Malcolm Duffy on writing about dyslexia in Read Between the Lies

Read Between the Lies by Malcolm Duffy. Book cover and author photo.
One of the books we've sent our Macaw subscribers this month is a thought-provoking contemporary family drama by award-winning author Malcolm Duffy. Smart, powerful and packed with empathy, Read Between the Lies stars two lead characters that young people will be really drawn to. Tommy and Ryan's story had us gripped and made us think. Here Malcolm tells us about how his daughter inspired the book and which books with real life setting for this age group he would recommend you read next.

What inspired you to write Read Between the Lies?

My eldest daughter is dyslexic, and I thought it would be fascinating to write a book with dyslexia at the heart of the story. It’s a very common learning difficulty, affecting more than one in five of the population, so in every classroom, workplace there will be someone who has dyslexia. I also like a challenge and wanted to see if I could turn something which is both personal and internalised into a compelling story.

Are any of the characters or elements of the story based on real people or events?

The characters are fictional, but the issues they face are based on the experiences of real people with dyslexia. One of the main sources of inspiration was a short film I wrote called Mical, about the amazing true story of Mike and Pat Jones. Set in the 1970s it shows the struggles of Pat as she tries to find ways to help Mike with his dyslexia. She developed some incredible learning tools and she and Mike went on to establish Nessy, the world’s biggest online support platform for dyslexics. The film Mical has won international awards and garnered over 1.7 million views on YouTube.

What do you hope young readers will take away from the story and how it unfolds?

I hope readers will come away with a greater understanding of dyslexia, and what can be done to help deal with the learning difficulty. For those without dyslexia hopefully it will open a window to their world and help them understand the issues involved. For those with dyslexia (it’s printed with a dyslexia-friendly font) it will show that it’s no barrier to achievement.

Do you think the grown-ups in the story behave fairly towards the young people? What, if anything, could they have done differently?

The grown-ups in the story don’t always behave as well as they could towards the young people featured. This is a result of ignorance, self-interest or guilt. The grown-up characters have busy, complex lives and don’t always put the time or effort into understanding the issues faced by Ryan and Tommy.

I think the adults could have shown more empathy towards the two dyslexic characters and tried to understand things from their viewpoint. They could have had more open conversations with Ryan and Tommy about what was going on in their lives, and if there was anything they could do to help. But then, if characters always did the right thing it wouldn’t make for a good story!

Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Ryan and Tommy?

I am not planning to write Read Between the Lies 2, but I think Ryan and Tommy have a good future ahead of them. Ryan has shown himself to be supportive and understanding, while Tommy has come to terms with his learning difficulty and realised he isn’t the bad person many people think he is. They will also both hopefully have better relationship with their parents, having exposed the lie that was threatening to destroy them.

Why did you choose to write books for this age group?

I like writing for those who are on the cusp of adulthood. It’s an interesting time of life – not quite child, not quite grown up. And there are so many issues to explore. So far I’ve written about domestic abuse (Me Mam. Me Dad. Me), homelessness (Sofa Surfer)  and dyslexia. I’m currently working on book 4 (which is a closely guarded secret for now). I also have two teenage daughters, aged 15 and 18, so I know a lot about teen life!

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I like to write in cafes, not just because I like coffee, but I enjoy the hub-bub of real life. If I’m writing a particularly tricky piece that requires every ounce of my attention, I may lock myself away in a room, until the tricky piece is finished. 

Which other books for this age group with real life settings would you recommend our subscribers read next?

I’m an avid reader of YA books. Some books with real life scenarios I’ve enjoyed are: One, Moonrise, Toffee, by Sarah Crossan. Boy 87, Lost by Ele Fountain. After the Fire by Will Hill, Trash by Andy Mulligan. Junk by Melvin Burgess.

Copies of our Read Between the Lies pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!

This post includes affiliate links to our page, meaning we receive a small percentage of the sale should you purchase through them. Additionally, a percentage from all sales on the platform goes directly to local UK bookshops which is an initiative we're delighted to support!


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