Ballard and the meaning of life

Liz Thomson
News - Publishing 16 Oct 2008


Agent Margaret Hanbury, who is enjoying her 25th Frankfurt Book Fair as an independent agent, touched down with something rather special in her briefcase: a new book by J G Ballard. An envelope arrived, quite out of the blue, a couple of weeks back - Hanbury admits she assumed it was a royalty query.

In fact it contained an outline for a new book, working title Conversations with My Physician. The physician in question is oncologist Professor Jonathan Waxman of Imperial College, London, who is treating Ballard for prostate cancer. While it is in part a book about cancer, and Ballard's struggle with it, it moves on to broader themes - indeed, the subtitle is The Meaning, if Any, of Life. The agent - whose careful handling of Katie Price has propelled the artist formerly known as Jordan to the top of the charts, and to great wealth - is talking to Ballard's long-standing publishers, among them Fourth Estate in the UK.

It is a poignant moment for Hanbury: in 1983, she arrived in Frankfurt with the manuscript for Empire of the Sun in her briefcase. Ballard's semi-autobiographical novel went on to be shortlisted for the 1984 Booker Prize, losing to Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac; it won the Guardian Fiction Prize and, four years later, became a Stephen Spielberg film.

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