Take a peek into the January chapter of My Year - Roald Dahl's last book.
Roald Dahl didn’t much like January – with characteristic frankness, in the first chapter of his book about the changing months and seasons he makes it clear that he hated this month, with the excitement of Christmas over and nothing to look forward to except going back to school or work and being damp and cold. In fact, he tells us, the best place to be is in the bath!
While other chapters of My Year focus on the outside natural world, Roald uses the bleakness of January to look inward to his own writing space, to tell us about the objects on the table in his Writing Hut. He does this in a beautifully roundabout way, taking us from the streets of 1930s London and his lunchtime habit of forming a foil ball out of chocolate wrappers, to the deserts of Iraq, where he describes picking up shards of stone covered with ancient writing.
Above: Roald Dahl in his Writing Hut, © Jan Baldwin.
We are told about the origins of the hip bone on his table and learn about the prized intestinal secretions of the blue whale, as well as about items from his own garden here in Great Missenden.
Reading Roald’s descriptions of these objects, we get the sense of both a life well lived and a fascination with the world around him. It’s striking that most of these objects are not necessarily connected to his experience as a writer but were collected along the way in other parts of his life: such as the fragment of an antique vase that he picked up in a field while he was stationed in Greece as an RAF pilot.
As well as these were the small, curious items that were given to him by both friends and strangers, including a model grasshopper given to him by a fan of James and the Giant Peach or the opal-veined rock that was sent from a boy in a remote school in Australia.
Above: items from Roald Dahl's Writing Hut.
There are also links to his family, including a letter-opener that belonged to his father, as well as mementoes and photos of his wife and children.
It’s a reminder that, as Roald wrote in Going Solo, “a life is made up of a great number of small incidents and a small number of great ones”, and the items that Roald surrounded himself with as he wrote were reminders of these great and small incidents.
You can come and see these items on the table of the Writing Hut at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, and in the meantime, as January starts, remember to look out for snowdrops.
There is just one small bright spark shining through the gloom in my January garden. The first snowdrops are in flower.
Roald Dahl, My Year