either expelled, or politely asked to leave various educational establishments.

It wasn’t that I was naughty, well we won’t count the small matter of the missing buns, but hey-ho a girl has to make friends somehow! No, my problem was much bigger, and went unrecognized, misunderstood and undiagnosed until I was about 12, when the term WORDBLIND was first used to describe my condition – I couldn’t read, or write, my brain wasn’t like other peoples. It had been compared to a sieve a description that I liked a lot and hoped that it might be an exit pass from having to ever go to school again. I mean it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this way of learning wasn’t for me .By then I had spent five years on a reading scheme called Janet and John. They had a ball. Which I would like to assure you, they didn’t. At least not my idea of a ball with wonderful frocks, handsome princes and glass staircases… no, all Janet and John had was a hoovered lawn, one dog, one red ball and the unbearable excitement of one brown stick.

To me they looked like the dullest pair of bores, who I would never ever wish to play with. I dreamt of 50 ways of having them kidnapped possible - a genie could take them to the furthest end of the world, a witch could lock them in an ogre’s castle, strand them on desert islands, shoot them up to the moon, or into the deepest part of the sea. Except the dog, surely there was a better home waiting for him, with more interesting children to play with, who could tell a good story.

Finally the word DYSLEXIC was used to describe the fact that I couldn’t read or write. A cruel joke, considering any dyslexic worth their salt can spell such a hard word. I was then sent to a school for maladjusted children, where I was diagnosed with a reading age of 5 and writing age of 4 not great, since I was 13 at the time. Personally, I think Janet and John have got a lot to answer for.

Aged 14, on a wet day in a small hut filled with angry out of control children, I found the entire works of the Bronte sisters and started reading Wuthering Heights, letter by letter, until I found to my utter amazement I had fallen into the book. And the hut, the children, the brick walls, the dyslexia, had temporarily disappeared, and I was far away on the moors with Kathy. After that my nose, my brain, was never out of a book.

The next school I attended was for well-adjusted girls, which I can assure you made the maladjusted lot look positively normal

We were made to wear brown horsehair uniform and slippery start right shoes I hated the place so I made a deal with my mother, a gusty bird. If I got 5 O levels - GCSES to you – could I please get out of here? It was an impossible dream, but after all, dreams were what kept me going, so why stop now? I worked night and day, break time lunch time supper time, through the night in the smelly girls toilet, determined as I have never been before, to get out of there.

Miss bell my English teacher thought I didn’t stand a chance. I remember that she was shaped lie a bullet with tiny cartoon legs, sticking out from cardboard tweed skirt she told me just before taking my English exam, Susan, this was a bit baffling as it had been quite a fight to change my name from Sarah to sally on account of it being easer to spell

not to make too much noise with my pen as there were girls here going to Oxford. She didn’t say it, but I knew she was thinking – and you are going nowhere.

While waiting for my results, my mother and stepfather took me to the races. My stepfather was a wonderful, generous man who gave me 10 shillings to bet on any horse I liked. At the time this represented a small fortune .As far as I was concerned, there was only one horse in the race. The horse’s name was ‘Silly Season’ - it was I felt a horse after my own heart, as my nickname at school had always been Silly Sally. My mother was furious when she realized what we’d done – the odds were packed against the animal this horse was not a winner.

When the starter gun sounded, Silly Season was the last out of the gates. Seeing the rage on my mother’s face, I said quite calmly – you see, that horse is saving up all its energy to win. And blow me down, it did. We made a small fortune. But more important still is that the horse became a mascot for me. It stood for you can, you will.

Just to prove the point, I got five O levels and at 16 went to art school, where the doors of a world that understood me finally opened... I received a first class honours degree from the central school of art, then won an arts council scholarship, and designed my first West End show at 23.

After 15 years as a costume designer and after having three gorgeous children, I decided to do what I had always dreamt of – illustrating children’s books. Though still I kept quiet about an even bigger dream – to be a writer and tell the stories that would help and inspire other children to think outside of the box. Today, I am proud to say I am a successful novelist, with over a million books sold and many translated into foreign languages.

, Dreaming the impossible has led me to find something I love doing and make my living from.

I am in the five percent of severely Dyslexic people. It will never go away, but these days I wear it with pride.

I once asked my son, who like me is dyslexic, what kind of car are you? Without hesitation he said a Lamborghini.

I asked him have you started the engine?

No, he said.

I said, a car with out a starter motor even the most expensive car imaginable is going nowhere. No matter how much it costs, how good it looks, you need to turn the key in the ignition after all dreams are powerful engines that can take you further than even you can imagine.

What car would you be? He asked.

I replied a battered up old Morris Minor, with the best starter engine in the world.

For all you winners here today, you are on road to achieving your dreams. Well done. And that is what we are all here to celebrating. As for the rest of you, who have yet to win, you will, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you will.

I worked on a book with Yostein Gardner, called Hello, Is anybody there? He told me this – and I would like to share it with you: every person in this world is already a winner. Because the chances of being born as you are smaller by far than the chances of winning the National Lottery jackpot.

So let’s celebrate all you who are here to receive prizes today, and, the potential in all of you. The word impossible is only a full stop that you have to get over. If you believe your in dreams they are attainable, you can and will become the winners of tomorrow.