Since its original publication in 2021, Colin Burnett’s debut novel A Working Class State of Mind has continued to gain traction, even briefly becoming gold dust to eager readers before its latest reprint came to fruition in March. The Bonnyrigg-based author’s cutting political wit and inspirational capacity to create gritty but nonetheless amiable characters has garnered acclaim from figures such as the Scots Scriever (Dr Michael Dempster), Janey Godley and SNACK’s own Alistair Braidwood. We caught up with Colin to chat about the new print, the novel’s increasing relevance and what’s coming next.
How does it feel to have been met with the demand from readers for another print run of AWCSOM?
It feels great that readers are still engaging with the book. It’s sold out multiple print runs. But I’m really happy that myself and my publisher Peter Burnett (no relation) from Leamington Books were able to do another print run, and it’s amazing to see more copies in the hands of readers.
With so much change in the world since its original publication, do you feel it holds a new relevance?
Personally, I feel the book has only become more relevant in light of the cost of living crisis. Fairly recently I wrote a piece on the crisis for The National Newspaper. If you want to read about the crisis before it started hitting the pockets of the middle/top earners and became headline news, it’s worth reading my novel because it shows this situation is nothing new to people reliant on welfare.
Also, lots of people who have read my novel have commented on how relevant the book is given the current political and social climate. It might be set in Edinburgh and written in the Edinburgh dialect, but I feel given the characters, their exploits, and the issues explored, the book could literally be set anywhere in the world.
You’re very active on social media – do you think it’s a particularly important tool for young (particularly working class) creatives like yourself who maybe don’t have the financial backing?
I do think social media is an invaluable tool for creatives, especially working-class creatives. Prior to my debut novel being published, I posted my stories online for people to read. Fortunately, they garnered a great reaction from readers who seemed keen to enjoy working-class literature. The support I received from people, particularly on Twitter, really gave me confidence in my writing abilities and showed working-class stories have an audience.
In the acknowledgements in AWCSOM, I thank people on social media for their continued support and it’s something I would never take for granted. Social media allows working-class creatives to create their own space. In mainstream publishing, working-class writers are given very few opportunities, so in a way, social media can level the playing field.
People have commented on the language within your novel, both with regards to the dialect used, and sometimes different types of offensive language. What are your feelings on such things, and your reasoning behind them?
In terms of myself, writing in the Edinburgh dialect is important to me because it’s my own language and the language of people I know. It’s crucial because writing the way your characters would naturally speak delivers authenticity to their lived experience. And as far as I’m concerned, the Scots language belongs in the time capsule of literature.
Some people have commented there’s too much swearing in my novel. For me, these are people who base their ideas of working-class realities on watching Corrie or Eastenders. I write exactly the way the working-class talk and swearing is a part of working-class culture. Most people on a show like Downtown Abbey – which has zero relevance to me – speak in a way that is detached from my own experiences. If you write a story from a working-class perspective some people act as if you’ve handed them a kid’s dirty nappy.
Right now, I’m writing the sequel to AWCSOM which I plan to title Who’s Aldo? Given his popularity in my first book, there’s a demand from readers to explore this character further. Readers will get to witness some sides of Aldo’s personality that were only really touched upon in AWCSOM. The book will be laced with dark humour and will very much be focused on mirroring contemporary Scotland. I will introduce some new characters in this novel, who I hope readers will find memorable. In AWCSOM those who read it loved the relationship between Aldo and Bruce, the dog he finds and adopts. Their bond will reach new heights in the follow-up.
I’m not that far away from having the manuscript completed. My aim is to have it ready to go by the start of June so I’m hoping it will be published later this year. After it’s finished I plan to try my hand at writing a New York mafia-based novella. It’s something I have wanted to do for a while since I love movies like Goodfellas.
With Scotland’s classic ‘dualism’, do you think a character like Aldo, who demonstrates extreme poles of good and bad, can become representative of Scotland, in a sense?
Certainly, I think Aldo embodies Scotland in general by being blunt, gritty and zealous. In spite of his hard exterior, importantly Aldo has a soft centre, which is captured when he rescues Bruce. He’s not afraid to call out social injustices, which is evident in his hatred for Tories, a characteristic I think he shares with most Scots.
While you’re evidently making a mark on the Scottish literary scene, I can imagine it doesn’t all suddenly become much easier. Yet, I can imagine you’re stronger, and perhaps more confident in your abilities?
I’ve never seen myself as someone making a mark on the Scottish literary scene. I would certainly say my book has made a mark on social media and in the public. I have grown in confidence as a writer but that’s largely down to the support myself and my book has received from people on Twitter. It’s always nice to hear people say nice things about your work and the fact people have gone out and bought copies of my book has shown me that my writing does have value. Also, it’s been so pleasing to see AWCSOM receive such glowing reviews.
You’ve written about your struggles with your disabilities and mental health. Do you feel writing helps you challenge preconceptions people otherwise might have? Equally, does it challenge your own expectations of yourself, as you push your craft further?
Living with Autism is challenging almost every single day, and being a writer with dyslexia can make writing a novel a daunting prospect. But I have never allowed my disabilities to become the ghostwriter of my life. I don’t think I would have gone to university to study sociology if I accepted the labels society puts on me simply because I was born different.
My parents were brilliant, and they always believed in me. And I have a very supportive family. I would like to use my own story as a writer to encourage others living with similar disabilities to pursue their dreams. Doubters might say a task is too hard for you to complete. What I say is you will never really know until you try it for yourself.
Other than Kelman and Welsh, who are often cited as influences, who are your other favourite writers?
No writer has been a bigger influence on me than my brother Michael Burnett [Playwright], he was the one who taught me how to write in Scots. And watching his plays about working-class Scotland influenced me to write my own stories on working-class identity. I write prose and he writes plays and screenplays, but he’s been a major influence on my own development as a writer.
Being dyslexic, I don’t read as much as I should. But I’m a big admirer of the work of other Scottish writers such as Elissa Soave, Ely Percy, Emma Grae, Peter Bennett. I’ve also said this on Twitter but in my opinion, if you want to learn how to write dialogue, watch tv shows such as The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. A writer on The Sopranos I’m a big fan of is Terence Winter and he wrote the screenplay for the brilliant movie Wolf of Wall Street.
The latest print run of A Working Class State of Mind by Colin Burnett is available at Leamington Books.