Once upon a time, exactly a 100 years ago, a genius of a writer was born, who was to change lives of several children through his stories. If he were alive, celebrated writer Roald Dahl would be 100 years old today, a day that’s celebrated as the Roald Dahl Day across the globe, with much fanfare. As the world celebrates the Roald Dahl Day today, we get talking to his wife Felicity Dahl.
Felicity, how does it feel for you to be in the Roald Dahl 100 year – with global celebrations to mark Roald’s enduring powers as a storyteller?
I’m just overwhelmed at the amazing tributes he is being paid by his readers and the literary world but so saddened that he is not here to witness it . I am so proud of him and the recognition he is being given.
What qualities in Roald’s works do you think are key to the way he connects so strongly with generation after generation of young readers?
Humour definitely. Also his subversiveness and, through his close observations of people, he was a master of character depiction. He told the reader things about the characters that were sometimes obscure or private as if he was sharing a secret - thus creating an unusually strong between writer and reader.
What was it like living with him day-to-day when he was working on a book?
He was extremely disciplined. A blank page on his writing board haunted him, especially after finishing a book. His hours were regular and he always took Hemingway’s advice – “stop when the going is good. This would always make it easier to return to it the next morning.” Living with him was more fun than anyone could ever imagine.
Food, especially chocolate, features prominently in Roald’s stories for young people. What were his favourite foods to eat in real life?
Prawns, new potatoes - dug freshly from the garden and served hot with butter and parsley, shellfish, a dover sole, Chlodnik (a cold Polish beetroot and lobster soup made by an ancient Polish chef in the kitchen of the most beautiful gambling club in the world), grouse and of course every meal had to end with a piece of chocolate. Chocolate truffles from Prestat, Kit Kats and Smarties.
Mischief is another key characteristic of Roald’s work. Can you share with us how a mischievous streak evidenced itself within his life?
He was a good sportsman. While at Repton School, he was a member of the hockey team. One day he took the rubber sleeve off his stick, bound it with copper wire, replaced the rubber sleeve, struck a ball, and it went for miles. Unfortunately, he was caught out by the sports master who picked up his stick and of course was amazed at its weight, whereupon he was accused of cheating. I think instead he should have been awarded for his powers of invention here!
Do you have a favourite amongst his stories?
James and the Giant Peach because it is a story of huge imagination, immense courage and shows us how important in life our choice of friends is. And it’s also surely a perfect way to travel!
Roald created so many memorable characters. Which is your favourite?
Difficult question! The Vicar of Nibbleswick is particularly close to my heart as is Esio Trot, the four-legged matchmaker. I would also have to include Mr and Mrs Twit and the horrible Trunchbull. Last but not the least, The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me gang for achieving a great sweet shop – something I so wanted to have when I was a child.
•British novelist-poet Roald Dahl was a screenwriter, and fighter pilot.
•He was reportedly a British spy in America, who is known to have slept around with many women to extract information and further the cause.
•Felicity Dahl, in an interview called him the “sexiest seducer in Washington”.
•He married Oscar winner American actor Patricia Neal on 2 July 1953.
•In 1983, he married Felicity Dahl, with whom he has had a long-standing affair that reportedly led to divorce with the first wife.
•His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide.
•Oxford has come out with an Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary that has words that Roald Dahl had created.