"So you've no financial problems."Dahl, frustrated, cuts to the chase: "What you want to do is write a children's book. That's where the money is today, believe me." Amis, knowing his limitations, demurs:
"I wouldn't say that either, exactly, but I seem to be able to . . ."
"I couldn't do it," says Amis. "I don't think I enjoyed children's books much when I was a child myself. I've got not feeling for that kind of thing."The story is told, both by Amis in his memoirs and by Brown in his book, as a sort of inadvertent revelation by Dahl of a calculating cynicism, and that's certainly how it would seem if it ended there. But Brown relates the conversation's conclusion, which to my eye changes its whole tone:
"Never mind," replies Dahl. "The little bastards'd swallow it."
In his account, Amis goes on to say that children are meant to be good at detecting insincerity, and would probably see through him. . . .That apparently sincere sentiment complicates the anecdote, and, moreover, when its sincerity about hard work and commitment is combined with the bluntness of his earlier statement, seems to represent the Dahl we know.
"Well, it's up to you. Either you will or you won't. Write a children's book, I mean. But if you do decide to have a crack, let me give you one warning. Unless you put everything you've got into it, unless you write it from the heart, the kids'll have no use for it. They'll see you're having them on. And just let me tell you from experience that there's nothing kids hate more than that. They won't give you a second chance either. You'll have had it for good as far as they're concerned. Just you bear that in mind as a word of friendly advice."
But good god, imagine what a children's book by Kingsley Amis would have been like. Ghastly to think about, isn't it?