Peter Burnett

Peter Burnett, author of The Studio Game, gave us 10 minutes of his time to answer some questions about him and his book. Here’s what was said… How would you describe The Studio Game?
A love story. A digest of contemporary art since about 1990, with plenty of Scottish art and artists in there too. A slightly skewed image of Aberdeen.
Can you share anything about the book without giving too much away?
When you’re younger the feeling of being in love can be blinding and I wanted to capture that. I can also share the fact, that for the blurb for The Studio Game that appears in several places, I submitted my own pre-draft synopsis, the three paragraphs from which I had been writing the book. In the synopsis I wrote that the book was going to be set ‘in contemporary galleries, studios and offices’ but by the time the book came to publication I had all but removed all of the scenes in offices.
Your publishers clashed about the theme of suicide in the book, feeling it to be immoral. How did this affect you?
If you look at young love and at art, you often find suicide connected with both. The list of artistic suicides is long, and in fiction, lovers have often ended up dying by their own hands. The Studio Game isn’t a commentary on or incitement to suicide. But it does have suicide as dramatic focus for the romantic and artistic aspirations of the characters.
What inspired you to become a writer?
Typewriters. Used to love them, never see them anymore. When I was a kid, teenager, student, I loved typewriters. When I wasn’t writing plays and stories on them, or creating ASCII art, I used to take them apart and put them back together. I’ve had a few typewriters in my time, manual and electric, but they’re all gone now. Instead I take computers apart and put them back together.
What was the inspiration behind The Studio Game?
A winter trip to Shetland on a choppy North Sea ferry. The black destructive waters on which that ferry travelled. The idea that art is somehow being hijacked by a class of arbiters that have an agenda contrary to that of the artists they promote. I made a list of my inspirations for The Studio Game, at least in terms of contemporary works of art that I admired. The list became endless, and I am far from finished with it. In its work-in-progress state, the list can be seen at Because I can’t post images of the artworks I like on the Internet without threatening someone’s right to make money, I have instead listed the basic catalogue format and size description of the work, and included the works’ sale estimates where I can establish them.
How did you do your research for the novel?
Mostly by reading the Aberdeen Press and Journal and Christie’s sale catalogues from the last ten years.
Have you been to Aberdeen and made that ferry trip?
Yes and yes. I’ve been everywhere in the book, including Menie, where there’s a short scene. Menie is the subject of that great documentary You’ve Been Trumped by Anthony Baxter. The characters in The Studio Game go to Menie on their first date for a kind of boozey picnic. Lots of young people in Aberdeen do this, though not any more.
What was the inspiration behind the cover?
The Studio Game by Peter Burnett

Cover by @randolin

Acrolein Damien Hirst (B. 1965) titled ‘Acrolein'[on the stretcher] gloss household paint on canvas 76 x 44in. Painted in 1992 Estimate (as of Christie’s sale 27/06/2001) £140,000 – £180,000 Provenance: Jay Jopling, London
The artist decides on 58 paintings for her ‘collection’ – why that number?
Because there are 58 chapters in the book. Every time I get bogged down in numerology, I ruin what I’m writing. It happens that I start to believe that a book must have a certain amount of chapters, for various significant reasons. It is one sign that the ship may be heading for the rocks.
The disdain the two characters have for the world of contemporary art – is this something you share?
Yes, but I should be clear that it’s not the art I feel disdain for. I enjoy the art, much more of it than is probably wise to. As for the art world, that is different. Some artists don’t make it in the ‘art world’ and it doesn’t depend on the technical or emotional quality of their work. In the art world, like in the book world, there are people who are not creators, and not critics or dealers, but people who sit on committees, and don’t seem to do anything at all. They are ‘supporting and promoting the arts’ (according to what job descriptions they have) but are a sycophantic and unattractive class of admins who feel some sort of frisson of excitement merely being in the company of writers or artists. These empty beings are there for commercial reasons, as an extra buffer of taste. The tragedy is that they become arbiters. As non-artists they often express their rejection by art or letters, by promoting the bland. They get paid for it too, generally with public money. Note as one example that there were arts aplenty in Scotland before 1963, when the Scottish Arts Council was created. What was really created in 1963 however was a deep layer of bureaucracy, which acknowledges the ridiculous fact that everything is now commercialised. Everything has to be ‘a business’. It’s a sign of the age. When money is involved it’s best to have a class of smart yet talentless graduates to wheel out and defend the artworks and events that the public are ‘sponsoring’.
How would you describe modern art?
Art today still exists as the result of Marcel Duchamp’s actions and thoughts before 1920. People came to realise this in the 1960s. After he gave up painting in 1913, Duchamp’s work was either incomprehensible or not categorisable by critics, patrons and buyers, so it took until the 1960s for people to see what he had been doing, saying and thinking. It was a shock for the generation that produced the likes of Andy Warhol, that Duchamp had worked out so much for them already, and today, art is still full of Duchampian jokes and artifices. No one can escape Duchamp’s hand!
What did you think of this year’s Turner Prize?
I’m afraid I don’t follow any publications or broadcasts that cover things like that. If it’s not on Radio Scotland’s ‘Call Kaye’ or ‘Off the Ball’ it means I probably won’t hear about it. It meant that the Turner Prize passed me by again this year, which is not to say that I don’t care, I just couldn’t name one person that was on the short list, far less the winner — without the help of an internet search engine. I was pleased for Douglas Gordon and Martin Creed when they won it in the 1990s, but that seems like a long time ago now. Douglas Gordon and Martin Creed are both in The Studio Game though and they were worthy winners in their day.
Who is your favourite artist at the moment?
I always like Wyndham Lewis, and as it says in The Studio Game, everybody likes Marcel Duchamp. Keith Farquhar’s work is always a clear twist on the many themes and practises of art in general, and some of Keith’s nudes also really make me chuckle, which I like. I like them all though — recently I’ve been enjoying Eleanor Antin, Gary Hume, Jenny Holzer, Cindy Sherman — they are just the ones I can remember.
When was the last time you went to a gallery and who did you see?
I like that you ask ‘who’ did I see, as oppose to which art — but last week I went to see Sandy Christie’s new show in Edinburgh, called Are We Me? Sandy was actually there, so I really did ‘see’ him. If you don’t know Sandy Christie or the epic ‘Sandy Meets’ series, do check them out.
How do you start writing a book? Do you have a ‘creative process’?
Brood for several months. Start by making a schedule — for example: “if I write 5 pages a day I will be finished the first draft by Christmas.” Attempt to sketch out character and story arcs, graphs and other schemas as recommended by Robert McKee. Draw pictures of my characters. Examine all of this material while both drunk and sober. Abandon and commence.
What books are you reading at the moment?
Edinburgh City Library always gets the latest software manuals in, so I have to thank them for that. I feel it is too geeky to actually mention the current manual I am reading though. For lesser kicks I have Dad’s Nuke by Marc Laidlaw, and Cold Harbour by Jack Higgins, both on the go. That Jack Higgins book is incredible — I don’t think there is a paragraph longer than nine lines in the whole thing. Hopefully by the time is posted, I’ll have shared some thoughts on this Jack Higgins book. (
Kindle or paperback?
Paperback. I like ebooks, prefer pdfs. While we’re here, let’s not get into the habit of referring to all eReaders by a brand name. The market is young but already corporate muscle is pushing us into dubious legal dependencies, such as DRM, and commercial ties that we don’t need. Writers don’t particularly benefit from these arrangements and neither in my mind do readers. I can recommend two other open source ebook readers FBReader and better yet — Calibre, which is totally cross platform, and converts newsfeeds into ebooks, and has many other features. Expect both of these open-source versions to be squashed by the mastondonic stamping of commercial feet however, much like hemp plastic, the everlasting light bulb, and the electrical discoveries of Nikola Tesla. Most users of Kindle comment on how comfortable the Kindle is to hold, and how enjoyable the screen is, that sort of thing. When you have a decadent deposit of devices in your desk drawer, these are the things that matter — and people end up paying enormously for them. DRM pisses me off because I can’t thole the idea of buying a book and then having it taken away from me, or find that I can’t renew it on another device. When I open a book I don’t want to see a rights statement, which outlines actions available for the specific document. I would just smash a Kindle if I had to accept a legal agreement before I could use a book on it. DRM also allows remote censorship of what we’re reading, it makes things much harder for content creators, and it restricts a range of normal and legal user activities associated with private property —̶ such as lending. There are at least ten ways round DRM that I can see however, so if it threatens to take over, I’m armed.
Anything new being worked on at the moment?
I am working on an eBook, a factual gloss of one person’s 13 day decline and arrest, as evidenced by their tweets. I was writing a novel but since I joined Twitter last year I’ve been wondering about a set of tweets that led up to something dramatic, political, and awful. I found it. There are a couple of hundred tweets in the 13 days I’m covering, but in there are many characters events and conflicts.
Any suggestions for budding authors out there?
Stop reading interviews on the Internet and get back to work immediately!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Linux, trombone, theology. I’m a dad and I cook for everyone and make sure they’re at school by 8.20. Homework, MediaWiki, football, Joomla, swimming, Drupal, music lessons, PHP. I’m also building a web server in the house
How can our readers find our more and get updates from Peter Burnett?
  Muh, speaking of Twitter I’m there (@LeamingtonBooks). And I have a website, though it isn’t exactly burdened with what you might think of as updates, unless me watching the complete films of Richard Burton passes in your world as current affairs.
The Studio Game by Peter Burnett is available to buy from Fledgling Press from 12 Nov 2012 in paperback format for £7.99 The Studio Game by Peter Burnett

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