Monday, April 20, 2009

J G Ballard - Inspiring Author

Thanks, Wikipedia.

James Graham Ballard, who died at the age of 79 on April 19, 2009, will be remembered by fans as the author of Empire Of The Sun, a novelised recollection of his life as a POW in Japanese-occupied China during World War 2.

The British novelist and short story writer also excelled in science fiction.

He also wrote Crash which was adapted into a film like Empire Of The Sun.

The adjective "Ballardian", defined as "resembling the conditions described in Ballard's novels, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments", has been included in the Collins English Dictionary.

Ballard was born on November 15, 1930 in Shanghai, China.

His father was a chemist at a Manchester-headquartered textile firm, the Calico Printers Association, and became chairman and managing director of its subsidiary in Shanghai, the China Printing and Finishing Company.

Ballard was born and raised in a Shanghai dominated by Britain.

After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, Ballard's family was forced to temporarily evacuate their suburban home and rent a house in downtown Shanghai to avoid the shells fired by Chinese and Japanese forces.

After the Pearl Harbour attack, the Japanese occupied Shanghai.

In early 1943 they began interning Allied civilians, and Ballard was sent to the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Centre with his parents and younger sister.

He spent over two years, the remainder of World War 2, in the internment camp.

His family lived in a two-storey residence for 40 families.

He attended school in the camp, the teachers being inmates from a number of professions.

These experiences formed the basis of Empire Of The Sun.

In 1946, after the end of the war, Ballard went to the UK with his mother and sister.

They lived in Plymouth, and he attended The Leys School in Cambridge.

After a couple of years his mother and sister returned to China, rejoining Ballard's father, and leaving Ballard to live with his grandparents.

In 1949 he went on to study medicine at King's College, Cambridge.

At university, Ballard was writing avant-garde fiction heavily influenced by psychoanalysis and surrealist painters.

At this time, he wanted to become a writer as well as pursue a medical career.

In 1951, when Ballard was in his second year at King's, his short story The Violent Noon" (a Hemingwayesque book) won a crime story competition and was published in the student newspaper.

Encouraged by the publication of his story and realising that clinical medicine would not leave him time to write, Ballard abandoned his medical studies in 1952 and went to the University of London to read English Literature.

However, he was asked to leave at the end of the year.

Ballard then worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency and as an encyclopaedia salesman.

He kept writing short fiction but found it impossible to get published.

In 1953 Ballard joined the RAF and was sent to a flight-training base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada.

There he discovered science fiction in American magazines.

While in the RAF, he also wrote his first science fiction story, Passport To Eternity.

Ballard left the RAF in 1954 after two years and returned to the UK.

In 1955 he married Helen Matthews and settled in Chiswick. Their first child (of three) was born in 1956, and his first published science fiction story, Prima Belladonna, was printed that year.

The editor of New Worlds, Edward J. Carnell, would remain an important supporter of Ballard's writing and would publish nearly all of his early stories.

From 1957, Ballard worked as assistant editor on the scientific journal Chemistry and Industry.

His interest in art led to his involvement in the emerging Pop Art movement, and in the late fifties he exhibited a number of collages that represented his ideas for a new kind of novel.

Ballard's avant-garde inclinations did not sit comfortably in the science fiction mainstream of that time.

By the late 1960s, he had become an editor of the avant-garde Ambit Magazine, which was more in keeping with his aesthetic ideals.

In 1960 Ballard moved with his family to Shepperton, London.

Finding that commuting to work did not leave him time to write, Ballard decided he had to make a break and become a full-time writer.

He wrote his first major novel, The Wind From Nowhere, over a two-week holiday. It was published in 1962.

Later that year his second novel, The Drowned World, was published.

In 1964 Ballard's wife Mary died of pneumonia, leaving him to raise their three children – James, Fay and Bea – by himself.

In 1965 he wrote The Atrocity Exhibition, and one of the novels in this grotesque series gave rise to the film Crash in 1996.

In 1984 he wrote Empire Of The Sun, based on his years in Shanghai.

It won the 1984 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.

Empire Of The Sun was filmed by Steven Spielberg in 1987, starring a young Christian Bale as Ballard.

Ballard himself appeared briefly in the film.

Ballard has had a notable influence on popular music, where his work has been used as a basis for lyrical imagery, particularly amongst British punk groups.

Examples include albums such as Metamatic by John Foxx, various songs by Joy Division (most famously The Atrocity Exhibition), the song Down In The Park by Gary Numan and Warm Leatherette by The Normal.

Songwriters Trevor Horn and Bruce Woolley credit Ballard's story, The Sound-Sweep, with inspiring The Buggles' hit, Video Killed The Radio Star.

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke posted extracts from Ballard's anti-consumerist novel Kingdom Come on the band's blog, Dead Air Space, in the months leading up to the release of its 2007 album, In Rainbows.

The opening song title of Madonna's Ray Of Light album, Drowned World/Substitute For Love is said to be inspired by Ballard's apocalyptic 1962 novel The Drowned World.