Dissecting John Baxter's
JG Ballard Bile-ography:

Part Two:
More Errors, Idiocies,
Gratuitous and Unsupported Remarks

The Milton Mystery

David Pringle:

Has anyone here, perchance, read a long poem by Blake entitled Milton? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_a_Poem

The reason I ask is because John Baxter, in his Ballard bio, seems convinced that Ballard based The Unlimited Dream Company on Blake's Milton. I think this is a crazy idea, although I admit I haven't read Milton. Do people here have any opinions?

Mike Holliday:

That Wiki page notes that "the poem concludes with a vision of a final union of living and dead", and the last sentence of UDC is "Already I saw us rising into the air, fathers, mothers and their children, our ascending flights swaying across the surface of the earth, benign tornadoes hanging from the canopy of the universe, celebrating the last marriage of the animate and inanimate, of the living and the dead." But of course that doesn't say much about what goes on beforehand in Milton, which I haven't read.

Alistair Cormack drew the parallels between UDC and Blake in his talk at UEA, and I used a couple of the points he made in my own piece on UDC: http://www.ballardian.com/home-and-a-grave. I believe a revised version of Cormack 's talk will appear in Jeannette Baxter & Roland Wymer (eds), J G Ballard: Visions and Revisions in October.

David Pringle:

Thanks. Yes, both Blake's poem and Ballard's novel appear to end with a vision of the union of the living and the dead. But that's pretty general -- are there any other specific parallels in the body of the two works?

Anyway... Here is a reminder to people of what JGB said when asked about the influence of Blake's poetry on him (and note he said this in 1984, five years after The UDC was published)...A letter from Ballard, supplied by the Canadian academic Peter Brigg (it was written to a student of Brigg's):

14 May 84

Dear Mr Siroishka,

Very many thanks for your letter, and the kind comments on my writing -- all the best wishes for your MA (beware the inbuilt prejudices of academe, though, for the best grades you should dedicate yourself to Henry James or George Eliot...) As for William Blake, in fact I know him only for his more famous poems, Jerusalem (the hymn), Tiger, etc., and chiefly for his paintings, a large number of which are in the Tate Gallery in London -- native surrealist. To be honest I've never heard of his Four Zoas -- though I certainly chose the hero's name in honour of Blake, and for the same qualities of furious identification with all the transforming forces of nature and the unseen powers of the universe hiding behind every leaf and flower. Seen subjectively, William Blake is something of a minor pagan deity himself.

Please give my regards to Peter Brigg and say that I look forward to reading his book.

Best wishes,

JG Ballard

So it looks as though Ballard knew Blake's artwork well enough, but not his poetry, beyond the obvious short anthology pieces that "everybody" knows -- Tyger, Tyger, etc. I showed the above letter to John Baxter after I'd read the draft of his JGB biography, but I was unable to budge him from his conviction that JGB read, and deliberately emulated, Blake's Milton when he wrote The UDC. Baxter seems almost to be convinced that everything JGB said, in letters, interviews, non-fiction, etc., was untrue or misleading. I don't agree with him on that, even if I know Ballard was sometimes capable of getting things wrong or of "gilding the lily" -- a phrase JGB once used to me.

Mike Holliday:

I'm confused here, David. Are you suggesting that Baxter thinks that UDC emulates Blake’s Milton because of something that JGB said?

David Pringle:

No -- the existence of a strong influence from Blake's Milton on JGB seems to be entirely Baxter's own harebrained theory. The only thing JGB "said," so to speak, was to name his protagonist Blake; but I doubt he was even aware of the long poem Milton. JGB denied ever having read much of Blake's poetry. He was influenced by Blake's art, he said, but he wasn't familiar with the poetry, a few well-known anthology pieces apart. He'd never even heard of "The Four Zoas".

Alistair Scott:

Isn't Blake's Milton a kind of graphic novel? So maybe Ballard looked at the pictures (as I did when I 'read' him about 30 years ago in a blue paperback of his engravings as I recall, maybe inspired by UDC?) and was influenced by that.

David Pringle:

Well, maybe -- kind of. I wouldn't push the parallel too far, though. JGB certainly saw Blake drawings and paintings in the Tate. We know that because he said so: "in fact I know him only for his more famous poems, Jerusalem (the hymn), Tiger, etc., and chiefly for his paintings, a large number of which are in the Tate Gallery in London..."

The "more famous poems" JGB refers to are not the long ones like The Four Zoas, which he said he had never heard of, or Milton, but almost certainly the short Blake lyrics and songs which have appeared in many anthologies of English poetry: "O rose, thou art sick," "Tyger, Tyger, burning bright," etc.

Mike Holliday:

The existence of a strong influence from Blake's Milton on JGB seems to be entirely Baxter's own harebrained theory.

Actually, it probably isn't. I reckon he got it from here: http://tinyurl.com/6la5kn7

That page is referenced in the Wiki page for Unlimited Dream Company.

David Pringle:

Interesting! I didn't know about that. You may be right that Baxter got it from there -- which would be more proof, I suppose, that he didn't have an original thought in his head.

(However, I still don't believe that JGB was influenced by Blake's Milton in the least. What do you think?)

Mike Holliday:

I would have thought it very unlikely that JGB would plough his way through a poem -- and he disliked poetry in any event -- which reads like this (to take one example from the article I pointed to): 

"Where once the Cherubs of Jerusalem spread to Lambeths Vale
Milcahs Pillars shine from Harrow to Hampstead where Hoglah
On Highgates heights magnificent Weaves over trembling Thames
To Shooters Hill and thence to Blackheath the dark Woof! Loud
Loud roll the Weights & Spindles over the whole Earth let down
On all sides round to the Four Quarters of the World, eastward on
Europe to Euphrates & Hindu, to Nile & back in Clouds
Of Death across the Atlantic to America North & South."

The letter to Siroishka, which you mentioned earlier, seems quite straightforward. It's to a student (and a student of someone who's writing a book on him), so JGB doesn't bother to "gild the lily". He says that the main influence of Blake was through his paintings. That made sense to me -- when I was writing my article on Unlimited Dream Company, I looked up Blake on the web to check the phrase "One command, one joy, one desire; One curse, one weight, one measure; One King, one God, one Law", which Alistair Cormack had used in his talk at UEA.

That's from "The Book of Urizen", and a number of the paintings in that book struck me as illustrative of some of the themes of UDC. Since a lot of Blake's artwork was to illustrate his books, I suppose JGB may have bought or borrowed a book of those illustrations and picked up some ideas from there.

As for Baxter's attempt to show there are parallels between Blake's Milton and UDC, it strikes me as pretty weak. They are either rather general -- Stark in UDC is an ambivalent figure, a fallen angel, and hence the equivalent of Lucifer in the poem -- in which case they could easily be picked up from considering Blake's artwork; or stretching it - Blake in UDC descends to earth by crashing the plane, and Milton descends to earth as a comet (both "in flames" says Baxter). I'm actually more impressed by the fact I mentioned earlier (but which Baxter omits) -- that both UDC and Milton end with a final union of the living and the dead. But to suppose that Ballard blagged UDC from Blake -- nope!

David Pringle:

Fair enough. JGB said he was influenced by Blake's paintings, and I think that's sufficient. The notion of him ploughing his way through a long poem like Milton just doesn't ring true.

I showed that Ballard letter to Baxter, and he chose to disregard it -- another example of him making the assumption that everything Ballard said was untrue. That seems to have been Baxter's default position: if it came from JGB's lips or pen, it was all lies.

(By the way, the "marriage of the living and the dead" ending to Ballard's UDC echoes, to my ear, the ending of James Joyce's "The Dead" -- the long story which concludes Dubliners [1914]. JGB probably did read that during his Joyce kick.)

Paul Green:

I agree with David and Mike that Blake’s Prophetic Books had no influence on JGB.

Doubts About The Drought

Mike Holliday:

A question for David: when we discussed The Drought earlier in the year, you noted that the changes in the text between the Berkley paperback The Burning World and the later Cape edition of The Drought were very minor. Apart from splitting it into more chapters, the alterations are cosmetic -- tightening up the language a bit, making some of the descriptions rather less verbose.

So what do you make of Baxter's claim that JGB changed the character of the main protagonist, Ransom, possibly at the suggestion of his publishers? "... between delivering The Burning World to Berkley and selling it to Cape as The Drought, Ransom acquires some cojones. In the US version, he's a languid visionary on the model of Rimbaud, but The Drought visualises him as a tanned Nordic seafarer, a kind of Thor Heyerdahl, clutching a tome by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski" (p. 141)

David Pringle:

These are the relevant paragraphs as they appear in the two versions of the text...

Removing his cotton jacket, Ransom sat down on the bench by the stern window of the cabin. He decided to go ashore, but after a week on board the houseboat he felt uneager to leave it and make all the social and mental readjustments necessary, minimal though these would now be. He had let his beard grow, but almost everyone had left Larchmont and there was little point in shaving it off. Although the rim of black hair gave his thin face a gaunt and Rimbaudesque look, he accepted this new persona as part of the altered perspectives of the river, and as a mark of his own isolation in the houseboat. (Ch. 1, The Burning World, Berkley Books, August 1964.)

Helping himself to what was left of the whisky in the galley cabinet, Ransom sat down on the edge of the sink and began to scrape away the tar stains on his cotton trousers. Within the next hour he would have to go ashore, leaving the houseboat for the last time, but after a week on board he felt uneager to leave the craft and make all the social and mental readjustments necessary, minimal though these would now be. He had let his beard grow, and the rim of fair hair had been bleached almost white by the sunlight. This and his bare, sunburnt chest gave him the appearance of a seafaring Nordic anthropologist, standing with one hand on his mast, the other on his Malinowski. Although he gladly accepted this new persona Ransom realized that it was still only notional, and that his real Odyssey lay before him, in the journey by land to the coast. (Ch 2, The Drought, Cape, May 1965.)

he revisions there are in fact more substantial than most of the other revisions JGB made in the Cape text. But, as usual, Baxter exaggerates -- the change from a dark-haired Rimbaud lookalike to a fair-haired Nordic seafarer lookalike is only visual, I think, and its significance is not stressed elsewhere in the text. I doubt the editors at Cape had anything to do with it -- these were most likely JGB's own second thoughts.

Errors & Inaccuracies

Mike Holliday:

At page 150 I thought the biography was getting more interesting, but 100 pages later I feel like I'm losing the will to live. The continuing errors, and gratuitous and unsupported remarks are just getting me down. Some examples (without even getting into matters such as Mary's death or violence towards Claire):

• He refers to Paolozzi illustrating "The Drained Lake" in Ambit in 1965 (p. 168), when it is un-illustrated, Paolozzi's name is completely absent from that issue of Ambit, and the extract's title is "The DRAINING Lake".

• He suggests that Ballard stopped non-linear narrative because other, younger writers were beginning to use it, referencing Lang Jones' request in 1968 for original stories for his The New SF collection (p. 179). This is despite the fact that Ballard was still experimenting with a non-linear style in 1970 ("Journey Across a Crater"), and Baxter himself has already quoted Michael Butterworth (who was around 19 at the time) praising Ballard for spending the time to help him with his "Concentrate" stories (p. 168).

• He says (p. 184) that the advertisers' announcements all show women in "situations of weakness or submission", when they manifestly don't (unless you think any portrayal of a woman is one of weakness or submission).

• Given JGB's dislike of "fans", the following is bizarre: "[SF] writers relied on their fan base. Attending conventions and conferences, appearing at signings, supporting limited print-run 'collectors' editions' and simply replying to fan letters were tools of survival. Few writers used these skills more actively than Jim, particularly in forging connections with admirers in other countries" (p. 195).  It seems to be there simply so Baxter can discuss the contents of letters by Ballard to Jannick Storm and to Riccardo Valla - letters that he has purchased (Storm) or which David has told him about (Valla).

• Why does Baxter repeat the story that Ballard burned his manuscripts when we knew a year ago that they'd been donated to the British Library (p. 214)?

There's a number of other examples, but I couldn't be arsed, to be honest ... from now on I'll restrict myself to what I find interesting, rather than Baxter's loonier suggestions or outright errors. So let's start with this: in his discussion of The Atrocity Exhibition, Baxter says (p. 173) that T-Man (Traven, Talbert, etc) was undergoing psychiatric treatment for a crime, perhaps the murder of a wife or lover (though he may actually mean that Ballard suggested this interpretation later). Of course this would connect with Baxter's discussion of Mary's death and the guilt that he says Ballard felt over it.

Certainly his wife's death is a strong influence on the book, and not just thematically, as we discussed a few years ago; after all, Karen Novotny dies over and over again. But does anyone recall T-Man receiving psychiatric treatment for a crime?

David Pringle:

No. Just as a reminder to you and everyone else, below is the text of the original Cape blurb for the book, which I'm certain Ballard wrote himself (Baxter seems not to have twigged that). This is where readers first learned that the lead character is "a doctor who is suffering from a nervous breakdown." That had not been made explicit before. But there's no mention of a specific crime...

The irrational violence of the modern world is the subject of this strange and disturbing book. The central character is a doctor who is suffering from a nervous breakdown. His dreams are haunted by the figures of John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, dead astronauts and auto-disaster victims. Trying to find his sanity, he casts himself in a number of different roles -- H-bomber pilot, presidential assassin, car-crash victim, psychopath. He is obsessed with the deaths, among others, of Kennedy and Oswald, seeing them as models of his own self-destruction. Escaping from the hospital where he works, he sets out to restage their deaths in a way that will make sense, using whatever materials come to hand -- the body of an enigmatic and beautiful young woman who gives him a lift along a freeway; an abandoned weapons-testing ground; the immoral inhabitants of a decadent beach resort. Everything around him seems sterile and perverted, but with the magic of violence he at last finds the key to a new sexuality.

For the hero nightmare and reality overlap, and the story is seen through a number of lenses, sometimes with the harshness of a documentary filmed in a mental slaughterhouse, at other times with the calm and clinical detachment of a scientific report. Together they show a world controlled by advertising and pseudo-events, science and pornography. The Atrocity Exhibition is a unique and disturbing newsreel of our unconscious minds. (Blurb, from the front-jacket flap of the Jonathan Cape first English-language edition, July 1970.)

Bumbling About Bill Butler

Mike Holliday:

OK, here's a discussion concerning something I know about, the Unicorn Bookshop trial in August 1968...

Baxter has evidently read my article at Ballardian.com, since he gives several details that appear there and there's a generous credit to Simon's website in the Acknowledgements.

However, what he says (pp. 181-183) about the publication of "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan", and Bill Butler's obscenity trial, is misleading. Firstly, there's no mention of the fact that the police seized more than 70 different titles in their raid on the Unicorn Bookshop, of which around half were the subject of charges at the trial. Secondly, although the charge relating specifically to Ballard's "Reagan" booklet was dropped during the trial due to a technicality, Baxter does not mention this. The result is that the reader will suppose that Butler's trial, the guilty verdict, and his fine and legal costs, were all as a result of publishing Ballard's booklet. (Strangely, Baxter mentions the technicality - the three copies found and presented as evidence were review copies, and so were not intended to be sold "for gain" - but omits the fact that this resulted in the charge being dropped.)

The Unicorn Bookshop trial was all about Bill Butler, not Ballard; Butler and his bookshop were seen by conservative locals as corrupting the youth of Brighton -- a hangout for homosexuals (only just legalised in England), a haunt of drug-addicts, and a purveyor of sordid, pseudo-intellectual publications. They were out to get him.

Baxter's claim that Butler assumed that a printing of 250 copies would attract no attention is absurd. Although the campaign against the bookshop was a local one, the booklet was largely sold in London through places such as Barry Miles' Indica Bookshop and the outlets that sold Oz, International Times, and such like. That's hardly low-profile in the context of 1968. And the copies that were seized had been intended for Anne Graham-Bell, who at the time was head of public relations for Penguin Books and had agreed to forward copies to possible interested parties, including the editor of the Times Literary Supplement! All of which is mentioned in the Ballardian.com article, but is conveniently ignored by Baxter.

In fact, Baxter might have made a better case for Ballard's tie-up with Butler being an example of his supposed self-promotional shrewdness. Butler's counter-culture credentials were impeccable: he had managed Better Books on the Charing Cross Road, which was effectively "twinned" with the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Better_Books); he had distribution through the intellectually trendy places in London; and he had links to the American free-press publications and to Beat writers such as Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Giorno. And in a sense it worked...

Why did Ballard not testify at Bill Butler's obscenity trial in 1968, when one of the seized publications was his booklet of "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan"? John Baxter says that it was chiefly because Ballard was frightened, even if he did later claim that it was Butler's solicitor who suggested that he should not appear as a witness.

Here's Ballard's account in the annotations to later editions of The Atrocity Exhibition: "A defense campaign was mounted, and I agreed to appear as a witness. Preparing me, the defense lawyer asked me why I believed 'Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan' was not obscene, to which I had to reply that of course it was obscene, and intended to be so. Why, then, was its subject matter not Reagan's sexuality? Again I had to affirm that it was. At last the lawyer said: 'Mr Ballard, you will make a very good witness for the prosecution. We will not be calling you.' Sadly, all this led to a coolness between Bill and myself, which I was not able to repair before his death from a drug overdose some years later. I think he suspected me of over-deft footwork in side-stepping my obligations to him, but in fact he was in no danger of a prison sentence and I saw no reason to pretend that the Reagan piece was anything but a frontal assault on the former actor."

I think it's highly unlikely that there was ever a serious possibility that Ballard would be called as a witness for the defense. The way obscenity trials worked was that the prosecution called the police as witnesses to prove that item X was found in Mr. B's possession and that it was held "for sale for gain". Once that had been determined, there was the question of whether or not the item was "obscene", which in English law is defined as being likely to corrupt and deprave those who are likely to read it. That is "the essence" of the case and therefore has to be decided by the magistrates (or the jury in the case of a trial by jury) on the evidence, i.e. by looking at the publication in front of them. Anybody else's view as to whether or not the item is obscene is irrelevant.

However, English law had been amended about 10 years earlier such that there was a defense if it could be shown that publication of the item was for the public good, being in the interests of literature, art or science. (Quite how something that tended to corrupt and deprave could be in the public good was never explained.) Therefore trials often involved "expert witnesses" who would testify as to the literary, or other, worth of the book or magazine. The prosecution strategy was usually to confuse the witness into saying something that implied that the publication was indeed obscene, or into a mistake, or into intellectual jargon, and then to suggest that their views were unreliable. For example, at Bill Butler's trial the prosecuting barrister trapped Anne Graham-Bell into expressing the view that once a person was an adult they could not be corrupted, and was then able to portray her as an unworldly soul and an unreliable witness.

Having finished their cross-examination, prosecuting counsel would often turn to the magistrates or jury and say, "You have heard what this witness has to say, and I ask that you disregard their views". In the Unicorn Bookshop trial prosecuting counsel said to the magistrates that he relied on them knowing a dirty book when they saw one. Of one item, a poem by John Giorno, he even suggested that if any of the expert witnesses was capable of saying the work had literary merit, the magistrates could safely disregard their evidence since the item was obviously "unmitigated filth".

Could an author be an expert witness for their own work? In theory yes, but what would their qualifications be? The examination of each expert witness started with them stating how they were qualified to make a judgment on the item's literary or other worth. For example, Ballard's friend George MacBeth commenced his evidence at Bill Butler's trial by explaining that he had been a BBC Producer for the last 10 years, specializing in literary subjects; had published three critical anthologies of the work of others; had written reviews for several quality newspapers; was a founder member of the London Poetry Secretariat and had served on the poetry panel of the Arts Council; and had given talks on Ballard's work for the BBC. Eric Mottram, who also appeared as an expert witness, was Lecturer in English and American Literature at King's College London.

I suppose there might be something particular that an author could say concerning the intended purpose of their work that might help the defendant, but they would have to withstand cynical cross-examination by a skilled and experienced prosecuting counsel. I suspect that most creative authors would be quickly floundering -- especially one with Ballard's combination of imagination, forthrightness, and certainty in their own views.

So what may have happened was that Butler asked Ballard if he could assist him by visiting his solicitor, who then asked JGB for background information -- what the purpose of the booklet was, what ideas he was trying to express, etc. On hearing what Ballard had to say, he may have remarked "Well, we certainly won't be calling you as a witness!" -- maybe more of a joke than anything. If the solicitor then explained what it was they were looking for -- a credible expert witness who was familiar with Ballard's work -- JGB most likely suggested his friend George MacBeth; hence the idea that MacBeth appeared "in Ballard's place".

David Pringle:

Thanks for your excellent, detailed posting about the Unicorn affair. Of course, you know far more about it than John Baxter does, having done the primary research which I'm sure Baxter didn't do.

And Who is John Baxter?

Ben Austwick:

Do we know much about John Baxter? Why he would sensationalize like he has?

David Pringle:

I know him a little, and he's been discussed here often enough before. I think I first heard his name when Brian Aldiss mentioned it in his essay "The Wounded Land: J.G. Ballard" in SF Horizons #2, Autumn 1965. I probably read that in early 1966, when I eventually obtained a copy of the 'zine. I recall Aldiss saying that the people who had been early cheerers of Ballard included "Damon Knight in America, and John Baxter in Australia." I'd heard of Damon Knight, but not, at that time, John Baxter -- but he must be OK, I thought, if Aldiss says so.

What Aldiss was referring to was a Guest Editorial and various letters-of-comment by Baxter which had appeared in New Worlds circa 1963-1964, but I hadn't seen those at the time. I started accumulating second-hand back-issues of NW, however, and soon came across Baxter stories and letters...

So the guy has "bottom," in that sense. That's why I'd expected a better JGB biography of him.

Graham Rae:

Baxter really didn't like JGB, did he? I think all this attempted-JGB-psychology-extrapolation says far more about the biographer than about the writer being clumsily dissected, to be perfectly honest. Guess Ballard's dead and can't defend himself anymore; be interesting to know how cordial their relationship was when he was alive. Is Baxter a critically feted writer? Did he ever achieve any success? He really seems like he couldn't even wait for JGB's corpse to be cold before jumping on it and stabbing the hell out of it with bent and broken pseudo-analytic tools. I think I still want to read it, to see if there's anything new I think I can agree with, but this really isn't making me want to pick it up except with my own subjective author-(mal)intent extrapolative tools...

David Pringle:

Baxter achieved success with A Pound of Paper (2002) and one or two similar autobiographical books about book-collecting, Paris, sex and food which have followed it. Before that, he was known mainly as a mid-list author of "unofficial" biographies of film directors, none of which, as far as I know, were exactly bestsellers, but which probably did OK at the time. (That market seems to have died pretty much, probably since the coming of broadband internet connections.)

As a fiction writer, Baxter achieved no real success at all. His sf stories of the 1960s have never been collected, and his couple of sf novels -- The God-Killers from 1968 and a techno thriller-type thing from the 1970s -- don't seem to have been reprinted much, if at all. His few attempts at mainstream novels don't seem to have gone anywhere either (I know there was one called The Kid, based on Charlie Chaplin's early life).

He has no doubt made a steady living, though. He has been prolific, and has a lot of books to his name; so in that sense he has had a successful career.

I don't think he knew Ballard very well at all. He visited Shepperton to interview JGB on at least one occasion, in 1994, when he was researching his biography of Spielberg. He claims to have been there on other occasions, but I don't know what those visits would have been for -- perhaps just to get his JGB first editions signed?

David Pringle:

I'm just back from the Edinburgh Book Festival, and it's gone midnight here now. John Baxter spoke quite entertainingly for three-quarters of an hour, and then taken questions for another 15 minutes. The question-and-answer session really wasn't long enough. John spotted me in the audience and was embarrassingly fulsome in his praise for all the help I'd given him, etc. Which ensured (as perhaps he had intended) that I didn't have the ill grace to criticize the biography in front of his audience...

But his talk was really a biographical fantasy of the life of JGB. He came out with some really weird, made-up things, most of which I'm rapidly forgetting. Oddly enough, no one raised the subject of the Sunday Times piece (perhaps no one there had seen it, or its Daily Mail clone) and so the topic of JGB hitting his girlfriend was not broached. Perhaps just as well.

I now have the book, but have had no chance to (re-)read it yet. I saw the uncorrected draft six months ago. I was wincing throughout a lot of Baxter's talk -- so many unfounded speculations on his part, asserted as if they were "the truth"; so many inflations from extremely thin evidence; and so many downright errors, in my opinion -- e.g. his claim that Ballard hated the post-war Labour government (no, it was his grandparents, and their middle-class friends, who hated Attlee's government).

The bit of his talk I most warmed to was his response to a question about the short stories. The fact that he could remember his first reading of "Studio 5, the Stars" (1961), after all these years, and the impact it made on him -- his description of the imagery and so on, even a line he was able to quote -- pointed to the strength of Ballard's writing: its sheer memorability.

On the other hand, his response to another audience member's question, about Michael Moorcock, was quite wrong-headed, I think. He said something to the effect that Ballard was a rather violent man and that Moorcock was a gentler, non-violent soul. To someone who knew them both, that seems quite incredible! I recall the occasion when Mike Moorcock wrestled my head to the floor, at some publisher's do upstairs in the Groucho Club. OK, it was done in a "good-humoured" way, but it was sheer Alpha Male one-upmanship -- showing everybody who was boss.

I like Mike Moorcock, despite tales of his past violence, and just mention them to show how wrong Baxter was in what he said. Ballard, by contrast, was almost always a well-behaved gent.

And In Summation…

Mike Holliday:

OK, I've now finished the biography, and to be honest I can't gather up the enthusiasm for any more comments (unless there's anything specific that David, or anyone else, wants to discuss). There were lots more errors, idiocies, gratuitous and unsupported remarks, as well as passages that leave a bad taste in the mouth -- such as comparing JGB's remarks about his wife's last moments with those of Fay (who was barely seven) -- but I've better things to do with my time than catalogue them. The reviews give a decent idea as to how awful the book is -- if anything it's worse!

Baxter spends the final page talking about himself and Ballard. He says that they both had stories published at the same in New Worlds in the mid-60s, then adds: "That Jim was the superior writer was never in doubt, and when I experimented in his style, Ted [Carnell] published the story but chided my homage. One Ballard, apparently, was enough."

That Baxter could actually think about including that comment tells you a lot, I think. He has spent the previous 344 pages showing us that he doesn't actually have a clue as to why Ballard was regarded as a great writer. He therefore can't understand why it was Ballard who was successful -- it must have been because he sold himself better, or because he slept with his publishers (yes, we get that), or because as a psychopath he could focus solely on his work.

Christ, even as I write this I notice grudging remarks on the very last page: "I'm glad I didn't write this book when he was alive. It would have taken a stronger will than his to confront the realities of his troubled life… Jim fled the reality of such moments, taking refuge in physical isolation and the evasions of art."


David Pringle:

(7 October 2011)

In the above discussion, I said at one point: "The October issue of NW was published at the end of that month [September 1967], and it was the last to carry Claire Walsh's name as the advertising person... I think Claire's banishment from the masthead was occasioned by her evident decision to stand by JGB in his quarrel with MM."

My use of the word "banishment" was careless. Mike Moorcock has now e-mailed me to say:

"Claire's name was taken off the NW masthead because she had better and more work. Claire and I remained friends and there were no sides taken -- Jimmy just stopped talking, his usual method. Claire told me everything was fine. I had to believe her. (No 'turning up at NW parties with black eyes' or any such claptrap. Anything else than what I've told you is unconfirmed gossip. It did not come from me but I know very well where it did come from. It's gossip.  Speculation.) Anyway, as usual, after a time Jimmy started turning up and giving me material as if nothing had happened."

I hadn't really meant to imply that Claire was fired from New Worlds, and my use of the word "banishment" was jocular -- rather, I had assumed she had resigned because of the cooling of relations between MM and JGB. But it seems I was wrong about that, and Claire in fact remained on good terms with Mike Moorcock. I'm happy to make this clear! -- David Pringle.