Death of a dyslexic journalist

The death of the Sunday Times journalist, AA Gill, has been in the news recently because he was an amazingly eloquent writer. He had a wonderful ability to describe situations using a prolific number of adjectives and similes.  But he should also be remembered for his severe dyslexia. He was born in Edinburgh but when his parents moved south he was sent to a “progressive” school in the south. This was the early 1960s and despite it being allegedly progressive he was labelled stupid and eventually he just “checked out”. After a period of alcoholism and unsuitable jobs, he took up cooking which led to teaching and to one of his students asking him to write an article on food for a magazine. The rest is history, as he became a well known restaurant critic – but such was his unique style of writing that he wrote on any subject which interested him.

An extract from his obituary in his own Sunday Times: “It still took him three weeks to read a novel and he could not spell. ‘I couldn’t tell you what an adjective is’ he once said, ‘people tell me over and over again but it just refuses to go in’. Menus presented a challenge. ‘I read hugely, just very slowly’. He wrote in his own form without paragraphs or capital letters and then dictated all his copy”. The Sunday Times employed a copytaker for him throughout his journalistic career. His last article was written in hospital with the help of his copytaker who described the draft of the article, “the computer was filled with runic-looking words muddled by his dyslexia”. The article was published on the day of his death and was about the compassionate care he had received from the NHS. In his true descriptive style he described his extensive cancer as “the full English breakfast”.

Extract from an article written by Jeremy Clarkson about his friend Adrian Gill, published in Sunday Times 18/12/2016:

“He died last weekend, leaving us with a body of work that beggars belief. It beggars belief partly because he didn’t start writing until he was 38 but mostly because of his profound dyslexia. He’d have had a better chance of getting his letters in the right order if he’d lobbed a tin of alphabet soup into a ceiling fan. He’d often text me to say where we were having lunch and I’d have to use a Turing decoder to work out what the bloody hell he meant. “Twersy”, for instance, was “the Wolseley”.

The way Adrian dealt with this was a lesson to all sufferers today. History was his favourite subject at school but he always got a bad mark, so he asked his teacher why. You’re one of the best in class, said the teacher, but you’ve got a problem with your writing. Adrian decided angrily that he didn’t have the problem; the teacher did. And he vowed ever afterwards to make it someone else’s problem, not his own. Adrian struggled, too, with reading. It would take him half an hour to read the inscription on a statue or a war memorial, which is something he did a lot, and yet somehow he knew everything about everything.”

Susie Agnew, Dyslexia Scotland Board Member

Learning new words

At high school, the scheme I learned French through was dyslexia-friendly. Here’s how.

  1. It was multi-sensory
  2. It presented the learning material in a context
  3. It involved overlearning
  4. It involved diagnostic tests
  5. It was exciting and enjoyable

These dyslexia-friendly aspects of my school French scheme are just as useful to me now as they were back then. I use them along with some other ideas to learn new words in English. This is how I learn new words then.

1)    I hear new words and write them down

  • I listen to audiobooks. (Books give language a context). Whenever I hear a word I don’t know, I write it down on a sheet of paper
  • When I have filled up one sheet I start a new one. I number the sheets
  • I use felt tip pens to write each word in a different colour. This helps me remember the words. I also enjoy the sensory aspects of writing with felt tips pens: the feel, the sound, and the colours

2)    I find the meanings, and record them in writing and audio  

  • As soon as I can, I look up my words in a pocket dictionary
  • I write down each word’s meaning on the sheet
  • I find it exciting to discover a word’s meaning – it’s like unearthing treasure
  • I also make an audio recording of each word sheet

3)    I find images and create flashcards

  • I search online for images of each word
  • I create a flashcard for each word, using a table in Word
  • Each flashcard has on it a word and its corresponding image. I also add the number of whichever word sheet the word is on, for reference

4)    I learn the words

  • I look at the flashcards on my computer
  • I hide the words by selecting the words column then formatting the font as ‘hidden’. I look at each picture and say its word
  • Then I unhide the words column, and hide the pictures column. I use WordTalk to listen to the words one at a time. When I hear each word, I envision the image that goes with it
  • I read my current words of the day sheet at odd moments, silently and out loud. I also sing, clap, dance and act the words
  • I listen to the audio recordings of my word sheets


5)   I test my learning


Once a fortnight, I record a test on my digital audio recorder. For each word, I say the word and ask for the meaning, or vice versa. I download the recording onto my computer. The next day, I play the test on my computer and speak my answers. I audio record it. Then I listen and check my answers with the word sheets. I tick off the words I’ve learned and carry forward any I haven’t into the next fortnight.

Other tools for learning new words

(This paragraph references software that I as a dyslexic individual find helpful, or that others have recommended to me. This does not equate to Dyslexia Scotland endorsing these resources).

  • To look up words by speaking them, and hear them spelt out:
  1. On a computer – Google Chrome’s ‘search by voice’ feature (Click on the microphone icon in the search bar. Then say ‘spell’ followed by the word you wish to find);
  2. On an iPad or iPhone – Siri;
  3. On an Android device – Easy Speak Pro (compatible with The Scottish Voice)
  • To create audio-visual flashcards:
  1. An e-book App – see


By an adult member of Dyslexia Scotland

Is dyslexia a good label?

On Thursday 10th November 2016 as part of Dyslexia Awareness Week, Dyslexia Scotland asked the following on Facebook –

Is being identified as dyslexic a ‘label’?

And is that good or bad?

Tell us what you think?”

To which I replied –

I would much rather be labelled Dyslexic, than labelled: Stupid (Not Working To The Best Of My Ability), Lazy and/or any of the other negative labels that are often given to dyslexics before they are given a ‘label’ of dyslexia. The dyslexia label is a GIFT. It’s just a shame that by the time most of us get it, we are trying to wrap it around what remains of our shattered self-esteem.

The above inspired my creative side to create:


I would call it a drawing, if it wasn’t for the fact I used stencils (because my hand just won’t draw what’s in my head if I try to draw it freehand. I think I have many dyspraxic tendencies (I was an extremely clumsy child, and although I’ve gotten much better, I am never sure how co-ordinated I will be from one moment to the next).

In this case I think stencilling works to this piece’s advantage due to the fact the fairy’s body is in pieces and stitched together with the remains of her self-belief. Her wings (which would ordinarily be the most ethereal part of her) are the most cohesive and effective due to the fact she identifies herself as dyslexic. And her internal dialogue can now take on a much more positive note.

I drew the background as jigsaw puzzle pieces because whilst volunteering at this year’s Education Conference, I really enjoyed Dr Rob Long’s keynote speech. One of his Powerpoint slides, which illustrated a child’s abilities, behaviours and emotions as a jigsaw of different ages; i.e. a 12-year-old dyslexic child may have a reading age of 7, but a spatial awareness age of 14 or higher.

Another talk (“Seeing Words – The Art of Visual Communication”) I heard recently was from Alex at the Glasgow Adult Network. Before I write anymore please see:-

I’m not going to explain this one, please just contemplate the visual for a few moments.


I would now like to give a response to Sarah Entine’s “read me differently” film. I feel I have reached a stage in my life, where I am sick of being a star and trying to fit into a cuboidal box. I am fed up of the negative labels given to me by a society that dislikes my marvellous star points breaking out of the box.

Sarah Entine’s salvation appeared to be in discovering her creativity through a flower arranging job, which led to her finding the courage to go back and study her masters degree and became a social work professional (working in an occupational / activity-based psychologist type role). I hope to soon find my individual path to greatness. And fly away, through my true colours to my one moment in time to be all that I want to be.

Doreen Kelly, Dyslexia Scotland Volunteer and Member