Contents of Aldiss' diaries kept secret from family

Contents of Aldiss' diaries kept secret from family

Brian Aldiss' family will first discover the “revelations” of the late writer's diaries at the same time as the rest of the world when they are revealed at a Bodleian Library exhibition.

Aldiss died at his home in Oxford on Saturday (19th August), hours after celebrating his 92nd birthday, with many in the literary community paying tribute to the "extraordinary" man.

He recorded his experiences in diaries filling more than 80 hardback books. Now his son has revealed that the science fiction author’s family will discover the contents of his diaries at the same time as the rest of the world when they go on display at the Bodleian Library. Tim Aldiss told The Bookseller that his family “weren’t allowed” to read the diaries in the writer’s lifetime so he expected “some revelations” when they finally go on display, at a date which is yet to be confirmed.

Tim Aldiss said that his father remained active until the very end. He said: “In the last year of his life, his agent, Gordon Wise, had sent on work to be considered for publication. He remained political.

 “He kept doing his journals of which he was very proud and even recorded a journal entry on his birthday.

“The journals will be kept and displayed by the Bodleian Library so friends and family can discover them at the same time as members of the public. We weren’t allowed to look at them before so there’ll be some revelations.”

Chris Fletcher, keeper of special collections at the Bodleian told The Bookseller that the Helliconia Trilogy author regularly donated his work to the library.

Fletcher said: “Oxford was his city and he was a long-time friend to and supporter of the Bodleian, to which he regularly donated his manuscripts.

“[He] was a master of prose who did much to advance science fiction as a serious genre.  But that was not his only form of expression: he was a journalist, poet, critic and artist. He was endlessly inventive and surprising: only he could write the story "Better Morphosis", in which a cockroach awakens to find himself Franz Kafka.”

Aldiss was formerly a literary editor at the Oxford Mail and described his journals going to the Bodleian, one of the oldest libraries in Europe, in an interview with the Telegraph two years ago, saying the faculty “couldn’t wait” to access the volumes. He also described their potential legacy in a YouTube video earlier this year and said: “When I’m dead and gone this thing will still exist as a kind of phantom life.”

A spokesperson for the library, which features more than 12 million printed items, said that more details about the display of the journals would be released shortly and they still had to be catalogued.

Author Neil Gaiman was one of many who paid tributes to the writer, saying on Twitter that Aldiss’ death “just hit me like a meteor to the heart”.

The author of Non-stop, Hothouse and Greybeard (all originally published Faber), Aldiss’ writing is seen by many as bridging the gap between classic science fiction and contemporary literature. He wrote about his experiences as a young sales assistant in a bookshop for The Bookseller, the columns of which inspired his first novel, The Brightfount Diaries (1955, Faber).

Malcolm Edwards, who met Aldiss as an undergraduate in 1969 and went on to be his editor at Gollancz, described him as a “great man”.

Edwards told The Bookseller: “He'd come to give a talk at my university.  I was travelling down to London the next day, and spotted him on the station platform.  After the talk he had gone off to stay with Kingsley Amis, and a long evening ensued.  I'm sure the last thing he wanted that morning was to be accosted by an enthusiastic young student, but - being Brian - he was welcoming, and we travelled together.  By the time we reached London he had promised me a short story - commissioned by the TLS but then rejected for an amateur magazine I was planning.  Two days later, the story arrived.”

Edwards said that the author even wrote a follow-up letter to check the story had been received.

He said: “Over the years I came to see this whole episode as typical of Brian:  hugely welcoming, enormously generous, but with a smidgen of writerly insecurity.

“He was – and I don’t say this lightly – a great man.”