The Marvellous Mr Dahl

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a member of the Golden Egg Academy, a fantastic editorial service and support group for writers. Last weekend, we had another social, where we visited a place where every writer can feel at home – The Roald Dahl Museum.

I’d been to the museum before, but a long time ago. Seeing it as an adult, and as a writer who’s doing her best to be professional (and sometimes even succeeding!), was a very different experience.

First stop was a replica of Dahl’s writing shed, complete with a copy of The Chair so convincing that, apparently, his family hadn’t been able to tell which one was the real one when they’d seen them side by side. 2015-10-03 15.47.42

(Forgive the blurry photo. I drink too much coffee and am a rubbish photographer)

The member of staff (let’s pretend that I’m not mentioning her name and have blurred her face to protect her identity, rather than admitting that I have shaky hands and a terrible memory) gave us a really interesting and informative talk about Roald Dahl. For this talk, we sat on the floor on cushions, much to the bemusement of all the small children in the museum, who seemed to think that this was rather undignified behaviour for a group of adults.

We heard about a few things I’d already learned from reading Roald Dahl’s autobiographies (the Wade-Dahl-Till Valve, the hip bone, and the ball of chocolate wrappers), and many things I hadn’t: the fact that Dahl always ate prawns and lettuce for lunch; that in addition to his hip bone, he also kept a jar of his own spinal shavings; and that the original idea for Matilda was actually kind of terrible.

Matilda was probably my favourite Roald Dahl book when I was a kid (I was a bookworm who loved learning, it’s hardly a surprise). Apparently, in the original version, nearly everyone’s character was swapped. Matilda’s parents were lovely. Miss Trunchbull – Miss Actual Trunchbull – was lovely. Miss Honey was lovely, as she remained in the final version, but she was also a gambling addict, which I can’t see happening in many books aimed at young children nowadays. And Matilda herself was completely horrible, and eventually got trampled to death by a racehorse, or met some equivalently grisly end.

Hearing this was, weirdly, really heartening. I’ve been feeling quite down about my writing recently, wondering if the stories I work on are ever going to turn into anything worth reading. Finding out that even Roald Dahl wrote terrible early drafts – drafts that got scathing reviews from a nephew acting as beta reader – was a huge relief. I’m not saying that I think Sigyn is going to be up there with James and the Giant Peach* any time soon, but at least there’s a good chance it’s going to be better than it is now.

The rest of the museum was just as fantastic. We saw the original writing shed, with The Real Chair:

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There was a chart on one of the walls, where you could see which of Dahl’s characters matches your height (Buzzfeed, eat your heart out):

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I’m the same height as the Vicar of Nibbleswick, which makes me extremely yppah.

We also had a look around Great Missenden itself, seeing the petrol pumps from Danny the Champion of the World:

2015-10-03 15.20.40

And finishing up at Roald Dahl’s grave, where our tour guide Anthony Burt read us an extract from The Great Mouse Plot.

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I had a great day with some great people, and I’m determined to go back to the museum again soon – mostly to eat the Bogtrotter Cake from Cafe Twit.


*Or, as it was originally called, James and the Giant Apple.


About Alice Nuttall

Alice Nuttall is a caffeine-guzzling knitter who divides her time between Oxford and the various worlds in her head. She is the author of a YA fantasy novel, Spider Circus, and three webcomics, Footloose, Cherry, and Black Market Magic, as well as several short stories.
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