Melvin Burgess looked tired. India had been hectic: an arts and literary festival in Mumbai in the first week of February and then Calcutta for British Council’s Lit Sutra programme that introduces contemporary British writers to the Indian audience. His teenage novel Junk (1996) won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian children’s fiction prize.
“Abuse in orphanages and homes is rampant. There’d be instances of AIDS, teenage pregnancy. I raised those issues in my book,” says Burgess (picture by Bishwarup Dutta). Asked why he chose to write for teenagers, Burgess said: “Well, at 10 you are an experienced child, at 14 you are an experienced adult.”
Melvin wrote his autobiography, but could not find a publisher as it contained “a lot of personal information about a lot of people who are living”. “My publisher was frightened of libel,” says Burgess, who finds the European Human Rights Act, 2000, a bit daunting.
“On one hand you have freedom of speech, on the other you have right to privacy.” So he rewrote his autobiography changing names, places, gender and hair colour, but then gave up.
“This means whenever you come across an autobiography you begin to suspect it.”
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