Letter revealing Roald Dahl’s secrets to good storytelling to go under hammer

A handwritten letter by children’s author Roald Dahl which reveals his secrets to good storytelling is set to go on sale at auction.

The letter, dated August 2 1989, showcases the writer’s opinion of his own work and his determination to get children reading.

Librarian Christine Wotton said she wrote to Mr Dahl “speculatively” as a 20-year-old student as she was studying for a degree in literature and linguistics in the late 1980s.

The item has been handed a guide price of £500-800 by Derbyshire-based Hansons Auctioneers.

Roald Dahl
The letter, from August 1989, reveals the author’s opinion of his own work (Hansons Auctioneers/PA)

The letter reads: “Never shelter children from the world… the ‘content’ of any children’s book is of no importance other than that it enthrals the child – and thus it teaches or seduces him or her to ‘like’ books and to become a fit reader – which is vital if that child is going to amount to anything in later life.

“The book-reading child will always outstrip the non-book-reading child in later life. There are very few messages in these books of mine.

“They are there simply to turn the child into a reader of books.

“Damn it all, they are mostly pure fantasy. Have you read the latest one, Matilda?

“It seems to have broken every sales record in the history of hardback publishing.”

Explaining the history of the letter, Miss Wotton said: “I stumbled across Dahl’s address listed in the back of an old library book.

Christine Wotton
Miss Wotton wrote to Mr Dahl in the late 1980s as a 20-year-old literature and linguistics student (Hansons Auctioneers/PA)

“On a whim I asked him questions which intrigued me regarding his style and attitude towards children’s literature, never really dreaming of a response.

“So, I was amazed to receive a chatty double-sided, handwritten A4 reply, plus another dissertation which he lent me, presumably written in his famous garden shed, discussing the importance of reading for children and referring to his newly published book Matilda, now a movie and West End musical.”

She added: “As he indicated himself, it was unusual for him to reply to letters like mine, so I really struck lucky.

“With the happy-go-lucky optimism of youth, I don’t think I fully appreciated my good fortune.”

The letter is set to go under the hammer on June 15 in Hansons’ specialist library auction at Bishton Hall in Staffordshire.

Addressing her reasons for selling the letter, Miss Wotton said: “I’ve enjoyed and treasured the letter for over 30 years and the time has come to share it, for others to read and enjoy his wise words which are dashed off in his wonderfully inimitable, flamboyant style.

Dahl Letter
Miss Wootton was not expecting a double-sided response (Hansons Auctioneers/PA)

“As the youngest of six children, I always battled with naughty decrepit hand-me-down hairy ponies, so proceeds will go towards a horse to compete whilst I’m still courageous enough and young enough to bounce a bit.

“I like to think Dahl, with his no-nonsense attitude, would approve of my get up and go.”

Commenting on the item, Jim Spencer, head of books and works on paper at Hansons, said: “This is important. It’s unusual to see such conversational correspondence from a big name like this.

“Most autograph letters that come up for sale are typed, brief, almost generic responses.

“This is quite different, it gives us an insight into Dahl’s creativity and craft, his passion for making reading fun, encouraging children to pick up books and take a love of literature with them throughout the rest of their lives.

“I’m guiding the letter at £500 to £800, but it could easily spark a fierce bidding battle and run away for much, much more.”