aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

Roald Dahl made me a writer

I've changed my userpic in honor of Roald Dahl. It would have been his 90th birthday this past Wednesday. He died in 1990, but his books have sold more than 100 million copies.

Thinking of that, it's pretty amazing that I got the postcard I'm using as my userpic. It's dated 24th August '72, and says, "Dear April, I loved your story about Herman the frog. I ead it aloud to my daughter, Ophelia, who also loved it. I read it to my secretary, Hazel, who giggled. Lots of love, Roald Dahl." What's even more amazing is that Dahl took the short story I sent him when I was 12 - carefully printed on wide-ruled paper- to lunch with the editor of a children's magazine. She contacted me later and asked if she could publish it. It was about a six-foot-tall frog who loved peanut butter.

Dahl initially made his name as a writer of adult fiction, but "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and "James and the Giant Peach," have overshadowed his more chilling adult work.

On his birthday, kind of like the Hogwarts Express, a special train took visitors from London to Great Missenden, the rural retreat in southern England where Dahl wrote in a hut at the bottom of the garden.

The Dahl Museum, which attracted 70,000 visitors its first year, is staging walking tours around the village to locations used in his books.

In real life, he was perhaps not so nice. His biographer described him as a man of many contradictions: a Tory who loved to subvert authority, a misanthrope who found optimism in adversity, a shameless self-promoter who enjoyed giving money to worthy causes. "He was famously a war hero, a connoisseur, a philanthropist, a devoted family man who had to confront an appalling succession of tragedies," his biographer wrote. "He was also, as will be seen, a fantasist, an anti-Semite, a bully and a self-publicizing troublemaker."

Some of his adult short stories sound like they could have come from Stephen King: In "Lamb to the Slaughter," a pregnant woman kills her unfaithful husband by hitting him over the head with a frozen leg of lamb, which she later cooks and serves to the police. In "Skin," a starving man is forced to sell a picture of his wife that has been tatooed onto his back by a famous artist.

Ophelia Dahl, who was described as loving my short story in 1972, is currently the executive director of Partners In Health, a Boston, Massachusetts based non-profit health care organization dedicated to providing a "preferential option for the poor." I don't know what happened to Hazel, who probably typed my and what I would guess would have been hundreds of postcards. And I don't have a copy of the magazine any more. I think it was called Puffin. I subscribed to it for a year. It cost a lot since it came from England. Since they didn't pay me for my story, they probably got the better deal. But Roald Dahl helped make me a writer through that postcard and that act.

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