Roald Dahl reveals secret to bestsellers as personal letter sold at auction

The personal letter written to a librarian sold for thousands of pounds. Credit: PA

A letter written by Welsh author Roald Dahl has revealed his secret to writing bestselling children's books after it sold for more than double its guide price at auction.

The author of the British classics such as 'Charlie and The Chocolate Factory' and 'James and The Giant Peach' said he wanted to "enthral" young readers in a letter he wrote more than thirty years ago.

A university student who was writing a dissertation on Dahl's work for her literature degree wrote to him on a whim.

Unexpectedly, Dahl replied sending a personal handwritten letter back to Christine Wotton saying he believed in stories that encourage children to become readers for life.

The letter fetched £2,200 at auction Credit: Hansons Auctioneers/PA

The letter reads:

Never shelter children from the world... the 'content' of any children's book is of no importance other than that it enthrals the child - and thus it teaches or seduces him or her to 'like' books and to become a fit reader - which is vital if that child is going to amount to anything in later life.

The book-reading child will always outstrip the non-book-reading child in later life. There are very few messages in these books of mine. They are there simply to turn the child into a reader of books. Damn it all, they are mostly pure fantasy. Have you read the latest one, Matilda? It seems to have broken every sales record in the history of hardback publishing.

It had a guide price of £500-£800 and was sold at £2,200 to a UK bidder. Dahl's letter went under the hammer in Hansons' specialist library auction at Bishton Hall in Staffordshire.

The letter is dated August 2, 1989. Dahl died in November of the following year at age 74.

The letter is unusual because of its conversational style and it is handwritten rather than typed which is a rare find, according to Hansons' specialist library.

The owner of Hansons Auctioneers said it came as "no surprise" that the letter did so well at auction.

Charles Hanson said, “I think this was a case of Charlie and the amazing auction factory! Dahl was a huge talented and sadly missed. Nevertheless, his extraordinary imagination lives on thanks to his many books and the films they inspired.

“Dahl’s work has brought immense joy to people across the world for decades. It’s also helped countless children learn to read and appreciate books.”

Christine Wotton from Chagford said she was studying for a degree in literature and linguistics in the late 1980s when she decided to write to Mr Dahl "speculatively".

She said, "Nowadays I don't think I would have tried writing at all, but when you're in your 20s you're eternally optimistic about what can happen in life.

"I wrote the letter but I didn't really expect a reply, and certainly not a reply with such a long letter, handwritten and so much detail as well - completely blown away."

"I've enjoyed and treasured the letter for over 30 years and the time has come to share it, for others to read and enjoy his wise words."

Ms Wotton said she "treasured" the letter for more than 30 years Credit: ITV West Country

Explaining the history of the letter, Miss Wotton said, "I stumbled across Dahl's address listed in the back of an old library book.

"On a whim I asked him questions which intrigued me regarding his style and attitude towards children's literature, never really dreaming of a response."

The letter had an original guide price of £500-£800. Credit: Hanson Auctioneers

Commenting on the item, Jim Spencer, Head of Books at Hansons, said: "Most autograph letters that come up for sale are typed, brief, almost generic responses."

"This is quite different, it gives us an insight into Dahl's creativity and craft, his passion for making reading fun, encouraging children to pick up books and take a love of literature with them throughout the rest of their lives."