J.G. Ballard … Empire of the Sun

JGBallardJ.G.Ballard (1930-2009) is best known for his controversial novel Crash (1973) as well as the semi-autobiographical war novel Empire of the Sun (1984). Born and raised in Shanghai he eventually moved to England and became a full-time writer.

J.G. Ballard working at his desk in Shepperton circa 1970.

J.G. Ballard working at his desk in Shepperton circa 1970.

In 1960 J.G. Ballard and his young family moved into a modest semi-detached home in Shepperton, near London. He lived and wrote here for the next 49 years.


In 1984, the year that Empire of the Sun was published, he gave an interview to the Paris Review for their Art of Fiction series. He was asked to outline his work routine.
Every day, five days a week. Longhand now, it’s less tiring than a typewriter.When I’m writing a novel or story I set myself a target of about seven hundred words a day, sometimes a little more. I do a first draft in longhand, then do a very careful longhand revision of the text, then type out the final manuscript. I used to type first and then revise in longhand, but I find that modern fibre tip pens are less effort than a typewriter. I rewrite a great deal so the word processor sounds like my dream. My neighbour is a BBC videotape editor and he offered to lend me his, but apart from the eye-aching glimmer, I found that the editing functions are terribly laborious. I’m told that already one can see the difference between fiction composed on the word processor and that on the typewriter. The word processor lends itself to a text that has great polish and clarity on a sentence-by-sentence and paragraph level, but has haywire overall chapter-by-chapter construction, because it’s almost impossible to rifle through and do a quick scan of, say, twenty pages. Or so they say.


I work two hours in the late morning, two in the early afternoon, followed by a walk along the river to think over the next day. Then at six, Scotch and soda, and oblivion.

In 2007 he was featured in a series called Writers Rooms for the Guardian in which he describes his working environment.


I have worked at this desk for the past 47 years. All my novels have been written on it, and old papers of every kind have accumulated like a great reef. The chair is an old dining-room chair that my mother brought back from China and probably one I sat on as a child, so it has known me for a very long time…. I work for three or for hours a day, in the late morning and early afternoon. My room is dominated by the huge painting, which is a copy of The Violation, by the Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux.





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