Monday, 19 November 2012

Little Bastards

It's been well documented that not everyone was a fan of Mr Dahl. Here is an excerpt from Kingsley Amis' excellent book 'Memoirs':

 "I have only once met the renowned children's author. It was at a party in the 1970's given by Tom Stoppard at his house in Iver, Bucks.

Dahl was invited and duly arrived, late, after everyone else was there, and by helicopter. I could not imagine why this form of transport had been thought necessary on a perfectly normal fine day, a Sunday as I remember, nor was any explanation proffered. At some stage, not by my choice, I found myself closeted alone with him.

First declaring himself a great fan of mine, he asked, 'What are you working on at the moment, Kingsley?' I started to make some reply, but he cut me short. 'That sounds marvellous,' he said, 'but do you expect to make a lot of money out of it however well you do it?' 'I don't know about a lot,' I said. 'Enough, I hope. The sort of money I usually make.'
'So you've no financial problems.' 'I wouldn't say that either exactly, but I seem to be able to - '

Dahl was shaking his head slowly. 'I hate to think of a chap of your distinction having to worry about money at your time of life. Tell me, how old are you know?' I told him and it was much what he or anybody else would have expected. 'Yes. You might be able to write better, I mean even better, if you were financially secure.'

 I was hating to think of a number of things, but one that eluded me was how to turn the conversation. I must have mumbled something about only knowing how to write in the way I always had. Never mind - what has he got on the - 

He was shaking his head again. 'What you want to do,' he said, 'is write a children's book. that's where the money is today, believe me.' ('Today', as I said, was quite some time back.)

'I wouldn't know how to set about it.'

'Do you know what the advance was on my last one?' When he found I did not, in fact I had no idea, he told me. It certainly sounded like a large sum.

'I couldn't do it,' I told him again. 'I don't think I enjoyed children's books much when I was a child myself. I've got no feeling for that kind of thing.'

'Never mind, the little bastards'd swallow it.'

Many times in these pages I have put in people's mouths approximations to what they said, what they might have said, what they said at another time, and a few almost-outright inventions, but that last remark was verbatim.

'Well I suppose you'd know,' I replied, 'but I can't help feeling they'd see through me. Children are supposed to be good at detecting insincerity and such, aren't they? Again, you're the man who understands all about that.'

When he seemed to have no more to say for the moment I went on with more on previous lines, boring him a good deal, it seemed, but that was perfectly alright with me. At length he roused himself.

'Well it's up to you. Either you will or you won't. Write a children's book, I mean. But if you do decide to have a crack, let me give you one word of warning. Unless you put everything you've got into it, unless you write it from the heart, the kids'll have no use for it. They'll see you're having them on. And just let me tell you from experience that there's nothing kids hate more than that. They won't give you a second chance either. You'll have had it for good as far as they're concerned. Just you bear that in mind as a word of friendly advice. Now, if you'll excuse me, I rather think I'll go in search of another drink.'

And, with a stiff nod and an air of having asserted his integrity by rejecting some particularly outrageous and repulsive suggestion, the man who put everything into the books he wrote for the kids left me to my thoughts. I felt rather as if I had been looking at one of those pictures by Escher in which the eye is led up a flight of stairs only to find itself at the same level it started at.

I watched the television news that night, but there was no report of a famous children's author being killed in a helicopter crash".

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