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Creating The Brightfount Diaries


Gaining work experience in Oxford’s bookshops
Brian Aldiss Writer
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I had to get some kind of job, and I went to a bookshop in the High... Sanders. And it was then owned by Frank Sanders and by a coincidence, Frank Sanders also came from Barnstaple. And so he interviewed me, asked me various questions. 'Who's your favourite contemporary author?' And I said, 'Eric Linklater'. 'Oh yes, very good, yes... Eric Linklater. All right, yes, you've got the job'. Later on, he said to me, 'You know, Brian, I'd never heard of Eric Linklater'.

Frank was an extraordinary character full of the good and the bad, terribly untrustworthy, but very, very funny. And so, I suppose I worked for him for two or three years. I had digs round the corner from the shop in King Edward Street with a Miss Pond. Nowadays, that's all solicitors; there's no human habitation at all. But, in those days, I had a little room and so it was easy to get round the corner and get to Sanders. And, I did learn a lot there. Well, I learned about a lot of English artists. Frank Sanders was rather keen on artists, and, in particular, I loved [James] Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson. Rowlandson was wonderful – so funny, so clever, such a good artist, and some of his landscapes are not at all well known, but they're absolutely beautiful.

And so, it was a sort of learning experience for quite a while. Until, finally, I had to go see Frank and say, 'Look, Frank, couldn't you increase my wages?' And he said to me, 'Oh. Come up and see me every Saturday evening, and I'll give you an extra pound. Don't let anyone else know'. And I thought that was so, so underhand. The thought of doing that, was beyond my capacity. I couldn't… I couldn't see myself doing it.  

So I left and worked instead for Parkers. And I was in the antiquarian side which in those days had its entry on the Turl.

Brian Aldiss (1925-2017) was an English writer and anthologies editor, best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was educated at Framlingham College, Suffolk, and West Buckland School, Devon, and served in the Royal Signals between 1943-1947. After leaving the army, Aldiss worked as a bookseller in Oxford, an experience which provided the setting for his first book, 'The Brightfount Diaries' (1955). His first science fiction novel, 'Non-Stop', was published in 1958 while he was working as literary editor of the 'Oxford Mail'. His many prize-winning science fiction titles include 'Hothouse' (1962), which won the Hugo Award, 'The Saliva Tree' (1966), which was awarded the Nebula, and 'Helliconia Spring' (1982), which won both the British Science Fiction Association Award and the John W Campbell Memorial Award. Several of his books have been adapted for the cinema. His story, 'Supertoys Last All Summer Long', was adapted and released as the film 'AI' in 2001. His book 'Jocasta' (2005), is a reworking of Sophocles' classic Theban plays, 'Oedipus Rex' and 'Antigone'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Sanders of Oxford, Frank Sanders, Eric Linklater

Duration: 3 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014

Date story went live: 17 August 2015