Benjamin Myers claims inaugural Gordon Burn prize

Durham-born author's Pig Iron wins £5,000 award established to celebrate work echoing the 'fearless, interrogative' spirit of Burn

The first Gordon Burn prize has gone to former music journalist Benjamin Myers for his novel Pig Iron, about a young traveller trying to escape his past after being released from prison.

"I wanted to write a novel about Durham, where I grew up," Myers said. "I was fascinated by the mythology of the place and the characters who lived there. And I wanted to challenge a few stereotypes about travellers: I found programmes like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding patronising and one-dimensional, and I wanted to present a different, more credible narrative."

The £5,000 prize, set up to celebrate works that "follow in the footsteps" of Gordon Burn's genre-blurring innovations, was awarded at Durham book festival on Saturday.

The novel, brimming with "poetic vernacular", was also shortlisted for the Guardian's Not the Booker prize last year. It begins: "The green cathedral sleeps. Soon it will throw open its doors and let the light in. Shades of amber will creep across the forest floor, the shadows will shrink away, and the daily service of life and growth and death and decay will go on."

Burn, who died in 2009 at the age of 61, was hailed as "a great innovator" in literature for his novels and retellings of some of the UK's most grisly true-crime stories. These included Happy Like Murderers, about serial killers Fred and Rose West, and his biography of Peter Sutcliffe, the so-called Yorkshire Ripper, entitled Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son.

"Gordon Burn was a big influence on me," Myers said. "There are not that many renowned novelists from the north-east. He has a background in journalism, he explores celebrity and elements of pop culture and crime, and he mixes fact and fiction in new ways. To have won the prize is very flattering."

Myers's previous book, Richard, was a fictionalised biography of Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richey Edwards, who disappeared suddenly in 1995.

The other books on the "unusual, challenging" shortlist for the inaugural Gordon Burn prize were How I Killed Margaret Thatcher by Anthony Cartwright, The Footballer Who Could Fly by Duncan Hamilton, People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry, and Jean Rafferty's Myra, Beyond Saddleworth.

The judges, journalist Deborah Orr, novelist David Peace and broadcaster and author Mark Lawson, picked Myers as the author who best represented the "fearless, interrogative" spirit of Burn's writing.

Orr said: "Gordon wrote a lot about people existing in the interstices, finding themselves unable to make the transition from one type of life to another, or making the transition by relying on perversity and brutality. It's that purposeful engagement with the difficulties of leaving a rural life for a town life, each with their own different brutalities, that makes Pig Iron so Burnian."


Liz Bury

The GuardianTramp

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