Friday Reads: UNCLE

UnccoverA bit of a diversion this time around, as I use this week’s Friday Reads to a) introduce you to the best children’s books you’ve never heard of and b) ask you for money.

I should make it very clear that this is a personal project, and not connected with or endorsed by Gollancz, Orion or anyone else. However, I am grateful for the chance to blog about this project here today.

The UNCLE books, by the Reverend J. P. Martin, illustrated by Quentin Blake, were published in the sixties and seventies. The books tell a series of stories about Uncle, a very rich elephant who lives in the almost-endless castle Homeward with a group of friends including the One-Armed Badger, the Old Monkey, A.B. Fox the detective, Goodman the cat and many more. Outside the castle is Badfort, the home of Uncle’s enemies – including Hateman, Jellytussle and Hitmouse.

Surreal and with a tinge of Roald Dahl about them (Dahl and Martin shared a publisher), they are also surprisingly spiky and contemporary in feel, and the instantly recognisable lines of Sir Quentin Blake make  a huge impact.Tweaked image

J.P. Martin was an elderly minister when he made up the Uncle stories for his children and grandchildren, after a varied life including spells as a missionary and an army chaplain. Eventually his children convinced him to write down his fanciful ideas and stories, and found a publisher for them in Jonathan Cape. He died in 1966, and the last three books were published posthumously, and have never been reprinted. It would cost about £400 each to buy the last three books today, although the price does fluctuate a bit. There are some very very keen fans out there. The first couple of books have been available off and on, but it always seemed a shame that you couldn’t get the whole series.

I fell in love with the UNCLE books as a child, and during my time as a bookseller was constantly surprised that they weren’t being rediscovered. After two years at Gollancz, I decided that if no-one else was going to do it, I would, and when I discovered Kickstarter I realised that I had a way to reach a new audience. I had met various well-known fans of the series who would help me in my plan, and once I convinced Random House and the Martin estate that I wasn’t (entirely) crazy, things went very quickly from there.

The J.P. Martin estate have given their blessing to the project and Sir Quentin Blake is “very much in favour” of it. New introductions are to be provided by Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Andy Riley, Kate Summerscale, Martin Rowson and Justin Pollard, and there will be lots of bonus material.

To cut a long story short, I launched a kickstarter campaign last Thursday asking for £7,000 to reprint all six books. If you don’t know about kickstarter, it’s a very interesting new way of raising money for creative projects. We managed to reach our total in four hours (I told you the fans were keen), and we’re now standing at just over £19,000. Which is a lot of money, and I’m hugely grateful. But it doesn’t stop yet, and the more money I raise (and preorders I get) the better the book will be, and the more I can print and distribute to bookshops etc. So if you have fond memories of the books, or if you’ve never heard of them but think they sound great (they are great), then do come and order one.

All the details can be found on the kickstarter page.

And here’s a nice piece from Points West.

Many thanks for reading!