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Writers in the Region 6

Annie Dalton interviews Stanley Middleton and J.L. Carr

This 44 minute VHS video was published by East Midlands Arts, Nottingham Video Project, in their Writers in the Region series. The first 20 minutes consit of an interview with Stanley Middleton; the second 20 minutes is an interview with J.L. Carr. I paid to have the video transferred to a digital format and receive a copy. I have transcribed the converstation between Carr and Annie Dalton.

The published VHS video of J.L. Carr is based on four analogue U-matic video tapes of recordings, each of 20 minutes, which are now held by the Media Archive for Central England (MACE) at the University of Lincoln. There is a shot in the published video that is not on the orginal tapes, so I suspect that one of the original tapes is missing. The numbers 7, 9, 10 and 11 are written on the four original tapes suggesting that one, number 8, is missing.

The interview with Annie Dalton was recorded in the garden of Carr's house in Kettering. Carr was asked questions about A Month in the Country and What Hetty Did, which Carr had just published himself. There are shots of a stone sculpture in his garden and of him packing up some small books in his office (using a proof of a map to wrap them). Carr is also shown walking into the churchyard at Newton-le-Willows where he reads a passage from A Month in the Country in which Birkin meets Alice Keach begining on page 32 with It was so hot the day she came . . to The sound of bees foraging from flower to flower seemed to deepen the stillness on page 33.

Carr was asked about his inspiration for A Month in the Country.

Writing a novel about something that doesn’t happen . . . saves no end of imaginative effort

I’m not a very imaginative person; I find it hard to make things up, so I have to use whatever material I do recall and the Ellerbeck family was probably the way my own family lived.

Carr was asked when he he knew that he wanted to write?

He explained that Mr Parkin in the 3rd form at Castleford Secondary School had read a composition to the class about a donkey ride on the sea shore, which made him think that he would like to have his compositions read in the same way.

Carr was asked about the names of people in his novels

He explained that many came from Ordinance Survey maps such as Harpole in Northants and Foxberrow in Worcestershire*.

Carr was asked about printing Hetty himself.

He had been offered an advance by Viking Penguin of £5,000 for the hardback, with paperback rights, which was the same amount he had been paid for Pollocks Crossing, three years before. He decided to print it himself so that he had control over the production of the book, something that none of his previous publishers had offered. He chose good quality paper and thick card with gold, rather than yellow, decorations. He had the book printed in Northamptonshire by an excellent company. They charged £3,200 to set the type and print 1000 copies, so £3.20 per copy. However the next 1,000 copies cost only £600 and the third thousand also £600, which reduced the cost to £1.70 each (actually £1.47, unless there were other costs). Carr then calculated that he could sell copies to booksellers for £2.37 each so that they could sell them for £3.95. However he based this calculation on the cost of a Penguin paperback which he had weighed and found would cost 23 pence to post. But as his book was on better paper with card covers it was heavier and actually cost 43 pence a copy to send, which reduced his profit, at least when sending single copies. He sold most of the copies in a few weeks and made £500-600 profit.

* There is a village named Berrow in Worcestershire, but no village named Foxberrow in England.

Stanley Middleton

The other writer whose interview was published on this VHS tape was Stanley Middleton (1919-2009), whose obituary in The Guardian can be read here. The similarities between Carr and Middleton are remarkable: Middleton's father was a railwayman; he was a Methodist; he was very close to his elder sister; he taught English at a school for 30 years; he was an accomplished artist in watercolours; and he was nominated for the Booker Prize, which he won in 1974. And both were what might be called 'provincial' novelists: Middleton lived all his life in Nottingham, which is 50 miles north of Kettering.