Roald Dahl’s Writing Chair

Nominated by: Kim Osborne

Roald Dahl’s Writing Chair sits, in pride of place, at the heart of the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden. The Museum was established as a heritage education charity by Roald’s widow Felicity Dahl to look after and share the author’s remarkable archive as a powerful example of creativity in action. The Museum opened in 2005, in a converted coaching inn on the High Street that Dahl would have walked down most days in the 36 years he spent in Great Missenden. Roald’s Writing Hut, and all its contents including his chair, was moved to the Museum in 2012.

The Writing Hut is exactly as the author left it over 30 years ago, packed with quirky mementoes and the tools of the trade – pencils, reference books – which Roald kept close to hand. It’s an unassuming, ramshackle structure, with exposed wires and nicotine-stained polystyrene lining the walls.

Roald’s chair is the centre of this messy shrine to the imagination. It’s from this spot that Roald Dahl wrote all his stories for children, and created the magical worlds of Matilda, the BFG and Willy Wonka. The chair, which originally belonged to his mother, has seen better days. Each worn patch, though, tells the story of a lifetime of inventiveness and imagination, with Roald Dahl’s imagination ingrained into the threadbare fabric.

Despite the very ordinary surroundings, Roald Dahl depended on this space to close himself off from the outside world to write day after day. He didn’t like to be disturbed – even telling his children that wolves lived in the hut to prevent them from troubling him while working! – and sat down in his chair to write for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. Each time he propped an improvised roll of corrugated cardboard on his knees, and placed a homemade board covered in green baize on top of that. This was his writing desk, the kind of makeshift homeworking set-up many of us have become accustomed to since 2020. After sharpening six Dixon Ticonderoga pencils he set to work writing, characteristically on yellow legal paper.

“It feels as though hundreds of tiny tentacles are reaching out like long wires with little claws on the ends of them, groping for ideas, groping and grabbing and snatching for every little idea they can find and catching hold of them and pulling them back into the brain.”

Roald Dahl described this process of gathering ideas in a speech for children that he gave in 1975. He went on to talk about developing his idea for James and the Giant Peach, inspired by the trees in the orchard that he could see from his chair in his Writing Hut. One day he wondered what would happen if the fruit on the tree just didn’t stop growing. “That, you see, is an idea” he said.

And it was while sat in this chair that Roald refined this process of turning his ordinary, everyday observations into the marvellous stories so many people know and love. His craft was in taking from the mundane and making it magical.

Roald Dahl’s Writing Chair was nominated by Kim Osborne, Marketing and Design Producer at the Roald Dahl Museum