Inside Roald Dahl's Writing Hut

Posted by
Rachel White, Archive Manager at the Roald Dahl Museum
Posted on
11:30am, 25th May
Categories
Museum
Inside Roald Dahl's Writing Hut in the Roald Dahl Museum, Great Missenden

Discover the secrets of Roald Dahl's Writing Hut, now the centrepiece of the Roald Dahl Museum.

“When I am up here I see only the paper I am writing on, and my mind is far away with Willy Wonka or James or Mr Fox or Danny or whatever else I am trying to cook up. The room itself is of no consequence. It is out of focus, a place for dreaming and floating and whistling in the wind, as soft and silent and murky as a womb…”
Roald Dahl, 'Roald Dahl: From the Inside Out - the Author Speaks'

Roald Dahl in his Writing, copyright Jan Baldwin

Above: Roald Dahl in his Writing Hut, image copyright Jan Baldwin, c.1990.

Roald Dahl’s Writing Hut was the place in which he created his stories, writing and rewriting until he was satisfied with them. It was an intensely personal space, filled with 40 years’ worth of objects, letters and photos. Sitting there, he could forget the outside world and concentrate fully on writing.

The Writing Hut’s interior has been carefully reconstructed here at the Museum and one of our jobs as archivists is to check the Hut for insects and monitor the environmental conditions. Stepping inside is always a special experience. Immediately you notice the smell of tobacco, clinging to the polystyrene sheets which line the walls. There is also the scent of paper, dust and old furniture, all carefully preserved so that you get the sense that Roald Dahl has only just walked out.

Roald Dahl Museum archive team check the hut for bugs

Above: Museum Archivist, Rachel White, carrying out a bug check in the Writing Hut in the Roald Dahl Museum.

Roald Dahl got the idea for a special place to write from one of his favourite authors, Dylan Thomas. Thomas lived in Laugharne, Wales, from 1944 until his death in 1953 and wrote in a shed overlooking the Taf Estuary. Roald had been taking holidays in nearby Tenby since his childhood, and on one visit to Laugharne in the 1950s saw Thomas’ writing shed and realised he needed a similar place in which he could focus on his writing without being disturbed. 

Photo of Dylan Thomas’ Writing Shed courtesy of discovercarmarthenshire.com

Above: Dylan Thomas’ Writing Shed courtesy of discovercarmarthenshire.com

In the mid-1950s, Roald Dahl asked asked his friend and local handyman, Wally Saunders (who with his kindly nature and large ears later became one of the inspirations for the character of the BFG), to build a brick ‘hut’ in his garden at Gipsy House in Great Missenden.

“Looking round it now, I see that the floor is littered with dead leaves and dust and bits of paper. Over in one corner there are a few goat-droppings, hard and harmless, left there by our nanny-goat Alma who paid me a visit last month. For extra warmth, the walls are lined with ill-fitting polystyrene, yellow with age and tobacco smoke, and spiders (which I adore) make pretty webs in the upper corners.”
Roald Dahl, 'Roald Dahl: From the Inside Out - the Author Speaks'

In here, Roald placed an armchair that used to belong to his mother, an Anglepoise lamp carefully weighted with a golf-ball to shine at just the right angle and an old suitcase filled with logs to rest his feet on. Gradually the small table in the room was filled with strange and wonderful objects which held personal meaning for him – a model Hurricane plane, like those he had flown in World War Two; his own hipbone, removed during an operation; a fragment of ancient stone with Cuneiform script, picked up during his time in Babylon in 1940; a heavy metal ball, made from the silver wrappings of chocolate bars; an opal, sent to Roald by a boy in Australia as a present.

Every morning, he would take a flask of coffee up to the Hut. Once there, he had a regular routine to get himself into the mood for writing. He would sharpen six pencils, brush off the eraser markings from his homemade desk (a board with green felt propped up on a rolled of corrugated cardboard), pour himself some coffee and begin work. He would stay there for two hours, even if he found the writing hard work:

You have to keep your bottom on the chair and stick it out. Otherwise, if you start getting in the habit of walking away when you’re stuck you’ll never get it done.

Roald Dahl, 'The Author’s Eye Notebook'

Then he would stop for lunch and return to the Hut for another two hours. He believed that after two hours it was impossible to keep concentrating, so after the afternoon session he would stop for the day.

Roald Dahl spoke of the Hut with great affection, describing it as ‘my little nest, my womb’, and it is now one of our most treasured objects in the Museum. Not only does it show where Roald Dahl wrote his stories, it also provides a glimpse of how he used a very private and personal space to allow his ideas and imagination to flow.