In the back of my copy of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More is an interview conducted in 1988 by a family friend. Not too many people were allowed to come into his inner sanctum, especially not people from the media. Dahl himself said, “I have worked all my life in a small hut up in our orchard. It is a quiet private place, and no one has been permitted to pry in there.”
The interview still fascinates me, so I thought from time to time I’d post a question/answer. It’s a nice way to see the thought process behind one of the most beloved children’s writers ever (my first post is HERE).
Question from family friend Todd McCormack: How do you keep the momentum going when you are writing a novel?
Answer from Roald Dahl: One of the vital things for a writer who's writing a book, which is a lengthy project, is how to keep the momentum going. It is the same with a young person writing an essay. They have got to write four or five or six pages. But when you're writing for a long time, you go away and have to come back. I never come back to a blank page. I always finish about halfway through. To be confronted with a blank page is not very nice.
But Hemingway, the great American writer, taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words, "When you are going good, stop writing." And that means that if everything's going well and you know exactly where the end of the chapter's going to go and you know just what the people are going to do, you don't go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next? And you get up and you walk away and you don't want to come back because you don't know where you want to go.
But if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said...then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can't wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that's lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, every day all the way throught the year. If you stop when you are stuck, then you are in trouble!
Question from family friend Todd McCormack: What is the secret to keeping your readers entertained?
Answer from Roald Dahl: My lucky thing is I laugh at exactly the same jokes that children laugh at and that's one reason I'm able to do it. I don't sit out here roaring with laughter, but you have wonderful inside jokes all the time and it's got to be exciting, it's got to be fast, it's got to have a good plot, but it's got to be funny. It's got to be funny.
And each book I do is a different level of that. Oh, The Witches is quite different from The BFG or James (and the Giant Peach) or Danny (the Champion of the World). The line between roaring with laughter and crying because it's a disaster is a very, very fine one. You see a chap slip on a banana skin in the street and you roar with laughter when he falls slap on his backside. If in doing so you suddenly see he's broken a leg, you very quickly stop laughing and it's not a joke anymore. I don't know, there's a fine line and you just have to try to find it.
Have a great week! On Friday I'll be posting agent gems/advice from Twitter.
**PS-for those of you who read my Crusader Challenge post, the pineapple/reading Velveteen Rabbit to the dying bunny was the most popular choice for my lie, but it's true! The only lie was that I've never done fencing :)