Paperback Writer

The written word has held a fascination for me for as long as I can remember. Fifty years ago today, 12th April 1962, just short of my seventh birthday, I won a certificate of merit with an honourable mention in a national essay writing competition. (incidentally, fifty years to the day that RMS Titanic  sailed smoothly through calm waters in the Atlantic ocean). It was an initative that was organised for schools by Cadbury Brothers Limited of Bourneville, though its precise origins remain a mystery. Pupils were required to study the subject of cocoa production and write an essay called “The Story of Chocolate” based upon ones own research. Quite a tall order for a six year old. It’s one of the main reasons why, even to this day, I find it so easy to find Accra on a map. Everyone that was entered by their school received a bar of chocolate for their efforts, the better essays getting a certificate and a tin of Cadbury chocolates. It’s surprising how many writers were first inspired by this clever marketing scheme, including the malevolent presenter and journalist Anne Robinson. In the Telegraph on 6th October 2001 she said that, on winning the Cadbury’s essay competition at the age of nine, she ‘wanted to write, and become famous!’ I don’t remember being quite that conceited, though before ever putting thought to paper I remember my inspiration was always to be able to match my Dad’s ability to tell a story using the power of the pen (or in his case the typewriter). My Dad had written several books throughout the 1940’s which he would carefully type out as he sat at his little bureau.

Two books written by Digby Hugh Oliff. Dad would sometimes write under the pseudonym 'Kid Filo' ('Dik Olif' backwards).

One such mighty tome bears the title ‘Guts Is Game’ which is a mixture of biography of his formative years growing up in a tiny village in Essex, and a fabulous example of fantasy, giving licence to begin and end his story in such a way that the unsuspecting reader would have no way of knowing about its more personal content. Today, should my Dad have chosen to pay to have such a book published we might treat his effort with the derogatory ‘vanity publishing’ term, in other words, of no possible interest to anyone apart from the author. However, it dawned on me, having read this particular book most carefully, that it is in fact a wonderful history and social comment on the way in which the less well-off survived an arduous lifestyle at the tern of the last century. What began as a reflective tale of his boyhood and early adult life has since become a genuine insight into my Dad’s world long gone when viewed from the Britain of today. It’s important therefore that anyone with a penchant for writing is not to be discouraged by the powerful publishing houses from putting down on paper those things that truly matter in ones life. Its use to the immediate and objective contemporary reader may be limited, yet in time, it may well see its day in the sunshine as a document of reflective relevance.


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One response to “Paperback Writer

  1. juliathorley

    It’s never been easier to get writing published. Just look at the proliferation of blogs, for instance. And we no longer need the major publishing houses. With publish-on-demand operations springing up, it’s quite straightforward to write, say, your memoirs and have a handul of copies produced for family and friends. Similarly, I’m just about to have a go at publishing an e-book for the Kindle market. It won’t make me rich, but I’m sure it will be an interesting experience. (BTW, I can’t believe you kept your Cadbury’s certificate!)

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