Sunday, 26 September 2010

(Do the) Charleston

Last night to Charleston, the former Bloomsbury Group country retreat, for an event that's part of a short story festival: Iain Sinclair talking about the life and work of his friend J G Ballard. The train to Lewes from Victoria after work was unbelievably crowded, at Lewes a volunteer-run bus took me to the house - the talks take place in a barn - saw Will Self here last year.

A very interesting talk concentrating on the short stories (which I happen to be reading at the moment anyway). He mentioned Heart of Darkness and by coincidence this morning I read a story entitled 'A Question of Re-entry' which was a definite Ballardian homage to Conrad's tale. At the same time I've been dipping into an anthology of the 'best-ever' SF short stories and on the whole I would say that the Ballard volume despite being by a single author is actually better, certainly better written than most of the other stories.

There were many mentions of the copies of two lost Paul Delvaux paintings that Ballard had paid to be recreated by an artist who also produced his portrait - in the NPG but not on display. On a short trip to Dunkirk a few years back we popped along the coast to the Paul Delvaux Museum, a curious place in a deceptively large underground gallery. Everything you would need to see by the Belgian surrealist is on display - there are very few of his works in British galleries - I love his eerie paintings of railway stations and trains. Sinclair also included an anecdote about William Burroughs telling him that his 'ugly spirit' had been exorcised in a sweat lodge - the shooting of his wife was assuaged by this incident. He says that the house in Shepperton is still intact with all Ballard's possessions, apart from the archive, which went to the British Library (see earlier post) and would make an unusual property for the National Trust to purchase should the family decide to sell it - a nice thought.

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