Writing about the BFG

Written by Mavis Gulliver

What I love best about Roald Dahl is the way he played with words.  His Big Friendly Giant speaks in a delightful mix of made-up muddled-up words and it was an absolute joy for me to do the same.

When I write a story, I imagine that I am one of the characters. I find it easier to write if I imagine myself walking in my character’s shoes, seeing the things they see and speaking the way they speak. So I turned myself into a grandmother, and called my story ‘Grandmamma and the BFG.’

At first, I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I read the book again and was reminded that the BFG had a dream. His dearest wish was “to ride a jumbly big elefunt through green forests picking peachy fruits off trees”.

I knew this was impossible because the BFG riding an elephant is about as ridiculous as you trying to ride a chicken. But the BFG wanted an elefunt and I was determined to let him have one.

From that single idea my story grew. As soon as it was written I read it to a group of children at Port Ellen Primary School. This is a small school on the Isle of Islay off the west coast of Scotland. It is so small that nine, 10 and 11-year-olds all share a class with their teacher, Miss Clark. I already knew the class because I’ve done workshops about my own books and the children have written stories about my characters.

On this visit, I read my story and asked them to illustrate it. There were enormous BFGs – even a Scottish one in a tartan kilt. There were elephants galore, all of them better than any I could draw, and there was at least one grandmamma that looked like me.

Port Ellen pupils with their illustrations.

There were lots of good pictures but Bronagh Newman’s stood out from all the rest because it wasn’t just a picture. It was an illustration of my story and she hadn’t missed anything out. Her BFG was very BIG – so BIG that he could dangle the elephant from his little finger. His lovely smile and twinkly eyes made him look really FRIENDLY. Grandmamma was waving from her bedroom window and there were hundreds of golden phizzwizards behind her. Lastly, a full moon in a dark sky showed that the story was happening at night.

Bronagh Newman with the chosen illustration.

Bronagh, my young artist, had her eleventh birthday in February. Our island is a quiet place and we have to make our own entertainment. Bronagh keeps herself busy with reading, writing and drawing. She plays bagpipes and flute and goes for long family walks with her sister and their three dogs. She loves going to farms when her mum, who is a vet, has to treat sheep, cows and other animals. And she enjoys helping her dad when he’s building boats and taking visitors on fishing trips.

In September, Bronagh and some of her classmates will move to Islay High School so I hope to celebrate the Roald Dahl Centenary twice. I will return to Port Ellen School to display the paintings and to tell the younger children about our favourite Roald Dahl characters. And I plan to take my story and Bronagh’s illustration to Islay High School.

Roald Dahl has entertained us, inspired us and made us love reading even more than we did before. He deserves a most humungous ginormous bat on the pack.

Three cheers for Roald Dahl – Rip rip roohay – Rip rip roohay – Rip rip roohay.



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