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New acquisition: J G Ballard

The archive of J G Ballard, one of the most visionary British writers of the 20th century, has been acquired by the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme and allocated to the Library.

Two pages from a draft of Ballard's 1973 novel Crash will be on display in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library from 11 June 2010. The draft’s extensive textual re-workings reveal the meticulous nature and sheer labour of Ballard’s creative process.

The archive of J G Ballard, one of the most visionary British writers of the 20th century, has been acquired by the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme and allocated to the Library.

Two pages from a draft of Ballard's 1973 novel Crash will be on display in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library from 11 June 2010.
The draft’s extensive textual re-workings reveal the meticulous nature and sheer labour of Ballard’s creative process.

J G Ballard’s fiction, often shocking, predicted the rise of terrorism against tourists, the alienation of a society obsessed by new technology and ecological disasters such as the melting of the ice caps. Famous for his dystopian visions, Ballard was a provocative writer so distinctive and influential that his name has become an adjective in its own right. His important and lasting literary legacy includes such iconic works as Empire of the Sun and Crash, both of which were turned into major films. The photo below shows a page from Ballard's draft of Empire of the Sun



Although J G Ballard was quoted in an interview in 1982 as saying, ‘There are no Ballard archives. I never keep letters, reviews, research materials. Every page is a fresh start’, he did keep the manuscripts of his greatest works. Before his death in April 2009, Ballard instructed his daughters, Fay and Bea, on the whereabouts of these manuscripts in his house and expressed his wish for them to be placed at the British Library.

Determined that the archive should remain in the UK and be offered to the nation, Fay and Bea Ballard applied to the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. The 15 large storage boxes which currently house the archive contain manuscripts, notebooks, letters, photographs and ephemera, spanning 50 years and covers the full range of Ballard’s output from The Drowned World (1962) to Miracles of Life (2008).

Jamie Andrews, Head of Modern Literary Manuscripts: 'Our sincerest thanks go to the Ballard family for entrusting us with this archive and we look forward to making this fascinating collection accessible to a wide public over the coming years.'

The archive, which occupies approximately 12 linear metres in shelf space in the Library, is expected to be fully accessible by summer 2011.

At the heart of the archive are the holograph manuscripts which show us how Ballard’s fiction and memoirs were composed. Written in ink on one-side of A4 sheets, they are heavily revised, filled with deletions and crossings out, new starts, additions and corrections. The manuscript of Empire of the Sun (1984) runs to 840 numbered pages and contains extensive re-workings and alternative versions of individual paragraphs and sections. The archive also includes the typescripts with editorial markings. This alone will provide future scholars and researchers with a wealth of new information about the development of Ballard’s most widely-read novel.

It also contains several ‘reporter’ notebooks with ideas for books (for example, ‘Topics that interest me – airports ideas re passengers take over airport & establish a city-state’), papers relating to Shanghai and the internment camp at Lunghua (see photo below for an image of a blueprint of the camp), photographs of a young J G Ballard, his family and their Amherst Avenue home, and ephemera including birth and baptism certificates, school reports and passports.



Correspondence forms a rich and important part of the archive. Ballard saved copies of letters that he sent and the archive also includes correspondence he received from friends and other authors, including Michael Moorcock, Iain Sinclair and Will Self.