I underline the things you should keep: The visual adaptation of the J.G. Ballard Archive

Matthew Richardson


In 2009 ‘The Papers of James Graham Ballard’ were given to the British Library and consist of letters, photos and manuscripts by the British writer, J.G. Ballard (1930-2009). The items have been ordered and catalogued and a small number of Ballard’s heavily annotated draft manuscripts have been digitally scanned and made available online.


As libraries, museums and archives increasingly digitise their collections, this research considers the importance of the ‘materiality’ of a document and seeks to develop new visual and tactile forms that balance the need of wider ‘access’ to experience. Contemporary archival practice is as interested in the future process of a document ‘becoming’, as much as the act of preservation. (Sue Breakell, 2008) When we preserve something we fix it. This research aims to use expanded illustration practice to produce alternative analogue and digital visualisations of the manuscripts through drawing, making, photography, animation and film to ‘unfix’ J.G. Ballard’s narratives.


Philip Larkin observed that writers’ manuscripts have two values – the ‘magical value’ of the artefact itself and the ‘meaningful value’ that helps us understand the writing process. It is between these two ‘values’ and in the inter-relationship of written, visual and aural storytelling that the research inhabits and aims to expand. Might animated versions of Ballard’s manuscripts, for example, enable a deeper understanding of his writing process? What is important between original and copy? The investigation looks specifically at the deletions, revisions, gaps and additions produced through Ballard’s writing process by comparing what is present (or missing) in original manuscripts and what appears in published (and known) editions, to make visible lost Ballardian versions that up to now have been hidden.


J.G. Ballard’s writing, exploring as it does the spaces and slippages between past, present and future, order and chaos, and fact and fiction, asks us to question what his archive could be or should be. How is J.G. Ballard’s Archive experienced as a real place, as an idea and as a fiction?