Playing Literary Games - Andrew Crofts

Like many writers I am not a natural games player; firstly because I have terrible trouble remembering the rules to anything and secondly because I seldom care whether I win or not, which rather removes the fun for those with competitive urges that need scratching.

When I received an email out of the blue, however, asking if I would like to take part in a literary panel game called “Ex Libris” which would be recorded in front of a live audience at Blackwells in Oxford and then put out as a pod-cast, my interest was piqued.

Ex Libris was invented by Oxford Games who also invented, among many others, Jenga, and has been available as a board game for some time. Quite why it hasn’t yet been snapped up by Radio 4 I can’t imagine. Anyhow, the BBC’s loss is Blackwells’ gain.

The rules are simple. There are four contestants. One reads out a book title and author, with a very short plot synopsis. It could be anything from Blyton to Byron, Wodehouse to Wordsworth, Henry James to E.L. James – you get the idea.

The other three panelists are then asked to write their imagined first line of the book, (or the last line). While they are doing that the one who has been singled out is interviewed for five minutes about their career or their latest book.

All three forgeries are then read out, along with the real one, and the three panelists have to guess which the genuine one is. They get points if theirs is thought to be the original one or if they succeed in guessing it correctly. They can play to win or they can play for laughs, or, in an ideal world, a combination of the two.

To be honest, it is pretty much a test of the panelists’ ghostwriting skills, so it seemed like a challenge I could hardly turn down, plus Oxford is always a pleasant place to while away a night and there was a free dinner on offer for all involved.

It was a dark and stormy night – no, it actually was, and it was the night of the Brexit vote. (One of the chosen books was Nigel Farage's autobiography). Everyone in Oxford was campaigning wildly through the wet streets for “remain” and there seemed to be little awareness that outside this happy academic bubble things were about to turn very ugly indeed – such innocent times. In fact “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

        sorry, but you see how catchy this “opening lines thing” is?

Not only was the night “dark and stormy” and not only was the European Union about to start unraveling, there were also floods and overturned lorries on the roads into Oxford, which kept one of the panelists away and a substitute had to be found fast from the Blackwells staff, (and a very impressive performer she turned out to be).

You’ll have to listen to the pod-cast of episode 4 of Ex-Libris Live ( order to find out if I managed to keep my ghostwriting credentials in tact; but if you work at Radio 4, for goodness sake don’t dither too long for fear that Simon Cowell will get his hands on this format!


Wendy H. Jones said…
Sounds like a game Imwould enjoy. I will definitely be listening to the podcast. Well done
Susan Price said…
I'd never heard of it until last year - and only know learn that it's called 'Ex Libris.'
I went to a Scattered Author's 'Winter Warmer' in November, and played it there. Happy to say I managed to puzzle a few people, especially when I channelled Kipling in imitation of another 19th Century writer.
Like Andrew, I can't understand why Radio 4 hasn't taken it up.
Bill Kirton said…
Sounds great. I'll definitely listen later. Pity it's not available as a download.
JO said…
What fun! I'll give it a listen later.

Popular posts


The Dead Can't Give Permission by Julia Jones

Write What You Know? I Don't Think So! by @EdenBaylee

O Solo Knee-O: Bond Gadget Recovery for Bachelors--by Reb MacRath

'Writer's Life - Getting Real' by Wendy H. Jones