A Collection of J.L.Carr: Introduction

A distinguished but insufficiently celebrated author and publisher

Joseph Lloyd Carr, better known as J. L. Carr, and who usually went by the name Jim, or sometimes James, was a little-known, indeed almost a specialised name in Twentieth Century Fiction. Carr, who died in 1994, aged 81, was responsible for eight novels, written over a period of almost thirty years, each a highly individual work, frequently blackly comic, drawing upon various aspects of his long life as, primarily, a teacher and headmaster.
Carr’s books touch upon cricket and football, the experience of living in America, teaching and publishing. His most famous book, A Month in the Country, was both nominated for the Booker prize and filmed in Britain, with a cast including Colin First, Kenneth Branagh and Natasha Richardson at the beginning of their respective careers.
I discovered Carr when living in Nottingham, my eye caught by the title How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers won the FA Cup. This was Carr’s fourth novel, and it was such a distinctive, original and memorable book, whilst remaining almost completely unknown, that I immediately looked for other works by him, despite the evidence that Carr and I were of near-diametrically opposing views, politically and socially.
Almost a decade later, I was lucky to find Carr’s penultimate novel, What Hetty Did, in Manchester’s Waterstone’s. It was an individual, distinctive edition, published by Carr’s own Quince Tree Press, a publishing house operating from his back bedroom, and responsible for all manner of unique editions: maps, biographies, children’s books, all generated by someone with a high-minded viewpoint.
A further, final Quince Tree published novel appeared in 1992, and gradually, as I combed the shelves in Waterstone’s, Carr re-acquired the publishing rights to all his books, re-issuing them in Quince Tree editions. I collected these, acquiring the set after his death by direct purchase from his widow of the last I needed, the first novel, A Day in Summer, originally published in 1964.
I haven’t read any of the books in years, but I was reminded of them a week or so ago, when Steeple Sinderby – which I am led to believe has been re-published – was brought up in connection with Leicester City’s implausible bid to win the Premier League, a romantic campaign with more than a few parallels with one of the most fanciful football novels ever written.
So that is the cue for another book series, re-reading and discussing Carr’s novels and, in my own limited way, I hope extending interest to others who are eager to explore new and unique voices.
The Quince Tree House paperbacks are now stacked up by my bed, ready to start. Carr’s works are still available from his publishing house, online, although a visit to the site informs me that Harpole and Foxberrow, General Publishers has gone out of print. I would assume that a further edition would be considered if there was demand justifying the expense, so I hope that by the time I get to that book, some of you will have demonstrated to Quince Tree that a market remains.
Go to it!


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