A born storyteller, George Burton has found success publishing tales from his childhood and beyond. For his latest book though, the writer has taken his first steps into fiction with his first novel, Balgay Park.
For the little boy growing up in Dundee, reading was a way to explore life outside the city.
“Reading was the basis of discovering what the world is like,” George said, ahead of the book launch on December 2nd.
“Books like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe were really just imagined places that you never thought you would see.
“In [George’s first memoir] Wee Georgie, the pylon opposite my house became the Eiffel Tower and I never thought then that I would get there but I proposed to my second wife at the top of the Eiffel Tower!”
Visits to his local and school libraries were an important part of his early years. “We went to the library every other day. I spent loads of time there, learning about other people. Reading was a fairly major thing to do in those days.”
Then, at high school, he became more interested in writing works of his own.
He recalled: “I won a prize in first year, they let you choose your own book and I picked Edgar Allan Poes’s greatest works and stories like The House of Usher sparked an interest in the macabre short story form.”
Teaching at Dundee school for 28 years
When he left school, George studied French at the University of St Andrews before going on to train as a teacher. He worked at Perth Grammar school then moved to St Saviour’s in Dundee, where he taught for 28 years.
He said: “It was just brilliant, a wonderful school. My claim to fame was that I wrote the St Saviour’s anthem, which was a pastiche of Blur’s Country House!”
His last teaching post was as depute head master at St Paul’s, before retiring in 2010.
He says that although writing had always been at the back of his mind as a retirement project, it was other people who gave him the confidence to put pen to paper.
“People kept saying to me, you should write a book,” he said.
“I kept putting it off and it was my wife Mary who sat me down and said ‘what’s the first line?’
“I wrote that first line and just kept going and, of course, Wee Georgie became a massive success locally. It’s still selling brilliantly.”
Since his memoirs have met with such success – including serialisation in The Courier – the author has joined the Nethergate Writers group.
“We meet every fortnight and critique one another’s scribblings. I was amazed at the quality of what other people were writing but I also realised that I had been sitting there for about six months but hadn’t put anything forward.
“I wrote a story set in Balgay Park – a walk where something not so pleasant happened. The group liked the premise that you go for a walk and something happens out of the blue – that’s when the bulb went on and that’s the genesis of the idea.”
George lives opposite the park, giving him the perfect insight into the location for his new stories.
He said: “If I look out my living room window I see the park and what used to be the old bowling green, so it was natural to choose it as a general location.”
Dundee’s Balgay Bridge plays central role
The stories are set around the park, at The Observatory, the cemetery and the famous Balgay Bridge.
But George insists all his plotlines are a work of fiction.
He said: “None of it is based on fact – they are all supernatural stories. It’s full of fairies and witches and demons and ghosts and that certainly wasn’t the kind of thing that I thought I would be writing.
“I had this idea that if the book sold well it might attract people to Balgay Park.”
He sees the park as a central character in this latest work. “I like the idea that it’s a binding agent,” he explained.
“It’s a bit Charles Dickens really, which has London as the main character.
“And I know these parks really really well – I mentioned the roads and streets around the park so that people have a strong identity.
“I am really first and foremost with the Dundee public who have been so supportive with Wee Georgie and Georgie.”
George admits that one part of this writing project that he found difficult was creating his characters.
He explained: “With the memoirs it’s all there – it has happened, the people are real and I was writing about things that actually exist, like the famous chicken factory and berry picking in Coupar Angus.
“But when you flick to fiction you then have the possibility of a librarian being a werewolf! You have to make sure that everything fits and that is a lot harder in my opinion.”
He recalls that he would sometimes have a gap of two or three weeks when writing the Balgay Park stories.
“With the memoir it just kept rolling out, page after page. The wordsmithery was important, of course, whereas with these ones, the story is really the most important thing.”
Balgay Park will be launched at Book Attic, 93 Perth Road, Dundee on Saturday December 2, 12-2pm. George will be there to sign copies of his book.