September 12, 2009

Roald Dahl's Writing Hut

If you've been reading my other blog, "God is in the Compost Pile," you know that my favorite writing place is in my car at the lake. Where do other writers write? I wondered. I asked my Twitter friends to tell me about their favorite writing haunts. Here's what some of them had to say.

"I always work in a coffee shop -- same one, preferably same table."

"On my porch."

"I love to write in the evening and I usually write while sitting up in bed with a lot of pillows tucked all around me nice and comfy."

"At the museum near the dioramas."

" …notebooks always w/me. I usually write in (the) am and I get a lot done in the shower."

Wherever writers choose to write, their places inspire, motivate and encourage them.

Agatha Christie said the best time to plan a book is when you're doing the dishes. Virginia Woolf preferred to write in a quiet place by herself. She said, “In solitude we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to the details around us.” Roald Dahl might have agreed. His favorite writing place was a shed in his garden.

Since September is Roald Dahl Month, I thought it would be fun to explore Roald Dahl's writing hut. It was his place to be alone to work on his books, and no one else was allowed inside. In fact, Dahl told children that wolves lived there so they wouldn't come and distract him.

Imagine having a little place like this tucked away in your garden. This is the hut, a shed really, where Dahl wrote his most popular books.

From the outside, it looks inviting with its rambling roses and bright yellow door.

But if you looked inside, you might be surprised. Today, it is exactly as Roald Dahl left it, and… well…let's just say that he wasn't the best housekeeper.

Here's a description of the hut's interior as written by Christopher Simon Sykes in Harper's and Queens magazine:

“A dirty plastic curtain covered the window. In the centre stood a faded wing-back armchair, inherited from his mother, and it was here that Dahl sat, his feet propped up on a chest, his legs covered by a tartan rug, supporting on his knees a thick roll of corrugated paper upon which was propped his writing board. Photographs, drawings and other mementoes were pinned to the walls, while a table on his right was covered with a collection of favourite curiosities such as one of his own arthritic hip bones, and a remarkably heavy ball made from the discarded silver paper of numerous chocolate bars consumed during his youth.”

I've also read that on that side table next to Dahl's hip bone, he kept a jar containing bits of his spine removed during an operation on his lower back. And according to those who have seen that ball of chocolate bar wrappers, it closely resembles a cannon ball. I can't help but wonder if it was Dahl's inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The hut was cold in winter, so Dahl tacked Styrofoam to the walls to try to keep the heat in. Over time, the foam yellowed from his cigarette smoke. He jury-rigged a heating system in the hut, and wires hung from the ceiling (a fire inspector's nightmare). If it got really cold inside, Dahl would climb into a sleeping bag to keep his legs warm while he wrote.

And then there's the story about the goat. Apparently, a goat wandered into the hut one day, and Dahl had to sweep out globs of goat droppings before he could get on with his writing….Like I said, he wasn't much of a housekeeper. But don't take my word for it. Thanks to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, you can take an interactive tour of Dahl's hut online. Make a note, though, it's best viewed using Internet Explorer. I had trouble trying to navigate it using Safari and Firefox.

If you visited the garden that leads to Dahl's hut you would see a slate paving stone with this inscription: "...Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." Dahl's magic happened in a little hut tucked away in Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, England. It was there that he wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and The BFG.

Where does the magic happen for you?

(Note: Read more about Roald Dahl in this interesting interview with his wife, published this week 9-12-09 in The Times Online, London.)

Photographs courtesy of The Roald Dahl Museum.