Tag Archives: Roald Dahl

I – Inspiration: Motivational Quotes A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Day 10 of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. As you may be aware, my theme this year is Motivational Quotes and these are geared towards people like myself who are working on their first book and getting it published one way or another. Obviously, it’s a long road from INSPIRATION to PUBLICATION!

Today, it was a toss up whether to choose inspiration or imagination. While there is much common ground, there is a distinction. In the end, I had Roald Dahl representing   Imagination:

“There is no life I know to compare with pure

imagination. Living there, you’ll be free if you truly

wish to be.”

Roald Dahl

 

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole

world around you because the greatest secrets are

always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who

don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

― Roald Dahl

However, when it came to INSPIRATION, there was Jonathon Livingstone Seagull:

“Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the

fishing boats, there’s reason to live!

We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find

ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence

and skill. We can learn to be free! we can learn to fly!”

― Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

It was a done deal. Inspiration it is!

Personally, I don’t have any trouble finding inspiration or with being inspired. That after all is the initial spark which gets the fire going. It’s keeping that spark alight once I’m further down the track, where I struggle.

I am starting to understand that process better now. While they say slow and steady wins the race and that you need to pace yourself, I find that it’s more a case of making quick and easy progress at the start and a lot more effort is required as you progress through your project and that you could well have less return as well, especially if you’re talking about pure word count. Understanding that process is helping me overcome some of the doubts which sets in when the going gets tough.

Just another thought…. much of what I read about getting that book done and dusted talks about word limits. Stuff like write 1000 words a day. However, what you don’t hear, is that not all words are created equal. Perhaps, one day you might only write one word, but that word will change everything. Perhaps, not only just for yourself, but also for your readers.

I am currently writing a compilation of biographical short-fiction built around our combined gene pool of persons past. With this, I’m not as concerned about word length finding an angle. Something which will touch and inspire people. I want to put my finger on the pulse if that makes sense. So, instead of generating thousands and thousands of words, I’m immersing myself in research plucking the story out piece by piece like a restorer and yet hopefully infusing that spark which will bring these people back to life. This is a spark which all of our characters need in order to engage our readers, who are after all, our audience.

What inspires me most about these characters is when they overcome adversity in some way and that’s what I want to share. That we are not alone. Not the only ones who have ever been through trials and tribulations, been in the wrong place at the wrong time. These is something universal about being human and that is very much part of and the inspiration behind what I write. I want to help others, and I also want writing somehow help me put bread and butter on the table because none of us can survive on air. We need an income.

So, what inspires you and your writing? What do you do when your inspiration wanes? I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Our Visit to Charlie & the Chocolate Factory… the Musical.

On Tuesday, my daughter and I ventured into Sydney with a group from her dance school to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…the Musical. Being a Roald Dahl tragic and chocolate lover, this musical was a must see.

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My daughter with her dance teacher, Miss Karina Russell, at stage door after the performance.

However this production had an added attraction. Miss Karina Russell, our dance teacher, was playing Veruca Salt. That’s right. She was playing that awful rich brat of rich brats who I remember so clearly demanding: “I want an Oompah Loompah and I want it NOW!!” However, that’s not all. We’d already seen her costume when the cast performed at Carols in the Domain and she’s wearing  what looks like a double-yoker of a tutu, a double-decker tiara, a faux mink jacket and pointe shoes and she actually manages to get some ballet in before she meets her demise. She looks amazing. Indeed, all the costumes were fantastic. However, that’s all I’m going to say about the show other than, you should try and see it.

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Does doing adult dance classes make me the ultimate dance Mum? After years of driving my daughter to classes and concerts, I suddenly wanted to get out of the chair and have a go myself and I loved it. Found them so invigorating and creatively it blew me away.

However, if we go back to the title, you’ll see that this post addresses our visit to the musical, and it is in no way intended to be a review of the show. Rather, this is more of a review of how yours truly can complicate matters and achieve the extraordinary without even leaving her seat. It also looks at my personal connection with Roald Dahl. I know that might sound a bit full of myself and you’re probably wondering what this mad Australian woman has in common with Roald Dahl the literary genius. “Tell ‘er she’s dreaming!” Well, I’ll get to that.

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Inside the theatre.

If you know anything about me at all, you’ll know that when my daughter and I went to see Charlie & the Chocolate Factory- the Musical, that it had to be out of the ordinary. That since we don’t do anything via the road well-travelled, that we’d wind up on our own trajectory.

Firstly, as I explained, OUR dance teacher, Miss Karina Russell, is playing Veruca Salt. Yes, that’s correct. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. She is OUR dance teacher. I know that probably sounds preposterous… Rowena learning dance when I have a debilitating cocktail of significant disabilities/chronic illnesses (hydrocephalus, dermatomyositis and Institital Lung Disease). However, somehow I found a pathway through and around all of that to take adult dance classes at the same studio as my daughter, Dancin Mates, here on the NSW Central Coast. I did some sessions of lyrical and contemporary dance with Miss Karina a few years ago. Moreover, in addition to the steps, she took us on a journey through how contemporary and lyrical dance rose out of the relative straight-jacket of classical ballet and introduced me to a range of choreographers and their philosophies. Naturally, this was of particular interest to me as a writer, and I’d go home and Google them all. Of course, Miss Karina asked me if I watched them dance. Of course not. I was interested in the words.

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Stage Door

Secondly, while we were sitting in our seats waiting for the curtain to rise, we had a drama of our own.  While it’s our role as audience to sit in our seats while the performance is on stage, yours truly took off her glasses for a group photo, and put them on the floor under her seat. Of course, you know what happens next, don’t you?!! They disappeared. In a truly farcical “only you, Rowena” way, my glasses vanished. So, I start blindly groping under my seat probing through the dark like my fingers have eyes. Yet, on the first couple of sweeps, nothing. My daughter is sitting next to me, she gets recruited and switches on the torch on her phone. Tips out all our merchandise and starts going through our backpack (which was packed with the kitchen sink) searching for them. Nothing. Although I lose my glasses almost every morning under my bed and always find them, I’m now starting to panic. Really panic. Here we are on our musical theatre experience of a lifetime, and I’m not going to see anything at all. CATASTROPHE!! Of course, I didn’t want to alert the rest of our group. I didn’t want to be the problem child, especially when I was one of the parents. However, just as mysteriously as my glasses vanished, they returned. They must’ve gone off in the Tardis and returned.

Anyway, as I said, our experience of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory…the Musical was unique and treading down roads few have trod.

This takes me onto Roald Dahl and my incredibly personal connection to the man. While we know his books, Roald Dahl himself is an enigma of his own making. Indeed, when it comes to getting to know Roald Dahl, he’s quite the slippery fish.

I first started researching Roald Dahl a few years ago, when I included him in my blogging series: Letters to Dead Poets Letter to Roald Dahl. What particularly attracted me to Roald Dahl the man was our shared experience of going through a major neurological event and how that impacts on just about every part of your being.

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Roald Dahl with his plane.

You see, during WWII, Roald Dahl was a pilot in the Air Force and he fractured his skull when his plane crashed and experienced personality changes as a result. Indeed, it was after this accident that Roald Dahl started writing and left behind his job working as an engineer for Shell. His biographer, Donald Sturrock, wrote:

“A monumental bash on the head” was how Dahl once described this accident in the Western Desert, claiming that it directly led to his becoming a writer. This was not just because his first published piece of writing was a semi-fictionalised account of the crash, but also because he suspected that the brain injuries which he received there had materially altered his personality and inclined him to creative writing.”

His daughter Ophelia recalled her father’s fascination with tales of people who had experienced dramatic psychological and physiological changes – such as losing or recovering sight – after suffering a blow to the head. He also told her that he was convinced something of this sort had happened to him, as it explained why a budding corporate businessman working for Shell, without any particular artistic ambition, was transformed into someone with a burning need to write and tell stories. This hypothesis was doubtless attractive, too, because it pushed potentially more complex psychological issues about the sources of his desire to write into the background.

Nowadays doctors might well have diagnosed Dahl as suffering from what is called post-concussive syndrome. The initial symptoms of this condition are normally forgetfulness, irritability, an inability to concentrate and severe headaches. Dahl suffered from all of these. In some patients the symptoms disappear, but leave behind longer-lasting behavioural changes, which are usually associated with mood swings and an increased lack of inhibition. In some cases, too, it can also result in a fundamental alteration of the perception of the self.1.”

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Roald Dahl with wife actress Patricia Neal

However, that was not the end of Roald Dahl’s involvement with the neuro ward. 5th December, 1960 Roald Dahl’s son Theo was out walking with his nanny when a taxi veered into his pram and he was thrown into the air and landed head first onto the pavement fracturing his skull. Moreover, Theo also developed hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain and was given emergency brain surgery where they inserted a shunt. However, shunts were particularly unreliable back then and were notorious for getting blocked. This required a surgical fix, and there were serious concerns about how these surguries would affect Theo’s cognitive development. I remember how my Dad rallied when my shunt blocked, and how Dads can be a mighty force fighting to save their child no matter how old they are. So, I wasn’t surprised that Roald Dahl decided to take matters into his own hands. Dahl recruited the guy who made the hydraulic petrol pumps for his model planes and Theo’s paediatirican and togehter they developed a new shunt which saved thousands of lives, before it was superceded.

Then, as if the Dahl family hadn’t already seen enough of the neurology ward, in February 1965 his wife Patricia Neal suffered a severe stroke after an aneurism burst while she was pregnant with their fourth child, Sophie. She spent three weeks in a coma and then Roald Dahl devised a grueling rehabilitation program, which saw her return to the screen.  However, that is a story in itself.

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Who would’ve thought that a secret harbour was inside my head?(Hydrocephalus)

As you may be aware, I was born with hydrocephalus after Mum had a very difficult birth (not unsurprisingly I was facing the wrong way something which hasn’t changed unfortunately). However, for some reason it lay dormant like a volcano until my mid-twenties, when for some strange reason whatever had been compensating for the presence of this harbour in my head stopped and within about a six to twelve month period it blew its stack. Indeed, just about the only symptoms I had growing up was being a bit clumsy, rather extroverted and impulsive and having difficulty finding a hat which fit. It was only when I was 26 and a sense of vertigo I’d had after a bad flu didn’t clear up that I went back to the family GP who’d been treating me since I was 12, and the long and short of that, was that I was diagnosed with Dandy Walker Syndrome, a variation of hydrocephalus. After a grueling six months where I rapidly went down hill, I had brain surgery in July 1997, where they inserted a shunt. I was off to rehab for 6 months as an outpatient and left wondering if I would ever reclaim my life. The impact of all of this was like being struck by a bomb only I could never see or confront my enemy and it took a few years to feel vaguely myself again.

So, rewinding back to 1997 in Perth’s Mount Hospital, you have a young Australian woman who experienced a reversal of Roald Dahl’s big bang. Instead of having all my neurons suddenly switched up at once, mine were all switched down just as suddenly, when the shunt was put in. I very distinctly remember waking up from surgery and feeling like someone had turned down the lights. Not in terms of what I could see or hear, but I guess something along the lines of how I processed everything. I felt very, very quiet. This wasn’t, I believe, something which was apparent to those around me and I am still to this day, an extrovert and I’m sure countless people are still trying to tone me down. This was all about how I felt inside myself. Naturally, when I read about Roald Dahl’s experience, I understood what he went through immediately. Wished I could talk with him about it.

There is so much more which could be said about how personal tragedy shaped Roald Dahl’s writing. However, that will be another post. However, I hope this might encourage people who have experienced an adverse neurological event, that there is hope. That the light can switch back on. Never give up. You might even become a best-selling author, especially if you actually get your book finished!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Here’s a link to my Letter to Roald Dahl from my Letters to Dead Poets series: Roald Dahl: Letters to Dead Poets

And Roald Dahl’s Fictional Reply

Sources

Roald Dahl: The Plane Crash Which Gave Birth to A Writer

Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl.

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Heading Home. This is outside Sydney’s historic Central Railway.

Weekend Coffee Share 9th July, 2016

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

This week, I’m offering you a mug of alphabet soup. Not just because it’s Winter here and a mug of soup somehow seems to warm you up inside and out, but also because I’ve been reading Roald Dahl’s English Dictionary. So rather than actually swallowing our soup, I reckon we should fish out the letters and see what we get. I wonder if this counts as “Gobblefunking with words”? Sounds close enough to me!

Dahl Dictionary

The big news here is that the kids are on school holidays, which in some ways means that I’m not on school holidays but on the other hand, I’m not driving them around as much, so at least Mum’s Taxi is having a break. Next week, it’ll be getting the engine back into gear driving the kids to and from final rehearsals and at last performances of the Gang Show…a variety show put on by Scouts, Guides and their leaders. This year, it’s called “Once Upon A Time” and includes songs from Walt Disney, Dr Suess and Monty Python. I’m really looking forward to seeing the show and seeing what it actually is as well as seeing the kids. We’ve never been to a Gang Show before.

I am feeling much better today. I’ve had some trouble with a chest infection, asthma coughing etc and after being on antibiotics and taking all my asthma medications, i finally bit the bullet yesterday and bought a cough syrup with codeine and had a great night’s sleep. I actually feel alive today, which makes me realize I’ve been off for a few weeks. There might even be a spring in my step, even though it’s still Winter.

So, how are things going with you? Well, I hope!

My family history research battles continue. I don’t know how many of you have delved into family history research but I love it. Once you get through the people you know about, that’s when the detective work begins and for better or worse, I show no mercy. I am a detective/journalist at heart pursuing the story like a dog hunting down a bone. Thanks to the Internet, you can unearth so much buried treasure these days, although most of it is either birth, death, marriage notices unless your ancestors got themselves in a spot of trouble or had accidents of some sort. That is unless they actually achieved something.

Anyway, I’m trying to find out where my grandmother’s family, the Gardiners, actually came from. I don’t know whether it bothers you where your ancestors came from or why they moved from one side of the world to the other but it bothers me. I need to know, especially as my grandmother saw herself as Irish Australian but it could well be that she’s mostly English, which changes the story quite considerably. As it stands, our Gardiners could be English, Irish or Scottish and I want to find out.

After too many dead ends to mention, I’m hoping I’ve finally found John Gardiner’s death certificate. I thought I’d sensed a convict in the mix when I couldn’t find things easily. If this is our John Gardiner, he ended up changing his name to Gardiner-Garden after becoming a senior figure in the NSW Education Department. Whether he’s our John or not, he’s certainly a character and reminds me of Mrs Bucket from the English comedy show Keeping Up Appearances who called herself “Mrs Bouquet”. Nothing like covering up your tracks!

This weekend, we’re doing a bit of work on the house. We’re replacing our kitchen pantry and also adding new curtains to the lounge room. The pantry was a gift from some friends who are moving and I managed to pick up these New-looking Ikea curtains from the opportunity shop for $10.00 each. So, the lounge room is looking well dressed for $40.00. While it’s been great to pick up Ikea curtains for a bargain, the convenience is even better. We don’t have a big shopping centre close-by and it’s much easier for me to buy from the op shops than travel somewhere. Moreover, Ikea is about 2 hours away. So, my bargain was quite a win!!

These new curtains will really brighten up the lounge room, which has been feeling a bit dark and dull during Winter and this is where we spend most of our time. They’re a rosy burgundy colour with a real sheen in the fabric and they really shine in the light.

Getting back to the school holidays, the kids are currently stayed with my parents. My son went down a bit earlier, which left my daughter and I playing Monopoly and doing some cooking.

When did you last play Monopoly?

I’m not really sure whether I like playing Monopoly or not. However, the trouble is you need time to get through a game and usually our games peter out, rather than reaching THE END.

However, time is what you’re meant to have in the school holidays and you’re not supposed to be “too busy” when your much loved and cherished offspring desire some “Mummy Daughter time”. My daughter is big on this even though that phrase really makes me cringe. Cringing aside, I behaved and we played Monopoly. I am not someone who deliberately lets kids win, but I’m not a sore loser either. However, I am human and am not ashamed to admit I don’t want to bomb out and go broke on my first couple of runs around the board.

Early on, I made some joke about her living it up at Mayfair and Park Lane, while I’m slumming it over at White Chapel and Old Kent Roads. I should’ve kept my trap shut!! Sure enough, that came to pass. Fortunately, the game “ended” before she ventured into hotel management and wiped me out completely.  Phew!

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My daughter’s Dish.

That was Wednesday. Thursday, she decided we were having a Mini Chef Mystery Box Challenge. We each had to choose 4 secret ingredients for each other to use in addition to an open pantry. This was a really fun idea…even if she was trying to throw me by selecting tuna, sardines, salt and Grain Waves for my mystery box. I fed the sardines to the dogs and we had a sexy variation of tuna mornay for dinner. So, here’s Challenged By My Mini Chef.

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My Dish.

If you’re looking for a bit of a laugh, here’s a post I reblogged from Cooking With Whiskers about making hats for your cat. I’ve sent the link to the kids so Grandma’s cat had better beware of the hats! Here’s the link.

After chatting about all of this, I almost forgot to tell you that we still don’t have a result for the Australian Federal Election. It’s looking like the Liberals under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be returned but we’re yet to find out the final numbers. I just hope that the next 3 years doesn’t turn into an excuse for a political nonsense down in Canberra.Much needs to be done and we’re not paying our politicians to fight among themselves, although that might come as a bit of a surprise to them!

What have you been up to this week? I hope you’ve had a great week and I look forward to catching up!

This has been part of the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Diana at Part-Time Monster. You can click the  linky to read the other posts.

Best wishes,

xx Rowena

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share 25th June, 2016.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

If you’re joining me for coffee today, you’d better forget having anything iced or frozen today and instead warm your frozen fingers around a coffee or join me in a mug of Hot Chocolate. I like my hot chocolate with whipped cream, a sprinkling of cocoa and marshmallows to dunk. Indulgent I know but I don’t have one very often so they’re quite a treat. I had my first one of these back in Koln or Cologne back in 1992. Another time…another place but still delicious!

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My daughter playing her violin.

By the way, I had the Hot Chocolate featured here on Tuesday My daughter was performing with the school choir and the string group at a lunchtime concert and as her school is a good 45 minutes drive from home, I just had to go out for lunch, a Hot chocolate and follow it up with tastings at the neihbouring cheese and chocolate factories. As much as Mum’s Taxi might cry “abuse” and “exploitation”, there are also benefits. By the way, after indulging on pork pie swimming in gravy with hot crunchy chips, my Hot Chocolate, cheeses and chocolate, I topped my splurge by visiting a huge charity shop “The Vinnies Warehouse” where I picked up a fabulous red Oroton handbag and knee-length black boots for a steal. The boots are a little tight but for $25.00, I’ll make them fit.

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Ever considered going swimming in gravy?

I needed a huge pick-me-up this week. Awful things have been happening to good people I know and then I can extend those sentiments out to Beautiful British MP Jo Cox who was brutally shot and stabbed in the UK. She was a wife, a mum of two, a daughter, a sister.

However, it was matters closer to home that really rattled me. A family friend’s daughter lost her husband suddenly fa heart attack. He was only 45 and they had a 12 year old son…the same age as ours. As much as we’ve lived with my volatile health for the last 10 years, I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose your husband and Dad suddenly like that.  Steve Gee was a much loved and respected Sports Journalist and my heartfelt sympathies go out to his family and friends. Speaking of which, I need to write a card and think of what to say, which I’m finding challenging. Perhaps, “thinking of you” is enough but when we’ve come so close to experiencing a similar loss, I expect more from myself. What have I picked up from along the road? Hence, I have written nothing…other thasn sharing his memory with you.

This week, also saw our local Paralympic Gold Medallist, Liesl Tesch attacked and robbed at gun point while training for the Paralympics in Rio. I’ve met Liesl a few times and I actually wore her gold medal down the main street of Gosford during the International Women’s Day March a few years ago, when she was our Keynote Speaker and I was on the Status of Women Committee. I also met Liesl again when she spoke to members of the kids scout troop. They’re Sea Scouts and Liesl and her husband contribute behind the scenes. What helped me at the time, was seeing how she juggled her mobility so she used a wheelchair to conserve energy but rode her bike to and from work. This made me realise that using equipment didn’t make me it’s slave and I could use it to extend myself, rather than narrowing my options. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that at the time and since then, my health has improved significantly and I’m getting around quite well almost all of the time.

So, to hear about what happened to Liesl and  a team official, really rattled me and I did manage to get a card off to her.

I understand that bad things happen to good people and that our lives need a balance of flavours like a good dish…a bit of saltiness, sweetness, acidity, creativity, following the recipe and not just having everything sweet and sugar-coated all the time. I understand that in many instances, adversity is good for us and makes us stronger, more resourceful, compassionate and loving but at the same time adversity breaks, leaves our heroes fighting debilitating PTSD and loving people somehow consumed with hate. It’s not a predictable equation where you can put adversity in and know the person’s going to emerge like a beautifully wrapped package with a bow on top when it reaches the end of the production line.

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While I haven’t been so bold as to go up to God and ask him what on earth he’s doing, I have been wondering whether he might have pressed a few of the wrong buttons. We all know someone mean, nasty and despicable who lives a comfortable life well into old age and karma never catches up with them. Case in point being Jack the Ripper. I guess the argument goes that they’ll be judged by their maker but even so, am I the only one who wants to see justice on earth and not only for eternity? I don’t think so.

So, you can see I’m a bit fired up this week but it’s doing me good venting my thoughts here and I know many of you have experienced tragedy and heartbreak and know these feelings much better than I.

Speaking of stress, last night we heard that Britain is Brexiting the EU. I don’t know what all this means and I guess it remains to be seen. I’m Australian and going back, there was some tension about what Britain was doing joining the EU and what that meant for the Commonwealth. I guess those questions will resurface to some degree. Our current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is an outspoken Republican and we have a Federal election on July 2. There have to be some local ramifications and I don’t know what Brexit means for Australian exports to Europe. It seems the stock market isn’t happy at the moment but hopefully it will bounce back. That obviously has global ramifications.

Anyway, I wrote a post about Brexit last night: The Brexit: Britains Favourite Biscuit. It’s not intended to be a funny piece and falls more into the realms of satire.

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Roald Dahl at work in his Hut.

After dealing with the heaviness of the last week,I’ll move onto what I’ve been reading and ask if any of you are huge Roald Dahl fans? You might recall that for the A-Z Challenge I wrote a letter to Roald Dahl as part of my series of Letters to Dead Poets. This has triggered a Dahlfest in my own bookshelf and I’m currently making my way through his biography while reading through his children’s books. I have already read Matilda, James & The Giant Peach and this week I finished off Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I’m now reading Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator. I’m pretty sure that I read both Charlie books as a child but my memories are very dim. I certainly loved the movie starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, although there are some obvious discrepancies with the book. Who hasn’t wanted to find their own golden ticket and tour Wonka’s factory and own it at the end?!!

So, travelling along a chocolate river in my dreams has paralleled those more intense questions this week and we’re having a quiet weekend with the kids off at Gang Show rehearsal for Scouts. Performance are only a few weeks away. This means that I’m still rugged up in my winter PJs and dressing gown and I have no intention of going anywhere today. At a chilling 12.9 °C, it’s almost too cold to breathe! (Okay! You can start playing your violins for me now!)

So, how has your week been? I hope it’s been good and look forward to catching up!

Thanks for popping by! This has been part of the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Diana at Part-Time Monster. You can click  for the Linky to read the other posts.

xx Rowena

#AtoZchallenge Reflections…66, 652 Words Wiser.

It’s no wonder I needed an ambulance and a stretcher when I reached the end of the A-Z Challenge. I’d researched and written a staggering 66, 652 words and these weren’t any ordinary words either. They were probing philosophical investigations into the works and lives of over 30 exceptional poets, which were interwoven with my own ups and downs through life’s milestones.

letters-young-poet-rainer-maria-rilke-paperback-cover-art Just to recap, my theme was Letters to Dead Poets. While writing to dead poets does have an air of the macabre, the theme was simply a play on Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet. If an old poet could give advice to a young poet, surely dead poets had something to offer!

Each letter explored philosophical questions such as what it means to be a man, how to deal with adversity and a poet’s heart and somehow survive. Many of these poets didn’t.Naturally, I couldn’t write these letters without addressing the tragic nature of their deaths. Indeed, I wrote this post: Dedication To A Poet Dying Young. Emotionally, this was incredibly difficult and challenging, which stretched well beyond showcasing the poets who’ve inspired me through life’s ups and downs.

It is a reflection of my own tenacity that I could grapple with these contentious issues without going down myself. That my feet are firmly planted on terra firma and my head, heart and soul are in a good place. This isn’t something that happened overnight. I have a poet’s heart and have always been incredibly sensitive and know all too well how to dance with the dark side and succumb to its charms. I have survived brain surgery and live with a life-threatening auto-immune disease. Life is no picnic. I’ve gone up in flames and somehow walked out of the ashes. Well, I was actually carried out unconscious but I’m still here.

Not unsurprisingly, I needing to balance out the heaviness and developed a lively undercurrent with the age-old battle between cats and dogs. There were poets who were famous cat lovers like TS Eliot and Ernest Hemingway and ardent dog lovers including Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf and Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott. My two dogs jumped into the fracas standing up for the “pollicle” dogs (poor little dogs …TS Eliot). They were rather unimpressed that there is no Dogs: The Musical!!

Quite unexpectedly, many roads led to Paris. Paris the city of love, which can inevitably become the city of heartbreak. Although heartbroken in Paris myself back in July 1992, I did a solo poetry reading at Paris’s famed Shakespeare Bookshop , which attracted the likes of Hemingway, Henry Miller and Anais Nin when they were in town.Somehow, a 22 year old backpacking Australian with her self-published anthology Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth, was following in their enormous footsteps. I have since discovered that young poets were considered “audience”. So, I have no idea how this crazed backpacker from the Antipodes slipped through the cracks and up the rickety red wooden staircase to perform.

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Poetry Reading, Shakespeare & Company Bookshop, Paris 1992.

So, after going through all of this, it is hardly surprising that I staggering across the finish line barely conscious. Every cell in my body was aching and my brain had liquefied into soupy mush. That’s what happens when you try researching and writing faster than the speed of light. You start to fall apart.

By writing so much, I clearly went way beyond the scope of the challenge, which really is about writing very short, sharp posts under 500 words and becoming something of a blogging slut getting around to as many blogs as possible every day to build new connections and expand your reader base. However, I went the other way. Instead of short and sweet, you could say I did the extended version. However, they cover significant psychological and philosophical issues and aren’t simply a handful of words…a throwaway.

So without further ado, here’s An A-Z of Letters to Dead Poets:

A: AA Milne

B: Banjo Paterson.

Banjo Peterson Replies.

 

C: Lewis Carroll.

Lewis Carroll Replies.

 

D: Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl’s Reply.

 

E: TS Eliot.

TS Eliot Replies.

F:Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken.

Robert Frost A Reply.

G:Kahlil Gibran.

Kahlil Gibran Reply.

H: Ted Hughes.

Ted Hughes Reply.

A Surprise Letter From Ernest Hemingway.

Q & A With Ernest Hemingway.

I- A Letter to Issa- Japanese Haiku Master.

Issa: A Reply.

J-A Letter to Jim Morrison-The Doors

Jim Morrison Replies

K-A Letter to John Keats.

Keats Replies

A Letter from Rudyard Kipling including the poem: “If”

L-A Letter to John Lennon

A Reply From John Lennon.

Lao Tzu: A Poem about The Journey.

M-Dorothea Mackellar: Australian Poet.

Dorothea Mackellar Replies

Mary Stevenson “Footprints”.

A Letter from Mary Stevenson re “Footprints”.

Maya Angelou

Dr Maya Angelou A reply.

N:Oodganoo Noonuccal: Indigenous Australian Poet

O-Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde Replies

P-A Letter to Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker Writes to the Poor Little Dogs.

Dogs Accuse: “Dorothy Parker Is A Fraud!”

Dorothy Parker Defends Dogs’ Accusations

P-Sylvia Plath

Help Me Dorothy Dix: What to Write to Sylvia Plath.

A Letter to Sylvia Plath

Q-Qu Yuan Chinese Poet

A Letter From Qu Yuan: Chinese Wisdom.

R-A Letter to Rumi

Rumi Replies

Rilke: Letters to Young Poets

Rilke Replies: Advice to Modern Poets.

S-Percy Bysshe Shelley

Advice from Percy Byssche Shelley

William Shakespeare

I delayed writing my letter to William Shakespeare by a day to coincide with the 400th Anniversary of his death on 23rd April, 1616. By the way, when Shakespeare woke up, he found his head was missing.

Despite writing some of the most loved and recognised love sonnets of all time, Shakespeare admitted that his track record with love wasn’t a commendation. So, he introduced me to poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.

Shakespeare Time travels 400 Years

Shakespeare on Love 400 Years On.

T-Letters to Rabindranath Tagore

Wisdom of Tagore: Love, Children and Dogs.

U-A Letter to John Updike.

John Updike: On Dogs

V- A Letter To Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf Replies…Letter to A Young Poet

Poetical Dogs Unite…A Letter from Virginia Woolf’s Dog

Elizabeth Barrett’s Love Poem to Her Dog.

W- Letter to William Wordsworth

Wordsworth I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

X-Anon: Unknown Native American Poet.

Y- Letter to William Butler Yeats.

Yeats: Easter 1916.

Yeats: Sailing To Byzantium

Yeats On Life

Z-Xu Zhimo: On Leaving Cambridge Again

ZZZZ: A Letter from Xu Zhimo

We Are Donne: Donne

I hope you’ve enjoyed the A-Z Challenge and are returning to life again after a week’s R & R.

xx Rowena

A2Z-BADGE 2016-smaller_zpslstazvib

 

D- Roald Dahl’s Reply #atozchallenge.

No sooner had I pulled up in Mum’s Taxi after a bleary night conversing with a certain Dead Poet starting with E, than I found a reply from Roald Dahl.

No, it didn’t arrive in a model aeroplane . I didn’t find it wrapped up in a block of chocolate either. Rather, by some kind of miracle, he’d managed to sneak passed the dogs and into the  house and there in a half-eaten packet of Tim Tams I found this note:

Dear Rowena,

Get on with the You-Know-Exactly-Whatsit!

A big bang on the head, doesn’t have to be the end. Strangely, it can even be the beginning. However, you already know that. You just need to act. Move it!

By the way, I’m impressed with how you crawled inside my head. Quite frankly, I’d never thought of climbing through the ear to pull that off. Being so tall, I never thought I’d fit.

We must chat again.

Warm regards,

Roald Dahl.

PS If I’d ever eaten a Tim Tam, I never would have died!

…….

So, it appears my son is not the only one who can’t stop at one Tim Tam.

Of course, I know exactly what the You-Know-Exactly-Whatsit is. It’s my Book Project. I know it’s been in the pipeline FOREVER and keeps metamorphosing before it even goes into its cocoon.

writing in Paris

Writing on the window sill at the Hotel Henri IV, Paris  July, 1992…a very different version of me.

What’s been stopping me? There I was reading my poetry at the Shakespeare Bookshop in Paris in my early twenties. Since then, the entire river’s passed under the bridge. What’s holding me back?

Well, there was such a thing as having a career and trying to “find the one”, which was so rudely interrupted by a not insignificant neurological meltdown. Of course, this was followed by kids and then another near death experience this time resulting in a physical meltdown with all my muscles wasting away. That’s nothing to sneeze about either. Yet, while I was in rehab, my husband brought in my laptop and I started writing seriously again.

Anyway, when you’ve had so many ups and downs, it’s hard to work out where you are and how to make sense of it all. I’ve persisted but it now seems that there is no perfect sense. Not all chaos but that the answer is out there somewhere sitting on the fence.

Finally, I’m feeling that sticking with the questions is okay. That even if we don’t get answers to particular questions, that we’re still being fueled by the quest. We even wander into other realms we never knew were there.

As John Lennon said:

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Mind you, when undertaking such journeys to foreign realms it’s always good to be prepared. To not only take along your map, torch and compass but also some refreshments. A long piece of string never goes astray either. That way, you can always find your way back out of the labyrinth.

Anyway, here I go again waxing lyrically instead of getting on with it.

I need to move it! Move it! Move it!

xx Rowena

PS: How are you going with the A-Z Challenge? I you are participating or have found some great posts, please leave links in the comments.

 

D-Roald Dahl: Letters to Dead Poets #atozchallenge

Dear Mr Dahl,

It is such a privilege and an honour to be writing to such a literary great. Indeed, it is incredibly humbling. I apologise in advance for writing such a long letter but I had no idea how many twists and turns our journey would take. Or, that the man who has made the whole world laugh, had endured so much grief.

When I was a little girl, you brought all my chocolate fantasies to life in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and seemingly wrote about my own daughter in Matilda.  Even though she is little, she is very strong-willed, determined and capable. As a parent yourself, I’m sure you can appreciate how this iron will can be a force for good and let’s just say “not so good”.

DSC_9561

My daughter and I at Matilda The Musical in Sydney, 2016.

Anyway, now that I’ve captured your attention, would you mind just sitting still for a moment. NO! DON’T MOVE!!  I told you. SIT STILL. This won’t take a moment. The best way for me to see inside your head, is climbing through your ear. Just need to scrape away a bit of wax. No use trying your nose when you’ve got a cold. Ah! In like Flynn! I apologise or the ongoing discomfort while I pull out my map, compass and torch. When you’re walking around inside someone else’s head, you really need to be prepared. Don’t want any accidents, especially when I can be rather wobbly on my feet and I didn’t bring my walking stick.

Sorry for popping in on you like this but if it’s any consolation, I didn’t get a lot of notice either. I was simply walking along the beach with my dogs photographing the clouds, when someone or something, jumped inside my ear and suggested that I write Letters To Dead Poets. Not just any dead poets but the ones who have inspired and spoken to me. Lit that spark!

So here I am with my notebook in hand ready D for Roald Dahl. Indeed, I’m just peering out through your nose. So, please don’t sneeze! That’s NOT how I want to learn how to fly. That said, I’m open to other suggestions!

There is so much that I would to ask you and so much I’d like to share that my words and thoughts are flying all over the place, each with a mind of its own. Sounding like your Vicar of Nibbleswicke, perhaps I need to fly around in circles to make sense of my thoughts. However, should I go forwards or back? Goodness knows!

While I’d like to come back to you another time to ask you about your writing, this letter has assumed quite a different purpose.

Plane Crash 19th September, 1940.

Roald Dahl plane

I’d like to ask you how that plane crash in WWII changed and influenced your life. You fractured your skull and temporally lost your sight. Prior to the crash you were working in business for Shell and afterwards you emerged as a writer with such an incredible imagination…as well as a sense that something had changed in you.

As your biographer, Donald Sturrock noted in Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl:

“A monumental bash on the head” was how Dahl once described this accident in the Western Desert, claiming that it directly led to his becoming a writer. This was not just because his first published piece of writing was a semi-fictionalised account of the crash, but also because he suspected that the brain injuries which he received there had materially altered his personality and inclined him to creative writing.

His daughter Ophelia recalled her father’s fascination with tales of people who had experienced dramatic psychological and physiological changes – such as losing or recovering sight – after suffering a blow to the head. He also told her that he was convinced something of this sort had happened to him, as it explained why a budding corporate businessman working for Shell, without any particular artistic ambition, was transformed into someone with a burning need to write and tell stories. This hypothesis was doubtless attractive, too, because it pushed potentially more complex psychological issues about the sources of his desire to write into the background.

Nowadays doctors might well have diagnosed Dahl as suffering from what is called post-concussive syndrome. The initial symptoms of this condition are normally forgetfulness, irritability, an inability to concentrate and severe headaches. Dahl suffered from all of these. In some patients the symptoms disappear, but leave behind longer-lasting behavioral changes, which are usually associated with mood swings and an increased lack of inhibition. In some cases, too, it can also result in a fundamental alteration of the perception of the self.

With Dahl, these alterations were marginal, but they were nonetheless significant. His sense of embarrassment – already minimal – was further diminished, his sense of fantasy heightened, while his desire to shock became even more pronounced. He emerged from his crisis more confident, more determined to make a mark [1].

However, this plane crash was only your entre to the workings of the human brain.

Theo’s Dreadful Accident 5th December, 1960-  Hydrocephalus.

By some horrible twist of fate, while your four month old son Theo was out with his nanny, a taxi drove into his pram fracturing skull and causing hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. It was a horrific accident and he was lucky to survive. However, after some promising signs, his condition rapidly deteriorated and he had surgery to insert a valve to drain the excess fluid into his heart. This valve kept blocking putting him through surgery after surgery, each time further increasing the likelihood of permanent brain damage and blindness. So, you did what Dads do. You went to fix the problem. You knew a bloke who made hydraulic pumps or model aeroplanes which didn’t block and you linked him up with neurosurgeon and the Wade-Dahl-Till (DWT) valve was developed. While Theo’s condition improved and he didn’t need to use that shunt, their invention changed the lives of 3,000 children…thanks to the love for your son and your resourceful thinking.

My Journey with Hydrocephalus.

Like Theo, I also have hydrocephalus and quite coincidentally, we were born on the same day nine years apart. Given your sense of humour, I don’t know whether you’re now wondering  whether being born on the 30th July means you’re going to have expansive water views inside your head, or maybe not. Indeed, when I was first diagnosed, I pictured a cheeky cartoon character called Bart Simpson surfing inside my head. So, my imagination is alive and well too!

In my case, the hydrocephalus was probably caused by a particularly difficult birth and wasn’t diagnosed until my mid-twenties. For some reason, whatever compensating mechanisms I’d  had, suddenly stopped working and I plummeted into a terrifying neurological abyss. I had brain surgery to insert a shunt, followed by at least six months of intensive rehabilitation. By the way, my shunt also blocked.

Surgery launched me on the precarious pathway towards recovery but also a strange sense that something had changed. A feeling you also expressed.  Having a bruised or broken brain, isn’t the same as having a broken leg. You can seem quite alright on the outside and yet there are “complications”, subtle changes and with it, much confusion. These subtleties are not easily understood from within and are even harder to explain. I wish we could have talked about that. Perhaps, we could’ve nutted a few things out together, which not only would’ve helped ourselves but could also help our “colleagues”. I’m not talking about fellow writers here but you already knew that.

At the time, a friend mentioned that you had invented the shunt. That surprised me. After all, you don’t usually expect writers with such an extraordinary imagination, to be equally good at  “nuts and bolts”. I thought we were all dreamers lucky to have a toe dangling anywhere near terra firma, let alone both feet. However, there is always an exception and thank goodness for that!

Ever since my diagnosis, I have wondered how different my life would’ve been if I’d been diagnosed as a baby. Reading Theo’s story gave me some serious insights into just how different it could have been, especially if it had been symptomatic at the time. That was pretty scary. Although some things might have been easier, I’ve always suspected that I would’ve been that fragile, special child kept locked up in the china cabinet and only brought out on special occasions. There would have been no netball, climbing trees or undertaking other “risky” activities. No adventures at all…just sitting still.

Rowena camera 2

Who could have suspected that this little girl had a harbour in her head?

Yet, basking in ignorance, I learned to read when I was four, pulled off an Arts Degree with Honours from the University of Sydney. At 22, a friend and I boarded a KLM Flight bound for Amsterdam. We had open tickets and could stay away for 12 months. Our only plans were to spend 3 weeks in Paris. During that time, I did a solo poetry reading at the famous Shakespeare Bookshop where the likes of Ernest Hemingway had hung out. I didn’t know that then or that even the Proprietor, George Whitman, was a larger than life figure. I was simply an intrepid 23 year old backpacker from Sydney who’d self-published her anthology on a photocopier. That’s all.

Then, in my mid-twenties, these ripples suddenly and inexplicably took off with a vengeance, raged into a tsunami. There was no doubt then that surgery was a matter of life and death and my neurological functioning was seriously impaired.

So, to a large extent, I don’t need to imagine what it was like for your family when Theo was struck down, although he was so much younger. After all, it’s very rare that even when two people are travelling along very same road, that they walk in the same shoes. Have the exact experience. The story always veers left or right but there’s still that common ground. By the way, I also remember my Dad thinking about how the shunt was made, why it blocked and how to manage the pressure.

Anyway, that was my story. Unfortunately, your affair with the Neurology Department wasn’t over yet.

roald-dahl-family-large

Roald Dahl photographed with wife Patricia Neal and children Olivia and Theo

Your Wife – Actress Patricia Neal – Has  A  Burst Aneurism – February 1965.

In February, 1965 while pregnant with your fourth daughter, Lucy, your wife had a burst aneurysm. Following emergency surgery, Pat remained in a coma for almost three weeks, lying on an ice mattress to minimise swelling and besieged by tubes. Antibiotics to prevent infection and anticonvulsants to prevent further damage to the brain dripped constantly into her system. You sat by her side, hour after hour, endlessly repeating: “Pat, this is Roald.”

For days there was no improvement in Pat’s condition. But on March 10, almost three weeks after the haemorrhage, she began to regain consciousness and went home a week later.

However, as Pat struggled to put her thoughts into words, to teach herself the names of colours, to work out how to use her right arm and feed herself, she became overwhelmed by the awareness of exactly what she had lost. The fact that she was pregnant, also made relearning how to walk particularly exhausting. You later described her condition in stark terms: “If left alone, she would sit and stare into space and in half an hour a great black cloud of depression would envelop her mind. Unless I was prepared to have a bad-tempered desperately unhappy nitwit in the house, some very drastic action would have to be taken.”

Apparently, your methods were Spartan. No self-pity, no indulgence toward the illness, just a determination to beat all the disabilities. With an approach based on “common sense”, your aim was to avoid “inertia, boredom, frustration and depression” and “get me to do it myself”. You sent her for physiotherapy at a nearby RAF military hospital. Then each day, between nine and 12 in the morning and two and five in the afternoon, you arranged for friends and neighbours to visit. These amateur therapists read children’s books to her and played elementary word games, simple arithmetic and puzzles…activities to stretch her mind.

On New Year’s Day 1966, you publicly raised the stakes on your wife’s recovery, telling the press that he felt certain she would be “working again within the year”.

After knocking back a few roles, finally, Edgar Lansbury offered her the lead in a film version of the Tony Award–winning play: The Subject Was Roses by Frank Gilroy. Pat liked the part of Nettie. Her therapist Val Eaton Griffith convinced her to accept it.

Yet Pat remained anxious that she was not ready. Val, however, had already persuaded her to deliver a speech in New York in March 1967. You wrote the text of her address and Val coached Pat on it daily for a month, before accompanying her to New York for the celebrity dinner.

“An Evening with Patricia Neal” was a fund-raiser for brain-injured children held at the Waldorf-Astoria. Her speech won her a standing ovation. The adulation stimulated her desire to recover and she began to believe she might pull off the movie comeback.

That night she saluted you for your efforts. Later, she would articulate her gratitude more eloquently: “I knew at that moment that Roald the slave driver, Roald the b—–d, with his relentless courage, Roald the Rotten, as I had called him more than once, had thrown me back into the deep water. Where I belonged.”

Mr Dahl, I appreciated your patience with me or going over what must be old ground or you. However, I wanted to share the gallant way you fought to save your son and your wife. It would be such an encouragement to people affected by neurological conditions. It is my hope that people will read your story and feel great encouragement. That through hard work, persistence and courage they can improve their lot, even if they can’t go back to how things were before. They still have a future.

Wait…There’s More!

However, these rendez-vous with the Neurology Department were only the tip of a huge iceberg of grief. Despite your career’s stellar success, tragedy was seemingly just around every corner.

When you were only four years old, your seven year old sister, Asti, died. Overcome by grief, your father succumbed to pneumonia a few months later, leaving your mother to carry on. Then in 1962 when you were still dealing with the aftermath of Theo’s accident, your much loved daughter Olivia died from encephalitis due to complications from measles. Olivia was also seven…the same age as your sister.

Surely, you had to ask yourself, God and the world what all this insanity was all about? Why do such awful things happen to good people? Why are so many rotters out there still walking round alive, when your angel’s been snatched away?  Now, I can’t help wondering if these thoughts were going through your mind as you wrote Charlie and The Chocolate Factory in the aftermath of Theo’s accident and your daughter’s death? One by one, the horrible children in the story disappeared until only Charlie was left. Was this your way of trying to grapple with your all-consuming anguish? Was this your way of saying that it should’ve been the other way around? That all the horrid people of this world should have been taken and your Olivia spared? I wouldn’t blame you for flying away in that great glass elevator either and somehow trying to find the happiness you’d lost.

Having picked up some of your bits and pieces, I can’t help but sense that you were caught up in a macabre, nightmarish déjà vu where the nightmares of your past repeated themselves and yet the characters and scenery had changed. I’m sure that trying to make sense or unravel it all had to be a burning obsession. How do you explain the strange happenings in the universe? What are you supposed to do with the all the random, floating pieces which haunt you in the night? Do you turn them into stories? Develop a sense of humour which something turns the darkness light, and the worse it all gets, the funnier you become? Is that how you wrote your greatest work: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while coming to grips with your son’s accident and then losing your beloved daughter? You somehow ended up righting this cruel world by giving a poor working class boy the golden ticket and he is the one who ultimately gets the chocolate factory. His fortunes turn completely upside down and goodness and order is restored. There is some sense of fairness in this world and the knowledge good will triumph over all the bad, even though there is utter heartbreak all around you. Why was your beloved Theo, an innocent baby simply lying in his pram hit by a random out of control taxi and how could he fracture his skull and lose his sight (albeit temporarily) when you had also fractured your skull and lost your sight when your plane crash during WWII? How could your beloved daughter Olivia who was so vibrant, intelligent and alive suddenly contract measles and then die from encephalitis, a rare complication? It was hard enough for you to lose your daughter but she was only seven and the same age when your older sister, Asti died…a death which seemingly  led to your father’s untimely death from pneumonia only a few months later and left your mother battling to hold the fort. When you lost Olivia, did you also wonder whether you would succumb like your own father? That you wouldn’t survive? After all, you seemed to be following the same script. Yet, it was during this time that you wrote your greatest work Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, a few years later, your wife Pat had a series of strokes following a burst aneurism while pregnant with your daughter Ophelia. While many would’ve packed the towel in by now, you sat by her bed side and spoke with her: “Pat, this is Roald” over and over again. No doubt you remembered what it meant to be all alone in the neuro ward and that incredible, crushing despair and you fought that beast with everything you had devising a gruelling rehabilitation program which might had had her cursing but brought her back.

Yet,while you’re family lie was travelling through hell, your literary career was  travelling along a parallel street enjoying success. In 1961, James and the Giant Peach, your first famous book for children, was published. You had started working on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory shortly after finishing James and the Giant Peach and it as published in September 1963, initially in the USA with the UK following a few years later. Apparently, the idea for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory grew out of your love of chocolate and your experiences as acting as a taster for a well-known chocolate factory while at school.

I don’t think you or I can even begin to unravel or explain all of this but I do hope that by reading about how you suffered so much and truly knew the full meaning of anguish that it will give the living hope. That you could go through all of that, not give up and still laugh and seize the day.

I have found this poem very encouraging:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)

By Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

 

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

 

So, after what has been a very extended journey, it’s now time for me to pack up my bag and find my out. At the same time, something, tells me this letter is only the beginning.

Warm regards

Rowena

Roald_Dahls_Grave,_Great_Missenden_(geograph_2373400)

Sources

 

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/7934421/Roald-Dahl-the-plane-crash-that-gave-birth-to-a-writer.html

Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl.