Terminal Café

Barrington Bayley on Moorcock

I first met Mike at the Globe pub, a weekly meeting place for science fiction folk. I think I was twenty Years old, and Mike was eighteen but he seemed much older. Even then he was a totally positive, large and expansive character, and already was a professional writer and editor. I've often wondered how things would have turned out for me without Mike's help and encouragement, and especially exposure to his absolute professionalism. Very likely I would never have made it as a writer. It was he who showed me how to make a living as a freelance in the juvenile field, and for a while we worked in partnership.

My earliest memory of the prodigious speed at which Mike worked was when, in addition to his freelance work, he had a full time job on the Sexton Blake library edited by Bill Baker. The library published slim paperbacks of, I think 30,000 word stories. So when Mike and Jim Cawthorn worked out an outline and got it agreed by Baker. Mike then went home and wrote it over the next weekend.

He later took great delight in showing me Bill Baker's comments on the script, beginning with 'Change ribbon in typewriter' and ending with 'There is no need to stick to the 700 words of basic English'. At one point Mike had written: 'And he (Blake) had to stop (the villain) from killing him.' And along side it Baker's scribbled 'Oh yeah?'

Anyway Bill wasn't satiSFied with the result so Mike went home and wrote it all again the following weekend. And then wrote the third and final version the weekend after that!

Watching Mike work on something was like seeing a transcontinental express train travel from one terminus to the other without any stops in between. You can gain some idea of this from Colin Greenland's long interview 'Death is No Obstacle'. As you can imagine, writing a piece in collaboration with someone like this is a testing but also humbling experience.

I recall when we went into an office to deliver a script for a picture strip. One of the editors present knew that we had agreed with a colleague of his only the afternoon before. He was quite bewildered. "What? You mean you wrote that yesterday evening?" (Mike would have done most of it, of course.) "We do `em fast and we do `em good," Mike said. Another time we looked in on another magazine hoping to get some work. The commissioning editor, an American, started to tell us about his own freelance work, saying he did picture scripts of a certain length. "I can do one of those in only a fortnight!" he boasted. Mike and I glanced at one another. We would have though in terms of a couple of hours.

Even when doing his more serious stuff, Mike would never waste time writing a draft and then agonising over it. Life isn't long enough for that. He would solve countless narrative problems on his feet, so to speak, adopting the first solution that came to him and not waiting for a better one. If you stop and cast around for the ideal solution you've lost momentum. You'll get a better solution when you meet the same problem next time.

In those early years Mike much admired Balzac for having worked himself to death at the age of fifty or so.

Very early on Mike was writing a long mainstream novel which I don't think he ever published, an oeuvre de jeunesse. One night we were on out way home on the London Underground. Now this consists of a lot of different lines, some deeper than others, linked together by sometimes lengthy passages and stairways. The trains can push a lot of air in front of them, giving rise to billows of wind in these interconnections. We were on one of these concourses when a gust of wind blew the voluminous typescript (the only copy, of course, Mike wasn't going to slow himself down by inserting carbon paper) out of his hand and scattered it everywhere. "Help me, Barry!" "I'm helping you, Mike!" And there we were running around trying to scoop up the pages before they blew away altogether. A scary moment.

When I first met Mike we had very different ideas about how to write science fiction, in particular. Mike was right, and I was wrong, to put it briefly, so his influence on me continues to this day. Even now when I meet a problem I'll ask myself how Mike would have handled it. The few SF collaborations we did (I can only think of three) were really Mike's stories expanded or finished by me, but we used to talk a lot, of course, and look at each other's efforts, sometimes able to make suggestions. As for the juvenile stuff, sometimes we'd collaborate on scripts for picture scripts (which Mike used to write in a spirit of fun, with great verve) in the traditional way, facing each other across the table with two typewriters, but mostly we'd share out the work though it would be rubber stamped Moorcock & Bayley. The only straight SF piece we did that way (part of it, at any rate) was 'Duel Among the Wine Green Suns'.

Personal correspondence.