The UNCLE books, first written by J.P Martin to entertain his children and grandchildren, later illustrated by Sir Quentin Blake, were originally published in the sixties and seventies and have been largely unavailable ever since. The series is one of the lost masterpieces of children's literature, is beautifully illustrated by Quentin Blake, and deserves a new audience. I would like to reprint all six books in one high-quality volume of around 760 pages, with lots of extra material and new scans of much of the original art.
Uncle is an kind-hearted elephant who lives in an endlessly massive castle, accompanied by his motley crew of companions and employees, including the Old Monkey, Goodman the cat, the One-Armed Badger and many more. Near his castle sits Badfort, home of Uncle's enemies, a disreputable group including Hateman, Jellytussle, Hitmouse and other unpleasant characters. Over the course of the books, Uncle and his followers find themselves mixed up with camels, dwarfs, treacle, bears, ghosts, a walrus, a singing flower, wizards, Respectable Horses and much much more.
Although the books were intended for children, they are loved by an adult audience for their wordplay, subversive and surreal humour and wonderful drawings. They're very funny.
Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Martin Rowson, Andy Riley, Kate Summerscale and Justin Pollard are all fans of Uncle, and they've all come together to help me bring the series back into print. Each will provide new introductions or other exclusive material to this project. Other famous fans of UNCLE include Will Self, Spike Milligan, Philip Ardagh, Richard Ingrams, Ekow Eshun and David Langford.
Although the first two titles have occasionally been reprinted, the remaining four have languished out of print for many years (the last three titles have never been reprinted at all) and now command massive sums. At the time of writing, it would cost approximately £800 to buy a complete set of the books from abe.com.
I'm proposing to produce an omnibus edition of all six novels, with very high production standards, for £30 plus postage. I think you'll agree that's a major saving on the current cost of putting together a collection of all six books in tatty ex-library editions.
I've loved the UNCLE books since I was a kid and was lucky enough to pick up a few for pennies at a local junk store. My copies are long gone, sadly, but I've always wanted to see them back on my shelves where they belong. In my eight years as a bookseller I made a few noises and tried to convince the rights holders to republish, but to no avail. Now, as an editor for Gollancz, part of Orion Publishing (although this project is not affiliated with them), I believe that I can make this project work. I know how to sell a book, I know how to make a book - so I'm putting my money where my mouth is.
J.P. Martin made up the Uncle stories for his children and grandchildren. Eventually his children put pressure on 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.
Quentin Blake is one of the greatest illustrators and artists of the 20th century. Much loved for his playful and instantly-recognisable work, he has illustrated some of the finest works of children's literature. Best known for his collaborations with Roald Dahl, Michael Rosen, Russell Hoban and his own magnificent works, he was knighted in the 2012 New Year's Honour's List, and is now Sir Quentin Blake.
I have, over the years, made contact with a few other people who love Uncle as much as I do, and I have asked some of them to provide brand-new and exclusive introductions for this project. Neil Gaiman, Justin Pollard and Garth Nix will each provide a short piece about the series, or a particular book, or the impact the stories had on them. James Currey, Martin's grandson, will pen a new piece about the history of Uncle. Martin Rowson and Andy Riley will provide a new illustration each, as well as introductions. Kate Summerscale will revisit an article she wrote for the Guardian in the late nineties, expand and bring it up to date.
Quentin Blake's archive contains approximately 170 pieces of original Uncle art, which is about two-thirds of the total. He and his archivist have no idea where the rest has gone - if you know where a piece is, please let me know! The art is old and not all in great condition, but where possible we will rescan, touch-up and present in the best possible format. For any missing art, or for pieces where the original is too decayed to use, I will scan at high resolution from first-printing books.
Apart from the introductions, I also intend to include more supplementary material. This isn't yet all confirmed, but will hopefully include scans of original reviews, copies or typescripts of various articles written about Uncle, material from the Jonathan Cape archive, reproductions (B&W) of the original covers and endpapers, transcriptions of original interviews and a few secrets! I want this to be an exhaustive and definitive edition, so if you have anything interesting relating to Uncle, please get in touch.