Brisbane writer David Burton’s formula for happiness has won him literary acclaim.
Happiness is as elusive as the perfect cup of coffee. It’s satisfying while you’ve got it, hard to find and can be ruined with one swift blow.
With this in mind I was chomping at the bit to interview author David Burton, who recently took out the coveted Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing with his manuscript How to be Happy. With a title like that I felt quietly confident that the key to pure bliss could be revealed in his pages. Unfortunately, Burton was quick to inform me that even though we’re living in an age of instant gratification, happiness is not easy to find.
“I’ve had to learn how to be happy, how to be happy within myself and learn to appreciate myself and who I am. Unfortunately a lot of people, especially kids and young adults, struggle with this and with being happy with themselves,” he says.
“I go to a lot of schools to do workshops and speak with kids and that’s where the idea to write this book came from. I’d tell them about my experiences growing up, how I struggled with depression, with sexual orientation and with not knowing who I was. I went through a pretty rough stage where I thought I didn’t really want to be here anymore and my friends and family had to help me out. When I talk with these kids I see the shocked looks on their faces when they realise other people feel the same way they do.”
Despite these deep insecurities the 26-year-old has made quite the name for himself on the theatrical and literary scene. The award-winning playwright has seen his work April’s Fool (Playlab Press) tour nationally in 2012. He also recently co-wrote Hedonism’s Second Album for La Boite Indie and The Landmine Is Me for Queensland Theatre Company. How to Be Happy is Burton’s first book and also the first memoir to win the Text Prize. The manuscript is a no hold’s barred account of his battle with depression while also tackling friendship, sexual confusion, academic pressure, love and self-discovery.
Burton admits he was at first tempted to use his experiences and spin them into a work of fiction but quickly realised that method wouldn’t resonate with his readers. In fact, he cannot help but laugh when I bring up an interview he did in 2011 with Youth Arts Queensland and where he said “I fundamentally dislike writing about my own life.”
“Yes, I did say that,” he agrees. “But I had to change my mind. When I was working through my story with my editor I realised that it would mean so much more being presented as a true story. I also felt that if I turned it into a work of fiction I’d have to give the main character a reason for feeling the way he did, I’d have to do something like give him horrible parents. But my parents were just nice normal people and sometimes people like me just feel the way we do. There’s no one reason.”
The Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing is awarded annually to the best unpublished manuscript written by an Australian or New Zealander for children or young adults. Burton has been awarded a publishing contract with Text Publishing worth $10,000 and How to Be Happy will be published in mid-2015.