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“Hemingway, a great American writer, taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words,’When you are going good, stop writing.’ …if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next…” ROALD DAHL, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Photo: Roald Dahl (left) and Ernest Hemingway (right) in London during 1944.

NOTES ON THE PHOTO: As far as I’ve been able to learn, no one knows why Dahl and Hemingway were together in London during WWII. Dahl, a member of the British Royal Air Force, worked as something of a spy during the early war years—when Britain was fighting Germany and hoping the U.S. would enter the conflict. In this period (1939-1941), Dahl was stationed in Washington D.C., and attended social functions with politicians and other dignitaries, hoping to learn useful information about U.S. plans vis-a-vis the war.

At the time of the above photo, Dahl was 28 and Hemingway was 45 (though he looks much older). At first, I was puzzled when I looked at this photograph — thinking it couldn’t be Hemingway because “Papa” wasn’t that short. Then I realized that Roald Dahl must have been well above average in height to make Hemingway appear diminutive. Further research revealed that Dahl was 6’6″—while Hemingway was 6 feet tall.

At this point in his career, Hemingway was a world-famous author and had written three of his most important books — The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls – while Dahl had not yet written anything of note (Random House had published his children’s book entitled The Gremlins in 1943). Perhaps the young intelligence officer and aspiring author (Dahl) wangled a meeting with the old lion (Hemingway), hoping to gain some writing advice or just bask in the presence of the great author.

While Hemingway at some point (I’m not sure when) wrote about his method of stopping before you’re written out for the day, perhaps he gave this advice to Dahl first-hand when they were chumming around London in 1944. (For the record, Hemingway was in Europe from June-December 1944 and became involved in a number of allied initiatives while acting as a journalist.)