"Eschew all those beastly adjectives."

Posted by
Roald Dahl HQ
Posted on
6:45pm, 28th January
Short stories

When student Jay Williams wrote to Roald Dahl in 1980, he didn't expect a response - but that's what he got...

In February 1980 - the year he published The Twits, and not long after the release of My Uncle Oswald - Roald Dahl received a letter from one Jay Williams, then a 17-year-old student studying English Literature at Sedbergh School in Cumbria, UK.

In his letter Jay told Roald Dahl about his A Level coursework on short stories, and enclosed one of his own. "I was a big fan of Roald Dahl's short story collections Switch Bitch and Kiss Kiss," Jay says. "I thought they were masterpieces of storytelling."

Jay wasn't expecting a response, but Roald Dahl often wrote back to the students and teachers that sent him letters. Jay was no exception...

Roald Dahl's letter to Jay Williams

Roald Dahl's letter to Jay Williams on short story writing tips

Read the full transcript of the letter

Blunt it may be, but the advice is sound.

Roald Dahl's mention of Ernest Hemingway is also interesting. The two met early on in Roald's career, and he often spoke of Hemingway's influence on his writing. In a 1988 interview which you can listen to in full here, Roald said of Hemingway:

"[He] taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words, 'When you are going good, stop writing.'"

35 years after Roald Dahl passed on his own writing tips, Jay says that it is "the best advice I've ever had."

"Don't get me wrong, I still love a good adjective now and again," Jay - who went on to become a news reporter and now runs PR company 72Point - says. "But I still stick to this advice. It's what I told young reporters. Don't waffle, strip away the fat. In news reporting especially, it's the facts that tell the story."

That this letter has come to light after so many years is due to Jay's mother, who died three years ago. Jay rediscovered it when he was working his way through a pile of papers she'd kept. "She was like my archivist," he says. "She was a real Roald Dahl fan, and she always saved letters."

Which brings us back round to Roald Dahl, whose own mother kept every single letter he ever sent her. Those letters are now stored in the Roald Dahl Archive, and you can see some of them on display in the Roald Dahl Museum.

So, remember. Eschew adjectives, and study Hemingway. You can't go far wrong.

More of Roald Dahl's writing tips can be found here. And if you were lucky enough to receive a letter from Roald Dahl, why not share it with us?

Read the full transcript of Jay's letter

Received a letter from Roald Dahl? We'd love to hear from you

More writing tips from Roald Dahl