JG Ballard archive saved in British Library coup

By Culture24 Staff | 10 June 2010
A photo of JG Ballard's plan of the Japanese camp where he was held for part of his childhood, the Lunghua Internment Camp Blueprint

(Above) JG Ballard's plan of the Japanese camp where he was held for part of his childhood, the Lunghua Internment Camp Blueprint

The hidden creative and personal worlds of JG Ballard, the dystopian master whose creativity was arguably unsurpassed in the 20th century, will be available to the public for the first time in a myriad of letters, manuscripts, drafts, photographs and school reports entrusted to the British Library by the writer's family.

Ballard's private archive has been bought for the Library through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allowed the collection to be acquired in place of taxes following Ballard’s death at the age of 78 in 2009.

It includes a scrawled, 840-page first version of Empire of the Sun, the 1984 novel based upon Ballard’s experiences as a child in the Japanese Lunghua internment camp. The story won Steven Spielberg and John Malkovich a string of Oscars and Academy Awards when it was turned into a film three years later.

A photo of the autograph manuscript of Ballard's Empire of the Sun, perhaps his best-known work

The autograph manuscript of Ballard's Empire of the Sun, perhaps his best-known work

Alongside intricate blueprints of the camp, revealing minutes from meetings within the annexe and detailed rundowns of the buildings Lunghua consisted of, there are also drafts from Crash – his controversial vision of individuals turned on by car crashes which was adapted for the screen by David Cronenbourg – and Ballard's birth certificate and reports from The Leys School, where he was unsurprisingly credited with being a gifted English student.

"Daddy was diagnosed with prostate cancer [in 2006] and that enabled us to decide over a number of years what to do with his things," said Fay Ballard, the author's daughter, presenting the collection at the Library.

"We had several conversations with him about the material and we put the idea to him that he might like to think about giving the manuscripts to the British Library.

A photo of the "heavily revised typescript" of Crash (1973) is littered with amendments and changes

A "heavily revised typescript" of Crash (1973) is littered with amendments and changes

"He was very, very modest about it. He said 'ooh, do you think they’d be interested?'"

Despite once denying he kept an archive, Ballard was almost meticulous in his preparation of the works, according to his daughter.

"He took us round the house where he lived in Shepperton and pointed out where they were," she explained, reflecting on a collection related "very much to his literary career" with the exception of a few family pictures.

A photo of camp minutes from a meeting at Lunghua in August 1944, following the escape of three prisoners

Camp minutes from a meeting at Lunghua in August 1944, following the escape of three prisoners

"He'd carefully tied together many of his more recent manuscripts and put them on the dressing table ready to go for the time being.

"There was a very important cupboard in his bedroom and he simply said to us that there were really valuable things in there, where no-one goes.

"He said, 'when the time comes, go through it all.' And luckily in that cupboard were Empire of the Sun and Crash."

A draft list of chapters and extract from the autograph manuscript of Super-Cannes, which was published in 2000

A draft list of chapters and extract from the autograph manuscript of Super-Cannes, which was published in 2000

A set of notebooks contain ideas for future books, naming "airport ideas…passengers take over airport and establish a city-state" as one possibility, and correspondence with friends and peers such as Michael Moorcock, Iain Sinclair and Will Self also feature.

The collection will take up 12 metres of shelf space, covering 50 years of Ballard’s life in a 15-box haul described as "hugely exciting" by Jamie Andrews, the Library's Head of Modern Literary Manuscripts.

"He wrote letters to us before he died to say what we should do with the materials and where they were in his bedroom and study," said Ballard.

A photo of JG Ballard by Fay Godwin

JG Ballard by Fay Godwin (1984). Image © the British Library Board

"When we were growing up he was very protective of us – he wanted to be the father figure. I see that really right until the end."

The archive will be fully catalogued and is expected to be accessible to researchers at the Library by summer 2011.

All document images © the Estate of JG Ballard

Watch the British Library’s introduction to the Ballard archive:

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