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The spy who wrote

By Dr Who

The three things that spies need are guts, gadgets and guns. But the spy world reached 4G long before the rest of us decided to play catch-up; because they also need guile to beat villains like Dr No. Who else needs boatloads of guile? Someone telling children stories. Because children are notorious about logic, yet ready to accept some things based on faith. And a good children's fiction writer needs lots of guile to understand what he can get away with.

Roald Dahl, being a handsome, lean, super-spy, flying ace, had guile in aces. Here are some of the books that best showcase his literary talent.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
What kid wouldn't want an endless supply of chocolates? The answer is obvious, so Mr Dahl took his cue, somewhat, from Hansel and Gretel and gave the world the best chocolate factory ever. On the way, he threw in an underdog by the name Charlie, who is poor but morally upright; an eccentric character by the name of Willy Wonka, at once creepy and respectable; and, of course, five bullies. The result was Dahl's most famous book, and considering the fact that he was very good at what he did, that's saying something.

Giants are the traditional fairy tale villains. Why wouldn't they be? Kids are surrounded by tall people who are, in comparison, extremely strong. Being kidnapped and eaten by giants is a common story to keep kids in line. On behalf of the tall people, Dahl - who stood at 6 foot 5 - attempted to cure kids of that silly notion. Enter BFG, i.e. Big Friendly Giant, the world's only good giant, who goes around destroying nightmares and distributing good dreams. Together with Sophie, the heroine of the story, BFG approaches the Queen of England to put an end to the other mean, children-stealing giants.

School is horrible; Matilda's school even more so. Her class-teacher, Miss Honey is very nice, but the bullish principal of the school is mean to everyone. Matilda's parents don't appreciate her extraordinary intelligence and in the middle of all this unhappiness, Matilda realises she has a superpower - telekinesis. Matilda is slightly more grown up than most of Dahl's other books, with undertones of family issues and muscle power.

James and the Giant Peach
Everyone wants friends and sometimes they come from the unlikeliest of places. When James, living with his mean aunts in a Cinderella situation, receives some magical crocodile tongues from a mystical figure, he thinks of escape. Instead, he trips and spills the tongues on a peach tree. The result is the giant peach, which is larger than a house. Others who are affected happen to be insects. James, starving for friendship, befriends them and together they run away, cutting the peach out of the tree and rolling down the road inside it. On the way, it crushes his aunt and they eventually fall into the ocean. What follows is one of the strangest stories I have ever read, with Cloud-Men in the air controlling the weather and shark attacks and seagulls. But looking back, what's really surprising is how easily I bought the whole story. Kids really are remarkable.

Danny, the Champion of the World
This is a more familiar story, and probably my favourite to this day. Danny and his father, William, live in a Gypsy caravan and own a filling station. William occasionally poaches pheasants from local rich bully Victor Hazell's forest. When they have a brush with said Mr Hazell, they hatch a plan to set Victor Hazell straight by stealing all his pheasants before a very important hunt. While a father-son story at its heart, the book has tons of hilarious moments. It also has a kid driving a car.

Bonus: Boy and Going Solo
These are Roald Dahl's autobiographies, the first part dealing with his childhood and school life, titled “Boy”. The latter part deals with his travel to Africa, working for Shell Oil Company; his encounter with the feared Mamba snake; and finally, his participation in WWII, titled “Going Solo”. Generally biographies aren't very interesting, but in this case, they are definitely worth reading. If you thought his fictions were funny, wait till you read his life story.

Paper trails Sukanya Sravasti analyses and throws away a seemingly hundred reasons why we write

When it came to writing fiction, ignorance of fame and recognition gave her a relief, a kind of holy righteousness that fuelled her virtue and morality - or at least she thought so.

Yet many a times she stumbled upon an irritating question - why do I write fiction? Why do we write? Is it because our bread and butter graciously depend upon it? Or is it because the mere harmony of words takes our fate from rags to riches; a place where our words find their true meaning - where they are accepted and justly appreciated; where we can cosily ensconce ourselves in serene-looking comfort zones. After all, it DOES feel great to be accepted, knowing that our writing manages to find its way through piles and piles of messy drafts that filter frustration, misery, restlessness, writer's block, not to forget the countless swarms of publishing houses and their criticism, and then finally to its long-awaited destination - a critic's good rating; a bestseller, perhaps. Sweet, sweet acceptance: one that brings a night of calm slumber after innumerable hours of coffee and insomnia; one that satisfies you - no matter how momentarily.

Recognition and satisfaction - two words that convey most meaning when put together side by side, and that are widely believed to be directly linked. Satisfaction roots from recognition and acceptance, as simple as that. Or is it?

So why do I write, she repeated.

The answers were pretty apparent when, in all her idealism and righteousness, she completely debunked the idea that she wrote for personal recognition.

"I write for myself. For discovering a truth about myself that is yet unknown. In other words, to explore myself,” she wistfully continued her internal debate. She couldn't help but think that such has always been the words of a solitary, amateur writer who struggles to find the perfect balance between recognition, acceptance and writing itself.

What then makes a writer of fiction desire maybe a tiny slice of recognition, so that her works might be read by enthusiastic readers who may find camaraderie with their everyday emotions? Why is she so eager for them to sense and discover what she just has? And then one night, after completing the final page of her novel, the answers flood her slowly. Is this how satisfaction tastes?

When I write I do not write alone. In fact, I am writing with all my readers - the only difference is that I write beforehand. And while reading, the readers - without knowing it - write alongside me, feeling every sensation that I have already felt; laughing with me as well as shedding tears; witnessing every strand of thought that has passed my head and trying to understand me as we continue to stumble across life's rough crossroads in a mere handful of pages. So when I write fiction, I want my readers to experience my journeys as we write our mutual memoirs together - be it imaginary.


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