An Interview with Roald Dahl Funny Prize Winner, Philip Ardagh
Roald Dahl Funny Prize-winning author Philip Ardagh is 6ft 7in tall with a very bushy beard — and Dahl hated beards — who’s written over a hundred books translated into around forty languages. Living in England, he’s won foreign as well as UK awards, and appears at book festivals and events across the globe but — he says — never underwater.
What’s the best (or worst) thing about being a children’s writer?
The best thing about being a writer is that it’s all down to you. There’s no one to tell you how to do it or when to do it. You wake up in the morning and plan your own day, and then get to turn the characters, ideas and adventures in your head into words on a screen or on paper. The worst thing about being writer is the same. There’s no one else to blame on the days it doesn’t go so well! As for being a children’s writer, you get to write for some of the most imaginative readers there are. You can put just about anything in a children’s book.
What is your #1 writing tip?
That’s a tricky one. Of course, it’s very important to have a large bushy beard… but that aside? Oh, not to eat too much. When you’re a writer, you can end up sitting at your computer all day, so you don’t get to take much exercise… so eating a box of doughnuts a day is plain stupid. Probably. Apparently. *Burp*
Oh, and it’s a really good idea to read your writing out loud. Even if your readers are only going to read what you’ve written inside their heads, it’s a really good way to see how a piece of writing flows and whether the dialogue — the speech — sounds realistic.
Who is the nicest children’s writer you’ve ever met?
Believe it or not, MOST children’s writers I’ve ever met — and I know a great many and have met even more — are very nice people but one of the very nicest is Frank Cottrell Boyce. He not only writes fabulous children’s books (such as FRAMED) but also writes films and even wrote the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics… but he’s a softly spoken amusing father of seven — yup, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 — children who isn’t at all big-headed. He doesn’t wear a crown or even a T-shirt saying “LOOK AT ME, I’M BRILLIANT!” He’s just a very nice bloke.
Do you have any favourite words?
At the end of my book PHILIP ARDAGH’S BOOK OF ABSOLUTELY USELESS LISTS FOR ABSOULUTELY EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR I have an ‘Afterword’ and that ‘Afterword’ is aubergine…
I love the word aubergine (which is a vegetable also known an eggplant). It looks good on the page and sounds great when spoken, Try whispering “aubergine!” in someone’s ear… (That book of lists is non-fiction, by the way, because I like writing about facts and information as well as writing stories.)
Do you remember anything good that your teachers wrote on your school reports?
Not really. My school days were a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time ago, but I do remember being encouraged by my English teacher, Mrs Ewbank, to write what I wanted to write; to see where it took me. She also allowed me to be funny. I owe her a lot.
Which book last made you laugh out loud?
It must have been one of my own, of course. So many to choose from! And, when that doesn’t work, I only have to look in a mirror…
If you had to be stuck in an elevator with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
It’s easier to say who it wouldn’t be. It wouldn’t be Even Madder Aunt Maud from my Eddie Dickens adventures (beginning with Awful End). She had a stuffed stoat called Malcolm and would probably hit me over the head with him; it wouldn’t be Chief of Police Grabby Hanson from my Grubtown Tales, because he’d probably steal my watch and belt; and it wouldn’t be Mr OR Mrs Grunt from The Grunts because, when they’re not scraping up roadkill and cooking it, they’re usually laughing and pointing and calling people names… Hmmmm. There was a rather nice chap in my Unlikely Exploits. He appeared to be a walking, talking teddy bear called Duffel. He might make a good lift/elevator companion.
Which three books should everyone read while they’re young?
I can’t answer that because, I’m pleased to say, different people like different things. That’s what makes the world go around. I can tell you three books I really enjoyed:
- Any of the Moomin books by Tove Jansson (but, if I had to choose one, Comet In Moominland)
- The Narnia books by CS Lewis (starting with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe)
- and Awful End by me, because it ended up in 34 languages so it must have SOME appeal. (And please forgive the shameless self-promotion, but I am — probably — bigger than you.)
If someone was going to use a line from one of your books as an ‘inspirational quote’, what line should it be?
That’s easy. In my Unlikely Exploits trilogy there’s an organisation called The Lionel Lyons Foundation. Their motto is: “No kind deed is ever wasted.” I think that’s important. You might not get praised or feel wonderful, but a kind deed is always worth it for the kindness itself.
Describe your life in eight words
More fun than juggling jellies in the rain.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever had to eat?
I do remember chewing my own sock on a kids’ TV show once. I’d run out of things to say and had to act quickly. And, on that note, it’s probably best to say, thank you for the questions and good luck with the website.