Sally Gardner on Maggot Moon and dyslexia
By Tim Masters
Author Sally Gardner was announced this week as the winner of the Carnegie Medal for her young adult novel Maggot Moon.
Maggot Moon tells the story of a dyslexic schoolboy, Standish Treadwell, who lives in an alternative 1950s Britain ruled by a ruthless regime.
As his family and friends disappear around him, Standish finds himself involved in a plot to win the race to the moon.
Gardner, who was diagnosed with severe dyslexia at the age of 12, worked in the West End as a theatre designer before publishing her first book in 1993.
Her first full-length novel, I, Coriander, won the Nestle Children’s Book Prize Gold Award in 2005.
Talking to the BBC News website, the author discusses the inspiration behind her dystopian novel, and recalls the “hell” of being a schoolchild with dyslexia.
What inspired Maggot Moon?
I became fascinated by “What ifs?”
I’d been doing a lot of research of the First and Second World Wars. There are all sorts of possibilities that might have happened: Churchill nearly getting killed by a taxi on Sixth Avenue and Hitler being run over in Berlin.
The big What If? that hangs over us today is what if America hadn’t gone to the Moon?
When I did my research I found that the Germans were trying to get rockets up to the Moon before they decided to throw them down to Earth. That began to fascinate me as an idea.
Going to the Moon ultimately alters our world. It was the start of the end of the Cold War. It changed everything. If Russia had done it – what would the world look like today?
Those three What Ifs? were such a wonderful recipe to work with.
Did you always intend to write a book with a hero who was dyslexic?
I didn’t see Standish Treadwell as dyslexic. I knew he thought like me and he was thinking out of the box. He was so easy to write like that. It was only when I handed in my book that my editor said ‘he’s dyslexic’.
The word is never used in the book.
I never wanted to do bad spelling in the book because to me that isn’t what dyslexia is totally about. Its about seeing things differently.
But you did create an iBook version of Maggot Moon with letters that moved around?
I wanted to show what it was like to be dyslexic rather than the non-dyslexic world telling us how we might cure ourselves.
I went to the Dublin Literary Festival and this boy called Mason stood up and he almost started to jump when he saw the letters moving.
He said: “Oh my word – that’s what I see, Miss!”
Later they wrote to me and said Mason, who’d never read a book in his life, took Maggot Moon home and read the whole thing and loved it.
Why do you describe your own education as “a comedy of errors”?
I was never understood. No one knew what was wrong with me. I spent 11 years with no-one knowing if I was thick as a brick. I couldn’t spell my name. I just remember it as being hell. The terrifying thing that I feel about it is that we are going to go back there with all these standardised tests.
How much has changed since your school days?
The tragedy is that everything outside school is there to help people like me, but not enough inside school. I think children are learning things that don’t relate to the here and now enough. We’re still teaching stuff that we taught years ago. We should be incorporating visual learning into schools.
If education could move itself into imagination a bit more everybody would gain.
Over 100 short chapters, Maggot Moon is a disturbing read. What feedback have you had?
It’s like Marmite, this book – they either love it or hate it. Some little kids get very upset about the language and don’t like the violence – others think it’s wonderful.
I’ve used very simple language which is deceptive and used very complicated ideas. I can see why they find that confusing.
It is a hard hitting book. Sometimes people ask if their eight-year-old should read it and I say NO NO!
Maggot Moon is published by Hot Key Books