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Man Booker Prize Event with Graeme Macrae Burnet

November 20th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Man Booker Prize Event with Graeme Macrae Burnet

The author of 2016 Man Booker shortlisted His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet, visited the University of Stirling on the evening of 15th November to talk at a literary event in conjunction with The Booker Prize Foundation University Initiative. This initiative involves first year undergraduate students being given a copy of a Man Booker winning or shortlisted book when they arrive at university, which several universities including Stirling participate in. It has the purpose of encouraging all students to read high quality literature, not only those studying humanities subjects, and gives them the opportunity to talk about the book with their friends, and then hear the author speak at an event later in the semester. The Man Booker Prize is extremely prestigious and the literary nature of the shortlisted books can make it off-putting to the ordinary reader, so this initiative aims to break down these myths and bring these books to a wider readership.

Graeme read extracts from His Bloody Project, which is a treat to hear an author read their own work, and it particularly brought out the darkly humorous aspects to his writing. His Bloody Project is an offbeat crime novel involving the murder of three people in a remote setting in the Scottish Highlands, and is published by the Contraband imprint of publisher Saraband. The rest of the session involved Graeme answering questions from Liam Murray Bell, a lecturer in Creative Writing at Stirling, and then taking questions from the audience. He discussed his writing process, saying he chose to present the novel in the format of found documents to give the reader a selection of points-of-view, which encourages them to come to their own conclusions about the story. Unlike many crime novels, His Bloody Project does not have an overarching ‘detective’ figure who guides the reader’s thought process, and in this way, the book is quite defamiliarizing, and certainly sets it apart from other novels in its genre. While the novel can be described as an exploration of morality and truth, Graeme explained that he does not try to intellectualise his writing as he writes it, and tries not to consider how the book may be analysed by readers after it is published.

The research process was clearly a significant element in the writing of this novel, and was, Graeme explained, at least partly influenced by his years as a TV researcher. The novel is set in 1869, so Graeme went to great lengths to achieve historical accuracy wherever possible, but did take creative license with some small elements. He said that authenticity to the reader was his goal, and to achieve that he tried not to make his research burden the narrative of the novel, but seem effortless. It is testament to the effectiveness of Graeme’s research process that some readers have believed His Bloody Project to be a work of non-fiction. While the novel has been acclaimed as a love-letter to Scottish literature, Graeme admits this is not really the case, although he did find inspiration from James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs & Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Graeme said he does not find comparisons to other books to be particularly helpful, especially when in the process of writing a book, and gives the advice that originality should always be the goal for writers.

Another topic of discussion at this event was, unsurprisingly, the impact the Man Booker shortlisting had not only on His Bloody Project but on Graeme’s life. He discussed the opportunities that the book has been presented with as a result of the shortlisting, particularly its translation into many other languages, but also talked about his desire to avoid becoming, in his words, a ‘one-trick-pony’. For this reason, Graeme was eager to finish another book fairly quickly, and considering the many commitments put upon him by the Man Booker shortlisting, it is particularly impressive that his next novel, The Accident on the A35, has already been published in October 2017. There was some surprise, and even derision, that a book of a popular genre such as crime fiction would be shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, but Graeme believes that crime fiction is becoming more accepted in the literary scene. It is also clear that His Bloody Project pushes the boundaries of traditional crime fiction, and its inclusion in the Man Booker shortlist was due to its extraordinary merit as a literary work, regardless of the genre into which it is placed.

This was a fascinating event for book lovers, offering an insight into the writing process and literary prize culture, but was also inspiring for publishing students, as an affirmation of the quality and strength both of Scottish publishing and Scottish writing talent. It proves that Scotland has a thriving literary scene that ought to be nurtured to ensure its success far into the future, and strengthened our convictions as future publishers to help this happen.