Roald Dahl was a spy, ace fighter pilot, chocolate historian and medical inventor. He was also the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The BFG and many more brilliant stories. He remains THE WORLD'S NUMBER ONE STORYTELLER.
Interview with Roald Dahl
What’s it like writing a book?
When you’re writing it’s rather like going on a very long walk, across valleys and mountains and things, and you get the first view of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further, maybe up on 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 same landscape. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book because it’s got to 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.
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 you get a good one. When i do get a good one, i quickly write it down so that I don’t forget 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 if i think it will go. Because once you start, you’re embarked on a year’s work and so it’s a big decision.
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, of 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, others [choose] other times and it suites me to start rather late, I start at 10 o’clock and i stop at 12. Always. 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.
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. And each book i do is a different level of that. The fine line between roaring with laughter and crying because it’s a disaster is a very, very fine line.
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 use the characters that have something interesting about them and this is even more true 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 really nasty or 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 an impact.
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