Last weekend we were lucky enough to see the musical of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The book is up there with my favourite children’s books. I have always loved the anarchic character of Willy Wonka: he is, in many ways, an overgrown child, but I have always felt that he was also perhaps Roald Dahl in disguise. One of Roald Dahl’s daughters, Ophelia, has been recorded as saying that she felt there was more of her father in the character of Grandpa Joe than in Willy Wonka, but surely Mr Wonka is the perfect character for a children’s writer.

* He does not think much of adults, particularly adults who do not even play by the rules of adulthood (the parents of Augustus Gloop, etc, have no idea how to parent.) This is something all children’s writers will empathise with. I cannot wait to “get rid of the parents” when I am writing, as children have so much more fun when the adults are not there.

* He is creative and inventive, always thinking of new, magical recipes for his confectionery. A writer has to do this too, we simply use words instead of sugar and chocolate.

* He creates new ideas alone in his factory, only using the Oompa Loompas to produce the final product: a writer must work alone at the craft of storytelling, only using others’ help when it comes to needing a good, thorough edit or a publisher to market the final product.

* Finally, and most importantly, Willy Wonka prizes a good imagination above all things. His imagination is his toolkit; the only thing he needs to begin the process of creating all the marvellous chocolates and sweets.

David Grieg, the writer of the story for the musical, saw this and made something of it; something I thought was a lovely touch. Towards the end of the show, when all the disobedient children have come to their various sticky ends, Mr Wonka takes Charlie and Grandpa Joe up to his Inventing Room, which consists of a lonely desk and a notebook. The notebook has a few things in it, but is mostly blank. Mr Wonka takes Grandpa Joe aside and tells Charlie not to touch anything. Charlie beings to read the notebook and is so inspired by Mr Wonka’s scribblings, that he begins to write down some of his own. When Mr Wonka comes back, instead of reprimanding Charlie as he did the other children, he delights in Charlie’s imaginative ideas. Charlie asks him: “Why are there blank pages in the book?” and Mr Wonka replies, “Those are the ideas I haven’t had yet.”

Willy Wonka sees himself in Charlie: a young man who has imagination in abundance (and has had to have it because he has never had much in the way of material possessions). Charlie doesn’t need to guzzle the chocolate river, because the wonder of the Chocolate Room is something he savours with all his senses; he doesn’t grab the chewing gum “meal” because he is enjoying the story behind the gum which Mr Wonka is telling the children – he doesn’t grasp at any of the treats because he is carried away by the whole magical experience of being in the factory with Mr Willy Wonka, the man Grandpa Joe has told him so much about.

In the end, it is all about storytelling. Mr Wonka is the writer, and Charlie is the reader, who might one day become the writer too. For me, this is Roald Dahl who inspired me so many years ago to read and read and read and read until one day I thought maybe I could write as as well.

I collect notebooks. It is something of a fetish. Some of them are full of notes for stories that have become books. Some of them have nothing in. I like to think that they, too, are the ideas I haven’t yet had.

 

 

 

Advertisements