In the lead up to Christmas 2014 we will publish a series of festive and inspirational posts written by the authors at The Madeleine Milburn Agency.
Simon Cherry’s first book for children, EDDY STONE AND THE PIRATE IN THE BATH will be published by Usborne next year.
He has written and produced programmes in Melvyn Bragg’s Arts Department at ITV for seventeen years, with script credits on series including The Adventure of English.
Simon Cherry’s Inspirational Book Choice – Uncle by J P Martin
“Uncle is an elephant. He’s immensely rich, and he’s a B.A. He dresses well, generally in a purple dressing-gown, and often rides about on a traction engine….”
Christmas 1964. My sixth. My Uncle Malcolm, doubtless attracted by its title, gave me a copy of a new book – “Uncle” by J P Martin. It has remained on my shelves ever since, and has made me laugh every time I have opened it. “Uncle” is eccentric, and silly, and funny to its bones in a way that I loved as a child and aspire to emulate as an adult.
Uncle is a benign dictator who presides over Homeward, a vast castle of skyscrapers connected by rollercoaster railways and waterslides. Many of the book’s chapters describe visits by Uncle and his entourage to locations in and around Homeward : Cheapman’s Store, where motorbikes cost a halfpenny and the waiters in the restaurant tip the customers; the laboratory where Dr Gleamhound painstakingly concocts medicines that always do the exact opposite of what is intended; the famous beauty spot Owl Springs, where “the springs aren’t up to much and it’s very hard to get a good look at the owl”.
My favourite was the Haunted Tower, where the allegedly petrifying White Terror turns out to be a very small ghost who stands on a bedside table muttering “I did it! I took the strawberry jam!”
Across the moat from Homeward lies Badfort, the ramshackle home of Uncle’s nemesis Beaver Hateman and his gang, who mock Uncle’s pomposity and plot his downfall.
And then there are the Respectable Horses, and the Little Lion who can make himself immensely heavy at will, and the One-Armed Badger……so much invention that Quentin Blake, whose brilliant drawings accompany the text, said that every single page suggested an illustration.
I treasured the book, but never found anyone else who had read it. I knew nothing about its author. It was a private, personal favourite – probably, I thought, forgotten by the rest of the world.
Until, a few years ago, I googled……..
J P Martin, I learned, was a clergyman who had made up stories for his children and only later written them down. It was his daughter who took them to publishers and was repeatedly rejected – too boisterous for the then genteel children’s market. The manuscript had taken thirty years to get into print, by which time Martin was 84. Five more Uncle books had followed. Now long out of print, they attracted such a cult following that copies of the later, scarcer ones sold for a thousand pounds.
Then last year, an Uncle devotee (thank you, Marcus Gipps) negotiated with the rights holders and launched a Kickstarter project to reprint a collected edition. It took just four hours to raise the funds online. When my copy arrived I was, as Uncle said after spotting the Owl, “afloat on a sea of foaming joy and delight”.
I don’t know what Cheapman’s would charge, but it’s a bargain at full price.