In July 1967 the schoolmaster and part-time novelist J. L. Carr took two years’ leave of absence to see if he could make a living as a publisher of illustrated maps and booklets of poetry. Both were unusual: the maps featured small, annotated drawings of people, buildings, flowers, animals and recipes associated with places in the old English counties and were meant for framing and to stimulate discussion, while the works of British poets were presented in 16-page booklets, as Carr believed that people could only absorb a few poems at a time.
Carr designed the maps himself and wrote on his first map of Northamptonshire (1965): ‘Travellers are warned that the use of this map for navigation will be disastrous.’ The maps sold initially for £1 each and the booklets for 6d to adults or 4d to children, until he received orders from children with suspiciously mature handwriting. By the end of 1968 his savings had dwindled to £400, but with six months left of his official leave he turned the corner into profitability. The Quince Tree Press, so called because there was a quince tree in his front garden, operated from old shoe boxes (into which his little books fitted neatly) stored on shelves in a bedroom of his modest house in suburban Kettering.
The income from his maps and books of poetry allowed Carr the freedom to give up teaching for good and also to write the novels for which he is most highly regarded: A Month in the Country (see SF No. 8) won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1980 and was short-listed for the Booker Prize, as was his next novel, The Battle of Pollocks Crossing (1985). This was a remarkable achievement for a former schoolteacher who didn’t publish his first novel until he was 52. But then, he was a remarkable man. He wrote 8 novels, all in different styles; designed nearly 100 maps; compiled 6 small dictionaries; published about 50 small books of other people’s poetry and 19 booklets of artists’ woodcut
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in