Roald Dahl Gives a Tour of the Small Backyard Hut Where He Wrote All of His Beloved Children’s Books

Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­to­ryThe BFGThe Witch­esMatil­da: Roald Dahl wrote these and all his oth­er beloved chil­dren’s books in a hut. Just fif­teen feet long and ten feet wide, it served him for 35 years as an office in which no meet­ings were held and no calls tak­en. For four hours a day, bro­ken into two-hour morn­ing and after­noon ses­sions, it was just Dahl in there — Dahl and his paper, his pen­cils, his sharp­en­er, his cof­fee, his cig­a­rettes, his increas­ing­ly eccen­tric col­lec­tion of arti­facts from his own life, and here and there the occa­sion­al spi­der web and goat drop­ping. It was all part of an effort, explains Dahl’s biog­ra­ph­er Jere­my Tre­glown, “not only to recre­ate his own ear­ly child­hood but to improve on it.”

“As a boy in the 1920s,” Tre­glown writes, “Roald used to hide up in a tree in order to write his diary.” But the hut, con­struct­ed right behind his Buck­ing­hamshire home, “was a more sub­stan­tial place to work, where he could com­mem­o­rate, and fan­ta­size about, his past.”

On his side were items like “his father’s sil­ver and tor­toise­shell paper knife,” a “tablet frag­ment with a cuneiform inscrip­tion found in Baby­lon” — a sou­venir from his time in the King’s African Rifles — and, “saved from oper­a­tions,” pieces of his own femur and spine. In his hut, Dahl wrote “sur­round­ed by these fetish­es, snug­ly wrapped in a sleep­ing bag, sit­ting in an old arm­chair, his feet on a trunk which was filled with blocks and tied to a leg of the chair, to pre­vent it from slip­ping.”

“I could­n’t pos­si­bly work in the house, espe­cial­ly when there used to be a lot of chil­dren around,” says Dahl in the 1982 clip at the top of the post as he approach­es his hut. “Even when there aren’t chil­dren, there are vac­u­um clean­ers and peo­ple bustling about.” He then goes in to demon­strate his writ­ing rou­tine, which involves the pour­ing of cof­fee, sharp­en­ing of pre­cise­ly six pen­cils “to a fierce point” (a step that had its own pro­cras­ti­na­tion val­ue), the brush­ing away of the pre­vi­ous day’s eras­er dust (onto the floor, where it has remained ever since), and the sit­u­a­tion with the arm­chair and sleep­ing bag. “Final­ly you get set­tled, you get into a sort of nest, you get real­ly com­fort­able,” Dahl says. “And then you’re away.”

The footage also includes views of Dahl’s much more tra­di­tion­al­ly well-appoint­ed main house, includ­ing its bil­liards table around which he and his local friends would gath­er for a twice-week­ly ses­sion. The game had its influ­ence on Dahl’s writ­ing life, and indeed his writ­ing hut. Among his “snook­er pals” was builder Wal­ly Saun­ders, whom Dahl hired to put it up in the first place (and whose for­mi­da­ble stature and ear size would, near­ly thir­ty lat­er, inspire the title char­ac­ter of The BFG). As he explains on the British Chil­dren’s pro­gram Going Live, he even cov­ered his hand­made wood­en writ­ing sur­faces, which he placed across the arm­rests of his chair, with green baize, a mate­r­i­al he found easy on the eyes.

When Dahl died in 1990, his writ­ing hut went untouched for two decades. But even­tu­al­ly, as explained in this ITV News clip, the sim­ple build­ing could­n’t with­stand fur­ther expo­sure to the ele­ments. So began the project to move the inte­ri­or of the hut, eras­er dust and all, to the Roald Dahl Muse­um and Sto­ry Cen­tre in Buck­ing­hamshire. Luck­i­ly for Wes Ander­son, this hap­pened after he came to Dahl’s home to seek per­mis­sion to adapt The Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox from the writer’s wid­ow Felic­i­ty. So com­pelling did she find Ander­son­’s vision that she even allowed him into the “hal­lowed writ­ing hut,” the ide­al space in which to com­mune with Dahl’s spir­it. The hut may now no longer be whole, but that same spir­it con­tin­ues to course through the imag­i­na­tions of gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion of young read­ers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read a Nev­er Pub­lished, “Sub­ver­sive” Chap­ter from Roald Dahl’s Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­to­ry

When Roald Dahl Host­ed His Own Creepy TV Show Way Out, a Com­pan­ion to Rod Serling’s Twi­light Zone (1961)

The Recipes of Icon­ic Authors: Jane Austen, Sylvia Plath, Roald Dahl, the Mar­quis de Sade & More

Roald Dahl, Who Lost His Daugh­ter to Measles, Writes a Heart­break­ing Let­ter about Vac­ci­na­tions: “It Is Almost a Crime to Allow Your Child to Go Unim­mu­nised”

The Dai­ly Habits of Famous Writ­ers: Franz Kaf­ka, Haru­ki Muraka­mi, Stephen King & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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