The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

April 19, 2016

April 19, 2009

The English novelist, J. G. Ballard, (November 15, 1930 to April 19, 2009 ) wrote Empire of the Sun (1984). When Spielberg made the movie, (1987) he kept the title, and brought the author to a wider audience. Ballard's obit in The Telegraph mentions that the book was based on Ballard's boyhood in Shanghai. The crucial movie fact of a child's separation from his parents in wartime chaos was not biographically accurate.  The movie pushed book sales also:" Ballard estimated that he made half a million pounds from book sales alone."

Here is a partial list of the books of James Graham Ballard:

The Drowned World, 1963
The 4-Dimensional Nightmare, 1963 
The Terminal Beach, 1964 
The Drought, 1965
The Crystal World, 1966 
The Disaster Area, 1967 
The Atrocity Exhibition, 1970
Crash, 1973 (filmed 1997) 
Vermilion Sands, 1973
Concrete Island, 1974 
High Rise, 1975
Low-Flying Aircraft, 1976 
The Unlimited Dream Company, 1979
Myths of the Near Future, 1982
The Venus Hunters, 1986
The Day of Creation, 1987 
Running Wild, 1988
War Fever, 1990
The Kindness of Women, 1991
Rushing to Paradise, 1994
A User’s Guide to the Millennium, 1996
Cocaine Nights, 1996
Super-Cannes, 2000 
Millennium People, 2003
Kingdom Come, 2006
Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton (autobiography), 2008

The Telegraph article includes critical detail about J. G. Ballard.

Ballard’s memories of pre-war Shanghai were of “a cruel city”. “If you fainted on the road from lack of food you lay there until you died,” he said. “There used to be carts going around the city picking up dead bodies.”

A year after the Japanese seized Shanghai, Ballard and his family were interned in Lunghua Camp just outside the city. “It was absolutely the reverse of anything I had ever known,” he recalled. “Previously we had lived an incredibly formal existence, then suddenly I was a member of a 2,000-strong tenement family. I had a good time, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.”

Ballard was, he admitted, aware to some extent of the “years of stress and illness” undergone by his parents. “Towards the end when the food supplies had collapsed we were living on warehouse scrapings,” he recalled. “One day my father said: 'We must eat the weevils, they contain protein’, and so we did.”

Ballard and his fellow internees were isolated from all news of the war. They did not know hostilities had ended until the United States began dropping food parcels instead of bombs on the airbase next to their camp. His family went back to their house in Amherst Avenue in Shanghai and remained there until 1946, when they returned to England.

After China Ballard recalled that he found life in Britain “cold, grey and dull”. ....

[I]n 1948 he went up to King’s College, Cambridge, where he studied Medicine for two years. He had originally hoped to go on to study psychiatry, but realised that the demands of the course were leaving him no time for writing. “I felt the pressure of imagination against the doors of my mind was so great,” he recalled, “that they were going to burst.”

When Ballard left Cambridge without having taken a degree, he joined the RAF to become a pilot. After two years of training in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, he returned to Britain. He then worked variously as an encyclopedia salesman, a Covent Garden porter, and as a writer on a technical journal before publishing, in 1956, his first short story in Michael Moorcock’s magazine New Worlds.

Later that year Ballard married and moved with his wife to Shepperton. He became a professional writer and his first novel,
The Drowned World, was published in 1961. In it he put forward one of the first arguments that global warming could cause the flooding of the world’s major cities. .....

Ballard and his wife had three children before her sudden death from pneumonia in 1964. Afterwards he brought up his children alone, an experience he described as “the most important” of his life.

While Ballard insisted that he had enjoyed raising his children single-handedly, and even regretted that he had not had “more children and more dogs”, the strain of doing so took its toll.

“I used to have my first whisky at nine am, after I’d taken the children to school,” he remembered, “then I’d have a glass on the hour, every hour. I was never drunk, but I would have a glow all through the day.”

Ballard spent the late 1960s editing Ambit magazine and socialising with fellow writers and artists such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. Having developed a fascination for car crashes he frequently surprised fellow dinner guests by producing photographs of his girlfriend’s crash injuries.

Another long-term obsession, assassination, culminated in ....The Assassination Weapon (1970).
In 1973 Ballard’s obsession with car accidents came to fruition with the publication of Crash. The book put forward the unusual theory that only through intimate contact with a car (in the form of accidents) can humans achieve true eroticism. Ballard’s accounts of “the mysterious eroticism of wounds: the perverse logic of blood-soaked instrument panels and sun visors lined with brain tissue” did not suit all tastes. The publisher’s reader who first saw the manuscript described Ballard as being “beyond psychiatric help”. Ballard took her comment as a compliment.

Throughout the rest of the 1970s and early 1980s JG Ballard wrote approximately one book every 18 months. All his novels and short stories were marked by the same dark, surreal landscapes, and all described a future in which his characters had abandoned themselves to personal obsessions.

[In 1988] Ballard returned to Shanghai for the BBC Two Bookmark programme. He visited his old house in Amherst Avenue, by then an electronics library, which had remained largely unchanged since the war. “My bedroom was still painted blue,” he recalled, “and the shelves where I had stacked my Chums annuals were full of reports.” Ballard also visited Lunghua camp, which had been transformed into a boarding school.

“The Ballard family’s room was a broom cupboard” he recalled, “but I remembered every scratch, every chip of paint. It was Lunghua, not Amherst Avenue, which felt like home.”

.... Ballard wrote the second part of his fictionalised autobiography,
The Kindness of Women, in 1991. Although the book sold well it did not enjoy the same success as Empire of the Sun. Spurred on by advanced prostate cancer, Ballard completed his non-fiction memoirs, Miracles of Life, in 2007. In them he observed that the attack on the World Trade Centre of September 11 was “a brave attempt to free America from the 20th century”. His own life, he declared, was the final story he would tell.

JG Ballard remained in his peeling semi-detached house in Shepperton throughout his life, surrounded by the same furniture and fittings which had been there when he bought it. Asked why he never moved after the enormous financial success of
Empire of the Sun, Ballard insisted that living in Shepperton was a “political statement”. “My upbringing was so middle-class and repressed,” he insisted. “It wasn’t until I was placed in Lunghua that I met anyone from any other social strata. When I did I found them colossally vital.”

Ballard also claimed that he liked living near the motorway and Heathrow airport because he enjoyed their “perverse beauty”. “I only realised why I keep living in Shepperton when I returned to China,” he recalled. “All the people who moved there had come from places just like Shepperton and so they built and lived in houses exactly like these. I now know I was drawn here because, on an unconscious level, Shepperton reminds me of Shanghai.”

In June ...
[2008] he was forced to leave Shepperton as his health deteriorated. He moved in with his companion, Claire Walsh, in the Goldhawk Road, west London. Despite having been a couple for 40 years, it was the first time they had shared a home. “He needed his solitude for writing,” she explained in an interview.  ....Claire Walsh and his three children survive him.

We end with  an affecting glimpse of a writerly life.

I have worked at
...[the same] desk for the past 47 years. All my novels have been written on it, and old papers of every kind have accumulated like a great reef. The chair is an old dining-room chair that my mother brought back from China and probably one I sat on as a child, so it has known me for a very long time. A Paolozzi screen-print is resting against the door, which now serves as a cat barrier during the summer months. My neighbour's cats are enormously affectionate, and in the summer leap up on to my desk and then churn up all my papers into a huge whirlwind. They are my fiercest critics.

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