With the centenary of the birth of Roald Dahl, what better time to celebrate twist-in-the-tail tales? These days most praise is heaped on Dahl for his delicious, wickedly funny children's books, but in the 1970s he was equally famous for his Tales of the Unexpected, the TV series of his short stories that was prime-time viewing.
    There's still a thriving market for stories with twist endings. Many women's magazines have a special slot for them, but they can belong to any genre or none. Despite their popularity, there's a tendency for critics to look down on them, perhaps because some aren't as surprising as they might be and rely solely on the plot to keep the reader's interest. The best twist-in-the-tail stories are in another class. They make the reader think that they know what the twist will be and then give the plot an extra turn that takes them completely by surprise while being satisfyingly apt. The danger is that if readers or editors guess what happens they'll dismiss the story as predictable. Even if they guess wrongly they might not read the whole story; at best they'll probably skip to the end to check, unless you give your story something extra.
    Roald Dahl's twist stories are peopled with memorable characters, use lively, original language and have weird situations that not only grip readers until the last line, but send them back for a second read even though the end is no longer a surprise. His style is unique. It's no surprise ending that his work should be cherished by so many people young and old. Hopefully, his centenary will encourage anyone who has previously dismissed twist-in-the-tale stories to give his darkly humorous tales a try.