When Roald Dahl met Kingsley Amis

Not quite a meeting of minds when the writers bump into each other at a party at Tom Stoppard’s house in the country. The handsomely remunerated purveyor of children’s stories had arrived by helicopter, naturally:

Dahl was shaking his head slowly. “I hate to think of a chap of your distinction having to worry about money at your time of life. Tell me, how old are you now?” I told him and it was much what he or anybody else would have expected. “Yes, you might be able to write better, I mean even better, if you were financially secure.”

I was hating to think of a number of things, but one that eluded me was how to turn the conversation. I must have mumbled something about only knowing how to write in the way I always had. Never mind – what had he got on the —

He was shaking his head again. “What you want to do,” he said, “is write a children’s book. That’s where the money is today, believe me…”

“I wouldn’t know how to set about it.”

“Do you know what my advance was on my last one?” When he found I did not, in fact had no idea, he told me. It certainly sounded like a large sum.

“I couldn’t do it,” I told him again. “I don’t think I enjoyed children’s books much when I was a child myself. I’ve got no feeling for that kind of thing.”

“Never mind, the little bastards’d swallow it.”

Kingsley Amis, “Memoirs”.

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