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Today we travel to London to chat with Margaret Rooke about how dyslexia, a byline in the newspaper, working with charities, a view of the sea, a full English breakfast, failure to ‘Mind the Gap’, mental health problems for teenagers, ‘Don’t Stop’ by Fleetwood Mac, and Scooby Doo come together as part of Margaret’s current and past life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a kitchen-table writer of nonfiction books, based in London. My life is so much easier since my husband finished his Christmas jigsaw in the middle of April. In his defence, it was a tough one. There’s a lot more space to work now.
How many published books do you have?
I’ve had three books published over the past few years. The first two were about dyslexia. We found out that our daughter was dyslexic when she was 13 and this was a big shock to us. At primary school she seemed to be taking learning in her stride, but at secondary school she came to a standstill. I was determined that, whatever label she was given, she would still achieve whatever she wanted in life and wrote books to inspire her and others in her situation. The first was called ‘Creative, Successful, Dyslexic’: a book of interviews with successful people with dyslexia, from Dame Darcey Bussell, to David Bailey, Zoe Wanamaker, Mollie King, Marcus Brigstocke and many others. The second was ‘Dyslexia is my Superpower (Most of the Time)’: a book of interviews with children and teenagers with dyslexia about the advantages and difficulties they face.
Then I decided to write about something else – this time a book about inspiring teenagers called ‘You can Change the World!’ What links these three books is a strong sense of positivity. There’s an underlying message that we can achieve what we want to achieve if we have the right support, focus and drive.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
I was sitting having breakfast when I was around ten and I noticed a byline on a newspaper that had been delivered to our house, Mind blown. I asked my mum, ‘Is that a job – writing things and getting your name on them?’ When she said yes, that was it. I trained to be a journalist, then worked for charities helping with communications, now I’m back to writing again.
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
I love being able to see out of a window when I’m working. Write, pause, look out of window, write, pause, window… It seems to help me put what I’m about to write in perspective.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
My ideal writing space would have a great view of the sea, with a window or door that could be opened to see and hear the waves crashing against the rocks. There would also be a kettle and teabags in easy reach and somewhere to go for a full English breakfast close by. Perfect.
List 3 interesting facts about yourself.
I was single for seven years before meeting my husband.
I find it hard to forgive myself when I get things wrong.
Two years ago I failed to ‘Mind the Gap’ on the London Underground and broke my leg which was trapped between the tube and the platform. This was terrifying, especially when the doors began to close. I was rescued by a London Transport worker called George who flapped his arms round like a windmill to attract the driver’s attention. My hero always.
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
I was hearing so much about mental health problems for teenagers, some of this in my local community. I knew that teenagers listen to other teens more than anyone else so thought a book of interviews with young people who make good decisions benefiting themselves and others: campaigners; volunteers; fundraisers and other role models; might be of great benefit. The book’s called ‘You can Change the World! Everyday Teen Heroes Making a Difference Everywhere.’ I knew this book might not be the answer for teenagers who were seriously depressed, but I thought this could work well for children and young people who feel a bit stuck.
The teenagers in the book are amazing. They have stopped supermarkets selling eggs from caged hens, fought period poverty, raised money for charities, found ways to help beat online bullying, worked to save the environment and help the homeless… So many great achievements from a generation we often overlook and misunderstand.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
For three days a week I work for a fantastic charity for older people, Independent Age. I interview the people the charity helps, their families and volunteers to help with all areas of its work.
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What song do you listen to before speaking?
I don’t listen to music before speaking, but when I was much younger I was depressed for a long time and music really helped me then. I remember ‘Only Yesterday’ by The Carpenters and ‘Don’t Stop’ by Fleetwood Mac in particular were often on my mind. I still like really positive songs like Take That’s ‘Let it Shine’. However I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan and I like his gritty songs as well as the joyous stuff.
What do you miss about being a kid?
Maybe the sweets, but the truth is the older I get the happier I get. I really recommend ageing, though good health is paramount.
At this stage in your life, what advice would your young self give to your more mature self?
All that anxiety and fear and worry you went through and things turned out well. Who’d have guessed? Maybe you could still tune the worrying down a bit when it takes over.
If you were trapped in a cartoon world from your childhood, which one would you choose and why?
I think it would be great to be one of the Dream Machine gang in Scooby Doo. They seem to get on well, have a good laugh and have a 100% success rate in what they do. A win, win, win.
What’s the last movie you watched and why did you choose to watch it?
Fourteenish years ago I worked for Fairtrade and specifically with Harry Hill on a brand of Fairtrade nuts called ‘Harry’s Nuts!’ Harry watched the film Juno when we were flying back from meeting peanut farmers in Malawi and told me he thought I’d like it. For some reason I never forgot him saying that and I watched it last week. I thought it was brilliant. Such great characters, so well written and well acted. Harry was right!
Tell us about your most recent book.
‘You can Change the World! Everyday Teen Heroes Making a Difference Everywhere’ is an award-winning book of interviews with teenagers from many countries who talk about how they make the planet a better place. Some are campaigning to improve the environment and to deal with bullying, others are supporting Black Lives Matter, educating about LGBTQ rights, keeping teens from joining gangs, or are simply great role models refusing to take no for an answer despite their own difficulties or disabilities. This is a book to encourage and inspire children and teenagers; to help them see that they can help to make changes in their own lives and in the world around them.
Recent research has shown that adults tend to view teenagers harshly, viewing them as ‘lazy’, ‘selfish’ and ‘antisocial’. Read this book and change your mind!
It was wonderful having you on MTA, Margaret. I love to be able to see out of a window when I’m writing, too. Lovely. I just had to include a link for “Don’t Stop” as I adore this song! Wishing you all the best. – Camilla
Where to find the book.
It’s available at Waterstones, local bookshops and online.