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Biography of Roald Dahl-Novelist, Short Story Writer and Poet

Updated on December 3, 2018
Vellur profile image

Nithya Venkat enjoys writing about people who have made a difference in this world and carved out a special place with their eminent work.

Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl | Source

Roald Dahl was a novelist, short story writer, poet, screenwriter, and a fighter pilot. He was a talented, versatile writer who wrote books for adults and children.

He was well-known as the author of books such as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "James and the Giant Peach", and "The Witches and Matilda".

Roald Dahl was born to Harald and Sofie Magdalene Hesselberg on 13, September 1916 in Llandaff, Cardiff, South Wales.

Roald Dahl was born in a big house named "Villa Marie". He had four sisters Astri, Alfhild, Else, and Asta. He also had a half-sister, Ellen Marguerite and a half-brother Louis from his father's first marriage.

At age three his father Harald died of Pneumonia and his eldest sister Olivia died of measles encephalitis. Roald Dahl's mother Sofie was a woman of great strength. She was a pillar of support and was always there for Roald Dahl. As a young boy,

Roald Dahl loved to read storybooks. His mother told Roald Dahl tales of mythical Norwegian creatures. He enjoyed reading adventure stories as a young lad. Captain Marryat was his favorite. He also read Dickens, Thackeray and Ambrose Bierce.

When he was four, Roald Dahl started his kindergarten in Elmtree House Nursery School in Llandaff. When he was seven he attended Llandaff Cathedral School, a Preparatory school for boys. In 1925 his mother transferred Roald Dahl to St. Peter's Preparatory school.

In January 1930, Roald Dahl started going to Repton Public school in the village of Repton, Derbyshire. He graduated from Repton in July 1934 when he was 17 years of age.

After he graduated from Repton, he went on an expedition trip to Newfoundland. In 1934 he joined the Shell Oil Company in London as a clerk. In London, he lived with his mother and sisters in Bexley, Kent.

In 1938 Roald Dahl took up a three-year contract in the Shell branch office in Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. The Second World War began in the 1st September 1939. In the same year, Roald Dahl joined the Royal Air Force training squadron in Nairobi, Kenya where he learned how to fly fighter planes.

In 1940 Roald Dahl’s Gladiator aircraft crashed in the Libyan desert. His skull was fractured, and he suffered temporary blindness. He was transferred to a military hospital in Alexandria, Egypt. It took several months for Roald Dahl to fully recover.

In 1945 he moved back to England to be with his mother Sofie. In 1951 he met Patricia Neal destined to become his future wife.

Roald Dahl and his sisters
Roald Dahl and his sisters | Source

Roald Dahl had a secret diary from the age of eight. To make sure none of his sisters read his secret diary, he put it in a waterproof tin box and tied it to the topmost branch of a huge conker tree in his garden. Every day he used to climb the tree, take the diary out of the tin box and write in it.

First Publishing's of Roald Dahl

In 1941 Roald Dahl re-joined his squadron that was stationed in Greece. In 1942 he joined the British Embassy in Washington as an assistant air attaché. He worked with British Novelist C.S Forester who encouraged Roald Dahl to write about his experiences as a fighter pilot and submit it for publishing.

Roald Dahl’s writings were first published in The Saturday Evening Post under the title “Shot Down Over Libya”. This article was published anonymously due to security reasons.

Roald Dahl’s first book “The Gremlins” was published by the US Random House in 1943. He ordered 50 copies of his book to promote himself as an author. The First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lord Halifax, the British Ambassador to the US received the first copies of his book.

In 1944 Roald Dahl hired Ann Watkins as his agent to publish his stories in American magazines.

Roald Dahl did not start writing for children until he had children of his own. He always used a pencil and yellow paper to write. He wrote his stories in a small hut at the bottom of his garden. This hut came to be known as the Writing Hut of Roald Dahl.

The Gremlins did not meet with much success and Roald Dahl started writing macabre and mystery stories for adult readers. This lead to two best selling story collection "Someone Like You" in 1953 and "Kiss Kiss" in 1959.

Roald Dahl and Patricia Neil
Roald Dahl and Patricia Neil | Source

Married Life of Roald Dahl

On 2 July 1953, Roald Dahl married Patricia Neal, a film actress. They had five children. Roald Dahl told his children bedtime stories and these stories were the basis of some of the stories that he, later on, wrote for children.

On 05 December 1960, Roald Dahl's son Theo was hit by a taxi cab in New York when he was in a pram. The accident left Theo with a brain damage.

In 1965 Patricia Neal suffered three burst cerebral aneurysms. She was pregnant with Lucy their youngest child when she suffered the aneurysms. The cerebral aneurysms lead to a paralytic attack and Patricia Neal was unable to speak. Roald Dahl looked after her and she was able to talk and walk again. She was also able to get back to acting after her full recovery.

Roald Dahl's marriage to Patricia Neal did not last. Their marriage ended in 1983 when he divorced Patricia Neal. After many years he married Felicity Crossland.

Writing Hut of Roald Dahl
Writing Hut of Roald Dahl | Source

The Writing Hut

Roald Dahl’s Writing Hut was built by Wally Sanders who was a local builder and his friend in the mid-1950s. He would go down to the Hut in the morning with a thermos coffee. He used a custom-made writing board covered in green baize.

His writing process was influenced by superstitions. He felt that uneven numbers were always unlucky and worked with precisely six pencils.

The walls of the Writing Hut were covered with photos of his family, postcards, and letters including a Christmas card from a postman in America named Willy Wonka.

Roald Dahl kept a collection of items on a low table in his Hut. These items were his own hip-bone, a metal ball made from silver chocolate wrappers, a model Hurricane plane and a huge Opal sent to him from a child in Australia.

He did not like being disturbed while writing, so he told his children that there were wolves in the Writing Hut so they would not go in. The telephone in his Hut was only used during emergencies.

The interior of the Writing Hut and its contents were moved in 2011 to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Center in Great Missenden and was put together exactly as Roald Dahl left it.

Roald Dahl's Popular Books

During his lifetime, Roald Dahl published nineteen books for children, nine short story collections and many TV and movie scripts.

Roald Dahl published "James and the Giant Peach" in 1961. This book became a big success and resulted in Roald Dahl being recognized as an established children's author.

After three years in 1964, he published another very popular children's book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory".

More of Roald Dahl's popular books for children

  • Fantastic Fox (1970)
  • BFG (1982)
  • The Witches (1983)
  • Matilda (1988)

The books "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory", "The BFG", "The Witches", "Matilda", and "Fantastic Mr.Fox" became film productions. Roald Dahl also wrote many comic poems that appear in his children’s books.

Roald Dahl died on November 23, 1990, at the age of seventy-four due to an unspecified infection.

Roald Dahl was buried in the churchyard of St. Peter and St. Paul's Church in Great Missenden. He requested to be buried with his favorite things - snooker cues, a bottle of burgundy, chocolate, HB pencils, and a power saw.

Fans of Roald Dahl can visit the Roald Dahl Story and Museum Center in Great Missenden.

© 2018 Nithya Venkat

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    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      32 hours ago from England

      We all loved Roald Dahl, specially my son who had all the books when he was small. Roald lived 10 miles away from me, still not gone to see his museum etc.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      3 days ago from Dubai

      Thank you Ann.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      7 days ago from SW England

      Thanks for this educative article, Nithya. I'm a huge fan of Roald Dahl and so are my children and grandchildren. He was a wonderful man and so imaginative!

      Ann

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      9 days ago from Dubai

      I wish I had a writing hut too, maybe someday we will al have one. Thank you John.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      9 days ago from Dubai

      Patricia Scott he was a master storyteller, thank you for the angels and sending them to you too.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      9 days ago from Dubai

      Am so happy you came to know more about Roald Dahl, thank you for for your visit.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      9 days ago from Dubai

      Oh yes he had a great run, thank you for your visit

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      10 days ago from Queensland Australia

      Roald Dahl was an inspirational writer and man. I still have a couple of his books on my shelves to read to grandchildren.

      I wish I had a writers hut like him, maybe I can convert the garage, but then my wife wants that turned into a craft room :)

      Good work Nithya, thank you for sharing about his life.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      10 days ago from sunny Florida

      Simply adore his work....read book after book of his to my classes when I was still teaching. He knew how to tell an amazing story. Angels on the way to you ps

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      10 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for sharing this information about Roald Dahl's life. I knew a little about him because I went to school in Llandaff, where I heard about him, but you've taught me much more. I've enjoyed reading his books and want to read more of them.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      10 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Quite the career that man had. Thank you for sharing his story with us.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      10 days ago from Dubai

      Chitrangada thank you for your wonderful comments. The Writing Hut was Roald Dahl’s favorite place to write.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      10 days ago from New Delhi, India

      A very interesting article about Roald Dahl’s personal life and his wonderful work. I have read some of his books. But thanks for sharing more about him.

      How interesting that he had a Writing Hut!

      Thanks for sharing this wonderful and informative article!

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      10 days ago from Dubai

      I agree some of his sketches and even portrayal of characters can be a bit scary.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      10 days ago from Dubai

      Patricia Neal must have found something special in Roald Dahl.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      10 days ago from Dubai

      Oh yes the Writing Hiuse a place where Roald Dahl weaved magic with his words.

    • poppyr profile image

      Poppy 

      11 days ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Successful writers have such interesting lives. I loved Roald Dalh books when I was a child, though I always thought the artist's drawing style was a bit creepy. The BFG, George's Marvellous Medicine, and Danny Champion of the World were my favourites. My dad read Danny to me when I was a kid so I'll always have a soft spot for it.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      11 days ago from The Beautiful South

      So interesting and I will think of him now as Patricia Neal's husband who I am very fond of. Such a wonderful unique, actress. Perhaps now I have a better idea of how she became who she was. I can see they would be very compatible.

      Amazing to me that someone that old wrote these wonderful stories! So young and full of life, I would have never in a millions years guessed Patricia Neal's husband!

      Makes me want to see both their movies all in one thought!

      Thank you for this informative article!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      11 days ago from Ontario, Canada

      What an interesting life. I love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory so knowing more about the man who wrote it made the novel more interesting. I like the idea of a writing hut.

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