|Claire Walsh with JG Ballard in Paris, when Ballard was publicising his novel Empire of the Sun (1984). |
Photograph: Sophie Bassouls/Rush
Claire Walsh obituary
Tuesday 14 October 2014 14.41 BST
Claire Walsh, who has died of cancer aged 73, was a well-known figure in the London literary and artistic world of the 1960s and 70s. She was the long-time companion of the writer JG Ballard, and a valuable support throughout much of his writing life. According to Jenny, her daughter from a previous relationship: "[Ballard] explored ideas long before he got to the plot for a novel or short story, and my mother was the ideal intellectual sounding board to tease out his thoughts. She was voraciously curious with a gift for research; this fed Jimmy's imagination."
It was Claire who discovered the French technology park Sophia Antipolis, south-west of Nice, and its substantial expat community; she and Ballard then visited the gated community on one of their regular holidays to the south of France. This became the basis of his late tetralogy of novels, beginning with Super-Cannes (2000). Throughout their relationship she brought books and authors and artists to Ballard's attention, probably starting with Reyner Banham on Los Angeles, which played nicely to Ballard's rather romanticised vision of America.
Claire always worked: first as a telephonist and receptionist for Penguin Books, then as a typist, before moving into publicity and PR. She was in publishing from 1962 to 1976, and was publicity manager for Studio Vista, Michael Joseph, Gollancz and Allen Lane. After being made redundant in 1975, Claire worked for a series of small publishing houses and theatre companies, then turned to research and editing.
The last phase of her career was at the Nautical Institute, the professional association for seafarers, where she edited the in-house journal Seaways, and, characteristically, acquired an exhaustive knowledge of maritime matters and developed friendships with sea captains. Claire was hugely proud to be given honorary membership of the Nautical Institute before she retired in 2010.
She was an activist in the National Union of Journalists, as well as a member – successively – of the International Socialists, the Communist party and the Labour party. Late in life, Claire obtained a first-class BA and MA in art history, and she was studying for a doctorate at the time of her death.
Born in Guildford to Eileen (nee Donovan) and Herbert Churchill, Claire grew up in London. The family were precariously middle-class, and she told me that her father was an abusive tyrant who beat both her mother and her. Claire attended Burlington Danes grammar school, but left before taking her A-levels because she was pregnant with her daughter. Jenny characterises her mother as "a product of Lord Reith – she got a thorough education in literature and music through listening to the Home Service and the Third Programme (along with immaculate received pronunciation)".
She married Michael Walsh, who was a fellow Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament activist, in 1959, and they divorced in 1962. Claire and Jenny lived a bohemian life in semi-communal houses; then in the mid-1960s Claire began attending the parties thrown for Ambit magazine by its editors, Martin Bax and Michael Moorcock. Moorcock introduced Claire to Ballard in 1967.
Claire and Jenny were semi-detached from the Ballard family, spending weekends and holidays with the writer and his three children in Shepperton, weekdays at home in London. The relationship was volatile and, until a split in 1974, plagued by their respective demons and traumas. When they reunited in 1979, it was on a more even and peaceful footing.
Before Ballard's death in 2009, I regularly had supper with them at their favourite Thai restaurant, near Claire's flat in Shepherd's Bush, west London. They were by no means a conventional couple, but when Claire chided Ballard over some reflex political reaction – he was by inclination rather less radical than her – you could sense their deep mutual affection.
In the last few years of her life, despite being largely confined to her flat with her beloved cats, Claire retained a lively and inquiring interest in the wider world; the last time I visited her at home, she was propped up in bed, surrounded by books and newspapers, with both radio and laptop on, still acting as a lightning conductor for the sort of information that might once have been incorporated into Ballard's oeuvre.
She is survived by Jenny.
• Claire Walsh, editor and publicist, born 18 September 1941; died 6 October 2014