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'The happy notion of the life-time-novel'Author: Simon Sellars • Jul 1st, 2008 •
Attached: JGB note dated 25.5.94. It reads:
“Dear Mr Jones, Thanks for your happy notion of the life-time novel, and for the kind comments on my writing — I wish you the best of luck with your degree course — incidentally, it’s not true that I would sell options on the telephone — film rights, as you’ll soon discover, are fanatically fought over by agents, and mine have always been handled by my agent. Best, J.G. Ballard.”
Some background. At this time I had just undertaken a second interview for a place on a university screenwriting degree course. Having no academic qualifications I was taking an ‘A’ level in English, and to be honest, was thoroughly bored with the books we were studying — Susan Hill, Thomas Hardy, Hamlet — although ironically I appreciate them more now than I did then (I would have been 23); I wanted to get back into reading for pleasure, and a re-read of The Kindness of Women was top of my list. I decided to write to Ballard, and did so via his agents (found, pre-internet, in a reference book in the local library). Around the same time he had made a comment in The Daily Telegraph on Moby Dick that struck a chord with me, and so I opened my letter with an enthusiastic ramble on the subject of the ‘life-long novel’, and how a person could be issued with just one weighty tome at birth, to be devoured throughout their years. I also mentioned a comment one of the interviewers had made (actually the head of the course at the time) after I had been asked which authors I liked, namely, that there was a time when producers would ring JGB out of the blue, hoping to option one of his books, and more often than not he would sell the rights over the telephone! The course leader added that he had tried to buy the rights to High-Rise this way.
Thought this might make a curious addition to your film post. An interesting detail about Ballard’s reply is that it was posted in a second-hand envelope, with his name scrawled out and my address put beneath it, and sealed at the top with sellotape. Also, I was quite surprised that his home address and phone number were on the note paper.
On a similar subject, two years ago I contacted him again. Around the beginning of 2006 I found out that my publishers, Headpress, were releasing a book by Mark Goodall entitled Sweet & Savage: The World Through The Shockumentary Film Lens, and that JGB contributed a short interview on Gualtiero ‘Mondo Cane’ Jacopetti to it (it is reprinted in Headpress 27). I saw an opportunity and swiftly sent him a synopsis and art (by Rik Rawling) for the book I was (and indeed still am) working on at the time, Saturn In Retrograde: Counter-Culture Murder, Bad Trips & Demon Fantasies, in the hope that he might show interest and pen a foreword for it. It was not to be, however, and by swift return of post I got a postcard that — prophetically — began, “Powerful stuff, buit I’m afraid this I’ll have to pass — old age and fear of death — but best of luck…”
My second choice enthusiastically took up the task: author, anthologist and filmmaker Michel Parry. I’m sure he won’t mind being a close second to Ballard!
Incidentally, I did the three year degree course, but never fell into the turgid waters of the TV and film world, as it was then.
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