So why A Midsummer Nights Dream?
This is not a secret but I don’t often talk about it, I am dyslexic. This means I have difficulty with reading and writing.
I grew up in a time when dyslexia was not recognised as a “real” learning difficulty by teachers. Instead I was labelled the “slow” child. You know how it is, there’s one in every class, the child that simply couldn’t keep up with the other children and often seemed not to know what was going on.
Words like “moron” and “retard” didn’t really hurt me because honestly I didn’t know what they meant, they were just the way some people referred to me. I was treated as if I was stupid and some teachers even told me I was lazy, not true on both accounts. The problems of my learning difficulties were exasperated by my acute shyness and usual refusal to talk. Being different and slow meant that I was bullied by both teachers and peer group.
Frankly the teachers couldn’t cope with me and I don’t blame them, even in those days large class sizes were common and the curriculum demanded constant achievement.
As a result I was often left in a corner with books, pencils and paper - this suited me fine.
Books and drawing became my fortress walls against those that would hurt or abuse me.
Now try and imagine what it’s like to hold a book and not be able to read it. Most people learn to read so early in their lives that they have forgotten what it’s like before they could read. But I remember life before I could read. Without understanding the words, a book becomes a very special object, a thing of importance within its self. The illustrations were a constant source of wonder and I loved illustrated natural history encyclopaedia or geography books. Its not surprising I spent a great deal of my primary school days drawing pictures.
By the time I finished primary school my drawings were already cause for comment. One teacher accused me of tracing my work as he couldn’t believe that a child he had written off as hopeless could actually be talented.
In secondary school I slowly started to learn to read but was still very far behind my peers. As I approached the “O” level exams my parents appealed to the school for help. At that stage my reading was assessed to be at the age of a 7 year old, but no help came from the school. Instead my parents scraped together the money to pay for private reading lessons - god knows how they did it being working class and with a small army of other children to care for.
So why am I telling you this tale - not to illicit sympathy but only as a background. It’s important to know that by the time I finally started to read independently (15) my English teacher was introducing us to Shakespeare.
For the first time I was able to appreciate books for the beauty of their language and not just as objects of mystery. I was able to read A Midsummer Nights Dream for myself and it has had a place in my heart ever since.
I currently have four copies of the Dream in the house. The first is the ubiquitous “Complete Works”, bought from a discount book shop printed on tissue thin paper its near impossible to read but every household should have one if only to settle debate about the “to be or not to be” speech.
The second is a modern illustrated children’s version given to me by a beloved sister because she knew I would love the fairies.
The third is a delightful charity shop find, a 1970’s reprint of a much older edition illustrated by the fab Heath-Robinson. Here I put my hand up, Heath-Robinson is one of my all time favourite illustrators and the book is a treasured part of my collection.
Lastly I still have my original school paperback tucked away in the attic with margin notes in my terrible scribbly handwriting.
So when Covid struck and all work was cancelled like so many people I thrashed around for some thing else to occupy my time and stop me from going mad. I now have several personal projects in hand - none of them paid work which is slightly worrying.
No one has commissioned me to illustrate A Midsummer Nights Dream but deep in my heart of hearts I realise its something I must do. If Covid has taught us anything it’s that we can’t put off to tomorrow all our dreams and ambitions - tomorrow might never come.
So this is a really frightening experience as I know very little about designing or publishing a book and if I don’t get it right I might be wasting several years of my life. Although I have illustrated several books for other people, in those cases all the initial decisions were taken for me …….. What size and format is the book? How many pages? How many illustrations? Colour or B&W?
At the moment I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, I’m just going to have to make it up as I go along.
I’m planning to post monthly blogs about the project and if you want to join me for this experience, just follow my twitter account @BHHillustration for updates.
In the meantime I got a bit over excited and created a spot illustration which might or might not make it into the final collection.