I’ve just finished reading Roald Dahl’s autobiography Boy which is written as a series of hilarious and often shocking snapshots of his childhood memories.
Having grown up loving all of his books (in particular Esio Trot which remains my all-time favourite children’s book), I was intrigued to find out where his ideas came from. Amongst the top pieces of advice for aspiring writers is that you should always carry a notebook with you, because you never know when you might get inspired by something. But Dahl didn’t begin writing until his forties and it turns out that a lot of his best ideas came from childhood.
In Boy, his description of the dirty and mean-spirited sweetshop owner Mrs. Pratchett made me immediately think of Mr. and Mrs. Twit, while his headmaster at Llandaff Cathedral School had a number of character traits that were shared by Mrs. Trunchbull in Matilda. I particularly loved the description of when Dahl and his friends are punished by the headmaster for putting a dead rat in one of Mrs. Pratchett’s sweet jars after she tells him:
“Nasty cheeky lot, these little ‘uns! They comes into my shop and they thinks they can do what they damn well likes! They put their grubby ‘ands all over everything and they’ve got no manners. I don’t mind girls. I never ‘ave no trouble with girls, but boys is ‘ideous and ‘orrible! I don’t have to tell you that, ‘Eadmaster, do I?”
Dahl’s third school , Repton, was based near the Cadbury’s factory and in Boy, he writes about the joy of receiving free sample packs of chocolate – these were sent to all the students in his school in return for their feedback on the flavours. They gave the chocolatiers insightful comments, such as:
“Too subtle for the common palate.”
No doubt this awesome experience lead to the idea for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Boy is filled with the idea-generating events from Dahl’s life and I would truly recommend it to all children’s writers. It may even remind you of some lost memories from your own childhood that could be transformed into cracking fiction.