UWE Bristol lecturer and Roald Dahl aficionado pens new essay on author to mark centenary

Issue date: 31 August 2016

A lecturer at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has penned an essay about Roald Dahl to coincide with the centenary of the much-loved writer's birth.

The essay co-written by Dr Ann Alston has been included in a new book called Wales of the Unexpected, which has a cover illustration created by the best-selling author's long-time collaborator Quentin Blake.

The book was published earlier this month, ahead of the 100th anniversary of Dahl's birth in Cardiff on September 13.

The essay 'There's Something Fishy About Wales; Dahl, Identity, Language' is one of eight in the book, which is aimed at breaking new ground by revealing the place of Wales in the imagination of Dahl. The essays explore the 'complex conditioning presence of Wales' in the storyteller's life and work.

Of the collection of essays, English lecturer Dr Alston said: “It appealed because it opened up previously unchartered territory. The exploration of Dahl as potentially Welsh was just another one of the delightful dilemmas of Dahl. Dahl had lived his formative childhood years in Wales, and yet there is little direct mention of this in his books, but as ever with Dahl, and as I argue in my essay, a slippery sense of identity looms beneath the surface.

“Dahl was a complex figure. He was influenced by his time spent in countries including Wales, Norway, England and America; he despised the Establishment but also somehow wished to be a part of it; he was on the side of the child, but also the authoritarian.”

Dr Alston, who co-edited an earlier book of critical essays on Dahl's work and has featured as a Dahl expert on panels at literary events, is planning a 'Dahl Day' later this year aimed at teachers and pupils.

She first became gripped by the novelist when her father bought her the newly-published Matilda hardback as a child. She now teaches the book to her third year English Literature students at UWE Bristol.

Of her fondness for the author, she said: “Growing up in the 1980s as an avid reader I was captivated by Roald Dahl's books. They seemed a step away from the didacticism of all those stories that suggested 'better ways to behave'. To me it was a celebration of the carnival, that the world could, it seemed be turned upside down with the child coming out on top. It was rude, funny, cartoonish and often a celebration of one specific relationship between an adult and a child and I suspect it is those elements that have helped Dahl maintain his spot in the nation's top reads alongside J.K. Rowling and Jacqueline Wilson.”

Wales of the Unexpected, edited by Damian Walford Davies and published by University of Wales Press, is available here priced at £24.99. The collection of essays edited by Dr Alston is available here at £14.99.

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