How Lucian Freud’s girl beat dyslexia to become a novelist.

As her seventh book is published Esther Freud tells Katie Law in the London Evening Standard of her struggle to read and write, her expulsion from drama school and how she has her father’s work ethic.

It’s hard to believe that Esther Freud, who is about to publish her seventh novel, battled with dyslexia as a child and didn’t learn to read or write properly until she was 11.

"I don’t know if there were labels like dyslexia back then. It seemed as if there was something intrinsically mysterious that I didn’t grasp," says the 47-year-old, who is as well known for her first novel, ‘Hideous Kinky’, as for her sprawling and illustrious family. Her great-grandfather was Sigmund, her father is Lucian Freud, her sister is the fashion designer Bella, her cousins are Emma and Matthew. We are sitting in a café in Golders Hill Park and in spite of her slight, almost birdlike frame and quietly self-assured manner, she still manages to project her voice over the bawling toddler at the next table and the swooshing of the coffee machine in the background, as you might expect from someone who originally trained as an actor.

"I always hesitated to talk about it [the dyslexia] too much. I’m happy to now because, well, I know some people really struggle with it and I don’t really any more. Now, I wonder, was I just stupid and grew out of it, or was it a real issue?"

Esther’s mother, the writer Bemardine Coverley (who had parted from Lucian Freud many years earlier), sent Esther and Bella to a Steiner school near East Grinstead, where the philosophy was firmly anti-hothouse and traditional disciplines such as the three Rs were rejected. “I was extremely lucky because I was very good at lots of things — craft things — and that was valued just as highly, so I never felt I was at the bottom of the class.”…

"Esther, who has been married to actor David Morrissey for nearly 20 years and has three children with him, recognises that their youngest son Gene, may also be dyslexic. He is nearly seven and still can’t read, but it doesn’t bother her in the slightest. “He has real trouble, just as I did, but I’m glad it’s my youngest child because I know he’s clever and I wouldn’t have had that confidence if it had been my first child. It makes me distressed to think that children are being judged at such specific times when I know that they develop at different stages."

Esther is fervently anti-pushy parenting. All three of her children (her other two are Albie, 16, and Anna, 13) attend a progressive private school in North London close to their Highgate home. "It was the only un-pushy school I could find. There’s an ethos in London probably all over the country of everyone needing to get the most incredibly high exam marks in all subjects in order to get where exactly?"…

Esther herself left the Steiner school at 16 with three O-levels. "You were only allowed to take four if you were really clever. What I loved about my education was that it was in a beautiful place and there was a lot of making and doing and stories. What I didn't love was that I left with such huge, humiliating holes in my general knowledge."

She went on to a drama college in Kingsway for two years before winning a place at the prestigious Drama Centre in Clerkenwell, alma mater of Simon Callow, Paul Bettany, Russell Brand and Colin Firth. Firth was in the year above. "He had the same slow- bum attractiveness he has now. He was the star of his year.

"A fictionalised version of the Drama Centre provides the backdrop for the start of Esther’s new novel, Lucky Break. Set in London in the 1990s, it’s a tale of professional and sexual rivalry, conflict and rejection among a small group of drama students, from their first day at the school, and onwards for the next decade.

There is one particularly humiliating scene in which the main female character is told by her teachers that she lacks the qualities necessary for an actor and is asked to leave.

That is what happened to Esther and you sense she is still smarting from the rejection. I was really taken aback. They just didn’t feel I had what it took to make it. But I didn’t really want to ‘make it’. That wasn’t why I was there. I just loved acting. I wanted to come out the other side and do what I could do."…

Determined to prove the teachers wrong, Esther continued to act for another six years - including a part as an alien in Doctor Who until she made the disastrous decision to switch from a small cosy agent to a big glamorous one. "There was a woman at the William Morris agency who took me on, but she never put me up for a single thing and my career disappeared?

It was then that Esther decided to become a writer instead. She made herself write for at least three hours a day. Her father, for whom she often posed as a model to earn extra money, was an inspiration. "Here was someone completely dedicated, who worked and worked and worked. If things were going badly he just kept on working."

Esther’s efforts paid off with the publication in 1992 of ‘Hideous Kinky’, later made into a film starring Kate Winslet as Esther’s hippy mother. Since then she has written half a dozen more semi-autobiographical novels, with barely a harsh review.

Esther Freud agrees she has been very lucky indeed to have led such an eventful life; but then again, she’s put in the hard work and turned it all into something worth reading about.

‘Lucky Break’ published on April 4 by Bloomsbury, price £11.99.