Like A Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson

CATEGORY: Non-Fiction

Buy this book

First published: 2004

Print ISBN: 9780330350495

Price: £10.99

Like A Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson

CATEGORY: Non-Fiction

The circumstances which led me to write this book are fully explained in the introduction. Essentially, I was fascinated by the figure of BS Johnson ever since I first glimpsed him – when I was thirteen years old – presenting a television film he had made just two or three weeks before he took his own life in October 1973. I subsequently discovered his novels when I was a postgrad student at Warwick University, and realised at once that I had chanced upon a writer who was going to be immensely important to me.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Johnson was a supremely inventive and innovative British writer who published seven novels between 1963-1973. I was commissioned to write his biography in 1995, by Peter Straus who was then an editor at Picador. We secured the co-operation of Johnson’s estate, and his widow Virginia generously allowed me complete access to his massive archive of letters, diaries, manuscripts and notebooks, which had been sitting unread at her house for more than twenty years.

Because Johnson had a relatively short life (he committed suicide at the age of 40), I naively thought that writing his biography would be a simple task, one which could be completed in a couple of years and slotted in comfortably between periods of work on The Rotters’ Club. Instead, it proved a long and demanding project. I quickly realised that Johnson – a big man, in both physique and personality – had squeezed a huge amount of living into his forty years; more than many people manage in twice that time. It soon became apparent too, that it wasn’t enough to simply sketch the outline of his life and work: the very nature of his writing meant that this would have to be an ambitious and wide-ranging book, addressing the fundamental motives and contradictions at the heart of all literary activity.

The TV film which sparked my youthful fascination for BS Johnson was called Fat Man On A Beach, and can be seen on the bfi DVD of his film work which you can buy here.

Buy Like A Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson

Waterstones Amazon Book Depository Hive