Books about writers: Roald Dahl

Everyone who knows me knows that I am a massive Roald Dahl fan. I grew up on Dahl, and I reread most of his kid’s books once a year. As a writer, he is probably my biggest inspiration and influence. But my image of Roald Dahl is perhaps similar to everyone else my age: a cantankerous old man with a twinkle in his eye. That image of Roald Dahl is only a very small part of his life as a whole, and I, as a writer (and as a very nosy person) wanted to find out more about the man that shaped my childhood reading habits and almost single-handedly created my love of books and reading.

Biography of a hero

I’ve never read a book about an author before. I’m not sure why – maybe it’s because the author is sometimes almost mysterious in comparison to the books they wrote. But Roald Dahl has always intrigued me – perhaps because he passed away long before the advent of Twitter and Facebook, and so he feels much less interactive than other authors.

So I picked up a biography of Dahl, Storyteller: An Authorised Biography by Donald Sturrock. Immediately, I was glued to the book – it was interesting and well written. I wanted to know what made Roald Dahl tick, what experiences shaped his writing and his world view.

Almost immediately, my childhood Roald Dahl disappeared. He was a womaniser, a chancer. He was a fighter pilot with the RAF during World War Two, a spy for the British Intelligence Service. The autobiographer didn’t sugarcoat Dahl’s failures or mistakes. At first, this was kind of heartbreaking. Some of the stuff Roald did made me cringe. Maybe reading about your hero is a bit like meeting them – you should never do it.


All too human

But then I realised that Roald Dahl’s amazing, eccentric life is what led to him creating amazingly bonkers stories. Roald Dahl was unapologetically human. He made mistakes, he was sometimes cranky and rude and he took chances, however small the payoff.

As I finished the autobiography, I realised that I had really enjoyed getting to know that Roald Dahl wasn’t the Roald Dahl I’d imagined as a kid. Books about writers, and their struggles to write, get published and become authors are so inspiring for somebody who has that same dream. Roald Dahl’s journey into literary superstardom was interesting and awe-inspiring, and it made me appreciate his work on a whole other level.

When I next read Matilda, or The BFG, I think I will have a deeper appreciation for the brilliance that Dahl injected into his storytelling. The stories he created are themselves extraordinary, but it is the journey that Roald Dahl went on, from schoolboy to elderly gentleman, that is truly extraordinary.

Are you a fan of Roald Dahl? Have you read his biography? Let us know in the comments below!