Professor John Burnside
After working in computer systems analysis for a decade, John Burnside became a full-time writer in 1994. John has published 14 books of poetry, eight novels, three memoirs, and two collections of short stories. In February 2017, his novel, Ashland and Vine with appear alongside a new volume of poetry, Still Life with Feeding Snake. Books on Utopia and Henry Miller are also currently in production. His poetry collection, Black Cat Bone won both the Forward and the T.S. Eliot Prizes in 2011, a year in which he also received the Petrarch Prize for Poetry. He has twice won the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year award, (in 2006 and 2013). His memoir A Lie About My Father won the Madeleine Zepter Prize (France) and a CORINE Belletristikpreis des ZEIT Verlags Prize (Germany); his story collection, Something Like Happy, received the 2014 Edge Hill Prize. His work has been translated into French, German, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Croatian, Dutch and Chinese. He writes a monthly nature column for The New Statesman and is a regular contributor to The London Review of Books and The Guardian.
John’s radio work in the UK includes stories, features, political and social comment, and a BBC documentary on the Sami circumpolar festival, Riddu Riddu. His plays for SWR, (Germany), include Fügung, (2013), and Der Baucan, (in collaboration with composer, Klaus Bühlert, 2015). He is a long-time collaborator with the artist Amy Shelton, with whom his most recent work was the installation Bee Myths, a collaboration with Klaus Buhlert and Douglas Henderson, (Berlin Künstlerprogramm). In 2015, he was a judge on the Man-Booker Prize for Fiction. John is an active contributing member of The Alpine Fellowship. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
1988 Scottish Arts Council Book Award, for The Hoop
1991 Scottish Arts Council Book Award, for Common Knowledge
1994 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, for Feast Days
1999 Encore Award for The Mercy Boys
2000 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection – shortlist), for The Asylum Dance
2000 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist), for The Asylum Dance
2000 Whitbread Book Award, Poetry Award, for The Asylum Dance
2002 Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award (shortlist), for The Light Trap
2002 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist), for The Light Trap
2005 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection – shortlist), for The Good Neighbour
2006 Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award, for A Lie About My Father
2008 Cholmondeley Award
2011 PEN/Ackerley prize (shortlist), for Waking Up in Toytown
2011 Corine Literature Prize, for A Lie About My Father
2011 Forward Prize, for Black Cat Bone
2011 Costa Book Awards (shortlist), for A Summer of Drowning
2011 T. S. Eliot Prize, for Black Cat Bone
What writers have inspired you?
Too many to number. On the one hand, everything and anything can be an influence, on the other, saying that a or b, or x or y was ‘an influence’ leads to misunderstandings. If I could choose three writers that ‘influenced’ me, it would be Melville, Proust and Nathanael West. I write like none of them. I could easily have said Tim Buckley… Everything is grist to the mill. The only way to find your own ‘voice’ is to read everything you can and differentiate yourself from it somehow.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given by another writer?
Read. Yes, you have been reading the things you like for years. Now read the other stuff and ask yourself why you didn’t like it. Because the blind spot is common to everyone — but everyone can see past it, with a little work. It’s odd how the things you thought you didn’t like nourish your own work. In fact, the things you like often harm you.
What do you look for in a piece of writing?
Energy. The rest can be ‘taught’. Energy can’t. It doesn’t matter how raw that energy is, all a good writer needs is the right questions and encouragement to trust that energy.