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Lucy Dahl: Growing Up With Father Roald Dahl

Kristin Yinger |
April 20, 2013 | 10:46 p.m. PDT

Senior Arts Editor

Lucy Dahl holds her daughter's signed copy of Matilda (Kristin Yinger/Neon Tommy).
Lucy Dahl holds her daughter's signed copy of Matilda (Kristin Yinger/Neon Tommy).
Daughter of the late children’s storytelling legend Roald Dahl, Lucy Dahl is a screenwriter and author (she wrote the screenplay for the movie Wild Child starring Emma Roberts), a writer for the food website Zester Daily and lives in Los Angeles. Dahl was interviewed onstage at the festival at the Target’s Children Stage and asked five questions about what it's like to grow up when your dad is Roald Dahl:  

Who is Miss Trunchbull, from Matilda, based on? 

When my dad was a young boy in England, he went to boarding school, as I did. We had matrons, they were horrible and they hated children. I was about 12 years old and we (my friends and I) knew that in the kitchen there was a freezer that was unlocked that we knew had ice creams in there. We wanted to sneak out of our beds and get some ice creams. We went past matron’s room and into the kitchen. We put ice creams in our underwear. We were running back to our rooms when she stopped us. She made us sit in her office while she knit and the ice cream melted in our underwear! We could only bathe every three days so we had sticky underwear and sheets. I told my dad what happened. My dad said 'I’m disappointed you got caught!' 

Why did your dad write Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

He was obsessed with chocolate! Every Saturday they were given one Kit Kat at school. That began his love of chocolate. He would roll the silver wrapper into a ball then he kept adding to it. We have that ball now. It’s smaller than a tennis ball, but very heavy. It is balls of wrappers all wrapped around each other.

He knew the dates that all the chocolate bars were invented. 

Did he ever ask you for help with stories?

Yes. He didn’t tell us, but we found out later. Every evening at bedtime he would tell us a story. After each story, if we would say, ‘Great, thanks Dad. Night,’ then he knew he needed a better story. But if we said, ‘Wait! Please, more!’ then he knew he was onto a good one. Our favorite was The BFG. He made us leave a gap in our windows so that the BFG could blow dreams into our window. We really believed it. We had dreams blown into our rooms. 

So we all know the story of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Where did that idea come from? 

We grew up in the countryside in England. My dad was always scared of us becoming bored. He was always coming up with things to occupy our imaginations. The tree in the story was a tree we had. All of this is very real to me. We would go out to the woods with Dad and a thermos of hot chocolate and look for nocturnal animals. It’s based on our surroundings of the English countryside and of the three farmers. There were farmers like that. One of the farmers shot our dog! 

Did he ever base characters on himself? 

Yes. I think that Mr. Willy Wonka was based on some of himself. He was always inventing things and encouraged us to invent. He would make witches’ potions for us and we would sit drinking witches’ potion while we told stories. Danny the Champion of the World was based on himself too. It’s about a relationship about a father and son. If you want to know what it was like to have him as a dad, then you can look at the father in Danny the Champion of the World. 

 Gypsies would sell their caravans and we got one. That was our playhouse growing up. 

Do you have any advice for young writers?

As a way of answering, I want to read part of a letter from my dad. He wrote a lot of letters. This is a letter from December 10, 1986, while Dad was writing Matilda or 'The Six Year Old Wonder,' as that was the title at the time. [Reads from letter] 'I have just spent three months writing the book and I will spend another three months rewriting the second part. I must have written Charlie five or six times. It’s not easy to write stories and get them right.' 

Reach Senior Arts Editor Kristin here or follow her on Twitter for more fesitval updates at @kying7

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