Novelist JG Ballard, who wrote of war, death and disaster, dies at 78

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THE acclaimed author JG Ballard, whose novels include Crash and Empire of the Sun, has died after a long illness. He was 78.

His agent, Margaret Hanbury, said Ballard, who had been suffering from prostate cancer, died at his home in Shepperton in west London, yesterday.

Despite being referred to as a science fiction writer, Ballard said his books were "picturing the psychology of the future".

His most acclaimed novel was Empire of the Sun, based on his childhood in a Japanese prison camp in China.

In a prolific career, James Graham Ballard attracted critical acclaim and controversy in equal measure.

He was born on 15 November, 1930, in Shanghai, China, but saw his life change forever when, in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbour during the Second World War, Japanese forces swept into the city.

The three years he spent in an internment camp moulded his view of "a world turned upside– down" and constantly influenced his fiction.

Towards the end when the food supplies had collapsed, "we were living on warehouse scrapings," he recalled. "One day my father said: 'We must eat the weevils, they contain protein', and so we did."

Ballard and his fellow internees were isolated from all news of the war. They did not know hostilities had ended until the United States began dropping food parcels instead of bombs on the airbase next to their camp.

Ballard and his family went back to their house in Shanghai and remained there until 1946, when they moved to England.

Ballard was educated at Cambridge University, before becoming an RAF pilot.

He was later an advertising agency copywriter, encyclopaedia salesman and assistant editor of scientific journal Chemistry and Industry.

He built up a passionate readership, particularly after Empire of the Sun was made into a film by Steven Spielberg in 1987, starring a young Christian Bale as Jim, the boy whose life is turned upside-down by the invasion.

Ballard's book tells the story of a boy's life in Japanese-occupied wartime Shanghai, describing his experiences of starvation, survival and death marches.

The author said of his childhood: "I have – I won't say happy – not unpleasant memories of the camp. I remember a lot of the casual brutality and beatings-up that went on, but at the same time we children were playing a hundred and one games all the time."

Ballard's first novel, The Drowned World, published in 1962, charted the psychological breakdown of a group of scientists examining a London waterlogged by the melting of the polar icecaps.

He followed with works such as The Wind from Nowhere and The Drought, pioneering novels dealing with ecological disaster.

The death in 1964 of Ballard's wife provoked a sea-change in his work. His next novel, The Crystal World, was a mystical fable exploring the spiritual transformation of the world.

Director David Cronenberg would later buy the rights to Ballard's infamous book about the sexual desires stimulated by car crashes and brought it to the screen in the film Crash.

Ms Hanbury, Ballard's agent for more than 25 years, said: "Following his early novels of the Sixties and Seventies, his work then reached a wider audience with the publication of Empire of the Sun in 1984.

"His acute and visionary observation of contemporary life was distilled into a number of brilliant, powerful novels which have been published all over the world and saw Ballard gain cult status."

Writer Martin Amis has said of Ballard's work: "He is quite unlike anyone else; indeed, he seems to address a different, disused part of the reader's brain."

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