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JG Ballard on writing

There’s a lot of it about. Quite why the end of the year should prompt a lot of people to find appropriate quotes I don’t know – maybe to sum up this year and look forward to the next? But I thought I’d follow the trend for once rather than try to buck it.

James Graham Ballard (1930–2009) was, as many of you no doubt know, an English novelist and short story writer whose work was often thought of as science fiction although this would be a very limited description of the range of work he published, much of it not fitting neatly into any genre pigeonholes. He will probably be best remembered for Crash (1973, which later became a controversial film by David Cronenberg), and Empire of the Sun (1984, an account of his childhood that was also made into a film by Steven Spielberg). However he wrote 18 novels and probably hundreds of short stories, and among many other things was a major influence on a whole lot of British musicians from the 1980s to date. And much of his work influenced my own younger self.

Enough of that. Things he said about writing:

  • Any fool can write a novel but it takes real genius to sell it.
  • Given that external reality is a fiction, the writer’s role is almost superfluous. He does not need to invent the fiction because it is already there.
  • Science and technology multiply around us. To an increasing extent they dictate the languages in which we speak and think. Either we use those languages, or we remain mute.
  • Sooner or later, everything turns into television.

(I’ve never been sure if that was just an ironic comment or a warning!)

  • In the post-Warhol era a single gesture such as uncrossing one’s legs will have more significance than all the pages in War and Peace.

(I guess the implication is: write short things, not long ones…)

  • Fiction is a branch of neurology: the scenarios of nerve and blood vessels are the written mythologies of memory and desire.
  • Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.

A warning there about how what’s imagined and  written today becomes the reality of tomorrow?

And finally:

  • A lifetime’s experience urges me to utter a warning cry: do anything else, take someone’s golden retriever for a walk, run away with a saxophone player. Perhaps what’s wrong with being a writer is that one can’t even say ‘good luck’ – luck plays no part in the writing of a novel. No happy accidents as with the paint pot or chisel. I don’t think you can say anything, really. I’ve always wanted to juggle and ride a unicycle, but I dare say if I ever asked the advice of an acrobat he would say, ‘All you do is get on and start pedaling’.

Yes, I’m still pedaling…

I haven’t given detailed sources but if anyone’s desperately interested, the quotes are all google-able.

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