It's a warm Thursday afternoon, the beginning to a long Easter weekend. I'm about to interview an award-winning novelist who has sold over 2 million books in the UK and whose work has been translated in to more than 22 languages. I take a moment to think of the 9-year-old me, curled up with a copy of I, Coriander that my grandma had given to me. 9-year-old me would be proud. I press the call button and am instantly greeted with a warm, kind voice on the other end.
This April will see the third Tindim book by dazzling mother-and-daughter duo Sally Gardner and Lydia Corry publish. Inspired by their own concerns of the rubbish washed up on their hometown beach in Hastings, The Tindims of Rubbish Island is an empowering new series for 5+ readers that uniquely explores the importance of climate change, conservation and recycling. From fish hospitals and musical Bottleramas, to mountains made out of bottles, Sally and illustrator Lydia have invented an incredibly resourceful, considerate world in Rubbish Island that comes completely to life through its wonderfully eccentric cast of miniature inhabitants (perfectly described as the Borrowers-on-Sea) and their own terminology and quirky habits in tow. ‘I’ve loved writing these books,’ says Sally. ‘They’ve been a real joy. And the thing about the Tindims is that they’re very sweet to each other, they’re very loving and kind.’
Sparked by a love of hearing A. A. Milne, The Wind in the Willows and Paddington Bear read aloud, Sally found great comfort in storytelling: ‘I couldn’t read but one of the things that helped me a great deal was telling myself stories. I stopped myself being bullied at one of the schools I went to by telling stories. I told ghost stories and made everyone so bloody scared that they never touched me again. The art of story is the telling of it. Learning what makes your heart beat when you tell yourself a story, what gives you rush of excitement, what makes you cry.’
Deemed by many as brain damaged, word-blind, unteachable, Sally describes her school years and growing up with dyslexia as mitigated hell: ‘I couldn’t do childhood again. I was a failure at school to be quite honest with you. I was badly bullied at school because I was different from other children. My brain was said to be a sieve rather than a sponge – I was the child who lost the information rather than retained it. I came from two very clever parents and they gave up on me, thought that maybe I was brain damaged, as that was the best way to explain the level of knotted weakness in my brain.’ But it was later when Sally went to Central St. Martin’s Art School that she shot up from the bottom and went to being quite the superstar: ‘I got a first class honours degree and I won awards. I really found myself in the visual world. And the people I liked were quirky. Here’s to the crazy ones – I used to love that piece of writing,’ Sally laughs. ‘I thought, yeah, here’s the crazy ones.’ And if you could go back and tell your younger self one piece of advice? ‘Don’t panic,’ Sally begins. ‘It’s going to be alright. You’re not stupid. Don’t think you are; don’t let this get you down.’
'I don’t think of dyslexia as a disability. It’s a gift.'
And Sally isn’t alone as recent NHS statistics estimated up to 1 in every 10 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia. That’s around 10% of the UK population. It’s a lifelong learning difficulty yet the condition remains a taboo subject among many. ‘I’ve heard of a writer who happier to come out gay than she was dyslexic,’ Sally states. ‘But I do understand it. I remember when I went to work in theatre in the 70s and I refused to acknowledge my dyslexia. In the 70s there was this awful thing where people would say it’s a “middle class disease”. But the thing about dyslexia – and as Steve McQueen’s Small Axe: Education series brilliantly illustrated – it isn’t white middle class, it’s a worldwide problem. Dyslexia has no class barrier, no colour barrier, it goes everywhere.’
The Tindims is printed in a dyslexia-friendly font with charming illustrations on every page but Sally wants every book published in dyslexia font: 'I would like to do a piece where the reader sees all the words moving – sentences in wiggly lines, word disappearing and flickering on the screen to a point where you can’t read it and I would like those without dyslexia to try to read it. Because we do that every day. That’s what it’s like every single day.'
Currently a four book series, is that it for the lovable Tindims? ‘Well I think it could be more,’ Sally hints. ‘The thing about the Tindims tales is that something’s in peril but something’s put right and everything is okay with a Granny gold tea at the end and that’s a fact. I think that’s really important for children.’ Sally is currently working on an adult novel called The Weather Woman due to be published with Head of Zeus.
'The art of story is the telling of it. Learning what makes your heart beat when you tell yourself a story.'
After a glorious, inspiring hour of talking about the Tindims, environmentalism, dyslexia, dogs and books my final question for Sally was of course her dream dinner party guest list: 'I’m definitely inviting Charles Dickens – I would LOVE to meet him. Charles Dickens faced with real women would be really fascinating. I’d have to have Angela Carter, I adore her. I would love to meet Edward Lear, he’d be very entertaining. Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf. It would be great wouldn’t it!'
This interview is part of the The Tindims Blog Tour! With massive thanks to Zephyr Books for sending me copies of the books. Connect with Sally on Twitter @TheSallyGardner.