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My journals in the Bodleian Library


Creating The Brightfount Diaries
Brian Aldiss Writer
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And while I was there, of course, the magazine of the book world was The Bookseller... The Bookseller and I would be sort of among the last to see it, and I read it week by week. God, it was serious.

So finally, I wrote to the Editor and said, you know you don't have a comic column. Don't you think that The Bookseller would do better if it had a comic column every week? I would like to write such a column for you. He wrote back and said, come and see me. Bring some of your comic columns.

I wrote six of them, and since I was working, in fact, for Blackwells, Blackwell became Brightfount and my bookshop was Brightfounts... The Brightfount Diaries, and my pseudonym was not Aldiss, but Pica, a small type. OK.

I went up to see the Editor, and that man could speak more slowly than any man I've ever met, rationing himself to one word every ten seconds. But nevertheless, a very nice and intelligent and sympathetic man, who said, 'Well, show us… show us some of these Brightfount strips and if I think they're funny, we'll have them'. And so I gave him those six strips and in no time he wrote and said, 'Brian, go ahead'.

And so, I was published first of all, really, in The Bookseller as Peter Pica of The Brightfount Diaries. And this is an easy way to slip into being a published writer, because it wasn't so long. I suppose I'd been doing this for about a year. I used to write them at the weekends.

I received a very nice letter from Faber & Faber, saying, 'Dear Mr Aldiss, We all enjoy The Brightfount Diaries. We wondered if you'd care to make them into a book'. Make them into a book! You know, I didn't have to submit anything – they asked me! Well, I mean, there's the root of arrogance for you.

So, I went to see them, and they said, 'Have you any ideas about how we produce this?' And I said, 'Yes, I'd like it illustrated'. 'Oh, I see. Have you any idea who you'd like to illustrate it?'

'Yes. I would like Pearl Faulkner to illustrate it'.

Now, Pearl Faulkner was a woman, who as far as I knew, illustrated only in women's magazines.

So, this I said to Faber, and they said, oh yes, jolly good. We'll make you an appointment to go and see her. And so I went to see Pearl Faulkner. She was a bit sort of, high-flung, but agreed and she did very nice illustrations that went into the book, and wasn't that wonderful? Well, I could now think of myself as a writer. It was only a fortnight before publication that I got the equivalent of stage fright, and I thought, oh God, what if they don't laugh? Thank God they did laugh, and it did very well. And so, I became a Faber author.

And that really was... well, the beginning of something or other that still goes on now.

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: The Bookseller, The Brightfount Diaries, Faber & Faber, Peter Pica, Pearl Faulkner

Duration: 4 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014

Date story went live: 17 August 2015