‘I think my mum would have been very proud’

Proud ' Mardi Marsh with her novel The Legacy.  Picture: Sarah Standing (114116-5807)
Proud ' Mardi Marsh with her novel The Legacy. Picture: Sarah Standing (114116-5807)

From broken bones to new beginnings

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Seeing your first book on the library shelf among popular titles and star names is a life pinnacle for any author.

For writer Mardi Marsh, the moment was particularly special after a long and tough climb to success.The Stubbington grandmother was filled with memories and emotion when she spotted her novel at Andover Library – the place where she had struggled to read and battled with books as a young child.Not diagnosed with dyslexia until much later in life, Mardi struggled to cope as a little girl and spent many years believing she was ‘stupid’.

Her mum and twin sister would encourage her to go the library and were extremely supportive. but for Mardi, it was a chore.

‘I remember being in that library, not knowing what book to pick up. I didn’t know what I would be able to read so I found the whole process of choosing very hard,’ says the 63-year-old.

She had no such difficulty when she saw her novel, The Legacy, nestling among the other book spines.

‘I went up there just to see it. I was so excited I took a picture,’ laughs Mardi.

She’s gathering many readers and says she wishes her mum Doris was still around to see her book on the shelves.

‘She was an avid reader and would have loved to see it. I think she would have been very proud.’

Mardi’s difficulties began when she started school with her twin Mary.

She was happy to be in the same class as her sister and felt ‘cushioned’ by that extra support. But then the girls’ parents were called in to be told ‘Mardi’s holding Mary back’.

As a five-year-old Mardi’s biggest concern was being split up from her sister and she remembers shutting herself in the toilets and refusing to leave.

Throughout school Mary was in the A stream and Mardi the D stream and gradually Mardi realised she was always going to struggle.

She says: ‘I had one teacher who was really awful. She treated us like the lowest of the low.

‘But others were wonderful because they could see I was really trying and wanted to learn. So it was a mixed experience really.’

Dyslexia can affect people of any intelligence level and those with the learning difficulty need to be taught in a different way.

People with the condition have problems remembering short lists and sequences of numbers (see panel). This has an impact on their development in literacy and maths.

There is far more support in schools these days but people of Mardi’s generation often faced a lonely struggle.

Mardi had a very supportive family and teachers who gave her extra care and time so it was a happy upbringing. But academically she had been written off.

After school Doris – who also struggled with dyslexia – helped Mardi find work as a hairdresser and she did extremely well in her chosen career. She met husband Bob, they had three children and life was great.

But Mardi had always wanted to prove herself academically and after discovering she had dyslexia, she enrolled at college to study GCSEs.

And then came a devastating blow. Just a month into her studies, Mardi was diagnosed with breast cancer.

‘Everything had been perfect in my world. I had my children and a man I loved. I was determined to do well at college because I wanted to prove to everybody that I had the potential, and then this,’ she says.

‘I just went absolutely numb. Suddenly cancer – the c word – seemed to be everywhere I looked, every time I opened a newspaper or watched the telly.’

It was the early 90s and there was less awareness and fewer positive outcomes, so a diagnosis was particularly bleak. Mardi believed she was going to die.

‘The worst thing was when I woke up in the morning. For a split second in the day the cancer isn’t there and then realisation strikes and your whole world descends.’

But it didn’t keep the dedicated student from her work – at one point Mardi was finishing essays in her hospital bed.

‘Bob was there waiting for me to hand them over so he could take them to the tutor. The consultant came in and couldn’t believe it,’ she laughs.

Thankfully the disease was caught early and she responded well to treatment. She now has regular check-ups.

During her time as a patient Mardi was asked to run a new support group in the Fareham and Gosport areas called Bosom Buddies.

She did this for a year and says ‘I was extremely honoured to be asked’. This is still running today although she is no longer involved.

With the support of lecturers at Fareham College, Mardi passed her exams and her confidence grew.

Writing the book was part of her determination to prove herself.

‘I suppose that’s the positive thing about this. It’s given me that drive,’ she says.

Dyslexia does not affect creative ideas and that’s the most important part of authorship, says Mardi.

Bob, who helped with the proofing, paid for the book to be published and Mardi cherishes the moment she first held a copy. ‘I looked at the cover and thought it was perfect. I felt there was no stopping me,’ she says.

The author has received some excellent readers’ reviews and The Legacy is gaining momentum.

Now Mardi wants to encourage others.

‘Be motivated, focused and go for it. Don’t let anyone put you off,’ she says.

DYSLEXIA

People with dyslexia generally have difficulty ‘decoding’ words. They have problems with verbal memory (remembering short lists and sequences of numbers), verbal processing speed (the time it takes to recognise familiar information) and phonological awareness (the ability to identify how words are made up).

Dyslexia impacts on literacy development, mathematics, memory, organisation and sequencing skills. The learning difficulty affects up to 10 per cent of the UK population and occurs in people of all intelligence levels.

Charities offering support and information include the British Dyslexia Association (bdadyslexia.org.uk, 0845 251 9002) and Dyslexia Action (dyslexiaaction.org.uk, 01784 222 300).

The breast cancer charity Haslar Bosom Buddies is still running. Visit ourhealth.southcentral.nhs.uk/services/haslar-bosom-buddies.html.

HORRORS OF SLAVE TRADE

The Legacy is a harrowing, brutal tale focusing on the 19th century slave trade.

Set on a South Carolina cotton plantation, it follows the ill fortune of Beth who faces the horrors of that inhumane world.

The action moves to the present when an African American woman researches and connects with the past.

The book is published by authorhouse.co.uk and is available from local book shops, Stubbington and Portchester libraries and amazon.co.uk

Mardi Marsh will be doing a book signing session in Barclays, Fareham, between 10am and 2pm on Friday and at Portchester Library between 9.30am and 12.30pm on Saturday, February 1.