Tuesday 13 September 2011

Roald Dahl Day 2011

Today is Roald Dahl Day so let the celebrations commence! As legends from the world of chidlren's fiction go you don't get much bigger than Roald Dahl and so last year I wrote this post to celebrate. Obviously being nothing but a mere blogger I thought at the time I would turn to a few of the super-talented friends of The Book Zone to share their thoughts about the man himself and what his work meant to them. Reading their pieces gave me so much enjoyment that I thought what better way to celebrate in 2011 than do it all over again? And so today I am joined by three authors who between them have written some of my favourite books of the past two years: Ivan Brett, Sarwat Chadda and Will Hill. Another of my favourite recent authors, William Hussey, is such a huge fan of Roald Dahl that he wrote a super-long piece for me and so I am going to give it the hnour of its own spot here on The Book Zone later today, so please come back, I guarantee you will not be disappointed. And so, without further ado, let me hand you over to the experts:

Ivan Brett (author of Casper Candlewacks: Death By Pigeon) 

When I was at school, Roald Dahl's books had become such a staple that 'discovering' him was impossible. Of course he inspired me, and the likes of George's Marvellous Medicine and The Witches constantly pop up in my mind when they're not supposed to. But Roald Dahl made his biggest impression on me a decade later when I started reading his adult short stories. The economy of writing is superb: every word is necessary. Add to this the macabre plot twists and irreverent use of language, he's absolutely perfect the art. I'll contend that nobody can ever beat him when it comes to short fiction. I'd recommend the short story collections 'Someone Like You' and 'Kiss Kiss' to newcomers, but there's plenty else around, none of it what you'd expect. (On that note, read them alone before reading them to your kids.)

Three years ago, I started writing short stories because of Roald Dahl. Two years ago, I switched to Children's fiction, probably because of the same guy. What's next? (I'll probably steer clear of mimicking the style of 'My Uncle Oswald', if you're wondering.)

Sarwat Chadda (author of Devil's Kiss and Dark Goddess

My latest encounter with Mr. Dahl was listening to his narration of the Fantastic Mr. Fox. I’d seen the movie recently and thought, hey, this will be one for the kids to listen to as we drive around on holiday.

By the end of the journey there were tears and trauma all round.
Have you read the Fantastic Mr. Fox? I've never suffered an anxiety attack before but that probably was the closest. It comes across as the book Hannibel Lecter should have written. Mutilations, brutality and in one scene, Mr. Fox's children ask their parents in anxious, timid voices if there will be dogs set on them.


What modern author could get away with that? What modern author would even think of it?
His figures are grotesque, macabre and magnificent. Dahl doesn’t care who gets upset and has nightmares, Dahl never let anything stand in the way of his story. That’s what I love about him. By all accounts he wasn’t a nice man at all and maybe that’s why he’s the GREATEST CHILDREN’S AUTHOR EVER.

I think we’ve become more guarded about what we feed our children, like those Victorians who sanitised those nasty, sexual fairy tales. We ‘age band’ and shelve according to tastes while childhood should be all about exploring the widest worlds possible, not tucking books into ‘For Teens’ or for ‘Mature Readers’. Dahl’s stories were utterly immature and utterly without fear. No-one wrote more frightening, edgy tales than he and then (stroke of genius or what?) fed them to us when we were tiny and impressionable.

Will Hill (author of Department 19

While I don’t believe that a writer has to live an interesting and exciting life to write interesting and exciting stories, it certainly couldn’t hurt to have lived the life that Roald Dahl brings beautifully and joyously to life in my two favourite books of his, Boy and Going Solo.

The seeds of the novels with which he would later spellbind generations of children (and adults!) are there for all to see – the larger-than-life cast of eccentric adults, the sense of adventure lurking around every corner, the plots children hatch, often to get even with injustices committed by the grown-ups that surround them, are all wrapped up in the fierce sense of love and loyalty that clearly filled the Dahl clan.

Boy covers his time at Llandaff Cathedral School, St. Peter’s School and at Repton, the three institutions that act as the backdrop for his formative years. He encounters triumph (the boxes of chocolates that Cadbury’s ask him and his classmates to review, a gloriously wicked revenge against a local sweet shop owner) alongside his first understanding that the adult world can be unfair, and even cruel (I still find his account of being given ten strokes with the cane very hard to read) before he joins it for himself in the pages of Going Solo.

The second volume chronicles a life that seems almost too full of adventure and derring-do to be real – the young Dahl is shipped out to Tanganyika (as was) to work for Shell, and finds himself surrounded by an astonishing cast of utterly bonkers ex-pat colonials, local tribesmen, snakes, scorpions, lions, and every other conceivable joy. Until the late 1930s, when war comes to the continent, and Dahl joins the RAF as a fighter pilot.

That’s right.
The man who would later devote himself to words, to quietly writing masterpieces of children’s literature in his shed in Great Missenden, spends many months of the Second World War throwing Tiger Moths and Hurricanes around the skies over Egypt and Greece, dogfighting with German fighters and chasing bombers to their targets, experiencing the euphoria and terror of combat, and sustaining terrible injury along the way. It’s almost unbelievable. But it happened, every word of it.

I won’t say any more, as to give away any of the wonders in these two fabulous books (written, as always, in Dahl’s inimitably witty and caustic style) would be a crime for which I can’t think of a suitable punishment. But as pieces of autobiography, as insights into the perennial question of where a writer gets his ideas, and as works of brilliant, effortless storytelling, they succeed on every level, and I defy anyone who reads them to feel otherwise.


Huge, huge thanks to Ivan, Will and Sarwat for taking the time to do this for The Book Zone. I hope all the readers of this blog have a wonderful Roald Dahl Day and don;t forget to come back later for William Hussey's fab guest post. Last year I celebrated by reading The BFG; this evening it is going to be the turn of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Anyone for some Whipplescrumptiousfudgemallowdelight?

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