In this exclusive extract from Slightly Foxed on the Dabbler Blog, Andrew Hall examines the unusual literary career of J.L. Carr, a ‘back-bedroom publisher of large maps and small books who, in old age, unexpectedly wrote six novels’ . . .
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’ woodcuts; wrote a social history of the early settlers of South Dakota and 8 children’s English-language books; sculpted stone gargoyles for his local church; and created a huge record in watercolours of the interiors and exteriors of buildings in Northamptonshire, his adopted county. His extraordinary life is described in an excellent biography, The Last Englishman, by Byron Rogers.
In 1977 Carr published the first of his pocket dictionaries, the Dictionary of Extra-ordinary English Cricketers. It was an almost instant success and led to several other biographical dictionaries with quirky and often improbable entries. But what gave him the idea? . . .