Monday, December 18, 2023

Interview About Ray Bradbury 2...


Science Fiction Book Club

Interview with Phil Nichols (October 2023)

Phil Nichols is the editor of the New Ray Bradbury Review, a consultant to the Ray Bradbury Center at Indiana University, and produces the Bradbury 100 podcast.

Kevin Kuhn: Do you know if Bradbury was ultimately happy his with the Ray Bradbury Theater TV program? His stories are so reliant on theme, atmosphere, and nostalgia which are all so hard to translate to a short television program.

Yes, he was generally very happy with it, because he had a lot of input into it. He not only wrote the scripts, but he was consulted throughout the production process. There were some instances where things didn’t work out the way he would have liked, resulting in episodes which he referred to as “clunkers”. He specifically named “The Dwarf” as one he wasn’t happy with, and at first he wasn’t pleased with “Black Ferris” – but with Ray’s input there were some changes made to that episode, which improved it. None of the episodes were filmed in the US, so there were some frustrations over staying in touch with the production team in the early days. Everything changed substantially when Tom Cotter came on board as a producer. He became Ray’s eyes and ears, as he travelled with the productions as they shifted from Canada to France to New Zealand – and he made sure that each script was filmable in whichever country or studio was slated to produce it.

Where things went wrong, it was usually in the shooting, and Ray wouldn’t know about this until he received the first cut of each episode. This was before broadband, so videotapes had to be shipped to Ray, so there was an inevitable delay. Fixing anything at that point would be costly, so Ray was always mindful to suggest fixes that could be made just by re-editing. But in the worst cases, he would point out the need to re-shoot.

Bill Rogers: Phil, did Bradbury write other stage plays in addition to ‘Leviathan ‘99’ and if so, are they available in a single collection? Thanks!

Bradbury wrote a lot of stage plays, especially one-act plays based on his stories. If you want a single collection, the closest you’ll find is the book Ray Bradbury On Stage: A Chrestomathy Of His Plays. It’s essentially two of his earlier play collections merged into one.

If you’re interested in longer works, he did adaptations of The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. These can all be obtained from Dramatic Publishing, each one in a separate book (

Fahrenheit is arguably the best play, but it’s different than the book (not a problem for me, but some people want the play to be the same as the book). Dandelion Wine also differs from the book, by introducing a visitor to Green Town which allows the stories to bind together better. Martian Chronicles is very similar to the book, but condensed. Something Wicked is almost identical to the book – it’s one of Ray’s later plays, and by the time he wrote it he had convinced himself that what people wanted was a straightforward translation to the stage.

Damo Mac Choiligh: Am I right in my recollection that Bradbury withdrew 'Way up in the Air', the story about racism in the US, from later editions of 'The Martian Chronicles'? If this is true, was it really because he thought it was no longer relevant? I hope it's not true, as it would mean that he missed one of the profound messages of his own story, that racism is more than just discrimination, preconceived ideas or plain dislike, but about entitlement, systematic or embedded systems and aggression or violence.

Yes, it is true that he withdrew “Way in the Middle of the Air” himself. And yes, it’s because he thought it was no longer relevant – but probably not in the way that you’re thinking. (I know you didn’t say this, but some people think he took it out because it has some racist characters and language in it. But this isn’t the reason.)

For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, “Way in the Middle of the Air” (1950) has all of the Black folks in the US heading off to Mars to get away from bigotry. By the mid-1970s, Ray thought that real life had overtaken this story, as he believed that the CAR had actually enabled black people to move away from the most toxically racist areas, and to settle elsewhere – essentially to drive away from the southern states and head to Chicago, New York, etc.

The great irony here is that Ray was very anti-car, because of the sheer number of people who get killed in road traffic accidents. And yet here he is, recognizing that the car, historically speaking, was a great social liberator.

Of course, he was over-exaggerating the impact of cheap cars, and overlooking the fact that the poorest people couldn’t even afford a car. But he truly believed that his story of Black people escaping to Mars was rendered obsolete by technology.

Kev Smith: I've been to Epcot and I've riden the spaceship earth ride. What drove Bradbury to develop the storyline for this?

He was commissioned to do it! He became personal friends with Walt Disney – apparently after bumping into him one day while out shopping – and it became apparent that Ray believed that Disneyland was some kind of perfect model of how real towns should be built. So it was natural that Disney would get him involved in the designs for Epcot. Prior to this, in the early 1960s, Ray had contributed ideas and scripts to Worlds Fairs, so he had some experience of devising and scripting visitor attractions. And he carried on with this line of work, contributing scripts and ideas to a number of rides, including one for Disneyland Paris.

Kev Smith: Bradbury chose his own epitaph – “Author of Fahrenheit 451.” Of all his work, why chose this one in particular?

He thought it was his most significant book, and therefore the one which would survive into the future long after his other works had been forgotten. This was due to several factors. First, it was far and away his best-selling book, so his royalty payments would have shown him how popular it was. Second, it was widely taught in schools and colleges – so that when Ray lectured in colleges, he would frequently get into conversation with students about it. Third, it received more critical attention than his other books. To this day, if you do a Google Scholar search for papers written about Bradbury’s works, you will find F451 outnumbers the other books by about ten to one.

I don’t know precisely when he settled on this as his epitaph, but he had the gravemarker prepared and reserved for his graveyard plot at the time of his wife’s funeral. Many years earlier, in an interview in 1967, Ray said something different, but with his tongue in his cheek:


Ray Bradbury, interviewed by Frank Filosa in 1967. From Bill Strickland (ed.), On Being A Writer, Writers Digest Books, 1989.

Kev Smith: Did Bradbury feel his love of magic influenced his literary works?

Yes, he did. For him, magic and carnivals were interconnected, and he saw much of his writing as being either ABOUT magic or as being inspired by magic. His very first book was called Dark Carnival, and was full of fantasy and horror stories, dark magical tales. The Illustrated Man was mostly a collection of science fiction stories, and yet he used the carnival framing story to bind it together, the story of a man with magical tattoos. And Something Wicked This Way Comes is built around carnivals and sideshows, an illustrated man, a “Mister Electrico” act, a “bullet trick” act, etc.

And in various interviews, he referred to himself as a magician. Meaning that he knew how to do some magic tricks (he’d practiced a magic act as a child), but also that he considered his writing to be a form of sleight of hand. And don’t forget his introduction to Ray Bradbury Theatre, where he refers to his cluttered office as “my magician’s toyshop”!

Kev Smith: Given he spent best part of a decade writing for a film magazine (Script), how much of a voice did Bradbury have in the movie adaptations? And did Bradbury feel the experience working on Script helped in any of the film adaptations?

Although he appeared in Script quite a few times, he didn’t actually spend much time writing for it. After his first contribution was accepted, he sent the editor a handful of other pieces, and these were slotted in as and when there was space. For the most part, his contributions weren’t particularly to do with film. So I don’t think his writing for Script had much impact on his involvement with film.

But that still leaves the question of how much voice did he have in the movie adaptations of his work. And the answer is: it depends! There are two basic situations he found himself in, and he treated them very differently:

The first is when he was contracted to work on a script. In these situations, he was generally very protective of his script, and would fight for control where necessary – but he was generally very open to suggestions, and allowed his scripts to “breathe”. This is what happened with his work in the 1960s on a proposed film version of The Martian Chronicles, where his engagement with producer/directors Alan Pakula and Robert Mulligan led to some very creative variations in the plotting of MC.

The second situation was where he had simply sold the rights to one of his books/stories, and wasn’t contracted to write the script. In this situation, he believed that he shouldn’t interfere, but should let the filmmakers do what they wanted/needed to do. A classic example here is The Illustrated Man, which he had no involvement with. One day he just happened to be walking across a movie studio (Warners?) and got invited in to see Rod Steiger being made up as the film’s title character. Ray didn’t even know that the film was being made at that point. He wasn’t involved, and didn’t want to be. Because the studio had bought the book outright and were doing it their way.

Kev Smith: Whilst most of Bradbury’s movies had critical acclaim, even winning Emma's and Peabody awards, Illustrated Man significantly bucked the trend. How did Bradbury see this and did it effect his later work?

I believe that correspondence from the time shows that Ray was initially fairly impressed with The Illustrated Man, but that various friends told him he should take a second look, as they didn’t think it was as good as he thought it was. Once he’d begun studying it, he was of the view that the framing narrative with the tattooed man was fine, but that the short stories were nearly all compromised in some way. He always said that the script was written by a real estate agent, not a script writer – but I’ve never been able to find out if that is true, or just a Bradbury joke.

The Illustrated Man got mixed reviews, but I suspect the strong imagery – which did genuinely reflect the character of Ray’s book – helped solidify the viewing public’s idea of what this Bradbury fellow must be about. (Always bear in mind that more people will have seen the movie than ever read the book!)

I’m not sure that he was particularly concerned about the success or failure of the film, but if it could be said to have affected his later work in any way, it would be in his determination to do those same stories better. So a couple of them did get a re-do in Ray Bradbury Theatre (“The long Rains” and “The Veldt”). And he also wrote his own Illustrated Man screenplay later on, but it wasn’t filmed.

Kev Smith: I remember reading that Bradbury was an avid reader. Who was his favourite author and which authors did he feel influenced him the most?

He mentioned different authors at different times. He loved the works of Willa Cather and Eudora Welty. He always said that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was his favourite story. From at least the 1960s onwards he said that he admired George Bernard Shaw (he liked the plays and Shaw’s essays). And in terms of direct influences on his writing, he specifically cited Poe, Hemingway, Wells, Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs – and I think these are probably the influences we most often notice across his body of work.

He also admired Steinbeck (an influence on The Martian Chronicles), Sherwood Anderson (an influence on MC and Dandelion Wine). And he commended the short stories of John Collier and Nigel Kneale.

Kev Smith: Bradbury wrote sci-fi books and stories, some with a heavy emphasis on technology and yet he was reportedly unsure about the Internet and even was resistant to publishing his work as ebooks. How did he juxtapose these diametrically opposing positions?

I put it down mainly to his being a bit of a curmudgeon in his later years! He was never the most scientific or technological of writers, and tended to concentrate on consequences rather than on technologies themselves. So in a story like “The Veldt” (which essentially “invents” virtual reality), he does enough to convince you that the technology might be possible, but he then uses it to basically satirise television, in an era when parents were starting to use the TV as a babysitter.

He never owned a computer, so he didn’t really understand what they could do. He saw early computers (or word processors) as glorified typewriters, and he didn’t have a need for such a thing, as he was a very fast and adept typist. I suspect a wordprocessor would only have slowed him down, and he would have hated that, as he believed that he needed to get his ideas out of his head an onto the page with as rapid a flow as possible. And when the internet came along, he famously said in an interview that we had “too many internets”!

Like many authors in the 1990s, he was concerned about piracy. He knew a number of his friends had had their works illegally spread across the internet, so he wanted nothing to do with that. And that is why he had an aversion to e-books.

What changed his mind was a simple conversation with his publisher (or editor) who explained that it was time to allow his books to be sold as e-books. Publishers’ contracts were including e-book options as standard for all writers, and he probably shouldn’t hold out against this, or he would lose a potentially lucrative revenue stream.

Damo Mac Choiligh: For anyone who came to Bradbury via his SF from the so-called golden age (which he left in the dust in terms of quality and depth of vision) how would you advise them to re-acquaint themselves with his later work. In other words, where should they start with his middle and later career, if that isn't a contradiction?

What a great question. For some readers, I think this may be an impossible task, because the golden age stuff they love almost certainly isn’t the stuff he was writing in the later period. Someone who admires, say, F451 and The Martian Chronicles just isn’t going to find much to interest them in the murder mystery novel Death is a Lonely Business.

I think the answer would be to point such readers to very specific short stories. I’m a great advocate of Ray’s 1980s story “The Toynbee Convector”, which is a science fiction story about the power of storytelling (or of prophecy). In the same collection that that story is in (The Toynbee Convector, 1988) there is another great story called “A Touch of Petulance”, about a man who meets his younger self. Each of these tales is a story which has echoes of the “golden age” Bradbury. Once you’ve got someone interested in those two stories, they might be willing to read the rest of the book!

And once they’ve experienced this late-career Bradbury, then they might be amenable to Death is a Lonely Business and its two sequels (A Graveyard for Lunatics and Let’s All Kill Constance).

Ed Newsom: To what extent did his real workspace look like that portrayed in Ray Bradbury Theater?

100% - because that WAS his actual workspace. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Ray kept an office in an office building in LA’s Wilshire Boulevard. And that’s the actual office you see on screen in the introductions to Ray Bradbury Theatre. No doubt they tidied it up for filming, but if you look for photos of Ray’s office from around this time, you’ll find it’s identical.

Later on, Ray gave up this office and returned to the basement office of his own house. All of the stuff from Wilshire Boulevard was crammed into this basement, and so at this point his office was even more cluttered than you ever saw it on TV. By the way, most of the contents of his basement office were gifted to the Ray Bradbury Center in Indianapolis after he died, and the Center has re-constructed the office to give visitors a sense of Ray’s working environment. (But the reconstruction is much tidier than the actual office ever was!)

Nestor Enrique Ramos: Was he afraid of the implications of the discovery of nuclear power either for war or civilian use?

Yes. In a newspaper article he wrote a few years after Hiroshima, he talked about the two terrible “machineries” from science fiction, the rocket and the bomb, and how they had been combined. He pointed out that science fiction had got there first, but that real life had caught up.


Bradbury, Los Angeles Times, 20 Jan 1960

Two of his best books use the fear of nuclear war: in The Martian Chronicles, colonists on Mars watch in horror as they see the Earth destroyed in a colossal nuclear war; and in Fahrenheit 451, the threat of nuclear war is ever present, with bombers flying overhead periodically, and war breaking out in the final chapter. In both books, there are a handful of survivors, who are faced with somehow rebuilding civilization.

But Ray was well aware that any technology can be used for good or evil. In 1962, he wrote “The atomic power which can cure our cancer can also broil us up in cauliflower clouds of radioactive chaff. […] The rocket that can lift us to the greatest freedom since Creation can also blow us to kingdom come” (Bradbury, “Cry the Cosmos”, Life magazine, 1962).

My own sense is that the Ray Bradbury who had grown up with the joyous idea of space travel was determined to redeem the rocket, to wrest it away from military uses, and promote its use as a potential saviour of humankind.

Damo Mac Choiligh: I understand Bradbury is on school curricula in the US and some other countries, which may be a good or a bad thing in terms of how younger folks react to him. Do you think children or younger people still like Bradbury's work? Do they still find him, so to speak?

I don’t have anything evidence-based on this, only my own gut feelings. On the one hand, Bradbury has been read by a couple of generations of readers at this point, and he remains a popular author. But I’ve always felt that schoolkids dislike anything they are “forced” to read. So although it’s good to expose a new generation to Ray’s work, it can easily backfire.

I’m also acutely aware that the current Bradbury audience is an aging (or aged!) audience. When I do Bradbury events, whether in the UK or in the US, the audience sways older rather than younger. The same with my podcast audience, which is skewed to an older demographic.

Personally, I’d like to see more young people reading Ray, but I’d prefer a different approach: let’s have some new films or TV shows based on Ray’s work, and then put out new tie-in editions of his books.

Jan van den Berg: I read "Dandelion Wine" a long time ago and was wondering at the time where he got the inspiration for this book.

Dandelion Wine is nearly all inspired by Ray’s real childhood in Waukegan, Illinois. While he fictionalized all of the characters, he was writing very much about the things that scared him or excited him when he was a child. The geography of “Green Town” has a very direct correspondence with that of the real-life Waukegan, including things like the shortcut to town through the Ravine (see my blog post, here: Even the frightening, barely-glimpsed character of “the Lonely One” is inspired by a real-life petty criminal in Waukegan who went by that nickname (

SFBC Member: Did Bradbury have advanced discussions with his great friend Ray Harryhausen about collaborating on the making of a movie for which he would have written the screenplay while Harryhausen would have produced the special effects?

Alas, no. They always talked about it having been their ambition to work together, but I know of no evidence of them taking serious steps towards it once they had each established their professional careers. They did stay in touch for decades, and would occasionally share suggestions, but nothing ever developed. In any case, I think they were both too busy. Bradbury was attached to a number of film projects in the late 1950s and early 1960s (most of which didn’t end up getting made), while at the same time Harryhausen was busily establishing his working partnership with producer Charles H. Schneer.

The last (fairly casual) attempt to work together was when Bradbury wanted to adapt his story “Tyrannosaurus Rex” for the Ray Bradbury Theatre TV series, and he suggested to his producers that Harryhausen might be the man to animate the creature. But the budget of the show was so incredibly low, that they would never have been able to afford Harryhausen. (Instead the work was done by a French animator. And looked terrible!)

I go into more detail of the two Rays in this blog post:

Stacie Lara: Did Bradbury write Science Fiction? Which of his works, if any, would you consider to be SF?

Bradbury saw himself as someone who wrote science fiction, and fantasy, and horror and mystery stories, and… Of his major books, he believed that only Fahrenheit 451 was true science fiction – and his reasoning was based on his personal definition of science fiction: science fiction is possible, whereas fantasy is impossible. By this definition, The Martian Chronicles is fantasy, but F451 is science fiction.

I take a broader view of what counts as science fiction. For me, if a work of fiction makes intelligent use of science fictional settings and tropes, it’s science fiction. (This is the “if it walks like a duck” approach to defining the genre.) Using this definition, The Martian Chronicles is most definitely science fiction. So is F451. So is much of The Illustrated Man. So is Leviathan ’99. And so are maybe 75-100 of his short stories.

In 1962, Ray wrote “Any society where the family structure has been fragmentized and dispersed, where morality has been given a severe shake and brought to a re-focus in drive-in theatres as the result of one idea in motion, the automobile, is a science-fiction society. Any society where natural man, the pedestrian, becomes the intruder and unnatural man, encased in a steel shell, becomes his molester is a civilisation of science-fiction nightmares” (“Cry the Cosmos”, Life magazine, 1962). He appears to be referencing his short story “The Pedestrian” here, as well as Fahrenheit 451. Even though, by 1962, he wasn’t writing much new science fiction, he was still proud to engage in the rhetoric of science fiction, and was happy to serve as a spokesman for the field.

John Grayshaw: Can you expand on Bradbury’s quote about his college being the library and how he educated himself. He said, “I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college….I discovered that the library is the real school.” Because as a librarian that’s our dream to make that kind of a difference in people’s lives.

It’s literally true that Ray never went to college. And it’s true he spent a lot of time in libraries, because he loved books, and he was intensely curious about all sorts of subjects – but he was also from a fairly poor family, and therefore couldn’t afford to buy many books.

Put those elements together, and you get Bradbury the autodidact.

You get the best sense of what the library means to Ray when you read Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is partly set in the library of Green Town. That fictional library is modelled on the real Carnegie Library of Ray’s hometown, Waukegan, Illinois. Ray mainly details that library through the eyes and ears of his child protagonists, Jim and Will. You get a sense of the books talking to the kids, making sounds as they walk through the aisles of books. There’s a scene where the boys have to hide themselves among the books, and another where they join with Will’s father to research the “Autumn People” who have come to town to do evil over many years. The library, here, isn’t just a place filled with books. It’s a whole other world you can lose yourself in, full of tomes you can defend yourself with.

There’s a beautiful short story set in a library (again based on the Waukegan Carnegie library) in Ray’s collection Quicker Than The Eye: “Exchange”.

Because of Ray’s firm belief in the value of public libraries, he did a lot of work with libraries in and around Los Angeles (and elsewhere).

John Grayshaw: Neil Gaiman said a friend told him that when he was 12 he met Bradbury and that when Bradbury found out he wanted to be a writer he invited him to his office and spoke to him for half a day about how to become a writer. What other acts of kindness/charity/ and mentorship is Bradbury known for?

Ray was very generous with his time and advice. He tried to answer every fan letter he received. Who knows, he might have written more books if he hadn’t “wasted” so much time on those letters!

There are quite a few writers who considered Ray to be their mentor, including William F. Nolan, Richard Matheson, Greg Bear. I did a podcast episode where I interviewed Gregory Miller, one of Ray’s last mentees. Worth checking out if you haven’t already heard it. (

John Grayshaw: Bradbury said “Those writers who merely dwell on despair without offering solutions, are preying mantises without jaws. I’m busy making babies and they’re telling me everyone is dead.“ What do you think Bradbury meant here and how can an author make sure they don’t merely dwell on despair?

I think it’s fairly clear that Ray’s own stories underwent a shift around the time that he got married and became a family man. His earliest stories of note were published in Weird Tales magazine (and collected in his first book, Dark Carnival), and many of these were very dark fantasies. Ray himself said that a story like “The October Game” is something he couldn’t and wouldn’t have written once he became a parent.

I think the key part of your quote isn’t “dwell on despair”, it’s “dwell on despair without offering solutions”. Ray knew enough about drama to know that you might have to take your hero to a dark place – but the key is to then rescue them, or provide hope for them.

Fahrenheit 451 is bleak. It’s a dystopia, after all. A loss of literacy, followed by the destruction of cities in a global nuclear war. But the last page or so of the book has his book people stop fleeing the city, and turning round to go back and rebuild. Similarly, The Martian Chronicles ends with the destruction of Earth and the survival of just a handful of colonists on Mars. That’s pretty grim. But the last chapter has one of the last families realise that they are the Martians now: it’s time to start anew, and rebuild.

So from Ray’s works we can take the lesson that it’s okay to show despair, but it’s probably best to provide answers.

John Grayshaw: Bradbury said “A writer writes about those things that he can’t do. His hang ups. Now I was afraid of the dark until I was twenty-one, twenty-two years old. Perhaps some of that is still in me. So, my first books are excursions in darkness, trying to make do with my fears. And out of these weaknesses I made strengths.” How did Bradbury channel this negative energy into something positive? And how can other writers do the same?

See previous answer!


I think Ray was a bit harsh on his younger self. Those early stories, inspired by his fears, are among his best precisely because he is actually expressing universal fears. We’re all afraid of the dark, of dying, of loss. As he matured, I think he became afraid of going to those dark places, so he was in a sense overcome by (a different) fear.

On a practical level, one of the things Ray did was move the focus of his stories to younger protagonists. Think Dandelion Wine, with its twelve-year-old protagonist who discovers what death is. Or Something Wicked with its twelve-year-old pair or protagonists who have to confront pure evil. Or The Halloween Tree, with… There’s something of a pattern here. He’s still taking those characters to some dark places, but he’s bringing them back up to the light. Being the narrator of their stories, he takes a parental distance to the events shown. Maybe this makes these stories more comforting to read. (Compared to the early Weird Tales stories, where he is usually narrating a tale about an adult male very similar to himself.)

John Grayshaw: Bradbury said “If you’re fortunate, you can lose your innocence in one way, but still retain a childlike vision,” How did Bradbury keep a childlike aspect in his writing?

I think the most obvious way he did this was by recalling his own childhood. Many of the situations and events of Dandelion Wine, Farewell Summer and Something Wicked are based on actual memories (but obviously enhanced for dramatic effect). It’s probably significant that most of his stories set in childhood feature characters between ten and thirteen. He rarely if ever writes about older teens. But he did once write a story about a murderous baby (“The Small Assassin”).

Other than stories with younger protagonists, he also kept a childlike aspect in many of his other stories. There seems to be an underlying optimism to much of his later work, and much of his poetry is full of bright-eyed optimism for where we (as a species) can go in the future. Maybe these stories are wish fulfilment for him as an author. But I think he had a strong belief that we can talk ourselves into (or out of) despair. This is best expressed in his short story “The Toynbee Convector”, which is about a man who claims to have visited the future and seen a gloriously wonderful future world. People believe him, and end up creating such a world. And then it turns out he was lying the whole time; he never was a time-traveller. But given a credible view of a glorious future, we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.

John Grayshaw: Speaking of maintaining that childhood. I’ve always been amused by this Bradbury quote, “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.” Is there a story behind this quote?

I don’t think there is a particular story behind this quote, but Ray did often talk about a time in his childhood where he tore up his old comics, because his friends or family had convinced him that they were childish nonsense, and he was too old for that stuff. It was an action he regretted, and he spent the rest of his life surrounding himself with comics and toys, to show that he was right to have treasured those childhood fantasies.

John Grayshaw: Bradbury was said to have a “pomegranate mind.” What does this mean? And how did it make Bradbury more unique?

Well of course a pomegranate is a fruit that looks a bit like an apple - until you peel your way into it, and find it is bursting with hundred of little juicy seeds. So there’s your pomegranate mind: bursting with hundreds of tiny ideas!

As far as I know, it was Bradbury himself who talked about having such a mind – but he may not be the only person to have one!

One of the writing techniques that Ray firmly believed in was free-writing. This is where you sit at the keyboard and just let the ideas flow. Sometimes this will generate nonsense, but other times it will surprise the writer with ideas they didn’t even know they had. I think this is probably where the pomegranate is most appropriate for describing Ray.

He also had a little sign on his typewriter, which said “don’t think!” Meaning: don’t let the intellect (or anything else) get in the way of that free-flow of ideas.

(Whenever I talk about this approach of Ray’s, I always feel compelled to add a vital corollary. He never took those first drafts of free-flow writing as finished compositions. He did firmly believe in applying the intellect to his writing – but he did this in a second stage, that of editing and re-writing.)

John Grayshaw: Did Bradbury have favorite episodes from the Bradbury Theater?

He had quite a few favourites. I know he was fond of “The Haunting of the New”, and of the Martian Chronicles stories that he re-did (“Mars is Heaven”, “And The Moon Be Still As Bright”, for example; the 1980 Martian Chronicles miniseries had disappointed him, so he desperately wanted to rescue the source material by showing how to adapt them correctly.)

John Grayshaw: Bradbury said “I’d like to come back every 50 years and see how we can use certain technological advantages to our advantage, say in education” What sort of technological improvements do you think he imagined/expected?

He was fascinated by the idea of robots, and probably inspired by the animatronic Abraham Lincoln at Disneyland, he foresaw a time where we would learn from robot versions of Plato and Aristotle! In his fiction, of course, the robots Ray wrote about were ultra-real: think of the short stories “Marionettes, Inc” and “I Sing The Body Electric”. He was never into Asimovian nuts&bolts robots; he was only interested in robots which were indistinguishable from real people. And let’s not forget the apparently ludicrous “mechanical hound” from Fahrenheit 451 – which is now rendered highly plausible by the real life robotic “dogs” made by Boston Dynamics!

Similarly, he imagined virtual reality to be a part of our future – see “The Veldt”.

And he very much believed in the Disney method of education: of producing educational but entertaining visitor attractions. When he worked on these, he concerned himself only with the story that he wanted to tell, and left it to engineers (or Disney’s “imagineers”) to find a way of executing them. Not many people know that he worked with Douglas Trumbull on a couple of ride concepts. Although these didn’t come to fruition, like all of Trumbull’s projects these would have been executed with cutting edge technology.

John Grayshaw: What did Bradbury mean by “It’s not going to do any good to land on Mars, if we’re stupid?” How did Bradbury believe we could protect future generations from stupidity?

This all goes back to his belief that everyone needs to educate themselves. Don’t just stop learning because you’ve finished school. He clearly believed that libraries – free, public ones – were key to this, as they take away barriers to learning and curiosity. He also believed that literacy was vital, for without the ability to read, you can’t educate yourself.

The bit about landing on Mars reflects his firm belief that we should (or must) move out from Earth into the Solar System.

John Grayshaw: Bradbury said in his Coda to Fahrenheit 451, “There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.” Today there is a trend of so-called well-intentioned censorship where stories with “problematic language” are being edited? How would Bradbury have combatted this?

Ray would have resisted any attempt at censorship, I’m certain. When he discovered cases where his own books had been tampered with, he was livid, and insisted that the text be reinstated.

I think it’s clear from Fahrenheit 451 that the value of books lies not so much in their information content, but in the way they allow intellects to connect across vast gulfs of space and time. This is why Fahrenheit has so many quotations in it. I don’t think Ray ever said this, but if you went through the books from the past and removed the “problematic language”, you would sever that vital connection.

John Grayshaw: Did he have a particular favorite among his stories?

I don’t know that he had an absolute favourite, but he often referred to Something Wicked as the book that most moved him – because he discovered (many years after writing it) that he had been writing about his own father.

John Grayshaw: Were there any science fiction writers he had correspondence/friendships with?

Yes, lots. He knew all the major SF authors of his lifetime. Robert Heinlein was one of his early mentors, as were Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Henry Kuttner, and Catherine L. Moore. He in turn mentored Richard Matheson, William F Nolan, George Clayton Johnson, Greg Bear.  And he was good friends with Charles Beaumont, Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Gene Roddenberry, … the list goes on and on. Just about the only writer he didn’t get on with was Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, although they started out on good terms.

John Grayshaw: Are there any examples of Bradbury corresponding/meeting with fans?

Every single person I know who ever wrote Bradbury a fan letter got a reply. And rarely were these form letters. He usually wrote a personalized reply. There’s a beautiful correspondence between British writer Brian Sibley which has been quite widely published, where Sibley (who was just a 24-year-old fan at the time) innocently asked Ray about Disney’s animatronics, and Ray wrote back with a long letter. (Brian and Ray became good friends. That initial correspondence is detailed here:

John Grayshaw: What are some of the most interesting/surprising things you’ve learned about Bradbury over the years?

The main one has got to be the sheer number of famous people Ray interacted with. It’s a real joy to discover that he wrote film scripts for Carol Reed (director of The Third Man). And plays for Charles Laughton. And met the philosopher Bertrand Russell, and considered the actress Bo Derek among his best friends, and knew and corresponded with Fellini, Kurosawa, Christopher Lee, Katharine Hepburn, Carl Sagan,… the list goes on and on. This again relates to his “pomegranate mind”: he was interested in every subject under the sun. And it also relates to his love of receiving fan letters: because he was a person who wrote fan letters to famous people, and was overjoyed when he got replies from them.

The other is that Ray, indirectly, is responsible for the modern shopping mall! For a time in the 1980s, he worked with the famous architect Jon Jerde on conceptual designs for shopping malls. Bradbury’s ideas were presented in the form of essays, and Jerde then took those ideas and used them as the basis for the architectural designs. Among Ray’s key contributions were to put the food court at the heart of the mall, and to build in corridors where you can’t see what’s round the next corner, or build in dead-ends (Ray’s concept was “the aesthetic of lostness”, the idea that we like to get a bit lost and confused so we can retrace our steps.)

Visit any shopping mall built since about 1990, and you will find most of Bradbury’s concepts are implemented, because Jerde’s award-winning designs were copied around the world.

John Grayshaw: What were some of Bradbury’s hobbies other than writing?

He did a bit of painting. If you check out the book Ray Bradbury: An Illustrated Life (by Jerry Weist), you’ll find lots of examples of preliminary art designs he did for some of his own books. And in the early 1960s documentary “Portrait of Writer” (which you can usually find on YouTube), you’ll see him practicing this hobby, painting a picture of a Halloween Tree.

And I gather that he loved eating and drinking. He wasn’t a particularly sophisticated gourmet – he preferred what most people called junk food. It’s no coincidence that when he was working with Jon Jerde on designs for town centres, he said some thing like “people don’t go out to shop, they go out to eat; and while they’re out, they shop.”

John Grayshaw: Did Bradbury have a writing routine he stuck to?

It undoubtedly changed and evolved over the years, but the basic routine he always talked about was this:

In your first waking moments of the day (when you’re half asleep), you get your best ideas (what he called his “morning theatre”), so you need to capture those. Then spend the morning free-writing (getting the ideas down on the page with minimum intellectual tought). Then in the afternoon, take out something you drafted on the previous day and give it another draft. In a 1967 interview, he said that this re-drafting wasn’t him re-writing the story, it was him “re-living” the story.

When his daughters were young, he said he wrote Monday to Friday, but kept the weekends clear for family time. I imagine this is what motivated him to rent an office away from his house, so he could keep a clear separation between work and home.

Looking at his files from later in his life, alongside the typewritten pages you find many handwritten manuscript pages, usually written in large block capitals with something like a Sharpie. These come from when he was writing while travelling, either in the back of a car, or on a train, or on Concorde while flying to Paris. He was very busy with non-writing activities in the 1980s and 1990s, and fitted in the writing where he could.

John Grayshaw: What is Bradbury’s legacy? Why was his work significant at the time? And why is it still important today?

At the very least, Bradbury’s legacy is Fahrenheit 451 – a dystopian novel which is usually placed alongside Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Less tangibly, Bradbury’s legacy is in how he helped shape the fields of imaginative fiction: by showing that popular fiction could be poetic; by showing that the boundaries of genres are illusory; and by showing that good storytelling could transcend any given medium. Today there are many writers who operate across media and across genres, but Bradbury paved the way for them.

His work was significant at the time because it was so damned good, and he did it all so fast! He was writing for these cheap pulp magazines, but he was writing fine literature. Between 1941 and 1953, he had written most of the ground-breaking work of his career. As he slipped from horror stories to science fiction to fantasy to “mainstream”, he showed how permeable all the barriers to writing are. He was one of the first science fiction writers to appear in hardcover from a major publisher. He was one of the first pulp writers to break out into the so-called “slick” magazines. He led where others would follow.

The reason his work is so important today is that he pioneered so many things and influenced so many people. If you’re looking for the perfect example of a short story, look at his earliest ones collected in Dark Carnival (a book which is out of print, but which is being re-published in 2024). And while you marvel at the perfection of “The Crowd”, for example, tell me if you don’t see Stephen King (and any number of lesser writers) foreshadowed in that story’s tone, structure and pace. King himself has said “Without Ray Bradbury, there is no Stephen King” – and without King, there is no modern horror. You can extrapolate this to other areas of fantasy, science fiction, film and television.

At the same time, Bradbury is an important bridge between today’s imaginative literature and the writers who predated him. “The Crowd” (for example, once again) is clearly inspired by Poe. The Martian Chronicles is clearly inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs. There’s a long chain linking early literature of the fantastic to the present-day equivalents. Bradbury is, at the very least, a highly significant link in that chain. And at the very most, he is the writer who brought those earlier forms into our modern world.