AHEAD of Small Wonder festival at Charleston, based around the short story format, CAROLE BUCHAN talks to Roald Dahl biographer Donald Sturrock about the life of the legendary children’s author. The Argus and Small Wonder are giving away two day passes to the festival for the writer of the best 500-word work of fiction, to be chosen by a panel of judges. Details are at the bottom of this page.

ANYONE who remembers the creepy Eighties TV series Tales of the Unexpected might find it hard to equate the sinister storyteller Roald Dahl with the man who could delight children with James and the Giant Peach, or the loveable Willy Wonka.

It was this man of contrasts who has so fascinated his biographer Donald Sturrock over the years – ever since he made a TV documentary about Dahl and discovered that although there was darkness in his writing for adults, as a man he was full of fun and loved nothing better than to spend time with family and friends.

Donald Sturrock will be sharing his memories of Dahl at the Small Wonder festival at Charleston on October 1.

He remembers visiting him in his garden hut where he wrote every day by hand on a yellow lined pad in pencil – and each pencil had to be exactly the right length.

“He took his writing very seriously,” Sturrock explains. “But the hut was a fascinating place, with heaters suspended from the ceiling. It was rather like a child’s den.”

The two men became firm friends over the years and gradually Sturrock came to realise what an extraordinary and varied life the writer had led.

“But he was a very proud person and didn’t like talking about himself,” he adds.

In fact there had been much tragedy in his life, although Dahl never liked to dwell on the past. He joined the RAF at the beginning of the war and suffered horrific burns and head injuries when his plane crashed. This left him in constant pain for much of his life. His first wife, the actress Patricia Neal, suffered a stroke and one of his children died when she was only seven.

He wrote for adults for more than twenty years, and many of his stories had a bleakness about them which seemed totally at odds with the playful, joking personality Sturrock came to know.

“I was expecting to find darkness, for that was what I saw in his writing, but not in the man. His house was always full of friends and family, numerous nieces and nephews,” he recalls.

Dahl continued to write for adults until the 1960s, but turned to writing for children when he had a family of his own.

“Willy Wonka was the character most like him,” Sturrock said.

But it was not until Sturrock came to edit the hundreds of letters which Dahl wrote to his mother, published under the title Love from Boy, that he fully understood the light and shade in the writer’s life. The letters began when he was at boarding school – which he hated – but not wanting to upset his mother, he never complained and wrote wonderfully glowing accounts of his life there.

Perhaps, Sturrock wonders, he turned to writing for children as an escape from the tragedy and heartbreak he suffered over the years. If so, Dahl would probably never admit it.

Roald Dahl For Adults, Saturday, October 1, 6pm, tickets for event £12.

CHARLESTON near Lewes, former home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, celebrates the short story in September with its five-day festival Small Wonder.

Central to this year’s event is the Charleston Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction, which this year goes to prize-winning author Ali Smith, MBE. She is appearing at Charleston on September 28 at 5.30pm.

This year’s festival includes themes about refugees, sex and death and interactive elements such as a literary death match and short story slam. Small Wonder also hosts the BBC’s National Short Story Award. The festival finale will be Juliet Stevenson reading Poems that Make Grown Women Cry, while two of fiction’s favourite detectives – Poirot and Maigret – are brought to life by novelist Sophie Hannah, who has written two Poirot novels (with the blessing of the Christie estate).


THE Argus joins forces with Charleston, former home of the Bloomsbury group, to offer local writers a chance to get into print – and to win tickets to the unique Small Wonder short story festival next month.

To enter the competition, write a story of no more than 500 words on the theme “small wonder.” Interpret the theme any way you want, but it must be your own work, previously unpublished.

The best story will be published in The Argus and on the Charleston website and the winner will receive two all-day tickets for Saturday, October - five events which include the BBC National Short Story Award; thriller writer Sophie Hannah and John Simenon on Poirot and Maigret and Donald Sturrock on Roald Dahl.

Entries must be submitted by email to carolebuchan20@gmail.com The competition is open to everyone over the age of 18.

Closing date for entries is Wednesday, September 7. The winner will be notified by Monday, September 26.

The judges will include short story specialist Zoë King, former editor of both Cadenza and BuzzWords, whose writing has been published world-wide and who has won several major prizes over the years.

An experienced creative writing tutor, she is currently working with students from Queen’s University, Belfast.

She will be joined by the arts editor of The Argus, Edwin Gilson, and the founder of the Asham Short Story Award, Carole Buchan.

For terms and conditions, visit: www.

theargus.co.uk/offers/competitions/ termsandconditions.

Good luck!

Small Wonder Short Story Festival, Charleston, Firle, Lewes, Wednesday, September 28, to Sunday, October 2, Visit charleston.org.uk/smallwonder.

Tickets are available from The Brighton Dome box office on 01273 709709. There is a shuttle bus service to all events from Lewes railway station.