Roald Dahl's first story

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Roald Dahl HQ
Posted on
4:45pm, 20th August
Shot Down Over Libya

First published in August 1942, Shot Down Over Libya - later titled A Piece of Cake - was Roald Dahl's first paid piece of writing

73 years ago this month, Roald Dahl's first paid piece of writing was published anonymously in The Saturday Evening Post as Shot Down Over Libya.

At the time of writing, Roald Dahl was 26 years old and had recently been invalided out of the army after crashing his Gloster Gladiator plane in Libya two years earlier - so the story was indeed based on his own experiences. And, as he later recounted when the piece was republished (as A Piece of Cake) in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, it was author C.S Forester who encouraged him to write it, saying:

...I have come to you because I think you might have a good story to tell. About flying.

Well, Roald Dahl did indeed have a story to tell - and that particular one was about flying. After a lunch meeting with C.S Forester in which he tried to describe his experiences over roast duck and vegetables, Roald offered to write the notes up himself for Forester to review. 

That, though I didn't know it at the moment, was the moment that changed my life.

Roald Dahl, writing in Lucky Break.

Later that day he went home to write up his notes - except that his notes were more like a story. As he said, 

For the first time in my life, I became totally absorbed in what I was doing. I floated back in time and once again I was in the sizzling hot desert of Libya, with white sand underfoot, climbing up into the cockpit...

Roald Dahl, writing in Lucky Break.

Forester agreed, refusing to touch a word of it and passing it straight over to his editors at the Saturday Evening Post, who published it and paid him $1000.

Did you know you were a writer?

Forester to Roald Dahl, quoted in Lucky Break.

So that's where it all began. Roald went on to write several short stories for adults before turning his hand to children's fiction in the 1950s. A Piece of Cake also appears in his first short story collection, Over To You - all tales with a connection to flying or to the war.

You can also read the story in its original format on the Saturday Evening Post website.

Read the original story