PRINGLE: You mentioned collaborations - would writing in collaboration with someone else be entirely unthinkable to you?
BALLARD: I'd love to collaborate, and I talked it over once or twice with Mike Moorcock. The Americans collaborated very easily, partly because they all produced this very standardized fiction. It's not all that easy to tell if you're given a paragraph of Pohl that it's not by Sheckley or Matheson or Kuttner. Particularly with all the pseudonyms they used, there are very few writers you can identify stylistically. Here the opposite is true -collaborations would be difficult because the writers have been free to evolve in their own separate directions; they've not been, for the most part, constrained by a set of house rules.

PRINGLE: Talking about style: to what extent are you aware that you evolved your style deliberately? I suppose it just happens with most writers but your style is very distinctive, and most readers who know your work don't confuse it with that of other writers. How conscious was this?
BALLARD: Totally unconscious. I've never given it a thought. I've written certain stories and novels in a particular style, the style that seemed natural to the subject, but I've never consciously tried to evolve a literary style that is unique to myself One writes the way one feels.

PRINGLE: One of the notable things about your style is a certain repetitiousness of words and phrases, particularly in The Atrocity Exhibition and to some extent in Crash. You repeat words, and this is something people have criticized. It was Martin Amis, I think, in his review of Crash, who went through and counted how many times you use the word 'metalized' and one or two others, and came up with a figure of forty or fifty.
BALLARD: That's very true, but I was using language, certain words and phrases, to a fixed and obvious end. The medical and pseudo-medical jargon that I use a lot is all deliberate these are particular notes that I can strike, which, I hope, signify something to the reader. It's all part of a second language, if you like, that is carried along by the surface of the narrative, a series of signposts with codes or whatever you want to call them. They're jokes on myself in a way, I suppose.

PRINGLE: Apart from the medical language that you mention, there's also use of emotional, rather poetic language, 'flowers and wounds', which reminds me of the French surrealists. Did they influence you?
BALLARD: Yes, they certainly did. Genet - not a surrealist - but Genet certainly, Jarry. Their sort of language was a big influence, there's no question about it. But not many English writers.

PRINGLE: Conrad?
BALLARD: It's a funny thing, but when The Drowned World was published people said it was heavily influenced by Conrad. Oddly enough, though I was 31 or 32, I'd never read a word of Conrad. I remember Victor Gollancz the publisher, taking me out to lunch after they'd bought The Drowned World, and turning to me jokingly, and saying: 'Well, you stole the whole thing from Conrad'. I thought 'oh, what's this?', and going away and actually reading some Conrad - which I found rather heavy going, though he's obviously a great writer, with a unique evocative style - I could see a resemblance. But that's partly because if you're going to try and build up the atmosphere of steaming jungles, there's only one way of doing it.

PRINGLE: I think it was Graham Greene who compared The Crystal World with Heart of Darkness. Was there any influence there?
BALLARD: I don't know whether I'd read Heart of Darkness at the time I wrote The Crystal World. I honestly don't think I was influenced by Conrad. I don't mind being influenced - after all, we're all influenced to some extent - but if you're talking about conscious imitation: certainly not.

PRINGLE: Were you influenced by Graham Greene - because he was influenced by Conrad?
BALLARD: Probably, yes. There's something about Greene's handling of solitary characters, externalizing the character's mind in terms of the situation in which he finds himself, the particular landscape. He does this so brilliantly. He can have a solitary figure standing by a jetty in the Far East, looking at some sanpans, and he brings in a few things like the local police chief scratching his neck and so on, and within a paragraph one has a marvellous evocation of the psychology of the hero, and of what the hero and of what the book is about. Yes, I probably was influenced by Greene, but I never consciously imitated him.

PRINGLE: Were you attracted to Greene because of your Far East background?
BALLARD: What I liked about Greene, and still do, is that although he's snared by the English literary 'thing', he's very much a twentieth century man, and his fiction is generated by his experience of the world outside England. He couldn't be further apart from someone like Kingsley Amis or Anthony Powell, whose fiction is entirely generated by the closed world not just of England but of a very small part of England. In Greene's fiction one can breathe the smells, see the sights and hear the sounds of the whole world. Not having spent my childhood and adolescence in England, I received a very big shock when I got here in 1946 and found it was a closed little island, containing a whole lot of lesser islands - the world of English professional life. Professional middle-class life of those days was incredibly narrow. I just couldn't breathe it in. That's one of the reasons I started writing SF - one could get away from all this sort of thing. I certainly admire Graham Greene a great deal.

PRINGLE: You studied medicine at Cambridge. Many of the protagonists of your stories have in fact been doctors. Is there a rationale for this?
BALLARD: Well, I suppose if I hadn't become a writer I would have been a doctor. So in a sense the protagonists of these stories are myself. I couldn't make them writers - the obvious thing to do was to make them doctors. My training and mental inclination, my approach to everything, is much closer to that of a doctor than to that of a writer. I'm not a literary man. But I am interested in - admittedly popular - science. I approach things as a scientist would, I think. I've a scientific bent; it's obvious to me that these characters are what I would have been if I hadn't been a writer.

PRINGLE: Your National Service period in the RAF - did that influence you at all? Were you a bomber pilot?
BALLARD: No, I did a sort of basic training course but I left after a while. In fact, I didn't do National Service. I was exempt. I thought I'd like to try flying, to see what it was like. I thought I'd like to try service life, because it was at least sort of forward-looking and that helped. This was in 1954. I was in a bit of a dead-end. I hadn't started reading SF. I wanted to be a writer. I was writing short stories, planning a novel like any novice, but I wasn't organised. It struck me - I was very interested in aviation - that it might be worth going into the service for a couple of years - one of those short service commissions they had then. You could go in for a very short space of time, just to see what it was like. But in fact it wasn't anything. It was completely unlike anything I imagined. I didn't like service life at all. Also, I spent my entire period in Canada, out in the back of beyond. I was writing while I was there. The moment I got myself organised I wanted to get out of the RAF and get back to London, and start churning the stuff out. So I resigned my commission and came back to England. I had to get a job. Ted Carnell arranged for me to get a job with the parent company, on a technical journal. I moved from there to being assistant editor of a scientific journal. I stayed there until about 1961.

PRINGLE: You were actually writing before you'd read any SF?
BALLARD: Oh yes. I wasn't writing SF though. It never occurred to me. I started writing SF partly because it seemed very exciting - and the sorts of things I wanted to do in SF had not been done by anybody else - also because there were so many magazines. You could write for so many. This was when I was a complete novice, hadn't published a single story. I could see at a glance. There were ten American magazines and about four English ones. So there was a market greater than the literary field then. There were very few literary journals of any kind, and they were very prestigious - you know, Horizon, etc; It was obvious you couldn't make a career out of writing short stories for Horizon. It wasn't a matter of making money, but of actually being able to write a good deal, to write with freedom too, which you could do in SF magazines. You were free, within the rough conventions of the field. You don't have that sort of freedom in literary journals.

PRINGLE: The picture you draw of yourself as being interested in science, editor of a science journal and so on, makes me wonder for the first time why you wanted to be writer at all.
BALLARD: If one's got an imagination, if the imagination's going overtime, you have to start writing it down. If you've got a talent for that sort of thing, you write it down without too much difficulty. As a child, I was good at essays, writing stories. Even at school, I was writing short stories. It was something that just grew out of childhood. I would have qualified as a doctor, without any doubt, but for the fact that the imaginative pressure to write was so strong. I was beginning to neglect medicine altogether. I was primarily interested in anatomy and physiology. These were the subjects that I did for two years. Once I had covered the basic course in those subjects, I found more advanced medicine so technical that it didn't relate to the system of metaphors that, say anatomy is so rich in, or physiology, or pathology. Once you've dissected the cadaver - thorax, abdomen, head and neck, etc., - you go on to more exhaustive anatomy, of say, the inner ear, and the metaphors aren't so generously forthcoming. So I'd had enough of it in two years. I could see it then became a very technical mattes and also became applied. I'd go into hospital and .actually be lancing boils and looking at people with skin diseases. I didn't want that. I was more interested in the general scientific underpinning of medicine. In some ways I wish I had become a doctor. Such a mind-blowing course. If you've known anybody that's gone through the medical degree course, they all say that you leave half your mind behind. The feats of memory required are really absolutely gigantic.

PRINGLE: You won a short story competition at Cambridge. Was the story published?
BALLARD: It was published in a Cambridge student newspaper called Varsity, in '51, I suppose. That was my first published story.

PRINGLE: Could you describe it?
BALLARD: It wasn't SF. It was a story set in the Far East, set in Malaya during the British military struggle with the communist terrorists - whenever that began - in the late '40's, early '50's. It's difficult to describe.

PRINGLE: In an old New Worlds, I saw in the blurb for your story 'Escapement' in 1956...
BALLARD: That was my first story, I think for Carnell.

PRINGLE: Carnell said in his blurb that you had almost, at the time, completed a novel called You and Me and the Continuum.
BALLARD: That is interesting. The title must have been around in my mind. Before I started writing SF, before I went into the Air Force, I was writing some 'experimental' fiction, based on intensive reading of James Joyce and whoever else one was reading then. I was trying to get away from the English 19th century novel. I was writing these bits and pieces. I think I did have half an experimental novel lying around, which I probably just threw away. I obviously retained the title, which I liked. Do these old New Worlds and Science Fantasies still exist?

PRINGLE: There are avid collectors of them.
GODDARD: They're worth a lot of money too.
BALLARD: Are they really? How much are they worth? You mean more than their cover price? How amazing. Perhaps I should have hung on to my stuff.

GODDARD: How much of an influence was Ted Carnell on your development as a writer?
BALLARD: He was an influence in the sense that, but for New Worlds, I would have been in a bit of a spot. He had three magazines for which I was encouraged to produce a continuous stream of short stories over a period of getting on for ten years. He gave me every freedom, I don't think he ever rejected a story of mine. He gave me complete freedom to write anything I wanted at a time when.., you will remember that I began writing in '56-57', round about the time of the flight of Sputnik 1, which seemed to confirm anything that the SF fans, writers and publishers in America believed in: this was the millennium, it had arrived. It would have seemed, superficially, the worst time for moving away from writing a science-fictional art based on space, interplanetary travel, the far future and what have you. It would have seemed the worst time to stop writing that kind of thing and yet he encouraged me, said go ahead. One tends to forget how resistant to change and experiment of any kind SF is. That's the paradox: it ought to be dedicated to change and novelty and experiment. You found in the '50's and '60's in the States an absolute resistance to any kind of novelty. Ted Carnell was unique in giving me this freedom to write anything I wanted to, and he dealt with the American editors and publishers. I don't know whether Ted would have published the stories in The Atrocity Exhibition - possibly not, though he did publish ' The Terminal Beach'. I remember some of the rejection slips I got from American editors when that story came back. Ted established the possibility of change. He recognized that SF by the mid '50s had used all its material, it had built its world, the last brick, as it were, was slotted into place - there was no way out, there was no possibility of change: he recognized that. He used to caution other young writers who modelled their fiction on the kind of stories that appeared in Galaxy in the early and mid-50s, and he would caution them very much against the kind of SF that required an intense familiarity with science fiction before you even began to understand it. The kind of stories that Galaxy and Astounding, in their different ways, were publishing made very little sense to an outsider because they didn't know what the narrative and plot and subject-matter conventions were, and without that knowledge you were lost. Ted, even before I arrived on the scene, felt that the time had come for a change of direction. English SF has always been much more open to change and novelty. It always depresses me when I meet Americans who really believe that they invented SF round about Gernsback's first magazine, 1926, and the ten years after. In fact, what they did was to limit its range, conventionalize it, and fossilize it. English writers, who've been writing the stuff for a hundred years or more, have always had a much more open approach to the SF they've written, so English SF has always been much less homogeneous than American SF.

GODDARD: Did Carnell ever suggest ways in which your work could take new directions?
BALLARD: I think there were one or two stories where he suggested I could enlarge a particular aspect, but he never suggested any idea, or any particular directions I should take. Most of the stuff I wrote then is pretty conventional, at least outside the narrow little world of SF. Half of the stories aren't even SF within the popular definition of the term.

PRINGLE: Did you write The Wind from Nowhere as a conscious attempt to break into the paperback market?
BALLARD: Yes, I did. I wanted to give up my job, you see, I had my first story published in December '56. By 1961 I'd been writing SF for five years and I'd written quite a lot of short stories. I had this gap after I went to the SF convention in '57. Don't take this personally or anything I think times have changed - but it put me off. I didn't do any writing for about a year and a half, so there was a sort of gap. Then I restarted, and I wrote more stories. After five years, I realized I was getting old. I had three children. I was thirty or thereabouts, and I realized I was getting nowhere. We'd come to Live here, out of necessity. We were driven out of London -once you had small children you were anathema. I had this very long railway journey up to Central London to my office every day. There I was coming home with these small children running around, and I was absolutely exhausted. My wife had had all these babies and she was tired. I knew the one thing I had to do was make a complete break and become a full-time writer. I knew I'd never write a novel - a serious novel - while I was not getting home till 8 o'clock in the evening. I was just too tired. But I had this fortnight's holiday coming up, and my wife as a joke said - we hadn't enough money to go away - 'why don't you write a novel in a fortnight? So I thought: Good, That's sensible talking'. I'd already got, through Carnell, certain contacts with the American paperback people and I had a feeling that if I wrote a novel I could sell it, even if I wasn't going to get very much money. In those days £300 could keep you going for a long time. So I said: 'I'll write a novel in ten days, six thousand words a day, during this holiday', and I thought: 'What shall I do?' So I had this idea about a whirlwind. I was tempted to approach it seriously I mean, it could have been done on a completely serious level - by serious I mean on the level of the other novels, The Drowned World and so forth - and I nearly did do it that way. I don't know whether it would have been any better, because the wind thing isn't that interesting. So I thought I'd use all the clichés there are, the standard narrative conventions, and I sat down at the typewriter and I wrote the book. Six thousand words a day, which is quite a lot. I kept it up, and when I went back to the office I had the manuscript of a novel, which Carnell sold. He was then acting as my agent. I think I got £300 - then, though of course it's gone on and on. But that was enough and immediately I sat down and started writing The Drowned World. I wrote it in a short version first, and then expanded that to a novel.

PRINGLE: What about The Crystal World? wasn't that published in three versions?
BALLARD: Originally, I wrote it as a short story, The Illuminated Man. Then Mike Moorcock, when he took over New Worlds as a small format magazine, asked me to write a lead serial. He wanted a novel, in short. I didn't want to write a novel at that point. My mind was already beginning to change, I was starting to think about the Atrocity Exhibition type of approach - this was in 1963 or '64. So I said to him: 'I'll expand this short story if you like', because I'd got a lot more ideas. I felt that the short version was incomplete. It was too much of a science fiction fantasy. I wanted to develop more of the serious implications of the idea - which I did, I think, in that serial. When I'd done that, it occurred to me - or it occurred to my agent - that I'd got a novel. So I then expanded it even further, It was a peculiar way of writing a novel, but it just happened that way.

PRINGLE: Was The Drought written before, or was it written between versions of The Crystal World?
BALLARD: The Drought was my second novel, written after The Drowned World. I didn't like it very much at the time. There was something rather too arid - something of the aridity of the landscape spilled over into the novel, and it didn't take off for me. I still don't care for it very much, but it contains so many of the ideas - quantified image, isolated object, and emotion detached from any human context - that I began to develop in The Atrocity Exhibition and in Crash. They were all implicit in that book.

GODDARD: One of the most popular areas of your work is the series of Vermilion Sands stories. A critical reading of these shows that they are all, to some extent, variations on the same theme. Could you tell us something about why you wrote these stories?
BALLARD: I've never really analysed them myself. I suppose I was just interested in inventing an imaginary Palm Springs, a kind of world I imagined all suburbs of North America and Northern Europe might be like in about 200 years time. Everyone will be permanently on vacation, or doing about one day's work a year. People will give in to any whim that occurs to them -like taking up cloud-sculpture - leisure and work will mesh in. I think everybody will be very relaxed, almost too relaxed. It will be a landscape of not so much suburbia but exurbia, a kind of country-club belt, which will be largely the product of advanced technologies of various kinds, for leisure and so forth. So you will get things like computers meshed into one's ordinary everyday life in a way that can be seen already. I'm just writing about one direction that the future is taking us. I think the future will be like Vermilion Sands, if I have to make a guess. It isn't going to be like Brave New World or 1984: it's going to be like a country-club paradise.

PRINGLE: Is this a sort of literary conceit, or what you really think the future's going to be like?
BALLARD: I'm not a literary man at all. That's my guess at what the future will be like!

PRINGLE: It's not the impression of the future people would get from your books as a whole, where you tend to write about disaster and doom.
BALLARD: I think that's a false reading of my stuff. I don't see my fiction as being disaster-oriented, certainly not most of my SF - apart from The Wind from Nowhere which is just a piece of hackwork. The others, which are reasonably serious, are not disaster stories. People seem to imply that these are books with unhappy endings, but the reverse is true: they're books with happy endings, stories of psychic fulfilment. The geophysical changes which take place in The Drought, The Drowned .World and The Crystal World are all positive and good changes -they are what the books are about. The changes lead us to our real psychological goals, so they are not disaster stories at all. I know that when The Drowned World was accepted by my American publisher about twelve years ago he said :'yes, it's great, but why don't we have a happy ending? Have the hero going north instead of south into the jungle and sun.' He thought I'd made a slight technical mistake by a slip of the pen, and had the hero going in the wrong direction. I said: 'no, God, this is a happy story.' I don't understand the use of the word 'disaster'. I don't regard Crash as a disaster story. In a sense, all these are cataclysm stories. Really, I'm trying to show a new kind of logic emerging, and this is to be embraced, or at least held in regard. So I don't really see any distinction between any of my work - between Vermilion Sands on the one hand, and the rest on the other.