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Nurse's debut book character Azzie helps children battle dyslexia

A nurse who was tormented as a child because of her dyslexia has published her first book which is causing a stir in her bid to help youngsters with the condition.

Beth Montgomery created the colourful central character in The Back to Front World of Azzie Artbuckle, mirroring her own childhood, and drew all the striking illustrations as well as writing the story.

Azzie book

“I was bullied beyond belief as a child and people thought I was stupid,” said Beth, who nevertheless went on to graduate from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) in 1994 with a degree in Textile and Fashion Design.

“People were horrific and I went through a really bad time. If people don’t understand you, they can really victimise you which can have a really bad long-term effect – I still get really, really, angry these days.”

At one point, she felt so bad she tried to take her own life, an experience she says scared her so much she has never tried it again.

Azzie author Beth Montgomery

Beth, 43, who lives in Nottingham with her 14-year-old daughter Aariyanna, was not officially diagnosed with dyslexia until she was 37.

That did not stop her adding a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University, plus a Nursing degree from the University of Nottingham.

After stints as a teacher and a shoe designer, she became a qualified nurse and now looks after patients with Alzheimer’s disease in a Nottingham care home.

And it was an experience during a nursing shift that inspired her to create the lovable Azzie Artbuckle.

“I came across a lovely patient who started talking to me, telling me her life story. It was really heart-breaking because she herself was terminally ill,” said Beth.

Azzie artwork 2 cropped

“We began talking about her children, and how she was worried about their future, especially her eldest, who suffered badly from dyslexia. She was especially worried about him, as he was also being bullied, and was only a youngster in primary school.

“To say her comments upset me is an understatement, and I tried my hardest not to break down then and there as my own demons came back to haunt me.

“After my shift finished I went home and couldn't sleep, regardless of having just finished a gruelling 12-hour night shift. This patient’s child’s story kept playing over and over in my head.

“What could I do? I needed to try to help. After a few days of wracking my brain I sat down and drafted a story about a little girl called Azzie Artbuckle. Azzie is about primary school age and is bright, creative, funny, and will do anything to help others, but she has a secret, people at school think she is stupid.

 Azzie artwork 3 cropped

“Although she tries really hard, words never make sense to her. I suppose you could say Azzie was me.

“She really struggles at school and her friends don’t understand. She can’t do her work and people think she’s stupid because her friends in class always have to finish her sentences off for her.

“I had a Eureka moment, I could write about my experience as a child - I had the big idea that I could wipe out the stigma of dyslexia.”

The paperback was published on January 31 and already Beth has received a lot of feedback from children who loved reading it, as well as rave reviews, radio interviews and media interest.

“There was one girl who said she could really relate to Azzie,” said Beth. “Another said he cried with joy just to have someone that he could relate to.

“I do feel I’m helping children already, which is really important to me.”

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She is now visiting schools, talking to pupils about her book and holding workshops for children with dyslexia.

Beth, who remembers her student days on the Knitwear Fashion and Textiles course at De Montfort with fondness (her surname then was Moissidou), is planning her second book, taking Azzie further and delving into the world of autism.

British Prime Theresa May has been sent a signed copy of the book and Beth is hoping to hear back from Theo Paphitis, the business magnate of Dragons’ Den fame who also struggled with dyslexia as a child.

The Back to Front World of Azzie Artbuckle is published by Your Stories Matter and is available from Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones and all leading bookstores.

Posted on Wednesday 8th March 2017

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