Liccy Dahl describes how the Wondercrump Competition came about
The Roald Dahl Foundation was set up in 1991, after Roald died. We help in three areas: literacy, haematology and neurology. Neurology was chosen for two reasons: brain damage has severely affected our family. Also, it covers such a large area of medical disorders which need a great deal of funding. Haematology was chosen because leukaemia was the cause of Roald’s own death. Literacy, though, was Roald’s passion and promoting it a lifelong crusade. So, when I was asked if the Roald Dahl Foundation would like to be associated with a poetry competition, I replied, ‘Yes, we’d be greatly honoured.’
And so, the Wondercrump Competition was born. Teachers and pupils went wild, Random House was inundated and 15,000 poems flew in from all over the UK. A team of dedicated teachers was put to work sorting through initial entries. Another panel of expert judges spent many hours deliberating over and categorising the winners.
I, too, was involved in the difficult task of judging. The postman delivered to Gipsy House an enormous parcel filled with hundreds of poems for me to read. ‘Help,’ I thought, ‘where do I begin?’ I was then asked to write the introduction for the book. Imagine Roald’s amusement at the thought of me, ‘the illiterate member of the family’, not only being asked to be a judge but to write the introduction for the first publication! I gave it the heading ‘Poetic Justice’ believing that perhaps I had the last laugh. However, in the end it was Roald, as ever, who came up trumps because I signed off with one of the poems he’d sent to a school:
‘When I grow old and just a trifle-frayed
It’s nice to know that sometimes I have made
The children and occasionally the staff
Stop work and have a little laugh.’
This would surely set the theme for the competition. I wanted the teachers and the children to have FUN.
To achieve the final phase in this great enterprise, Quentin Blake’s pens, paints and brushes created a cover. Random House and School Book Fairs sponsored the whole event. Let’s hope that between all of us, we’ve helped to create a new world of poetry lovers and, who knows, with a bit of luck, some great poets for the future.
We’re now in the third year of the Wondercrump Competition and I have a feeling that once again we’ll be swamped with eager poets. You’ll find an entry form in this issue. I’ve left Roald’s daughter, Ophelia, to write about what this competition would have meant to her father.
Ophelia Dahl writes:
Most of you probably know that my father wrote during the day in a small, brick hut at the edge of our orchard. Alone in this cool, quiet place, he could let his imagination talk to him. Every night he would lift his creaky body upstairs to tell my sister Lucy and me about the piece of the story he’d written that day. Usually, he walked slowly round the room as he talked and sometimes he parted the curtains and peered out into the evening as though he were looking for the BFG or Fantastic Mr Fox. When he came into the room holding a single leaf of yellow, lined paper, we knew he was going to read us one of his poems. I think we looked forward to the poems most of all. He tried to keep a serious face while he read them, but we could see the grin in his eyes.
At school he was expected to learn long, complicated poems by great poets like Keats, Donne, Kipling and Dylan Thomas. Because of one particularly eccentric and imaginative teacher, this was never a chore. He’d been inspired and this love of poetry remained with him forever. The best possible proof of this is that almost every one of his children’s books contains at least one poem or a rhyming couplet.
So, it’s with some authority that I’m able to say The Wondercrump Poetry Competition would have meant a great deal to him.
A Wondercrump Competition entry form should arrive with this issue of BfK – if it’s missing, please telephone Random Century Children’s Books on 0171 973 9000 and ask for one.