The man who would be King – An Hour with John Burnside

LiesI went along to an hour with John Burnside the Fife born poet and novelist. Held in the main ASB theatre the audience was subjected once again to the dreary roll-call of event sponsors. All delivered in a booming movie trailer voice, I may possibly run amok if I have to endure it again! Or maybe I’ll take ear plugs.

Siobhan Harvey was the chair, herself a poet, and John gave to readings one from A lie about my Father his memoir and the second from Glister, his latest novel.

John talked about the need as a poet and novelist to keep those worlds and styles of writing separate, he said he had no desire to write a “poetic novel” and doesn’t want to be a poet novelist. He was initially drawn to poetry as it fitted in with his schedule, he was at that stage working full-time in the computer industry and didn’t have much time to devote to writing. He eventually handed over his company car keys and resigned so he start writing his first novel.

His first novel the Dumb house featured a psychopath who keeps children in the basement, he remembers people saying that could never happen but has recently been fielding calls from the media about the horrific Fritzel case in Austria.

He was asked about what it meant to be a Scots writer and Burnside said he prefers to think in regional terms, and would call himself a Fife writer. He also talked about the labelling that goes on within the publishing industry, and that this labelling can be destructive and limiting. He cited AL Kennedy as someone who should be regarded as one of the best writers in English but was often labelled “Scots”. He said he had very little interest in Scottish nationalism but would be more drawn to the idea of an independent Fife.

I asked who’d be king if the Kingdom of Fife was separated from the rest of Scotland and he said he’d be prepared to give it a crack as President or King. He asked the audience if there were any break away states in New Zealand and someone shouted “Waiheke Island” so he kindly offered to be King there too. So there we have it change may be upon us,  long live King John!

One thought on “The man who would be King – An Hour with John Burnside

  1. downstreamer 2 December 2008 / 5:32 am

    It’s fascinating how people from Fife have this fierce sense of place – “The Kingdom of Fife”, as it’s still called. I have just started reading “A Lie About My Father” and it’s a treat. Burnside is a gifted writer – and this book reminds me somewhat of Laurie Lee’s “Cider with Rosie”.

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