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J.G. Ballard: The first published profile of the author as a young student in 1951

J.G. Ballard was a 20-year-old medical student in his second year at Cambridge University when he jointly won a crime story competition organized by the local student newspaper Varsity.

Ballard’s story “The Violent Noon” recounted the events of a violent and gory terrorist attack on a British officer and his family during the Malayan War. It has been described as a “Hemingwayesque pastiche” allegedly written to please the judges. According to “an an unsigned summary of the judges’ reasons for picking” Ballard’s story:

‘Violent Noon’ was the most mature story; it contains patches of high tension, the characters come to life, and the ending is brilliant in its cynicism. The author should, however, avoid a tendency to preach.

The Violent Noon” was Ballard’s first published work. When it appeared in Varsity on Saturday 26th May, 1951, the paper printed a profile of the author—which included Ballard’s first ever published interview:

J. Graham Ballard who shares the first prize of ten pounds with D. S. Birley in the “Varsity” Crime Story Competition is now in his second year at King’s and immersed in the less literary process of reading medicine.

He admitted to our reporter yesterday that he had in fact entered the competition more for the prize than anything else, although he had been encouraged to go on writing because of his success.

The idea for his short story which deals with the problem of Malayan terrorism, he informs us, he had been thinking over for some time before hearing of the competition.

He had, in addition to writing short stories, also planned “mammoth novels” which “never get beyond the first page.”

What these “mammoth novels” were about one can now only imagine. It was four years since Ballard had returned to England from internment at a Japanese P.O.W. camp—the horrors of which were filtered through his work as he later said:

The experience of war is deeply corrupting. Anybody who witnesses years of brutality can’t help but lose a sense of the tragedy and mystery of death. I’m sure that happened to me. The 16-year-old who came to England after the war carried this freight of ‘matter-of-factness about death’. So spending two years dissecting cadavers was a way of reminding me of the reality of death itself, and gave me back a respect for life.

Ballard harbored plans to become a psychiatrist. But this was quickly dropped after his success with “The Violent Noon.” He quit his medical studies at Cambridge and enrolled at Queen Mary University, London to study English Literature.
More on young Ballard plus full documentary, after the jump….

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J. G. Ballard: Undermining bourgeois certainties and ‘Empire of the Sun’
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J. G. Ballard

Writing is a very peculiar existence, J. G. Ballard told an audience during an interview for his novel Empire of the Sun, at the ICA London, in 1984.

”Unlike playwrights, composers, sculptors and painters who can go to first nights and gallery openings and alike, the writer never sees his audience. I mean, I have never in my life seen anybody reading one of my books.”

Ballard’s knowledge of his audience came from the letters he received, mainly written by teenage Science Fiction fans. He believed his audience was limited as the reading of such speculative or “imaginative fiction—which is not popular on the whole—is a very solitary business.”

”It’s an extreme fiction made out of extreme metaphors, and I think only people with that taste for extreme solutions are going to be drawn to imaginative fiction. Let’s face it, if Gulliver’s Travels or Alice in Wonderland were published for the first time now they would meet with rather a mixed response. Imaginative fiction is not popular as a whole, I don’t think.”

Ballard devoted his whole career to imaginative fiction, and was more influenced by the Surrealists than his favorite novelists Graham Greene and William Burroughs.

”I have a great built in hostility towards the realistic social novel because it does tend to accept society as it finds it. I feel it is particularly dangerous in sort of puritanical, northern European countries like this one, where there’s a polite distaste for going too far—for going anywhere at all practically.

“I have devoted my career, for what it’s worth, to undermining the bourgeois certainties wherever I can, and the bourgeois novel is target number one on my list. I see the writer’s role as important but I recognize, and one has got to be a realist, most people prefer cosy certainties of life to permanent revolution, as the Surrealists called it, but that doesn’t discourage me at all.”

Empire of the Sun was the first of Ballard’s fictional autobiographies, loosely based on his childhood experiences as a prisoner-of-war at Lunghua Civilian Assembly in Shanghai during World War II. The novel was his most successful and was filmed by Steven Spielberg in 1987. In this interview with Matthew Hoffman, Ballard briefly discusses this book, his career as a writer up to 1984, as well as giving his views on America and the rise of China.


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J. G. Ballard: ‘What I Believe’
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J. G. Ballard

J. G. Ballard’s prose poem “What I Believe” was originally published in the French magazine Science Fiction, in January 1984. It was written in response to a request from editor Daniel Riche for the series entitled “Ce que je crois.” Described as “part poem part prayer” it offers a personal and amusing catalog of tropes and memes, the recurrent imagery, themes, and influences which are to be found in Ballard’s work.

Ballard’s poem subverts the pomposity of the traditional “What I believe” list, where you expect long meanders into politics and self-justification. Ballard’s is more fun, though as equally revealing as those written by Bertrand Russell or E. M. Forster.

The animation I believe or Credo was created for the first exhibition dedicated to J. G. Ballard and his work, which was held at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), Spain, in 2008.

It should be noted this is an edited version of Ballard’s “What I Believe,” as read by the author on the documentary series The South Bank Show, in 2006.

“I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.

“I believe in my own obsessions, in the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-storey car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels.”

Here the poem jumps, excising Ballard’s belief “in the mysterious beauty of Margaret Thatcher, in the arch of her nostrils and the sheen of her lower lip…” too problematic for those on the Left in TV, where abhorrence is the expected response to Mrs. T. However, Ballard pointedly goes on to imagine Thatcher “caressed by that young Argentine soldier in a forgotten motel watched by a tubercular filling station attendant.”

Ballard admired Thatcher, and said in an interview contained in RE/Search that he had almost jumped for joy when the Iron Lady was first elected in 1979. But to be fair, so did most of the British voting public, hence Thatcher’s dominance in power over three elections. Margaret Thatcher was the kind of strong woman Ballard admired, though he did later satirize her as the environmentalist zealot, Dr. Barbara in Rushing to Paradise.

Like the artist Francis Bacon,  Ballard reworked his own personal obsessions in his work, he mined a distinctive style of fiction that was instantly recognizable—airport car parks, empty swimming pools, deserted beaches, forgotten motels, etc etc. These are the memories of his childhood in Shanghai, as filtered through the prism of his imagination.

H/T Suzanne Moore. More on what Ballard believes plus bonus videos, after the jump…

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J. G. Ballard: A gallery of 1980s book covers
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J. G. Ballard
James Marsh

James Marsh designed these iconic covers for J. G. Ballard’s novels in 1985. His style, a mix of Surrealism/Futurism/Art Deco and Allen Jones-ish fetishism, certainly captured something of the themes contained in Ballard’s beautifully constructed fictions.

I had quite a few of these (and most of the David Pelham’s Penguins), as they were eminently collectible. Marsh also supplied memorable covers for Kurt Vonnegut, Doris Lessing, Ray Bradbury, Angela Carter and Lewis Carroll.

Amongst my favorites here are the instantly recognizable covers for Crash, Hello America and the beautiful one he did for The Crystal World. If you look closely, you will also note a small portrait of Ballard contained within the rear-view mirror for Concrete Island.

These images were uploaded by Wire-Frame, and there is a fabulous collection of other covers on his or her Flickr page. There is also a good article over at Ballardian on the artwork for Ballard’s novels.

More on James Marsh can be found here.
More images of the near future, after the jump…

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‘1984: Music for Modern Americans’: An animated film by artist Eduardo Paolozzi

J. G. Ballard once said, if by some terrible calamity all art from the 20th century was destroyed except for the work of one artist, then it would be possible to recreate all of the century’s greatest artistic developments if that artist was Eduardo Paolozzi.

Deliberate hyperbole, but there is an essence of truth here, as Paolozzi produced such an incredible range and diversity of art that it has been difficult for critics and art historians to classify him. He began as a Surrealist, before becoming the first Pop Artist—a decade before Warhol put paint on canvas. He then moved on to print-making, design, sculpture and public art to international success.

Born in Edinburgh, to an Italian family in 1924, Paolozzi spent much of his childhood at his parent’s ice cream parlor, where he was surrounded by the packaging, wrapping and cigarette cards that later inspired his Pop Art. This early idyll of childhood was abruptly ended when Italy declared war on Britain in 1940. Paolozzi awoke one morning to find himself, along with his father and uncles, incarcerated, in the city’s Saughton Prison, as undesirables, or enemies of the state. Paolozzi was held for 3 months, but his father and uncles were deported to Canada on the ship HMS Arandora Star, which was torpedoed by a U-boat off the north-west coast of Ireland. The vessel sank with the loss of 630 lives.

Considered psychologically unsuitable for the army, the teenage Paolozzi studied at the Edinburgh School of Art, in 1943, before finishing at the Slade School in London, which he found disappointingly conservative in its approach to art.

After the war, Paolozzi moved briefly to Paris where he visited some of the century’s greatest artists, then resident in the city—Giacometti, Braque, Arp, Brâncuşi, and Léger. In his youthful boldness, Eduardo had telephoned each of these artists after discovering their numbers in the telephone directory. He was greeted as an equal, he later claimed, most probably because the war had just ended. The experience taught Paolozzi much, and emboldened his ideas. On his return to London, Paolozzi presented a slide show of adverts and packaging, which was the very first Pop Art.

Paolozzi developed his distinctive collages and multiple images of Marilyn Monroe long before Warhol and even Richard Hamilton, the artist with whom he showed at the now legendary This Is Tomorrow exhibition, at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956.

Paolozzi eventually tired of his association with Pop Art, as it limited his incredibly diverse artistic vision. The same year as This Is Tomorrow, he played a deaf mute, with fellow artist Michael Andrews, in the first major Free Cinema movie Together by Lorenza Mazzetti.

By the late 1950s, he had moved on to industrial print-making,  before producing an incredibly awe-inspiring range of designs for buildings, sculptures and public art—from his mosaic for Tottenham Court Road tube station to the cover of Paul McCartney’s Red Rose Speedway, through to such epic sculptures Newton, outside of the British Library, Vulcan, Edinburgh, and Head of Invention, Design Museum, London.

In 1984, Paolozzi conceived and produced a brief strange and surreal animation 1984: Music for Modern Americans, which was animated and directed by Emma Calder, Susan Young and Isabelle Perrichon, and based photocopies of Paolozzi’s original drawings.


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J. G. Ballard’s ‘Favorite TV commercial of all time’

Author of Crash and Empire of the Sun, J. G. Ballard once said that a commercial showing ‘robots’ building a Fiat car was his favorite advert of all time.

Ballard made the claim on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4’s long-running music and interview show, in February 1992, when he shared the 8 records that best represented his life with presenter, Sue Lawley.

As Ballard explained:

‘I like the overture to Rossini’s Barber of Seville, which many people will have heard as the background music to a wonderful Fiat ad. that was shown on television a few years ago. I think my favorite TV commercial of all time.’

It was Rossini’s “Figaro’s Aria” from the opera that was used in this famous Fiat Strada advert from 1979. The commercial was directed by Hugh Hudson, who is best-known for the Academy Award-winning Chariots of Fire. Hudson’s ad was a compelling mix of technology with opera, and was well-known for its tag-line:

Hand built by Robots

That was later famously spoofed on Not the NIne O’Clock News as:

Hand built by Roberts

Amongst Ballard‘s other favorite tracks on Desert island Discs were Noël Coward’s version of “Let’s Do It”, Astrud Gilberto being breathily seductive on “The Girl From Ipanema”, Rita Hayworth and “Put The Blame On Mame”, Henry Hall’s “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” and Marlene Dietrich singing “Falling In Love Again”.

Ballard also remarked that he considered himself a “disappointed painter’:

‘I think in many ways I am a sort of disappointed painter, I always wanted to be a painter, but simply lacked the technical ability, lacked the talent. In fact, people say my novels are tremendously visual, in a sense I paint my novels, there you have the life work of a frustrated painter.

Listen/download the full interview here.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Postcards from J. G. Ballard


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‘Future Now’: A brilliant portrait of novelist J. G. Ballard, from 1986

Writers need stability to nurture their talent and unfetter their imagination. Too much chaos dilutes the talent and diminishes the productivity. Writers like Norman Mailer squandered too much time and effort on making his life the story - when in fact he should have been writing it. J. G. Ballard was well aware of this, and he had the quiet certainty of a 3-bed, des res, with shaded garden and off-street parking at front. Yet, Ballard’s seeming conformity to a middle class idyll appeared to astound so many critics, commentators, journalists, whatevers, who all failed to appreciate a true writer’s life is one of lonely, unrelenting sedentary toil, working at a desk 9-5, or however long - otherwise the imagination can not fly.

That’s why I have always found suburbs far more interesting places than those anonymous urban centers. Cities are about mass events - demonstrations, revolution, massacre, war, shared public experience. Suburbia is about the repressed forces of individual action. It’s where the murders are planned, the orgies enjoyed, the drugs devoured, the imagination inspired. Suburbia is where dysfunction is normalized.

And J. G. Ballard was very aware of this.

Future Now is a documentary interview with J G Ballard, made in 1986 not long after he had achieved international success with his faux-biographical novel Empire of the Sun. Opening with a brief tour of his Shepperton home, Ballard gives an excellent and incisive interview, which only reminds what we have lost.

Simon Sellars and Dan O’Hara have edited together a brilliant collection of interviews and conversations with J G Ballard 1967-2008, in one volume called Extreme Metaphors, which is a must-have for anyone with an interest in Ballard.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Postcards from J. G. Ballard

With thanks to Richard!

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Postcards from J G Ballard

Going through old correspondence, I came across a collection of cards and letters from a personal hero - J G Ballard.

It’s always amazed me that Ballard took the time to respond to my daft letters full questions and queries he must have answered innumerable times. It said much about Ballard’s great humility and character.

The first, dated April 27 1993, was written on a postcard of Carel Willink De Zeppelin, the blue ink (probably a Pentel pen) has faded somewhat, but still visible are his kind words and enthusiasm for a short story I’d sent him, which he over-praised as “a powerful + original piece of work”, and his explanation of the biographical elements of The Kindness of Women:

‘...which is about my writing as much as my life - my life seen through the spectrum of everything I’ve written.’

During the 10 years of our intermittent correspondence, Ballard was always kind, gracious, encouraging and helpful - an example we all can learn from.


Dear Mr Gallagher,

Many thanks for your letter from LA - I think probably you should make the documentary about the city - I on the whole rather enjoyed the week i spent there some years ago - but then no one mugged me or shot at me on the freeway - part of the problem there have been too many films about LA on TV over the recent years.

Thanks for reading my stuff -

All the best,

J G Ballard

One more from Ballard, after the jump…

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Key Writers: Photos of writers and their typewriters

Hunter S. Thompson at work in his ranch in Aspen, 1976
Since Mark Twain battered out the first typed manuscript in 1883, writers have had a love affair with their typewriters. To mark the end of the manufacture of these instruments for creativity, the Guardian published a fine selection of key writers at work on their typewriters.
Patricia Highsmith at work in her home in Moncourt, near Fontainebleau, in 1976
More key writers after the jump…
With thanks to Ken Cargill, via the Guardian

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Happy Birthday J. G. Ballard
05:35 pm


Science Fiction
J. G. Ballard


James Graham Ballard was born today in 1930. 

In a career that spanned 6 decades, the Visionary of Shepperton wrote some of the best and most important speculative fiction of the past century, from The Drought, The Drowned World through Crash, The Atrocity Exhibition, High Rise, and The Unlimited Dream Company to Empire of he Sun, Super Cannes and Kingdom Come.

His death last year robbed the literary world of one of its most thoughtful and original thinkers.

This in-depth interview with Ballard was filmed in 2006, as part of Melvyn Bragg’s The South Bank Show and covered the writers background, influences and unique, dystopian vision:

Ranging from his earliest experiences living in China as a child and subsequent imprisonment by the invading Japanese army, through his early and wholly abortive career in medicine - though he says that that experience was totally beneficial to his writing career and that everyone should spend at least some time studing anatomy. Then on through his long career as a full time writer. Starting in 1962 when he gave up his then job as an assistant editor right up to the present day.

Subjects covered are the influence of Surrealist painting in the imagery of his work. How the sudden death of his wife affected his life, work and family. And the impact of his most controversial novel, Crash, which inspired one publisher’s reader to write “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do not publish” - which Ballard took as a huge compliment.

Other contributions in the show come from the likes of Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Martin Amis, all of whom are confirmed Ballard fans.


The full interview with J. G. Ballard after the jump…

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Hedgefund: New Town Thrillers

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Scotland carried out a series of social experiments, which dealt with an acute housing shortage caused by the sudden increase in the post-war population. Over two decades, thousands of working class families were moved out of slum tenements, from the city of Glasgow, into a series of New Towns, literally modern housing schemes, scattered across the country. 

In 1947, East Kilbride was designated as Scotland’s first New Town, with the aim of bringing together “new methods of production and assembly in order to create dwellings, serving humanity and also reflecting a type of technological progression.”

More from Hedgefund after the jump…

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Alexis Rockman: Drowned Worlds
04:03 pm


J. G. Ballard
John Coulthart
Alexis Rockman


Weird illustrator John Coulthart reports on the Ballardian, dead-America landscapes of Of course you can put “Ballardian” before anything and I’ll look at it, but this is particularly good stuff.

Alexis Rockman?

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