Augusten Burroughs never thought he could make a career out of being a writer. Especially when his first book Sellevision only made enough money to buy him like, a few T-shirts at the Gap.
I always thought I’d have to have some sort of a day job, and as a matter of fact two weeks before Running With Scissors came out I was online downloading applications to community colleges, he said.
So no one was more surprised when Running With Scissors, his autobiographical second novel, was released to critical acclaim and became a New York Times bestseller.
The fact he now lives off his writing is a constant source of amazement, said Burroughs, who will be in town next week for the Sydney Writers’ Festival. It’s shocking.
While he’s now got four published books under his belt it’s the hilarious and sometimes disturbing Running With Scissors which he’s most famous for.
And it’s about to become even more well known. The novel, which explores Burroughs’s dysfunctional upbringing, is currently being turned into a major Hollywood film starring Annette Bening, Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes.
Bening stars as his psychologically unstable mother, Deirdre Burroughs, who gave him away as a child to her insane psychiatrist Dr Finch (actor Brian Cox).
Paltrow plays the psychiatrist’s bizarre daughter Hope Finch, while Fiennes portrays Neil Bookman, the 33-year-old pedophile who lived in the Finch’s backyard and with whom Burroughs had a sexual relationship from the age of 12.
Oh, it’s really exciting, Burroughs says of the movie. It’s now in its sixth or seventh week of shooting and the word from the set is that everyone is giving amazing performances and that Gwyneth Paltrow is doing something she’s never done before in film. So it’s going to be a completely new side of her. And I’ve heard Annette Bening is without question giving the performance of her life.
The screenplay was written by Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy, who is also directing the film. When you sign away your book you really sign it away, Burroughs says. But Ryan Murphy kept me involved from the start.
While he’s still shocked by the fact he’s become a famous and successful author, Burroughs is even more surprised his personal life turned out well too. After a battle with alcoholism, a stint in rehab and years in therapy (all of which are covered in his last two books Dry and Magical Thinking) he never expected to land himself a long-term boyfriend, buy a house and live happily ever after.
But he did just that. Today Burroughs lives with his boyfriend Dennis Pilsits in the home they own together in Massachusetts.
I didn’t actually think I would find that kind of level of happiness, Burroughs admitted. It seemed like it would be beyond me and for some reason I would continue to fuck up. So it was a big shock.
He’s currently working on three new books, all of which are about his life (I love writing this form, it’s my favourite form). First up is a new collection of memoirs he described as similar to Magical Thinking but completely different. He’s working on a book about his father, about whom Burroughs hasn’t written much in the past. And he’s also working on a book of awful, funny Christmases, of which he’s apparently had many.
A lot of people claim they never would have read his books if they knew Burroughs was gay and they featured a lot of gay content. Some tell him they feel differently about gay people after reading them, something Burroughs puts down to the fact he’s never made a big issue out of his sexuality.
My sexual orientation has just always been there. I’ve never known anything else but an attraction to guys. Especially because of how I was raised. I was raised without any sort of formal education and absolutely no religion whatsoever.
So I had no guilt. I wasn’t trained to believe it was wrong and when I was a teenager dealing with all that stuff, I just had other issues, like survival issues because of my Running With Scissors childhood.
The fact I was gay was just absolutely no different from the fact that I’m right-handed. And that was the way it has always been in my life. I think that somehow is reflected in the writing. At least I hear that a lot. People read me who don’t read gay authors.
The people who do read him tend to expect Burroughs to be a bit of a nutter, having lived the strange life that he’s led. But, he claims, he’s actually quite boring.
People, when they meet me, expect me to be deeply eccentric. They’re ready for anything, ready for turbulence. They think maybe I’ll have tattoos all over my head and I’ll be really strange and offensive and funny. And I’m not. I’m really very, very, very level-headed and my personality is sort of straight.
I think my personality is probably a direct result of my childhood, because I was raised around such absolute madness that I sort of had to temper that. And it’s all channelled into the writing. I really put everything of me into the writing.
Augusten Burroughs appears in: Alone On Stage, Friday 27 May, 9pm, $20; In Conversation With Richard Glover, Saturday 28 May, 2pm, $7; Writing Saved My Life, Sunday 29 May, 1pm, $7. Bookings: 9250 1988.