J. L. Carr
|Born||Joseph Lloyd Carr|
20 May 1912
Carlton Miniott, UK
|Died||26 February 1994 (aged 81)|
|Notable work||A Month in the Country|
Joseph Lloyd Carr (20 May 1912 - 26 February 1994), who called himself "Jim" or "James", was an English novelist, publisher, teacher and eccentric.
Carr was born in Thirsk Junction, Carlton Miniott, Yorkshire, into a Wesleyan Methodist family. His father Joseph, the eleventh son of a farmer, went to work for the railways, eventually becoming a station master for the North Eastern Railway. Carr was given the same Christian name as his father and the middle name Lloyd, after David Lloyd George, the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer. He adopted the names Jim and James in adulthood. His brother Raymond, who was also a station master, called him Lloyd.
Carr's early life was shaped by failure. He attended the village school at Carlton Miniott. He failed the scholarship exam, which denied him a grammar school education, and on finishing his school career he also failed to gain admission to teacher training college. Interviewed at Goldsmiths' College, London, he was asked why he wanted to be a teacher. Carr answered: "Because it leaves so much time for other pursuits." He was not accepted. Over forty years later, after his novel The Harpole Report had become a critical and popular success, he was invited to give a talk at Goldsmiths'. He replied that the college had had its chance of being addressed by him.
He worked for a year as an unqualified teacher at South Milford Primary School, where he became involved in a local amateur football team that was startlingly successful that year. He developed this experience into a basis for his novel How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the F.A. Cup. He then successfully applied to a teacher training college in Dudley. In 1938 he took a year out from his teaching career to work as an exchange teacher in Huron, South Dakota, in the Great Plains. Much of the year was a struggle to survive in a strangely different culture; his British salary converted into dollars was pitifully inadequate to meet the American cost of living. This experience gave rise to his novel The Battle of Pollocks Crossing.
After his year in the United States Carr travelled through the Middle East and around the Mediterranean. He arrived in France in September 1939 and then reached England, where he volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force. He was trained as an aerial photographer and was stationed in West Africa. He later served in Britain as an intelligence officer, an experience he translated into fiction in A Season in Sinji.
At the end of the war he married Sally (Hilda Gladys Sexton) and returned to teaching. He was appointed headmaster of Highfields Primary School in Kettering, Northamptonshire, a post he filled from 1952 to 1967. He returned to Huron, South Dakota, in 1957 to teach again on an exchange visit, and wrote and published himself a social history of The Old Timers of Beadle County.
In 1967, having written two novels, he retired from teaching to devote himself to writing. He produced and published from his own Quince Tree Press a series of small books designed to fit into a pocket. Some of them were selections from the works of English poets, while others were brief monographs about historical events or works of reference. To encourage children to read each of these small books was given two prices, the lower of which applied only to children. As a result, Carr received several letters from adults using childish writing in an attempt to secure the discount.
He also carried on a single-handed campaign to preserve and restore the parish church of St Faith at Newton in the Willows, which had been vandalised and was threatened with redundancy. Carr came into conflict with the vicar of the benefice and the higher church authorities in his campaign. The building was saved, but redundancy was not averted and the building is now a scientific study centre.
In 1986 Carr was interviewed by Vogue magazine and, as a writer of dictionaries, was asked for a dictionary definition of himself. He answered: "James Lloyd Carr, a back-bedroom publisher of large maps and small books who, in old age, unexpectedly wrote six novels, which, although highly thought of by a small band of literary supporters and by himself, were properly disregarded by the Literary World".
When Carr gave up teaching in 1967 his aim was to try to make his living by publishing small books and a series of maps of English counties to be read and discussed, rather than to provide navigational information. These he published himself under the imprint The Quince Tree Press, The original printing plates from several of his maps were mounted on sheets of plywood and used by Carr as stepping stones in his garden. The garden also contained statues he had carved himself, many of which had mirrors set into the stone at such angles that the sun shone through the windows on his birthday.
Carr wrote eight short novels that contain elements of comedy and fantasy, as well as darker passages, based on his varied experiences of life as teacher, traveller, cricketer, footballer, publisher and restorer of English heritage. Six of the eight were published by different publishers, but he published the last two himself through the Quince Tree Press. Many of the characters and incidents, and even much of the dialogue, are drawn from life.
His novel A Month in the Country was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1980, when it won the Guardian Fiction Prize. In 1985 he was shortlisted again for the Booker Prize for The Battle of Pollocks Crossing.
Carr wrote several non-fiction works and published them at his Quince Tree Press. They include a dictionary of cricketers, a dictionary of parsons, and dictionaries of English kings and queens. He also provided the text for several school textbooks published by Macmillan Publishers and Longman, and designed to develop children's English language skills.