J P Martin was born in Scarborough in 1880, the son and grandson of Methodist ministers. He himself entered the ministry in 1902. Although he had doubts about religion, he never once doubted his calling to be a parson. As a young man he was sent out as a missionary to Natal. He was a tough outdoor type who thought nothing of taking off his clothes, tying them to his head and swimming across a flooded river in order to get to a service. He later served as an Army chaplain in the First World War in Palestine. Soon after the last war, he went into semi-retirement in the village of Timberscombe in Somerset. He continued to serve the small chapel there until his death in 1966, aged 86, as a result of catching influenza whilst going out in cold weather to give pots of honey to the villagers. There is a plaque in memory of him in the village.

He had no great ambition to have his Uncle books published. To begin with they were not books, just stories which he used to tell his children in his deep Yorkshire voice, chuckling unashamedly at his own jokes. It was only when his children were grown up that he was persuaded to write them down, and it was his daughter who became determined that they should reach a wider audience and started submitting them to publishers. The books with their anarchic spirit were ahead of their time and it took twenty years before they finally appeared in print.

Intriguingly one publisher rejected the books on the grounds that they were amoral and said Uncle was "a fascist" whereas The Listener reviewing the first book said "Uncle is a savage attack on a capitalist society." His daughter thinks of Uncle, the rich benefactor of all his neighbours, as the fantasy of a poor man, her father, who spent most of his life in slums longing but unable to alleviate the poverty by which he was surrounded. Whatever his motives, the author himself was unconscious of them. "Lots of it came to me in dreams," he said. "I would come downstairs in the morning and remember what I had been dreaming about - and there was another chapter."

The author seems not to have been greatly affected by publication. "When your work is your calling," he said, "you don't worry much about anything else." Even so, he was obviously delighted by the visits of local reporters and the BBC and, in particular, the children who came to see him.

In all six "Uncle" books were published in the series, the last in 1973 seven years after his death:

UNCLE (1964)

More information about J.P.Martin can be found in the introduction to the Heinemann edition of the book written by his grandson James Currey. This can be found here

You can also read an interview with James Currey here and read the transcript of a radio interview with J.P.Martin here.

Kate Summerscale - The Observer - I wish I'd written...

"When I wondered which book I wished I'd written, Uncle by J.P. Martin sprang to mind. Perhaps because it was the first book I read which made me feel (at nine) grown-up, as if I was in on the joke as well as caught up in the fantasy. Uncle is an utterly indulgent book, which veers recklessly between the childish and the sophisticated: it is violent, anarchic and soft-hearted."

Observer - Uncle

"A riot of nonsense and adventure, may well become a classic in the great English nonsense tradition."

Times Educational Supplement - Uncle Cleans Up

"This is fantasy in the grand style; in the tradition of Lear and Graham.
Younger readers will take it at face value and enjoy it thoroughly. Older readers will be able to see into the depths of these adventures. This is true, however of most juvenile fiction; who appreciates Alice when it is first read to them?"

The Guardian - Uncle and the Treacle Trouble

"There are few pleasures so delightful as those provided by nonsense of this sort, a fully realised universe which can be extended in almost any direction because the creator is so at home with his creation. New aspects of Homeward are always being revealed, in this case a whole community living on top of a tower, eating crookballs and playing the swallow-trumpet."

The Junior Bookshelf - Uncle and the Battle for Badgertown

"J.P. Martin's books are very funny or satirical depending on one's own depth in reading. Uncle is a magnificent take-off of the benevolent despot. It is all a matter of tradition. You ask any class "Who's heard of Alice in Wonderland" and up goes a forest of hands. Uncle is on the same level and should be more widely read and enjoyed."

Richard Ingrams - The Sunday Times colour supplement

"Uncle's neglect may be partly due to the fact that in the supposedly egalitarian age in which we live he is an unfashionable figure - a millionaire elephant in a purple dressing gown exercising one man rule over "Homeward", a vast moated castle rather like a combination of Manhattan and Battersea Fun Fair. The Wind in the Willows, Robinson Crusoe, and many other classics would, I suspect, find it hard to find favour with modern publishers in search of inoffensive matter with the right kind of message. Such people could easily mistake the violent horseplay in Uncle for cruelty and be uneasy about political undertones.

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