Dorothy Norbury’s reading journey

The daughter of a newsagent, Dorothy Bagshaw was born on 11 January 1934 in Dinnington, near Sheffield.  She married Malcolm Norbury in 1954 and had three children. The family lived in Dinnington until Malcolm joined the police force and the family had to move to Sheffield.  Dorothy worked in her parents’ shop, then as a child care assistant in a school and, when she was 40, trained as a nursery nurse.


And we had to, obviously we had to read books for exams and things like that, but I never ever finished them.  I found out in later years that I’m dyslexic.  I didn’t know at the time, I mean it was a thing that was unheard of.

Dorothy might be described as a reader against the odds.  Now she reads in bed, ‘probably for an hour every night’.  She enjoys Catherine Cookson – she has read every one of her books – and similar writers of historical fiction:

I read, I like to read books that make you realise how lucky you are to be living at this time in life and not at the turn of the century when there was so much hardship. … Like, I didn’t realise that children used to run about without shoes and socks on.  And they used to go gleaning in the coal, in the slag heaps and things like that. I didn’t realise anything like that until I actually read about it in novels.  And I was just amazed, yeah.

As you listen, you realise that Dorothy’s reading journey has not been an easy one.  She clearly liked stories from an early age:

I had a girlfriend that lived next door and we were born four days between each other.  We grew up like sisters and we used to have sleepovers, and one of my greatest joys was to lay in bed with her while she read to me.

But her mother – ‘a very practical person … always busy doing something’ – made her feel that reading was a waste of time.  When Dorothy was a child, her parents were ‘always very busy’, working long hours in their newsagent shop, and so they never read to their daughter.  Dorothy describes herself as a ‘very poor reader’:

When I was in the junior school, the teacher used to pick out people to stand up and read from a book. And I used to stand and die if you picked me. Absolutely, because I was just … Apart from not being able to read very well, I just lost it, you know, my nerves.

This doesn’t mean that she never read.  Dorothy liked comics like Girls’ Crystal and, when she was older, women’s magazines like Woman and Woman’s Own.  She could get all of these from her parents’ shop.  And there were some books:

The books that I got were from family.  My favourite book which is going to be … is Christmas morning, I used to wake up and I used to have a Rupert book in my sack and it was the first thing I went for and I wasn’t bothered about anything else.  I used to take a torch upstairs with me so I could read it in bed.  And I used to read Rupert.

There were books at school too.  ‘I did read books when I went to Maltby Grammar School.’  But Dorothy remembers not finishing them, with occasional exceptions like The Count of Monte Cristo. ‘Absolutely fascinated me, that did.  I really loved that book.’  But Dorothy left school without qualifications.  Although she passed the mock exam, a family illness prevented her taking the final School Certificate.

Dorothy did go to the local library, but with mixed results:

I started going to Dinnington library with that girlfriend of mine, Ena, when I was in my very early teens.  But the books, I never read them because I found it so difficult to keep reading them. And when I came to live in Sheffield and I used to take the children to the library, my children to the library, and I took out … And the books I used to get then were gardening books or cookery books, or anything that was practical. I was not interested in novels then.

It was not until Dorothy was about 40 years old that she really began to read.  This was when she enrolled at college to become a nursery nurse and had course books to study.  She had been working at a school for ten years as an unqualified child care assistant, until ‘they would only employ people with qualifications, not that anybody said anything to me, but I decided to go back to college’.

It was her training that gave Dorothy the clue to her problem:

But going back to work at school with the children and seeing the people coming in and testing children, and I think, “Oh, that’s me.  I do that and I do that.”  And it made me realise that I was dyslexic, just slightly. Yeah.

‘Somebody should have picked up on this,’ Dorothy says, but no-one did.

You see, all those classics, I love the stories, but I haven’t got the patience to read them, even now.  I have to read every word.  I can’t skip read like other people do, you know.  I have to go through it all.  It takes me a while to go through a book.


You can read and listen to Dorothy’s interview here.