Smorgasbord Guest Writer – Julie Lawford – Left/Write: On being a Southpaw

As part of a series of health posts over the summer Julie Lawford explores the differences between those of us who are right and left-handed. Previously posted on Julie’s blog.

Left/Write: On being a Southpaw by Julie Lawford

I’ve never mentioned it before on my blog, but, in common with only around 10-12% of people, I’m left-handed.

At school, I was tormented for my left-handedness – but never by fellow pupils. My junior school was overseen by a psychotic headmaster with Victorian attitudes and a bullying streak that would have seen him shamed in today’s education system. In the 1960’s, the fact that he would, scarlet-faced with explosive rage, blood-vessels bursting from his neck, physically terrorise pupils who fell short of his most exacting standards, was considered acceptable. Parents did not feel burdened to look beyond the high academic standards the school achieved.

The curse of cursive

This terrifying man would teach Penmanship to classes of 8-11 year olds.

My problems arrived as we graduated from pencils to an antiquated pen-and-inkwell combination – his view being that everyone should be able to master the skill of writing in traditional cursive style, using a pen and ink. We were each allocated a wooden pen holder and a single pen nib. Our desks held inkwells in the top right-hand corner. We would all dread our Penmanship lessons – they were terrifying for anyone with even slightly ham-fisted handwriting.

As a left-hander, my fear was intensified by the helplessness of my situation. For a left-hander, it’s all but impossible to use a pen-and-ink without smudging every line and spattering your paper with ink. As a right-hander working from left to right across the page, you’re pulling your pen along, and the ink flows smoothly out from the tip of the nib. With a left hander, the pen is pushed. It catches the paper, it pings and splashes. And, as your writing hand follows immediately in the wake of wet ink, you bear the added trial of having to avoid smudging every word as you write it across the page. I failed, time and again, to produce work of the required standard and was repeatedly pilloried for my shortcomings. I was made to feel there was something deficient about me, because I’d been born left-handed.

We’re a sinister bunch

My old headmaster’s persecution of lefties isn’t without precedent. At various times in history, left-handedness has been seen as some pretty dreadful things: the mark of the devil and a sign of neurosis or criminality for example. The word sinister, as in… creepy, disturbing, evil, menacing… is the Latin word for left. And in olde English, the word left arises from the Anglo-Saxon word lyft, which means weak or broken. Even in modern language the bias lingers; a left-handed compliment is actually a criticism or insult.

Ambi… ambi… what?

Like many left-handers, I have some right-handed and some ambidextrous behaviours (no smirking in the back row please).

As a child, sport worked mostly in my favour. I played hockey right-handed, due to the lack of left-handed hockey sticks back in the 1970’s. I played tennis with a racket in my left hand but could do a quick swap to my right hand when a left-handed backhand was out of reach.

Then there was the learning of musical instruments. I could cope with the piano but when it came to the clarinet I had to sit and grip it between my knees, as my stronger arm, my left, was at the top of the instrument, not the bottom, making it feel too unstable to hold. But I was okay with the guitar. I know some left-handed guitar players invert their strings and play with the neck of their guitar to the right, but I learned right-handed (the ‘normal’ way) and that seemed to work for me.

My mother once tried to teach me knitting, and when I couldn’t naturally grasp the required motions, she found a left-handed friend to teach me. I went from working left-to-right (or perhaps it was the other way around) to swapping entirely but neither approach felt right. I would start in one direction, then put down my needles, and pick them up again and set off in the other direction. The results were confusing and to this day, I’ve never managed to get to grips with knitting.

Whilst I use a knife and fork combo in the traditional way (fork to the left, knife to the right), I use a spoon in my left hand. I try to avoid desserts which require two utensils because using a spoon in my right hand makes me look like a toddler shovelling mush into my mouth – not pretty at all.

I used to wear a watch on my left wrist, because that’s what everyone does, but it gets in the way as I write, catching on the edge of the desk and being generally uncomfortable, so nowadays, I hardly ever wear a watch at all.

Puzzlingly for some, I use a computer mouse in my right hand. But I have a tendency to put cards in envelopes in such a way that when a right-handed person pulls them out, they’re upside-down.

What about the… who?

We left-handers have never mobilised like other minorities. We don’t have pressure groups and alliances, annual marches or colourful branding. We haven’t bemoaned the unfairness or bias we encounter. We just get on with it.

But the truth is, when it comes to industrial design, the southpaws of this world are frequently forgotten, with handles, buttons, switches and levers favouring the right-handed community.

Many smaller tools are designed for right-handers – scissors, can openers, vegetable peelers, serrated kitchen knives for example. It’s thanks to shops like that those left-handers who struggle more than I do with right-handed cutting implements have somewhere to go to find tools that work for them. Many left-handers just make do with the right-handed versions and adapt their techniques – as do I.

As a paper crafter, it’s tricky to cut stuff out neatly with my set of precision right-handed scissors, because I can’t actually see the line I’m cutting. But I’ve got used to how right-handed scissors work in my hands, and where I need to line up to cut and I wonder, if I ever took hold of a pair of left-handed scissors, whether I would be able to adapt.

I saw an article today in the news about some new open-plan office ‘pods’ designed to give people privacy and a sense of insulation as they worked in open-plan environments. You can see them here. I thought they were a fascinating concept, but it was immediately obvious that these pods are designed for right-handers. I scanned the promotional material but I couldn’t see any reference to a reversed version for left-handers.

But it’s not all bad

Although this is disputed (ahem… perhaps by all those right-handers), left-handers are supposed to be more introverted, intelligent and creative. Far be it for me to disagree. Apparently in left-handed people the connections between right and left brain are faster, meaning – apparently – that we can deal more effectively with multiple stimuli. That sounds nice, whatever it means.

The worlds of art, music, drama and literature are filled with left-handers. There’s a great list of 1000 left-handers Here including all manner of famous names, and a few infamous ones too.

The list of left-handed presidents of the USA is disproportionate (eight out of 44) and includes Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush, Bill Clinton and, latest to join the list, Barack Obama. And space is disproportionately southpaw too – one in four Apollo astronauts were left-handed.

But because this is (mostly) a blog about writing, I’m giving special mention to a few left-handed authors: Douglas Adams, Lewis Carroll, Franz Kafka, Mark Twain and H G Wells.

Are you a Southpaw?

I’m curious. Statistically, 10-12% of the readers of this blog will also be left-handed. Are your experiences the same as mine? Have you grappled with anything in this right-handed world – implements, skills or activities? Have you found ways around those challenges?

If you’re an author (right or left-handed), have you ever written a character to be specifically left-handed? And if so, why?

I’d love to open up the comments section for all things left-handed and have a lively debate, so please, do share.

About Julie Lawford

Always engaged with the written word, Julie Lawford came to fiction late in the day. Following a career in technology marketing she has been freelance since 2002 and has written copy for just about every kind of business collateral you can imagine. By 2010, she was on the hunt for a new writing challenge and Singled Out – her debut psychological suspense novel – is the result.

Julie is based in London in the UK. Whilst penning her second novel, she still writes – and blogs – for marketing clients.

Singled Out by Julie Lawford

About the book

‘There’s something delicious about not being known, don’t you think?’

Brenda Bouverie has come on a singles holiday to Turkey to escape. Intent on indulgence, she’s looking for sun, sea and … distraction from a past she would give anything to change.

But on this singles holiday no one is quite who they seem. First impressions are unreliable and when the sun goes down, danger lies in wait. As someone targets the unwary group of strangers, one guest is alone in sensing the threat.

But who would get involved, when getting involved only ever leads to trouble?

Singled Out subverts the sunshine holiday romance, taking readers to a darker place where horrific exploits come to light, past mistakes must be accounted for and there are few happily-ever-afters.

A simmering psychological suspense laced with moral ambiguities, for fans of Louise Doughty, Sabine Durrant, Gillian Flynn, Elizabeth Haynes, S.J. Watson and Lucie Whitehouse.

Read all the reviews and buy the book:

Connect to Julie Lawford at her website and on social media.


Thank you to Julie for this insight into living in a world with a right-handed bias.. and we would love to hear about your experiences. Thanks Sally

46 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Guest Writer – Julie Lawford – Left/Write: On being a Southpaw

  1. I loved this post Julie, really fascinating to think about writing in school with inkwells and smears. My grandfather used to tell me when he went to school (he was a lefty) he had his knuckles slapped with rulers so many times he eventually learned to write with his right hand. Nobody else except one of my brothers is a lefty.
    I can appreciate where you’re coming from because I believe I’m ambidextrous although I write with my write hand. I cut with a knife in my right hand, put down the knife and move the fork to my right hand. I sucked at sports, particularly baseball because I throw and catch only with my left hand. When I was younger I played a bit of guitar with my left hand. How weird is that, that all my motor skills are done with my left except writing? Lol I’m an enigma. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you! Sounds like your grandfather had even more trouble than I did. These things leave their mark in so many ways – not least, that sense of being somehow deficient, in need of being repaired/corrected, for something that isn’t a deliberate choice. Other groups in society have had it far worse than the lefties in that regard, of course.

      I quite like my ambidextrousness, and it’s come in handy recently as I injured my left elbow and have had to adapt a bit, whist it repairs. I think you should be proud of your ambi-blend of left and right – perhaps you have your grandfather to thank for it!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Lol, thanks Julie. I suppose I’m a mutt with an array of functions and dysfunctions taken up from everyone down the line. I too enjoy having the extra dexterity even though I suck at baseball. After all, nobody wants to wait for a catch then time to take off the glove to throw the ball back with the same hand. LOL. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hi. Well there you go, keep practicing and in time you may have accomplished dexterity with both hands. I can do everything with my left, except write but with that said, I have tried to write with my left. It’s a little more messier than the right already is (doctor’s scribble) but if forced I could probably wing it. 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

  2. A fascinating post, Julie. I have a friend who is left handed; I always wonder how she manages to write when her writing is covered up by her hand. In school we had a left-hander in class who always smudged his work as he moved across the page. The trouble he got in!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting post, Julie. My father and sister were left handed for their entire lives, while the rest of the seven of us in my family of origin were righties. I can’t recall “handedness” itself causing a problem for any of us – or even being discussed very often.

    My sister was an amazing seamstress. I know she did it all with right-handed tools – and never mentioned that it was difficult for her (to sew or to learn to sew). My mother taught both of us when we were teens, and my sister picked it up as rapidly as I. She actually became the more accomplished sewer. She played guitar right-handed, and taught both of her sons to play right-handed.

    I strongly prefer writing with a fountain pen while I can’t recall her ever picking one up, but each of us developed a legible hand. Of course, she was not “smacked” because she wrote with her left hand or shamed for her preference, and I’m sure that made a great deal of difference. My father rarely mentioned his left-handedness except for his difficulty making right-handed scissors cut, and I think my sister felt special because she had no problem. Perhaps she was actually ambidextrous.

    But I chuckled when I saw this sentence, “I would start in one direction, then put down my needles, and pick them up again and set off in the other direction.” Exactly my problem with knitting as well – and I’m a righty! Like you, “I’ve never managed to get to grips with knitting.” So maybe it has more to do with a kludgy sense of direction than our dominant hands. Just a thought.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes… I shall happily admit to a kludgy sense of direction!

      I was very interested to read your family’s experiences, and I guess we’re all different, with different dominances, and certain things we find easy, and other things hard. I think most left-handers learn to adapt, as I have done. And it’s only rarely that things give me a problem these days – like scissors, always scissors, especially the ones which are (un)helpfully shaped around the thumb/finger holes for right-handed use. But I figured out the guitar, the knife-and-fork combo, sewing kits, can openers and more! It’s also fair to say that there is a little more thought given today to equipment being suited to both left and right handed use. A case in point, the kettle, which one now gets on a rotating power source, with fill-guide on both sides, not just one!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Interesting example for me – I’m a big-time coffee drinker who prefers the Melita “pour-over” system, and I just bought one of those kettles. I love how the fill-guides on both sides allow me to plug in the kettle in more places more conveniently. I never thought about it as a left or right-handed thing, but I can see how it could make a huge difference in that regard as well.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post! Gave me more perspective about left-handers. I have always wanted to write about a left-handed character. I may have tried in one of my many unfinished stuff, but my only “brilliant” idea to prove that a character’s left-handed is to mention the direction of the slant in writing. This post gave me much more ideas…Thanks for sharing!!!

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah. My only ideas about it had to do with the slant in handwriting, the assumed left-handers-are-more-artistic bit, and the advantage inside the boxing ring. I may make my protagonist left-handed after this (I’ve always wanted to do such a thing, anyway).

        Liked by 2 people

    • Apparently – though I can’t claim to have personal experience of this – the way a weapon, a knife, for example, might be plunged into a victim, can give away the fact of a murderer’s left-handedness. That assumes you’re writing ‘that’ kind of story of course!

      And… sorry to pour cold water… but I learned old-fashioned cursive penmanship with my psychotic headmaster, which forced a certain forward slope to my handwriting, which has never totally vanished. You might need to go a little deeper, for example, into the way a ‘t’ is crossed, or the direction of travel of the underline beneath a signature… Mine is always right-to-left. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      • “Apparently – though I can’t claim to have personal experience of this – the way a weapon, a knife, for example, might be plunged into a victim, can give away the fact of a murderer’s left-handedness. That assumes you’re writing ‘that’ kind of story of course!”

        Oh, yes, you reminded me of this! I forgot all about that! As for the handwriting, yes, that has always been an idea I have had but never yet used.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Your story is hauntingly familiar. As a left-handed child I was relentlessly targeted by teachers at Napier’s Nelson Park School, New Zealand, in the late 1960s. The trigger was much the same as yours – ink pens, which I smudged. Ballpoints were around, but Nelson Park School’s solution was to force me to swap hands so I could use ink pens – an effort that became a full-on crusade to break me. Apparently it was my fault for choosing to be wrong handed. All I had to do was choose to just snap across to using the other hand and be normal. Easy. Then all the pain, the punishments, the class-front humiliation, the threats and the mental torture – including being under constant threat of being ‘sent to’ the deputy principal for some of his ‘special’ punishments – all that would all stop. All I had to do was swap hands, and it was wholly my choice.

    The punishments didn’t stop when school did. One teacher even sent a group of kids chasing me all the way home to haul me back to the school after hours so he could punish me some more. My mother stopped that happening. I have the letters the school exchanged with my parents over it, including a request from my father for the teacher not to take it out on me next day. That speaks volumes.

    I tried hard – really tried. But it turns out I’m a heavily left-dominant left-hander. I couldn’t control my right hand. I lost general motor control, I began losing track of left from right, tangling numbers and jumbling words. I developed a problem where it took a while for spoken words to disentangle – I’d hear the teacher bellowing ‘wolb wulb wlob, you stupid boy Wright’, and have no idea what I was meant to do. My fault – repeated tests showed nothing wrong with my hearing, so it was my fault for being inattentive, and down came an apocalyptic frenzy of fresh punishments.

    My father went in to bat for me. He passed away recently, and while sorting his papers I found the dossier he kept with letters, diary notes and so forth, including one diary note he made because the headmaster refused to put anything in writing. Dad really worked at it, but was never able to hold the teachers accountable. Luckily my other schools were tolerant of left handers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My goodness, Matthew… you had a traumatic experience of this, far worse than I. You write passionately about it and it has clearly left its mark on you. I know something of the humiliation, the sense of being made to feel inferior for something that you can’t do anything about, the sense of marginalisation – but it sounds like it went so much further for you. How very heartening, though, to discover that your father was so dedicated to resolving the issue and making the teachers accountable. He would have succeeded today, for sure, though hopefully today, no pupil experiences anything like the level of persecution that you endured.

      My mother recently passed away, and I’m proceeding carefully through acres of paperwork too. It is indeed fascinating, what you discover, tucked away amongst the age-old bank statements and bills.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: Smorgasbord Guest Writer – Julie Lawford – Left/Write: On being a Southpaw | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  7. Years ago, there was a small shop on Pier 39 in San Francisco. It catered to left hand dominate people. Having a daughter that is a lefty, I sent her a small plaque which read, Those who write with their LEFT hand are the only ones in their RIGHT mind. She did enjoy it. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is a really interesting post. I’ve heard about so many left-handed children in school being forced to use their right hand.Thank goodness attitudes have changed. In my writing group there are at least four left-handed members out of 18, which is higher than your 12% but perhaps inevitable in a group of creative people. Might be the same in an art group.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve recently returned from a writing course where the contingent of lefties was closer to 50%, and it is apparently the case, that lefties dominate in certain professions, many of which the creatively focussed ones.

      But yes, thank goodness attitudes have changed. Now all they need to do is change the way the scissors work!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. If I remember correctly, my first attempts at writing were with my left hand and I was gently coaxed by my parents to change. There was no great emotional trauma although the results were not as beautiful as the cursive handwriting of many of my classmates. I did develop a debilitating stammer which, it has been suggested by psychologists, can be caused by being made to change hands. In my case, I think that the stammer related to to the uncertainties accompanying puberty.

    I still write with my right hand. As an eleven-year-old, I boxed as a southpaw, jabbed with the right and developed a devastating knock-out punch with the left. I learnt to fence with either arm and, for tennis, I play with the right hand but serve with the left.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think, like so many things, it isn’t so much black or white, left or right, but a continuum. Some are resoundingly left or right-handed, others ambidextrous, and quite a few more have a preference to one side or the other, but can, when called upon, perform very adequately with their non-preferential side. I’ve always wondered (and I hope never to have to find out), whether I would be able to train myself to write just as well with my right hand, as I do with my left. Come to think of it, that wouldn’t be too difficult these days as, with the advent of the keyboard, my left-handed writing is pretty shambolic!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. As an afterthought, in boarding school, we had to take part in what was called CCF (Combined Cadet Force) The rifles were bolt-action 303’s. I shot left-handed but It felt natural to prime the bolt with the right.That sort of hesitation might have been detrimental to longevity in the event of armed conflict.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Fascinating post. I was ambidextrous as a child and was encouraged [strongly] to write with my right hand when I started school. So I have rather illegible hand writing and do everything else including playing sport and eating with my left hand.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s interesting – it’s amazing how adaptable we can be when called upon, isn’t it? I hope no child today is encouraged, strongly or otherwise, to force themselves into right-handedness when their natural leaning is to the left.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up – Opera, Film, Books, Humour and Authors who rock. | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

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