Today is Roald Dahl Day. Mr Dahl was such a huge influence in my early reading years that I felt I had to write some kind of post in tribute to the man who is arguably one of the greatest British children's writers of all time. There are so many reason why I love his books: his use (and creation of) words and language; the subversive nature of his stories; his vast array of colourful characters that have prety much entered our everyday language; and best of all, the delight I derived (and still do) from reading his books.
My favourite Roald Dahl book is, and always will be, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It is one of the first books I can remember reading all by myself, and the name Willy Wonka is recognised pretty much worldwide, just as he was in the book, and his Oompa-Loompas have become a regular sight at England cricket matches around the world as a popular fancy dress choice for members of the Barmy Army. I also love the fact that it is the other children in this story that are the villains, as compared to many of his books where it was the adults who were the characters we loved to hate. A close second for me is The BFG. I don't think it is a coincidence that my two favourites out of all of his books had Roald Dahl at his most inventive as far as words were concerned, and I know I am not alone in thinking this. Just a couple of days ago a Twitter friend told me that she was inspired by one word alone: Whipplescrumptiousfudgemallowdelight!
I am a book lover not a book writer so I worried that my little tribute would not be good enough to do justice to the great man, and so I emailed a few people who I felt would be able to put their thoughts about Roald Dahl and what he means to them into writing much better than I could. Thank you to all of the authors who replied with their own tributes to Roald Dahl:
Alan Gibbons (author of the Hell's Underground series)
I had a lovely email from a young woman called Sarah. I taught her when she was seven. She has just graduated as a doctor in the USA. She reminisced about the story times I devoted to Fantastic Mr Fox and The Magic Finger, Danny the Champion of the World and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I worked my way through most of his novels at the end of the day and there was never a murmur from the kids on the mat. It made me realise how the great man's story telling magic made teaching easy. His mischief and invention illuminated the children's life. One of the greatest Human Beans....ever.
Tamsyn Murray (author of My So-Called Afterlife and My So-Called Haunting)
It's hard to choose one favourite Roald Dahl book but my daughter and I really enjoyed reading his memoir - Going Solo. His real-life tales of Africa are every bit as thrilling as his wildest work of fiction and he cheated death on a number of occasions. The book includes a supporting cast of colourful characters and deadly snakes (usually colourful deadly snakes, in fact). If you ever find yourself face to face with a Green Mamba - run!
Andrew Newbound (author of Demon Strike)
Mysteriously, I didn't read an awful lot of Roald Dahl books when I was younger; not sure why???
The ones I did read (James & the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate factory/Great Glass Elevator), I enjoyed. But the one that had the most profound effect on me was Danny, Champion of the World.
I borrowed it from the mobile library one wet and windy half term and devoured it in a day or two. I cherished its massive hardback form; it was such a HUGE book in my small hands, and turning the pages was like reading a old ledger.
The story inside those pages was so simple, yet so powerful that it's still with me today. I liked the way Roald captured the relationship between a Dad and his lad, and wrapped it up in such an engaging, amusing and yet uncomplicated tale.
I loved it, and I guess that's why I love to see my own children, and others too, reading Roald Dahl books today. His special kind of literary magic lives on!
Barry Hutchison (author of Mr Mumbles and Raggy Maggie in the Invisible Fiends series)
Roald Dahl made me a writer. When I was 8, my primary school class did a project on him, a look at "The Man Behind the Books" sort of thing, and that was the first time I realised that books were written by actual real people, and didn't just sort of magically appear in libraries when no-one was looking. I learned a lot about Roald Dahl that day, but I also learned something about myself: I wanted the same job as he had. I wanted to be the man behind some books. Twenty-four years later, I've finally succeeded. Were it not for Roald Dahl, I don't know if I would have.
M.G.Harris (author of The Joshua Files series)
Pretty much the perfect combination of things to appeal to little me - playful language, sadness and loss, grotesque baddies, blissfully edible worlds like James's peach and Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. But the story that really struck me was 'The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar', the first adult book I read, aged 11.
J.D. Irwin (author of Edwin Spencer - Mission Improbable)
I came to Roald Dahl late. I didn’t really ‘get’ reading until I was ten or eleven, then C S Lewis’s Narnia series showed me what I’d been missing. So by the time I picked up my first Dahl book I was a teenager – and it was the one that has been my favourite ever since: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In a way it was a good thing that I wasn’t eight years-old when I first read ‘Charlie’; I remember feeling the contrast of emotions – sadness at the plight of poor Charlie Bucket and his loving family, glee at the comeuppance of vile Veruca Salt and Violet Beauregarde – very strongly, which I don’t think would’ve happened before I was ten. Family relationships were portrayed so brilliantly – how I longed to jump onto the Buckets’ only bed and give each of Charlie’s grandparents a huge hug!
Roald Dahl was a master story-teller, and I’m sure no author has influenced modern-day children’s writing more.
Alex Keller (author of Haywired)
I read a great deal of Dahl's children's books when I was younger. Despite his more notorious public and private life, Dahl was undeniably a phenomenal writer. I remember falling in love with the dark, strange stories he created. Below is a couple of the things that really struck a cord with me when I was younger.
Roald Dahl is fantastic at coming up with great names of his characters. In The BFG for example, the names of the evil giants such as “Childchewer”, “Bloodbottler” and “Fleshlumpeater” brilliantly conjure up their ogrish images. The names are simple, but their directness is quite unnerving! Chewing children sounds horrible and painful (if you are a child reading the book); Bloodbottler, for me, creates an image of the giant draining the blood from children in a cold, industrial way; and Fleshlumpeater I imagine would shovel meat into his mouth from wherever he found it, including any human beans that got to near. When I was maybe seven or eight, I think I might have had nightmares because of these names!
Dahl's books are also littered with children who suffer terrible fates. Dahl never seemed to hold back when writing about some very gruesome and blood-curdling situations. In The Witches for example, you hear about the witches placing terrible curses on children such as turning them to stone or having them trapped inside a painting for the rest of their lives. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I remember reading about Augustus Gloop being sucked up in the river of chocolate and Violet Beauregarde being turned into a giant blueberry and then “juiced”. The way Dahl would write about these fates was truly chilling, and if memory serves, you don't learn the fate of the bad children. They may not have even survived Wonka's factory!
Considering the age of the audience of Dahl's books, having these events within them seemed very brave. Yet it was the nastiness of these fates that made the books so brilliant: just because you were a child, you could still perish; you were not safe. This was horrifying and completely enthralling at the same time and made the books classics.
You can see why I asked some professionals now can't you. Thank you so much to Alan, Tamsyn, Andrew, Barry, M.G., Julie and Alex for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. Have a great Roald Dahl Day (I'm going to read The BFG tonight).