Roald Dahl - Children's Author
Roald Dahl interview
1. What is it like writing a book?
When you’re writing it’s rather like going on a very long walk, across valley and mountains and things, and you get the first vie of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further, maybe up to the top of a hill, and you see something else, then you write that and you go on like that, day after day, getting different views of the dame landscape really. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book because it’s got the be the best view of all, when everything comes together and you can look back and see everything you’ve done all ties up. But it’s a very, very long slow process.
2. How do you get the ideas for your stories?
It starts always with a tiny little seed of an idea, a little germ, and that even doesn’t come very easily. You can be mooching around for a year or so before toy get a good one. When I do get a good one, mind you, I quickly write it down so that I won’t forget it because it disappears otherwise rather like a dream. But when I get it, I don’t dash up here and start to write it. I’m very careful. I walk around it and look at it and sniff it and then see it I think it will go. Because once toy start, you’re embarked on a year’s work and so it’s a big decision.
3. How did you get the idea for James and the Giant Peach?
I had a kind of fascination with the thought that an apple…(there’s a lot of apple trees around here, and fruit trees, and you can watch them throughout the summer getting bigger and bigger from a tiny little apple to bigger and bigger ones)…and it seemed to me an obvious throughout, what would happen if it didn’t stop growing? Why should it stop growing at a certain size? And this appealed to me and I thought this was quite a nice little idea and (then I had to think) of which fruit I should take for my story. I thought apple, pear, plum, peach. Peach is rather nice, a lovely fruit. It’s pretty and it’s big and it’s squishy and you can go into it and it’s got a big seed in the middle which you can play with. And so the story started.
4. What is your work routine?
My work routine is very simple and it’s always been so for the last 45 years. The great thing, or course, is never to work too long at a stretch because after about 2 hours you are not at your highest peak of concentration so you have to stop. Some writers choose certain times to write, other [choose] other times and it suits me to start rather later, I start at 10 o’clock and I stop at 12. Always. However well I’m going, I will stay there until 12, even if I’m a bit stuck. You have to keep your bottom on the chair and stick it out. Otherwise, if you start getting in the habit of walking away, you’ll never get it done.
5. How do you keep the momentum going when you are writing a novel?
One of the vital things for a writer who’s writing a book, which is a length project and is going to take about a year, is how does he keep the momentum going. It was the same with a young person writing an essay. They have got to write 4 or 5 or 6 pages. But when you are writing it for a year, you go away and you have to come back, I never come back to a blank page, I always finish about half way through. To be confronted with a blank page is not very nice. But Hemingway, a great American writer, taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book which is, he simply said in his own words “When you are going good, stop writing”. And that means that is everything’s going well and you know exactly where the end of the chapters going to go and you know just what the people are going to do, you don’t go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do then you say, well, where am I going to go nest? And you get up and you walk away and you don’t want to come back because you don’t know where you want to go. But if you stop when you are going goo, as Hemingway said, when you are going goo, stop! And you know what you are going to say next, but you make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that’s lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, everyday all the way through the year. If you stop when you are stuck, then you are in trouble!
6. How easy was it to write Matilda?
I got it wrong. I spent 6 or 8 or 9 months writing it, and when I’d finished, it wasn’t right. I mean it just wasn’t right. I hadn’t backed up and I hadn’t kept changing, because the character, the main character the little girl keeps changing at you all the time and I hadn’t bothered to go back and re-write that for several chapters. So a year ago I started the whole book again and re-wrote every word and I knew where I was wrong and I was able to get the character right and all the other characters and all the different motivations and the things like that and it was a very interesting experience that I’ve never had to do before, but maybe in my old age I’m getting not so good at it and it takes longer. I rally had to re-write the whole book! And now I’m fairly happy with it. I think it’s OK. But it certainly wasn’t before.
7. What is the secret to keeping your readers entertained?
My lucky thing is I laugh at exactly the same jokes that children laugh at and that’s one reason I’m able to do it. I don’t sit out here roaring with laughter but you have wonderful inside jokes all the time and it’s got to be exciting, it’s got to be fast, it’s got to have a good plot but it’s got to be funny. It’s got to be funny. And each book I do is a different level of that. On, The witches is quite different from The BFG or James and Danny. The fine line between roaring with laughter and crying because it’s a disaster is a very, very fine link. You see a chap slip on a banana sin in the street and you roar with laughter when he falls slap on his backside. If in doing so you suddenly see he’s broken a leg, you very quickly stop laughing and it’s not a joke anymore. I don’t know, there’s a fine line and you just have to try and find it.
8. How do you create interesting characters?
When you’re writing a book, with people in it as opposed to animals, it is no good having people who are ordinary, because they are not going to interest your readers at all. Every writer in the world has to user the characters that have something interesting about them and this is even more turn in children’s books. I find that the only way to make my characters really interesting to children is to exaggerate all their good or bad qualities, and so if a person is nasty of bad or cruel, you make them very nasty, very bad, very cruel. If they are ugly, you make them extremely ugly. That I think is fun and makes and impact.
9. How do you include horrific events without scaring your readers?
You never describe any horrors happening, you just say that they do happen. Children who got crunched up in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate machine were carried away and that was the end of it and the parents screamed, “Where has he gone?” and Wonka said, “Well, he’s gone to be made into fudge”, and that’s where you laugh, because you don’t see it happening, you don’t hear the child screaming or anything like that ever, ever, ever.
10. How much has living in the countryside influenced you?
I wouldn’t live anywhere else except in the country, here. And, of course, if you live in the country, your work is bound to be influenced by it in a lot of ways, not pure fantasy like Charlie with chocolate factories, Witches and BFG’s but the others that are influenced by everything round you. I suppose the one [book] that is most dependent purely on this countryside around here is Danny, The Champion of the World and I rather love that book and when I was planning it, wondering where I was going to let Danny and his father live, all I had to do, I didn’t realise it, all I had to do was look around my own garden and there it was.
Roald Dahl's Scrumdidlyumptious Story Collection This marvellous collection contains six Roald Dahl classics starring some of his best-loved characters from the wonderful Mr Willy Wonka to the disgustingly smelly Twists! Author : Roald Dahl Format : 6 Paperback novels in slipcase. Condition : New List of books in the set Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator Danny the Champion of the World George's Marvellous Medicine The BFG The Twits Roald Dahl interview 1. What is it like writing a book? When you’re writing it’s rather like going on a very long walk across valley and mountains and things and you get the first vie of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further maybe up to the top of a hill and you see something else then you write that and you go on like that day after day ge considerably more details
Rhyme Stew Author : Roald Dahl Format : Paperback Condition : New Dimensions : 13cm x 20cm x 0.5cm Rhyme Stew An irresistible collection for older children and adults alike Rhyme Stew bubbles over with Roald Dahl's inimitable humour and invention. 'Mary Mary quite contrary How does your garden grow? "I live with my brat in a high-rise flat so how in the world would I know."' Roald Dahl Interview 1. What is it like writing a book? When you’re writing it’s rather like going on a very long walk across valley and mountains and things and you get the first vie of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further maybe up to the top of a hill and you see something else then you write that and you go on like that day after day getting different views of the dame landscape really. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book because extra
Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes Author : Roald Dahl Format : Paperback Condition : New Who but Roald Dahl could think up such mouth watering and deliciously disgusting foods as Stink Bugs' Eggs and Eatable Marshmallow Pills? Now you can make and eat the extraordinary foods found in Dahl's books. Whether you crave Willy Wonka's Hot Ice Cream for Cold Days or Mr Twit's Beard Food this unique cookbooks has something for every occasion Roald Dahl interview 1. What is it like writing a book? When you’re writing it’s rather like going on a very long walk across valley and mountains and things and you get the first vie of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further maybe up to the top of a hill and you see something else then you write that and you go on like that day after day getting different views of the dame landscape really. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book because it’s got the be the best view of all when everything comes together an related info
The Roald Dahl Treasury Author : Roald Dahl Format : Paperback Condition : New Dimensions : 17.5cm x 23cm x 2.5cm The Roald Dahl Treasury The Roald Dahl Treasury is a wonderful collection by and about Roald Dahl the great storytelling genius. Four themed sections - Animals; Magic; Family Friends and Foes; and Matters of Importance - introduce some of Dahl's best-loved characters from Willy Wonka to the BFG from the Witches to the Twits from James to Matilda. In each you will find complete stories poems memoirs and letters as well as some unpublished poetry and letters. The Roald Dahl Treasury is beautifully illustrated in full colour by Quentin Blake as well as by leading artists such as Raymond Briggs Babette Cole Posy Simmonds and Ralph Steadman. This book is the perfect gift for all lovers of Roald Dahl and for all those who have yet to discover his magic. Contents summary 1. Animals 2. Magic 3. Family Friends and Foes 4. Matters of Importance Roald Dahl Interview 1. What is it like writing a book? When you’re writing it’s rather here
Roald Dahl's Glorious Galumptious Story Collection This corking collection contains five great stories from Roald Dahl. Follow Mr Fox's fantastic plan jump into James's incredible adventure in the giant peach watch out for the amazing Magic Finger - and more! Author : Roald Dahl Format : 5 Paperback novels in slipcase. Condition : New List of books in the set : James and the Giant Peach Esio Trot The Magic Finger Fantastic Mr Fox The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me Roald Dahl interview 1. What is it like writing a book? When you’re writing it’s rather like going on a very long walk across valley and mountains and things and you get the first vie of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further maybe up to the top of a hill and you see something else then you write that and you go on like that day after day getting different views of the dame landscape really. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book because more tips
The Roald Dahl Collection Author : Roald Dahl Format : 15 Paperback novels in slipcase. Condition : New Dimensions : Slipcase size : 20cm x 20cm x 13cm List of books in the set : The BFG Matilda Esio Trot George's Marvelous Medicine Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Fantastic Mr. Fox Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator The Magic Finger Danny the Champion of the World The Twits The Witches Going Solo The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me James and the Giant Peach Boy Take of Childhood Roald Dahl interview 1. What is it like writing a book? When you’re writing it’s rather like going on a very long walk across valley and mountains and things and you get the first vie of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further maybe up to the top of a hill and you see something else then you write that and you go on like that day after day getting different views of the dame landscape really. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the bo click to go
Roald Dahl Biography
Roald Dahl was born in Liandaff, Wales on September 13th 1916. His parents were Norwegian and he was the only son of a second marriage, His father, Harald, and elder sister Astri does when Roald was just three. His mother Sofie, was left to raise two stepchildren and her own four children (Alfhild, roald, Else and Asta). Roald was he only son. He remembered his mother as “a rock, a real rock, always on toy side whatever you’d done. Ir gave me the most tremendous feeling of security”. Roald based the character of the grandmother in The Witches on his mother – it was his tribute to her.
The young Roald loved stories and books. His mother told Roald and his sisters’ tales about trolls and other mythical Norwegian creatures. “She was a great teller of tales,” Roald said, “Her memory was prodigious and nothing that ever happened to her in her life was forgotten.” As an older child, Roald enjoyed adventure stories – “Captain Marryat was one of my favourites” – before going on to read Dickens and Thackeray as well as short-story writer Ambrose Bierce.
Hi father Harald was, as Roald recalled in Boy, a tremendous diary-writer. “I still have one of his many notebooks from the Great War of 1914-18. Every single say during those five war years he would write several pages of comment and observation about the events of the time.”
Roald himself kept a secret diary from the age of eight. “To make sure that none of my sisters got hold of it and read it, I used to put it in a waterproof tin box tied to a branch at the very top of an enormous conker tree in our garden. I knew they couldn’t climb up there. Then every day I would go up myself and get it out and sit in the tree and make the entries for the day.”
Roald’s parents seem to have instilled in him a number of character traits. In Boy, he talks of his father’s interest in “lovely paintings and fine furniture” as well as gardening. In spite of only having one arm, he was also a fine woodcarver. Paintings, furniture and gardening would all be passions of the adult Roald Dahl. Similarly, remembering his mother, in Roald Dahl’s Cookbook, he recalls “she had a crystal-clear intellect and a deep interest in almost everything under the sun, from horticulture to cooking to wine to literature to painting to furniture to birds and dogs and other animals.” Roald might very well have been describing his adult self.
Roald had an unhappy time at school. From the age of seven to nine, he attended Llandaff Cathedral School. His chief memories of this time, as described in Boy, are of trips to the sweet shop. The seeds of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were already being sown as young Roald and his four friends lingered outside the shop window, gazing in at the big glass jars of sweets and pondering such questions as how Gobstoppers change colour and whether rats might be turned into liquorice. Sherbert suckers were one of Roald’s favourites – “Each Sucker consisted of a yellow cardboard tube filled with sherbert power, and there was a hollow liquorice straw sticking out if it. You sucked the sherbert up through the straw and when it was finished you ate the liquorice. The sherbert fizzed in your mouth, and if you knew how to do it, you could make white froth come out of your nostrils and pretend you were throwing a fit.”
Boarding at St. Peter‘s prep school in Weston-Super-Mare, from 1925-9, proved less of a sweet experience for Roald. He was just nine years old when he arrived at St. Peters and had to contend with the twitching Latin Master Captain Hardcastle, the all-powerful Matron – a dead ringer for Miss Trunchball, who “disliked small boys very much indeed” and the cane-wielding Headmaster. Not surprisingly, Roald suffered from acute homesickness. At St. Peter’s Roald got into the habit of writing to his mother once a week. He continued to do so until her death 32 years later. Later, when his own children went to boarding school, Roald wrote to them twice a week to brighten up the drudgery of their school days.
Roald was thirteen when he started at Repton, a famous public school in Derbyshire. He excelled at sports, particularly heavyweight boxing and squash, but was deemed by his English master to be “quite incapable of marshalling his thoughts on paper”. Whatever else he was forced to endure, there was one huge advantage to going to Repton. The school was close to Cadbury’s, one of England’s most famous chocolate factories and one which regularly involve the schoolboys in testing new varieties of chocolate bars.
Dahl’s unhappy time at school was to greatly influence his writing. He once said that what distinguished his from most other children’s writers was “this business of remembering what it was like to be young.” Roald’s childhood and schooldays are the subject of his autobiography Boy.
War and Adventure
At 18, rather than going to university, Roald joined the Public Schools Exploring Society’s expedition to Newfoundland. He then started work for Shell as a salesman in Dar es Salaam. He was 23 when war broke out and signed up the Royal Air force in Nairobi. At first, the station doctor balked at his height (6ft 6in or 2metres) but he was accepted as a pilot officer and was trained on the birdplane Gladiator fighters, mainly in Iraq. He then flew to join his squadron in the Western Desert of Libya but crashed en-route.
Dahl’s exploits in the war are detailed in his autobiography Going Solo. They include having a luger pointed at his head by the leader of a German convoy, crashlanding in no-man’s land (and sustaining injuries that entailed having his nose pulled out and shaped!) and even surviving a direct hit during the Battle of Athens, when he was sufficiently recovered to fly again – this time in Hurricanes. Eventually, he was sent home as an invalid but transferred, in 1942, to Washington as an air attach. It was there that he would meet an important writer who would set him on the path to a new career.
1st Chapter: Dahl Begins to Write
In 1942, during his time in Washington, C S Forester, author of Captain Hornblower, took Roald to lunch. Forester was in America to publicise the British was effort and hoped Roald would describe his version of the war, which Forester would write up for the Saturday Evening Post. Roald chose to write down his experience. Ten days after receiving the account, Forester wrote back “Did you know you were a writer – I haven’t changed a word.” He enclosed a cheque for 0 from the Post. The piece appeared anonymously in august 1942 under the title “Shot Down Over Libya”. Roald’s career as a writer was underway.
Roald Dahl’s first book for children was not, as many suppose, James and the Giant Peach but The Gremlins, a picture book published in 1943 and adapted from a script written for Disney. Walt Disney had invited the 25 year-old Roald to Hollywood, given him the use of a car and put him up at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The story of The Gremlins focused on the mischievous spirits that, according to RAF legend, cause aircraft-engine failures. In the end, the project to make a movie version was abandoned but the book was published. Roald was never very keen on The Gremlins and didn’t really think of it as a children’s book. Nevertheless, it caught Eleanor Roosevelt’s eye and Roald became a not infrequent guest at the White house and FDR’s weekend retreat, Hyde Park.
Roald’s career as a children’s book author did not begin in earnest until the 1960’s after he had become a father himself. In the meantime, he devoted himself to writing short stories fro adults with devilish twists in the tale.
Master of the Unexpected: Dahl’s Writing for Adults
For the first fifteen years of his writing career, Dahl concentrated on writing for adults. His short stories are classics of the storyteller’s craft. It comes as no surprise to learn that he took advice from Ernest Hemingway (“never use a colon or semi-colon” and “when it starts going well, quit”.) He was not, by his own admission, a quick writer and might take six months on a story – “sometimes as much as a month on the first page”. And he refused to write at all unless he could come up with a really good plot.
Dahl’s first “story” was “A Piece of Cake”, which C S Forester urged him to write for the Saturday Evening Post in 1941. He went on to write another sixteen articles/stories for the Post. “They became less and less realistic and more fictional,” Roald said, “I began to see I could handle fiction.” The stories were published in a well received collection, Over To You. At that point, Roald realised “since I could write, that’s what I’d do.”
His stories were initially published in magazines such as the New Yorker, Harpers and Atlantic Monthly before being collected in book form. Mario Basini in the Western Mail describes the stories as “masterful – brief, punchy, with a devastating mixture of innocence and the macabre (which) summed up the brittle, sceptical, uneasy civilisation in which he wrote.” In the words of Sunday Tribune, “his stories are bizarre, inventive, clever, imaginative, spinechilling – For kindness and pleasantries, I suggest you look elsewhere. If on the other hand, it is dark ingenuity you’re after with lashing of malice and a slice of humour then Roald Dahl is the man.”
Perhaps his most famous story is “Lamb to the Slaughter”, in which a woman beats her husband to death with a frozen leg of lamb then roasts the murder weapon and serves it up to the policemen who come to question her. “It wasn’t nasty,” Roald said, “I thought it was hilarious. What’s horrible is basically funny. In fiction.”
Dahl’s adult writing was favourably compared to O’Henry and Saki. He won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America three times.
Many of Roald’s short stories were televised for the hugely successful Tales of the Unexpected, which features such stars as John Gielguid, Alec Guinness and Joan Collins.
Roald wrote two novels for adults – Sometime Never, published in 1948 and the first novel about nuclear was to be published in America, following Hiroshima, and My Uncle Oswald, published in 1979.
The World’s Favourite Children’s Author
“Roald Dahl is without question the most successful children’s writer in the world,” wrote Brian Appleyard in The Independent in 1990. Roald himself said, “I’m probably more pleased with my children’s books that with my adult short stories. Children’s books are harder to write. It’s tougher to keep a children interested because a child doesn’t have the concentration of an adult. The child knows the television is in the next room. It’s tough to hold a child, but it’s a lovely thing to try to do.”
He first became interested in writing children’s books by making up bedtime stories for his daughters Olivia and Tessa, This was how James and the Giant Peach came into being. The book was published in America in 1961 and the UK in 1967.
His second book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also debuted in the USA (in 1964) before being published in the UK (1967). It was a significant success on both sides if the Atlantic. In the UK, Elaine Moss wrote in The Times, “It is the funniest children’s book I have read in years; not just funny but shot through with a zany pathos which touches the young heart.” The book went on to achieve phenomenal success all over the world. The Chinese edition was the biggest printing of any book ever – two million copies! 1971 saw the release of a movie version starring Gene Wilder. Roald himself was not a fan, but the movie had proved consistently popular. A new movie version is in development.
An unbroken string of bestselling titles followed, including The BFG, Danny the Champion of the World. The Twits, The Witches, Boy and Going Solo. Sales of Matilda, Roald’s penultimate book, broke all previous records for a work of children’s fiction with UK sales of over half a million paperback in six months.
Many people have tried to account for the astonishing success of Roald Dahl’s writing for children. Robin Swicord, who co-wrote the script for the movie version of Matilda says that “He is keyed into the psychological life of a child better than any other writer. He brings their fears right to the surface, whether it’s about the first day of school or saving you grandparents from death.” In a similar vein, Danny DeVito, actor, produced and director says that “Dahl will lead a child out onto a windy limb and then suddenly he’ll place a ladder underneath and the child will be able to get safely to the ground.”
Roald’s empathy with children goes even further than that. As David Gritten notes in Sainsbury’s – The Magazine, “Dahl books, strong on plot and instilled with a tremendous sense of mischief, insist on seeing the world through children’s eyes, and often portray adults and silly, uncomprehending or insensitive; no wonder kids love them.” This was something Roald was set upon doing. He once declared that, “If you want to remember what it’s like to love in a child’s world, you’ve got to get down on your hands and knees and live like that for a week. You’ll find you have to look up at all these – giants around you who are always telling you what to do and what not to do.”
The Dahl magic has proved unstoppable throughout the world. In addition to the UK editions, his work has been translated into 34 languages, reaching everywhere from Estonia to Finland; from Greece to Japan. In spite of his unrivalled success, Roald Dahl won only a handful of awards, including in the UK, the Whitbread Award 1983 for The Witches and the Children’s Book Award (from the Federation of Children’s Book Groups) in 1988 for Matilda. As Tony Bradman noted in The Telegraph, such awards “came late in a career characterised by a general snootiness in critical quarters, and a growing tide of popularity with the punters which eventually became a deluge of Noah-style proportions.”
Roald Dahl was a great believer in the importance of reading. “I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers,“ he once said, “to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.” He would, then, have been gratified by his obituary I The Independent, which paid tribute to the huge role he played “in getting children hooked into reading by offering them the kind of stories they really wanted to read. Stylistically too, he helped new readers by using language simply and accurately. The quality of his writing is easily discernible by the fluency with which is can be read aloud – for many children Roald Dahl is synonymous with reading. He is the one author whose books are currency among children, being passed eagerly from hand to hand as soon as they appear.”
Inside the Hut: Where and How Roald Dahl wrote
In 1960, Roald and his family settled in Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, England at a Gipsy House. It was at the bottom of the garden, that he would write most of his unforgettable stories fro young and old.
The hut was, by all accounts, a dingy little place but one that Roald viewed as a cosy refuge. Christopher Simon Sykes in Harpers and Queen recalls “A dirty plastic curtain covered the window. In the centre stood a faded win-back armchair, inherited from his mother, and it was here that Dahl sat, his feet propped up on a chest, his legs covered by a tartan rug, supporting on his knees a thick roll of corrugated paper upon which was propped his writing board. Photographs, drawings and other mementoes were pinned to the walls, while a table on his right was covered with a collection of favourite curiosities such as one of his own arthritic hip bones, and a remarkably heavy ball made from the discarded silver paper of numerous chocolate bard consumed during his youth.”
Roald couldn’t type and always used a pencil to write. For much of his career, his working day began at around 9:30, when he his secretary would work through his fan mail. At around 10:30, he’d fill a thermos with coffee and head off to the hut. He’d write until about midday when it was time for lunch and a gin and tonic. After an afternoon read at about 4 p.m., he’d return to the hut for another couple of hours of writing. “I am a disciplined writer,” he once said, “I don’t think any writer works particularly long hours because he can’t – he becomes inefficient.” He wrote several drafts of his work “because I never get anything right the first time.”
Husband and Father
Roald Dahl was married twice. His first wife was Patricia Neal, the Broadway and Hollywood actress whose films include The Hasty Heart (opposite Ronald Reagan), The Fountainhead (with Gary Cooper) and Hud (with Paul Newman) for which she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Roald and Patricia were introduced by playwright Lillian Hellman in New York, where Patricia was acting in Hellman’s play The Children’s Hour. After their marriage, in 1953, they divided their time between England and America.
Roald and Patricia had five children together – Olivia (who sadly died aged seven), Theo, Tessa, Ophelia and Lucy. Roald’s stories for children grew out of the bedtime tales he made up each night for his own children. “Had I not had children,” he once remarked, “I would not have written books for children, nor would I have been capable of doing so.” Ophelia Dahl, writing about her father in The Roald Dahl Treasury, remembers “every evening after my sister Lucy and I had gone to bed, my father would walk slowly up the stairs, his bones creaking louder than the staircase, to tell us a story. I can see him now, leaning against the wall of our bedroom with his hands in his pockets looking I to the distance, reaching into his imagination.”
Roald’s second wife was Felicity “Liccy” Crosland. Although they were born in the very same street, in Llandaff, they did not meet until 1972. They soon became inseparable and following Roald’s divorce from Patricia Neal, he and Liccy married in 1983. “He was not an easy man,” Liccy says, “but to me he was the most stimulating man in the world and the best husband a woman could ever have,”
Although there was period of adjustment, today Patricia and Liccy are friends and there is a large, extended family from Roald’s two marriages.
Although Roald Dahl enjoyed a great deal of success in his life, he also endured an unusual number of tragedies involving those closest to him. His oldest daughter Olivia dies after a bout of measles developed into encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Roald’s four-month-old some Theo was brain-damaged after a road accident.
Ad Peter Lennon observed in The Guardian in 1996, “It cannot be said that the series of misfortunes and tragedies Dahl was to suffer made him mote bitter. Loss and physical adversity seemed to stimulate his enormous energies to positive action. He fought misfortunate as if it was a dragon to be slain.”
In the case of Theo, Dahl joined forces with two friends, an engineer and a neurosurgeon, Together, they spent months devising a valve for draining fluid from the brain to enable Theo to live independent of machines. The Dahl-Wade-Till valve was used for many years until it was finally surpassed by new technological developments. Theo has made a spectacular recovery.
In 1965, Roald’s first wife, Patricia “Pat” Neal, suffered three strokes in rapid succession. She was only 39 years old and pregnant with Lucy. “I couldn’t move and I couldn’t speak,” Patricia remembers, “Roald knew that if I lost my motivation it would be the end of everything for me. He called in my neighbours and friends and set up a programme that would keep my busy every minute of the day.” This amounted to six hour-long sessions of speech therapy every dingle day (the standard offered by the National Health Service was two half-hour sessions per week.) Roald himself took care of the running of the house. In time, and in no small part thanks to Roald’s efforts, Patricia made a full recovery, gave birth to a healthy baby and retuned to her acting career.
Roald’s life was marked with tragedy right until the end. A few months before his own death, his stepdaughter, Lorina, died of a brain tumour.
Throughout his life Roald Dahl gave time and money to help people in need. In the 1960s, for example, he arranged for many children from a Southern Italian orphanage to come on holiday with families in his village of Great Missenden. As his fame grew, he would receive many requests for help and would frequently assist of visit individual children, in consultation with their families, particularly the sick of disabled or those who were hospitalised long term. After his death, his widow Felicity Dahl established the Roald Dahl Foundation to continue this tradition. The Foundation offers grants in three key areas – Literacy, Neurology and Haematology. The Roald Dahl Foundation offers grants in three key areas, all associated with his life” literacy, because it was his crusade; neurology, because his family was so badly affected by problems in the area; and finally haematology, because Roald Dahl suffered from a blood disorder for many years and become very interested in this particular field of medicine.
Roald Dahl had many passions. According to his widow Liccy Dahl, they ranged from “racing greyhounds to breeding homing budgies, medical inventions, orchids, onions, gambling, gold, wine, music, art, antiques and wine.” Here’s what Roald has to say about some of the preoccupations:
“At first the excitement is imply in watching them flower, but then you start to breed them, crossing one with another, selecting the best and producing finer hybrids. Some people like tomatoes, I like orchids. Partly because of their beauty, partly because they are tricky to grow – it takes two years before any buds appear, and the flowers are very small. Several years must pass before the plants are mature.”
“Even when I couldn’t afford anything – I’d sell a story to the New Yorker and go straight out and buy a picture, then take a long time to write the nest story and so have to sell the picture. Many paintings that today could be acquired only by millionaires decorated my walls for brief periods in the late 1940s: Matisses, enormous Fauve Roualts, Soutines, Czanne watercolours, Bonnards, Boudins, a Renoir, a Sisley, a Degas landscape – I have very good pictures, which I bought because I loved them and usually they were cheap, a long time ago.”
“In the seven years of this glorious and golden decade (the 1930s), all the great classic chocolates were invented: the Crunchie, the Whole-Nut Bar, the Mars Bar, the Black Magic Assortment, Tiffin, Caramello, Aero, Malteser, Quality Street Assortment, kit Kat, Rolo and Smarties. In music the equivalent would be the golden age when compositions by Bach and Mozart and Beethoven were given to us. In painting it was the equivalent of the advent of the impressionists towards the end of the nineteenth century. In literature it was Tolstoy and Balzac and Dickens. I tell you, there has been nothing like it in the history of chocolate and there never will be.”
“We all know, of course, that a great conker is one that has been stored in a dry place for at least a year. This matures it and makes it rock hard and therefore very formidable. We also know about the short cuts that less dedicated players take to harden their conkers. Some soak them in vinegar for a week. Others bake them in the oven at a low temperature for six hours. But such methods are not for the true conker player. No world-champion conker has ever been produced by short cuts.”
The Story Continues
In 1990, Roald was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, Myelodysplastic anaemia. “I’ve been a bit off colour these last few months,” he wrote in a newsletter to his young fans, “feeling sleepy when I shouldn’t have been without that lovely old bubbly energy that drives one to write books and drink gin and chase after girls.” Roald dies on November 23rd 1990 at the age of 74. He was working to the end on The Vicar of Ninnleswicke, My Year and The Roald Dahl Cookbook.
Since his death, his books have more than maintained their popularity. Sales have continued to grow throughout the world.
Roald Dahl poem
R – Is for reading and the Royal Air Force.
Roald Dahl never read a book while flying a plane! But he did love reading adventure stories and he h=did join the RAF when he was 23.
O – Is for Oslo –
The capital of Norway, where Roald Dahl’s father (and much of his family) came from. Roald’s mother was from Norway too and Roald was born in Llandaff, Wales in 1916.
A – Is for addicted
To chocolate! As a schoolboy, Roald tasted new chocolate bars for Cadbury’s. He once said, ‘If I were a headmaster I would get rid of the history teacher and get a chocolate teacher instead.’
L – Is for language.
Whizzpopping, strawbunkies, hippodumplings, hushyquiet, natterbox and … the list of words Roald Dahl invented is endless! Nothing is um-possible when it comes to making up words.
D – Is for drawings
By Quentin Blake (or ‘Quent’ as Roald called him). His wonderful illustrations perfectly complemented Roald Dahl’s stories.
D – Is for dream blowing.
Roald would sometimes prop a ladder against the side of his house, climb up and push a bamboo cane through his children’s window, pretending to be the Big Friendly Giant!
A – Is for anarchic!
Roald Dahl’s stories have some really rotten characters that do the most disgusting things – just wait until you meet the Grand high Witch and the gruesome Twits. Eugghh!
H – Is for hut.
Roald Dahl wrote many of his books in a white hut in the garden of his home, Gipsy House. The hut as built from bricks and had a yellow front door – yellow was his favourite colour.
L – Is for loved
By millions of children (and grown-ups!). Roald Dahl died in 1990 and his stories are still popular all over the world.
The Roald Dahl Foundation supports specialist paediatric Roald Dahl nurses throughout the UK caring for children with epilepsy, blood disorders and acquired brain injury. It also provides practical help for children and young people with brain, blood and literacy problems – all causes close to Roald Dahl during his lifetime – through grants to UK hospitals and charities as well as to individual children and their families.
The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, based in Great Missenden just outside London, is in the Buckinghamshire village where Roald Dahl lived and wrote. At the heart of the Museum, created to inspire a love of reading and writing, is his unique archive of letters and manuscripts. As well as two fun-packed biographical galleries, the Museum boasts and interactive Story Centre. It is a place for the family, teachers and their pupils to explore the exciting world of creativity and literacy.
Roald Dahl - Children's Author