BOOK FESTIVAL: Eddie Izzard on dyslexia and Dickens


EDDIE Izzard didn’t disappoint those who turned up to see him promote his new audiobook at his sold-out show at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

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The comedian and actor, 57, was introduced by award-winning children’s author Vivian French to discuss all things Dickens on Saturday.

The former- Hannibal star spoke enthusiastically about Charles Dicken’s life in which he shares many parallels with – being born 150 years later the same day.

Izzard wore a conservative black top and blazer over a black skirt and long boots with heels as he admitted to the audience he is “intimidated by literature.”

“I didn’t read much because I am dyslexic. I find all kinds of literature intimidating” he says, “I’m a very slow reader.

“I wanted to do an audiobook to force me to read this book, which would be the first time. I never read a book from start to finish because of my dyslexia.

“Being an accountant, I figured out this wonderful equation. I would approach companies to ask them if they wanted me to read an audiobook.

“And then when I got the contract, I had this incentive to read the book because I had to complete within a certain time frame. I would force myself into projects to make it happen. “When I was doing the audio book it was like I was pulling the words from my mouth using my arms.”

However, Izzards’ audio book The Great Expectations was chosen because it was seen as a “mature book for Dickens.”

The Great Expectations is the story of an orphan boy called Pip adopted by the family of a blacksmith. Pip has great expectations and good luck but eventually loses it through his rise and fall. However, he learns how to find happiness.

Izzard only really realised his parallels with Dickens in the past five years,  from being born on the same day 150 years later – February 7 – to working as a street performer at Convent Gardens for four years just round the corner from where Dickens worked as a window cleaner.

Now, he will be performing his work in progress show of Dickens’ work 150 years later from when the author performed his last ever reading show in Edinburgh at the Assembly rooms.

He said: “It was in the past five years I noticed the parallels with him. I never read because of my dyslexia so maybe it was through the musical.

He [Dickens] yearned for an education because his sister was being educated better than him.

Sometimes, he was writing by the yard to pay the bills. Sometimes he was coming up with great ideas.

“I find his life fascinating. I worked at Convent Gardens as a street performer just round the corner from where he worked. I stayed at the same hotel where he stayed just before he embarked on his first ever tour of America and then I went on a tour of America.

The political activist argued the class system -is used to help put things into context on a historical perspective – must be removed so everyone can become equal.

He says: “I hate the words class and distinction. I don’t think we will get to a time when everyone is paid the same. We will always have different income levels.

“The word class needs to be removed to help people and lead to a cultural shift, although, we use it a lot to help us place things in a historical context.”

The hour went past quickly as Izzard intelligently discussed Charles Dickens and contrasted with moments of his life sometimes going off on a tangent, as Dickens often would in his novels.

One final thought from him, which involved his mother who died of cancer when he was six considered why he wanted to be on stage.

He adds: “I saw a play when I was seven. ‘The boy with a card’ and I promised myself I would be on stage. I think I switched my mother’s affection and I wanted that affection from the audience.

“I wanted to be on stage and have an audience that would love me which would make up for mum disappearing.”

The talk broke up to allow Eddie to read an abridged version of the book and then finished with him reciting the final scene.

The idea was to illuminate the audience to show what he is hoping to achieve with his Dickens work-in-progress show.

This was a remarkable piece of acting that added to the enjoyable evening. It was inspiring and thought-provoking.

The Great Expectations Audio Book was published last June and is available to download now for £24.99.