On Saturday we had a fizwhizzing trip to the Roald Dahl museum in Buckinghamshire. They’re got a new exhibit which recreates his writing hut. And here it is:
This is where Roald Dahl worked every day for decades with almost ritualised repetition and precision. From 10 am every day, after the school run, he would settle into his chair, feet in a sleeping bag. The original hut was in the garden of his house, but he kept the curtains closed so the beautiful view didn’t intrude.
After lunch Dahl had two Bloody Marys and a gambling break, then powered on for another afternoon’s writing. He had a bar of Dairy Milk chocolate every day, and formed the silver paper wrappers into an impressive silver ball. You can see it in the picture above, near the top right hand side of the table. Every object on that table has meaning. Each is an essential ingredient. It looks like a random collection of stuff, but really it’s anything but.
If Roald Dahl was writing today, I wonder what would be different? Would he still be writing in pencil on giant yellow legal pads, or would he have graduated to a keyboard? I don’t think this hut would be the same with wifi. I can’t see Dahl losing half the day arguing with that guy about that thing on Twitter.
I took away two lessons from Roald Dahl’s writing hut – the first is to get to know your writing rhythm and work with it, not against it. For some people that will mean settling down in your favourite chair with a blanket round your legs. For others it might mean early mornings or late nights. There’s no right or wrong way. There’s just your way. The main thing is to write, and keep writing, for years and years. It’s another kind of marathon.
The other lesson I picked up was a sense of a life lived – Dahl had the most amazing life, with all kinds of crazy dramatic shit happening throughout. Death, sweets and hanging out with Ernest Hemingway was just the start of it. I guess imagination doesn’t prosper in a still pond.