Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 14:30 UK

Cult author JG Ballard dies at 78

JG Ballard reads from his book Kingdom Come (Newsnight Review, September 2006)

The author JG Ballard, famed for novels such as Crash and Empire of the Sun, has died aged 78 after a long illness.

His agent Margaret Hanbury said the author had been ill "for several years" and had died on Sunday morning.

Despite being referred to as a science fiction writer, Jim Ballard said his books were instead "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.

I remember a lot of the casual brutality and beatings-up that went on
JG Ballard

The author of 15 novels and scores of short stories, Ballard grew up amongst the expatriate community in Shanghai.

During World War II, at the age of 12, he was interned for three years in a camp run by the Japanese along with his parents and younger sister.

He later moved to Britain and in the early 1960s became a full-time writer.

Ballard built up a passionate readership, particularly after Empire of The Sun, a fictionalised account of his childhood, was made into a film by Steven Spielberg.

He said of his experiences: "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!"

His friend and fellow author, Iain Sinclair, said Ballard had developed into a major literary figure.

"He was one of the first to take up the whole idea of ecological catastrophe. He was fascinated by celebrity early on, the cult of the star and suicides of cars, motorways, edgelands of cities.

"All of these things he was one of the first to create almost a philosophy of. And I think as time has gone on, he's become a major, major figure."

'Ballardian world'

Director David Cronenberg brought Ballard's infamous book about the sexual desires stimulated by car crashes to the screen in the film Crash.

He had a love of the ordinary and surreal at the same time. He was extraordinary and remarkable
Andrew Motion

The film caused a media stir, adding to Ballard's reputation for courting controversy.

In later years he wrote other acclaimed novels such as Super-Cannes and Millennium People.

Hephzibah Anderson, former fiction editor at the Daily Mail and books columnist for the Observer, said Ballard's work had anticipated life as it was now.

"If you look at the start of his career, he began writing science fiction stories and we was regarded as very avant garde.

"And there was a kind of violence lurking beneath the texture of these novels. And they've come to seem less and less futuristic and you know it's as if we're embodying, we're living in now a kind of Ballardian world."

Meanwhile, Ballard's publishers HarperCollins have cancelled the publication of his final book.

Conversations, which chronicled Ballard's discussions with his oncologist Professor Jonathan Waxman, was due to be published in September.

However, the author became too ill to work on the title and the book was abandoned.

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