Most of us have favourite authors and books, and it's an easy jump from that to being curious about those authors' lives. At times over the past 30 years, I've found myself clambering about the rooms of such writers as Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen. I've even sat in the church pew from where CS Lewis stared at the door through which the real-life Alice peeped, just as she does in Alice in Wonderland.
Roald Dahl has that same magnetic tug. I've met children who have wanted to know where the real Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory is. They have wondered if Dahl's parents were like Matilda's parents, or like the granny in The Witches. Dahl knew that children were curious about him. He went into schools, appeared at book festivals all around the world and was constantly plied with questions. Actually, he was quite a mysterious, surprising person to meet: why did he sound so English but had a non-English name? Why was he so tall? How did he think up such weird and grotesque characters? How did he create such good tricks and jokes in his books?
The best starting point for a trip into the world of Dahl is a place dedicated to his life and work, The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in the village of Great Missenden, and we will of course get there. But let's start this tour at the beginning of his life in Llandaff, in the city of Cardiff in Wales, where you can construct your own Roald Dahl trail.
He was born in a house that was once called Villa Marie (now Ty Gwyn), in Fairwater Road, Llandaff on 13 September 1916. He was named after the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and baptised in Cardiff Bay's Norwegian Church, where his parents worshipped. It's now an arts centre, which you can visit — Dahl never forgot his Norwegian background and became the president of the church's preservation trust.
There are hidden ways in which Dahl's books are connected to this Norwegian background: his mother, Sophie, delighted in telling Dahl and his sisters fantastic and wonderful Norwegian myths, legends and folk tales full of giants and trolls, some of which appear transformed in his books, most notably, of course, in The BFG. There were also great sadnesses in Dahl's life: tragedy struck the family twice when he was only three — first, his sister Astri died, followed a few weeks later by his father, whose grave lies in nearby Radyr.
Other Dahl sites to find in Llandaff are the family's second home, Cumberland Lodge at 134 Cardiff Road, and the green in front of Llandaff Cathedral, next to which the original buildings of the Cathedral School, which Dahl attended, once stood.