John Burnside

Portrait John Burnside
© Hartwig Klappert

The Scottish poet and novelist John Burnside was born in Dunfermline, Fife, in 1955. He studied English and European Languages at the College of Arts and Technology in Cambridge, and made a living as a software developer until he became a freelance writer in 1996.

His first anthology »The hoop« (1988) won him the Scottish Arts Council Book Award. His work focuses on the description of ordinary events: a journey by train, a busy harbour site, the contemplation of nature. Yet, behind all appearance there is something mystical, and on closer inspection his texts prove to be a walk on a tightrope between darkness and light, between life and death. The enigmatic, loss, gloominess and violence are the fundamental motifs of Burnside’s œuvre. His first novel »The Dumb House« (1997) tells the story of an obsessed man who has his children grow up in isolation in the basement, in order find out whether the soul of man resides in his language. »The Mercy Boys« (1999) is about four young men from Dundee, who meet for a binge in the same bar every day. One of them is depressive, the second rides a train through the country aimlessly, the third lives in a dream world, and the fourth commits a horrible crime. »Glister« (2008) employs the narrative techniques of a horror thriller. The plot is set on the coastal strip of a small town in Scotland that has been contaminated by radiation. The dwellers of the city tolerate the fact that young people disappear without leaving any trace, because they assume them to be in a better world than their own. »A Lie About My Father« (2006) is a novel about the author’s childhood and drug experiences. The hero, son of a drinker, grows up in misery in a family living in the poor regions of Scotland and England. He suffers from the violence exercised by his father, and finally becomes an addict himself. Burnside describes the situation of a boy dependent on his parents, and the hopelessness of family relations. His latest novel »A Summer of Drowning« (2011) is a ghost story set on a Norwegian island north of the Arctic. As in »Glister«, two boys disappear. A schoolmate, the visionary daughter of a painter, wants to solve the case and gets increasingly lost in the Norwegian realm of myth.

Burnside teaches Creative Writing, Literature and Ecology at the University of St. Andrews. For his poetry he has been awarded the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Petrarca-Preis in 2011 and the Spycher: Literaturpreis Leuk in 2012. The author lives in Fife.

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