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Peter Burns

Peter Burns

Peter Burns read English at St Andrews University and is Sports Editor for Arena Sport, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd. He is the author of White Gold: England's Journey to Rugby World Cup Glory and co-author of Behind the Thistle: Playing Rugby for Scotland.

1. What inspired you to become a writer?

Ever since I learned to write I wanted to be an author. I used to write stories endlessly (mainly based on the Transformers and accompanied by drawings – which were AWESOME). I studied English at university and got a job in publishing – all with the idea of being an author as the end-game.

2. What keeps you motivated as a writer?

The sheer joy of writing. Like any author, you come out with a lot of rubbish that you re-read a few days or weeks later that makes you question your ability. You think, ‘Oh god, that is awful. Maybe I’m not cut out for this.’ But then, at other times, you can write something and pick it up a few days later and think, ‘Yup, that’s good. I’m really happy with that.’ So it’s just about pushing through the leaner times, rewriting and rewriting, restructuring, scrapping bits altogether (which is always the hardest part) and just working away at it until you’re happy.

3. What’s your favourite book, and why?

The Picture of Dorian Gray. It pains me that it’s Oscar Wilde’s only novel, I wish he had done more. The language and characterisation are just sensational. It is a haunting book in every way.

4. Do you have a routine when you’re writing (ie silence, a particular genre of music, only working in the morning, only working in your underpants?)

I tend to do the bulk of my writing first thing in the morning, from around 5.30am until 8.00am. As I’m the Editor for Arena Sport, I then spend the day immersed in other writers’ work before having another crack at my own in the evening. I also write at sporadic times, sending myself emails from my phone with short paragraphs that spring to mind or with themes or ideas that I want to develop or work into my book.

5. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be a writer?

Read. Read. And read. And pay attention to the structures, tones and language used in the books you are reading. Be aware of how different writers pace their narratives, use dialogue, set scenes. It’s like literary osmosis – try to absorb as much as you can. And be patient, the whole thing takes time.

6. How easy was it for you to find a publisher?

I cheated a little here as I work for the publisher. In each case I looked at gaps in the market (as we always do as an editorial team) when considering what areas we might like to commission some work in – but I had such a clear picture in my mind of what I wanted that I thought I could just write these books myself. Which is exactly what happened.

7. What’s the best experience you’ve had while writing a book?

I interviewed Sir Clive Woodward after I had pretty much written White Gold. He had seen the draft version and it was a wonderful feeling to be told how much he had enjoyed reading it and that it had put a completely different and interesting spin on his life and career and all those memorable achievements he had with England. Meeting your subject like that is pretty daunting so it was brilliant to know that he approved of the approach I had taken.

8. Who are you generally writing for?

I have written two rugby books to date (and contributed to a third) and I am now working on a tennis book. They are for fans of the respective sports and the teams/players featured – but I also wanted to make sure (particularly with White Gold) that the narrative could speak to a wider audience. I didn’t want to be elitist with the content, everything had to be given context and reach (where possible) into wider aspects than just the immediate environment of matches, training and so on. I wanted to be able to give clear pictures of the global rugby (and now tennis) landscape and to touch on aspects that aren’t necessarily covered in your run-of-the-mill biography or autobiography. Whether I do that successfully is up to the reader to decide.

9. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Like any sports writer I would actually like to have been a sports star. In my case, a Test series winning British & Irish Lion. Since that can’t happen, I am extremely happy in my real job as an editor of sports books.

10. What one thing would improve your life?

Ummmm. A (non-bouncing) cheque for a billion pounds?

11. If your book was a film, who would you cast for the lead character?

For White Gold… Mmmm. Clive Woodward could be played by Ed Harris, Jonny Wilkinson by Ryan Gosling (cue uproar, there’s going to be virtually zero England rugby fans who agree with that casting), Lawrence Dallaglio by Gerard Butler or Henry Cavill, Will Greenwood by Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Leonard by Nick Frost… There’s a whole team to name, plus backroom staff (Dave Alred by Stanley Tucci, Brian Ashton by Stellan Skarsgård/ Yoda) so that will probably do for now! (I won’t pretend that I haven’t already cast the entire film in my mind and see it as a Hollywood blockbuster – Joaquin Phoenix is obviously going to play Paul Grayson...)

12. What are you reading right now?

Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble by Graham Hunter. This is Hunter’s second book after the brilliant Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, and it is just as good.

13. If you had a superpower what would it be? To be able to move stuff around like a Jedi. Or to just be a Jedi – lightsaber and all, please. A Jedi with a lightsaber and Marty McFly’s hoverboard. If you can sort that for me, that would be great. And throw in the time-travelling Delorean while you’re at it, please. And don’t forget the billion pound cheque.


Related books

Behind the Ryder Cup
White Gold
Behind the Ryder Cup
White Gold