And I saw the Vivian Usherwood book [at Centerprise], and I thought, ah, that’s where this book comes from. And of course I’d not realised that it was done by a small publisher. And there was another book there called Licence to Live, by a guy called Ron Barnes, who was a taxi driver. And I thought, hey, this good. And I bought both the books, and went home and read them. And I can honestly say, they’re two of the most important books I’ve ever read, not because they were two of the best books I’ve ever read, but the fact that they existed, I thought, blimey, you know, there’s a black kid and a middle-aged taxi driver, and they’ve both written books. This was a revelation to me, that such people were allowed to write books, let alone have them published.
Born in 1954, Roger Mills grew up in Stoke Newington and began to frequent Centerprise in the mid-1970s. His interest in writing developed after he came across the works of Vivian Usherwood and Ron Barnes, local people whose poetry and autobiography, respectively, Centerprise published. After attending the Basement Writers group in Stepney, Roger became involved in the Hackney Writers Workshop, and Centerprise published two of his works, A Comprehensive Education, an account of his schooling, and The Interview, a story about a school-leaver’s experience in a careers office. Roger was a member of the ‘A People’s Autobiography of Hackney’ history project, and was instrumental in recording the history of ‘the Island’, a small cluster of streets just north of Hackney Downs which were demolished in the early 1970s. The school system had left Roger feeling short changed, and further education was never considered to be an option. Centerprise filled a gap in his life that the education system had left, and he believes that its success lay in showing ordinary people that their experiences were important and their writing was worthy of publication.
Interviewed by Sean Mullervy