“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom.”
~ Roald Dahl
“What makes a good children’s writer? The writer must …be a jokey sort of fellow… must like simple tricks and jokes and riddles and other childish things. He must be unconventional and inventive. He must have a really first-class plot. He must know what enthralls children and what bores them. They love being spooked. They love ghosts. They love the finding of treasure. The love chocolates and toys and money. They love magic. They love being made to giggle. They love seeing the villain meet a grisly death. They love a hero and they love the hero to be a winner. But they hate descriptive passages and flowery prose. They hate long descriptions of any sort. Many of them are sensitive to good writing and can spot a clumsy sentence. They like stories that contain a threat. “D’you know what I feel like?” said the big crocodile to the smaller one. “I feel like having a nice plump juicy child for my lunch.” They love that sort of thing.”
~ Roald Dahl
I recently saw an article in which the author called Roald Dahl an unpleasant man. I was completely offended on Roald Dahl’s behalf. (Never mind that Roald has been dead since 1990. I still took umbrage. If you know a little about Roald Dahl, you might take umbrage as well.)
Roald was in constant pain. When he was a young boy, a car accident severed his nose. (A doctor reattached it.) The horrible children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were inspired by the awful boys in Roald’s boarding school. He talked about how the only thing he looked forward to during his boarding school days was the Cadbury sample trays. Cadbury would send small trays filled with chocolate samples for the boys to taste and rate — and Roald’s imagining a chocolate factory brought Willie Wonka to life.
In WWII, as a RAF pilot, Roald crashed his plane in the Libyan desert on his first official day of flight. All his life he’d suffer back pain and numb hands as a result of his injuries.
When Roald’s son Theo was four months old, a taxi hit his baby carriage, shattering the boy’s skull. (He survived.) Two years later, his daughter Olivia would die from a rare brain inflammation brought on by measles. Shortly after that, his wife, Patricia Neal, suffered a brain aneurysm and fell into a coma for three weeks.
If anybody had reasons not to write, it was Roald. If anybody had reason to fill pages with bitter words, it was Roald. But he saw writing as escape. Thinking about a magical chocolate factory let him escape from his boarding school; thinking about the screenplay for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the book was by Ian Fleming) helped him cope with the death of his daughter.
Roald wrote at least one of his books here, in his Gipsy caravan:
But he did most of his writing in a small shed he built in his backyard, writing with pencils and sitting in his much-loved shabby wing chair with a make-do lap desk.
(I could go on for pages. Instead, I’ll give you links and let you choose how much about Roald you want to read. I would love to know what has remained with you from any of Roald’s books.)
Roald and his writing hut:
Six tips from Roald:
Snapshots of Roald’s writing hut:
Writing his first children’s books (NPR interview with his daughter, Lucy):
Roald’s plea for parents to vaccinate their children:
More about Roald and his family: