Monday, 9 June 2014

My Little Hut

As part of our celebrations for the fiftieth birthday of Charlie and Chocolate Factory, Sandra Greaves takes a peek into Roald Dahl’s famous writing hut. 

The places where writers write are often intriguing. Roald Dahl’s writing hut is downright irresistible. With two tiny rooms, it was only just big enough for the 6ft 5’ giant of a man and a handful of furniture. Yet it was his workplace for 30 years.

Roald Dahl in his writing hut, circa 1990 © Jan Baldwin
Dahl had visited Dylan Thomas’s writing shed at Laugharne in the 1950s, and it inspired him to build his own in the orchard of Gipsy Cottage, his house at Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire. The little hut gave him a private space to work, and an escape from childcare when his Hollywood actress wife Pat was away. ‘There’s no doubt that babies are charming,’ he told his agent’s assistant, Sheila St Lawrence, ‘but they do bugger up the quiet and routine necessary for work.’

Dahl adored his hut and wrote in its back room for four hours every day – two in the morning before lunch (Norwegian prawns, half a lettuce and a Kit Kat) and two following his afternoon nap. ‘When I am in this little place, it’s lovely, and you can lose yourself in your work,’ he said. ‘It is my little nest, my womb.’ A former fighter pilot, he also compared it to the cockpit of a Hurricane – a place where his mind had the freedom to soar.

Once inside the hut, Dahl would sharpen his six pencils for the day, draw the curtains and sit in his wing-backed armchair – hollowed out to accommodate a spinal injury from his flying days – with a blanket over him and his feet in a sleeping bag when it was cold. An Anglepoise lamp shone a little light onto his writing board. Ensconced there, he would slip into the world of the imagination. ‘I go down to my little hut, where it’s tight and dark and warm,’ he told his biographer, Donald Sturrock, ‘and within minutes I can go back to being six or seven or eight again.’

The front room stored Dahl’s papers in two wooden cabinets, one of them with a grisly handle made out of a steel prosthesis from an unsuccessful hip operation.

The front room stored Dahl’s papers in two wooden cabinets, one of them with a grisly handle made out of a steel prosthesis from an unsuccessful hip operation. In the back room, Dahl kept his favourite pencils, his lined yellow US legal pads for writing, and a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ that included shavings of his spine floating in a glass vial, fragments of Babylonian pottery and a metal ball he had made out of the wrappers of hundreds of chocolate bars. Donald Sturrock describes everything as ‘yellow with nicotine and reeking of tobacco’, with ‘a carpet of pencil sharpenings and cigarette ash’ covering the linoleum floor.

Mostly Dahl was left to himself in his hut. He discouraged the children from visiting by telling them it was inhabited by wolves, though his granddaughter, Sophie Dahl, remembers occasionally being allowed to bring him a gin and tonic and stand outside on the step as he drank it. There were other visitors too – in the early days of the hut, Dahl described the cows ‘licking the windowpanes from time to time and eating the curtains if the windows were open’.

Amazingly, it’s all still there. After Dahl’s death in 1990, the hut was saved for new generations of fans and reconstructed in the nearby Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden. You can see it online or in its wood and polystyrene flesh - including cigarette butts in the ashtray and Dahl’s beloved ball of chocolate wrappers. How whizzpoppingly awesome is that?

© The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre
Celebrated SCBWI sheds
SCBWI South West organiser Lesley Moss is another fan of sheds – she’s worked in one for the last three years. ‘It’s like a beach hut!’ she says. ‘In the garden! Through the window I see trees and telegraph poles, coppery leaves, clouds. A twisty hazel twirls in front of the door - the sound of rain pattering on the roof makes me feel I’m in my own magic world: I’m outside in the garden, but inside my den too.’
So what does Lesley think about fellow shed writers?
‘Authors who work in sheds are lucky, whether yours be a shack, hut, or a palace of delights. And I think for children’s authors it’s especially appropriate, because the very act of entering your outdoor space instantly transports you back to the sheer fun of childhood den building, and how exciting that felt, and all the imaginary worlds and adventures that exist and start there. So you access your own childhood mind.’
Since moving to The Shed, Lesley has extracted her WIPs from the writhing clutter of the kitchen table, and they are so grateful to be rescued, they are practically writing themselves. She’s hoping they’ll edit and submit themselves too while they’re about it. Read her blog here.
Exterior of Lesley's Shed


@sandra_greaves
Sandra Greaves is one of the winners of SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2012. Her first novel, The Skull in the Wood, was nominated for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2014.

5 comments:


  1. Just reading about his shed is lovely. I'm sitting here in sight of my bottom of the garden shed and planning...
    Lovely post, Sandra. Thank you.

    And Lesley, you have a shed too!!

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  2. Loved this evocative article. Thank you.

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  3. Wonderful, Sandra. Den-building now another form of procrastination to put on the list.

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  4. Lesley, love your magical space, too.

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  5. I love sharing a page with Roald Dahl, so thank you Sandra for such an interesting feature! Dens are great and every writer should have one. If you don't have a shed or even a garden, construct your den in a corner of a room with the traditional clothes horse and drapes - but be warned, resident or visiting children will want to use it!

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