Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

14 May 2018

Snozzcumbers in Norwich: Quentin Blake’s Roald Dahl portraits on tour

Isabelle King

Quentin Blake’s centenary portraits of some of Roald Dahl’s most memorable characters are currently on display at Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library

I’m delighted to be the Children’s Author in Residence for the duration of this fantastic exhibition: not only has it created the perfect excuse for me to use words like ‘whizpopping’ and ‘snozzcumbers’ in public speeches and on British Library blogs but it’s also been a wonderful way to take part in community events with the Library and engage with readers, writers and families.

Roald Dahl inspired me, as he inspired so many children, to discover a joy for literature. The way he conjured quirky characters with a mischievous humour and terrific sense of fun made for very exciting reading. Seeing his imagination brought to life by Quentin Blake in such unique and astonishing illustrations gave me a real sense that stories can breathe beyond the page. 

Blake’s 10 new portraits are displayed at the front of Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library - a world of imagination to welcome you inside. It’s been brilliant to see people’s reactions to the pictures which seem to provoke discussions as to ‘which is your favourite?’ Some prefer the enigmatic intrigue of a villain, the terrifying Grand High Witch and (hilariously grumpy) Miss Trunchbull, others prefer the endearing charm of a plucky protagonist such as Danny and his Dad or Sophie and the BFG. 

My personal favourite is Matilda, I love her look of triumph as she sits on top of the pile of books, a reminder that stories empower us. To celebrate the portraits I’ve worked with the Library to organise interactive events. This has included hosting one of my Books Talk Back events, literary events which support and showcase new writing. I have had the pleasure of running four Books Talk Back events at the British Library, featuring the Writers in Residence at the Eccles Centre for American Studies as guest authors, which have included Tracy Chevalier and Naomi Wood. 

I love the way that books bring people together and I created these events to make information about writing accessible to everyone with an interest. At each event, we share insight and ideas about getting started as a writer. Books Talk Back is now my Prince’s Trust supported enterprise through which I run creative writing workshops in schools, encouraging children to write stories of their own. We also explore storytelling through illustration and the Quentin Blake pictures are the perfect inspiration to spark a story. 

The residency happily coincides with the release of my new children’s book Once Upon A Time in Norfolk. Norfolk has a wealth of fascinating history and I wanted to capture that through imaginative storytelling. Endorsed by Norfolk Museums Service the book consists of eight fictional short stories which combine local history with imagination and fun. 

The book launch took place at Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library on 12 May, where we made snap dragons inspired by the ones you can see at Norwich Castle, featured in Once Upon A Time in Norfolk. I’ve also teamed up with Norfolk Heritage Centre to run family events bringing their archives to life through storytelling. Most recently, this included ‘spinning a yarn’ inspired by weaving objects from Norfolk museum, Strangers’ Hall, featured in my book.

The Quentin Blake portraits have provided a wonderful opportunity to bring people together in so many creative and exciting ways. You have until early June to come and see them for yourself - they make for a phiz-whizzing visit!

Isabelle King

Children’s Author in Residence

Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library

Isabelle’s website