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Scraps of paper worth their weight in Gold

September 19, 2016


I was at a superb talk given by Dr. Eva Griffith at the London Metropolitan Museum, about ‘Shakespeare’s Rivals’ a few weeks ago.

scraps-of-paperDuring it we were allowed to look at the documents of the period, which were sometimes just little pieces of paper, that when pieced together told some of the social history of the time. I was hooked.

Old pieces of paper intrigue me. The official name of course for those scraps is ‘ephemera’ described as ‘transitory written or printed material not meant to be retained or preserved’. You know, those are the bits that turn up years later in forgotten diaries like bus tickets, shopping lists, scribbled lyrics written after a break up.

I have one piece of paper that was so important to me that I’ve have kept it ever since I was twelve.

It came with me when as a child we immigrated to the States and then I brought it back again still intact years later when we arrived home to The Isle of Bute in Scotland again.

My treasured item was a postcard of acknowledgement from the publishers Blackie & Son Ltd, to say that they had received my work.

Imagine this…. aged twelve I’m sitting at the kitchen table scribbling in longhand and whizzing through a dozen school jotters to create my book called ‘‘Adventure Isle”. (For those who might be moderately interested it was an adventure in Enid Blyton style with lots of descriptions of food…just the way she did it) When it was finished I went to the local printers to see if I could get someone to type it up for me but it was too expensive so I wrapped all the jotters up lovingly in a brown paper package and posted them off.

One week later the mail arrived and in it was a postcard. It simply read:

“Blackie & Son’s Publishers acknowledges the receipt of ‘Adventure Isle’ by Margaret Nicol”

For me this was a magical moment. I was a writer and I could prove it!

The postcard was my trophy and I’ve kept it ever since just to remind myself that’s who I am…in case I forget.



4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2016 6:32 pm

    I love this story! I think it’s really impressive that your twelve-year-old self knew the submission procedure and acted on it. Did Blackie and Son know how old you were – wouldn’t it have been nice of them to send you something more personalized in order to encourage a young author? Did you get your manuscript back, by the way? – John

  2. odetteelliott6 permalink
    September 19, 2016 8:03 pm

    That must have been an amazing talk at the London Metropolitain Museum and I like your idea of the importance of small pieces of paper. My own experience of sending something off to a publisher was not so happy. I probably should have forgotten it, but it did sting so much at the time. Aged around 11 or 12 I sent off a poem to something called The Children’s Newspaper. They returned my offering, saying that it seem to be plagiarised. I was shocked, as I felt so sure that I had written the whole poem without ever copying anyone else’s words.

    In my case, a much better and more ‘cherished’ piece of paper was a letter from one of the first publishers I submitted a picture book text to. By then I was in my forties. The editor did reject the story, but kindly added a P.S. “Odette Elliott. What a lovely name for an author!” Such kindness kept me going and I sent the story off again. It did get accepted elsewhere.

  3. Alison Allen-Gray permalink
    September 20, 2016 1:39 pm

    Meg, your piece raises the interesting question of how much paper ephemera there’ll be for future generations to pore over. I tend to keep paper copies of all my pre-publication work, including drafts and scribbled notes to myself (which I sometimes can’t understand!) but I guess many people store stuff digitally. My thought on the matter is that digital storage devices may change in the future but paper never will – which is why my study is bulging with boxes!

  4. October 6, 2016 1:13 pm

    This is such a lovely piece – thank you, Megg. I still have all my journalists’ notebooks from when I started. I wonder why, but sometimes I look through for an old contact, or to refresh my memory. But yes, my creative work is mainly done online although some is in notebook form.

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