Ross Duncan Interviews Tom McLaughlin

Tom McLaughlin is better known as an acclaimed children’s author and illustrator but just like all good stories there has to be a beginning.  When Tom was at school he felt “okay” with certain subjects like Maths, English and Sports but, inevitably, despite his hard work, all he achieved was an occasional pass.  It was during the 80s when he was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia.  He found it frustrating because little was done about dyslexia at the time.

Away from academic subjects he took art.  Because it was vocational based, it allowed him to combine his art with his love of music.  He designed an album cover as a school project and awarded an ‘A’ grade.  This was when he realised that he had found something that he was not only interested in, but which he happened to be good at.  At long last he had his “thing”.

At the same time, he recognised that every child should have something that they are not only good at, but also interested in.  Tom tried being funny at school and coupled with being able to draw, developed strategies to cope.  This wit and sense of humour helped him when he eventually began to write his novels.  As a child he didn’t bother with words and, as an accomplished writer now, he continues not to be bothered with them!

He is not entirely convinced that having dyslexia is an advantage or a disadvantage.  He only knows what it is like to live and cope with it and, for him, says it is something that never gets any better.

Time and time again he tells children that creativity isn’t just about art.  He gives examples of being a creative mathematician.  That might look less obvious at first being a creative entrepreneur is much more familiar to most people.  But he believes being creative shouldn’t necessarily be narrowed down to specific areas but being creative itself can make you look at things from a different angle and in a different way, which is considered to be a trait of being dyslexic.  He does however think that he has a creative mind but doesn’t know if his work has made him more creative.  At the same time, he does feel that being dyslexic has shaped the way he comes up with ideas.

The ideas for his picture books sometimes take him back to his childhood reflecting on the mood he was at the time.  By visually thinking he says that it’s not about a story but more illustrating or enhancing a feeling about something from memory and trying to make something out of it.  In this situation being dyslexic has helped.

He admits himself that he thinks and lives in a child’s world.  He doesn’t feel compelled or the need to write for adults as his work is usually only found in the children section of a bookshop or library.

As an author he feels that it’s hugely important for children to actually meet male authors particularly for boys at upper primary school.  Seeing children exciting and stimulated listening to a teacher read out his work only validates what he believes, that being a good speller doesn’t make you a good writer.

Ross Duncan

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