THROUGH his writing, Colin Burnett aims to give working class people a voice. In his second book, Who’s Aldo? Dugs, Drugs And Class, the author highlights the everyday barriers some face.  “If I wanted people to take ­something away from the book, it’s that working-class people have a voice that deserves to be heard and that the mainstream media sort of ignore the ­injustices that working class people face. That’s what I tried to show with my books, I tried to highlight the injustices working class people face every day,” says the author.

A statement on society’s treatment of the working class, Who’s Aldo is a collection of short stories that are somehow interlinked. In a vivid and colourful portrayal of Leith, the book follows the adventures of Aldo Aldi, an anti-hero who is determined to ­become a better person. On his path to redemption, he is joined by his four-legged pal, Bruce the Staffy, as well as his best mates, Dougie and Craig.

As he finds love and tries to keep his title as the “toon’s number one ganster”, he encounters an array of memorable ­characters.  Originally from Bonnyrigg, ­Midlothian, Burnett (below) writes exclusively in East Coast Scots.

The National: Colin Burnett.

His debut ­novel, A Working Class State Of Mind, received brilliant feedback due to its social commentary and comedy – both from Scotland and overseas. In 2020, the author was nominated for Media Person O The Year and a year later, he was nominated for Scots Writer O The Year at the Scots Language Awards.  Who’s Aldo is somehow a sequel to Burnett’s ­debut. After the success of his first book, the author was ­surprised to realise how much readers took a ­liking to Aldo’s character. It would appear the ­anti-hero tends to appeal.  “The more people read my work online, the more people seem drawn to him. I think the anti-hero character is always appealing to people. When I was younger, I was into wrestling and probably the first anti-hero I saw on television was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin,” he recalls.  A bit ruthless, blunt and a flawed protagonist, Aldo Aldi is, deep down, a good guy.

Speaking of Aldo, Burnett explains: “I don’t see him as a villain or a good guy. He’s got a lot of flaws, but it’s sort of balanced out between negative to his positives. He does a lot of good things, even if it’s sometimes unintentional, I would say he’s more ­leaning towards a good guy. He’s like a Tony Soprano sort of character, though he doesn’t play by the rules and doesn’t go by the law, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a bad guy.”

If society doesn’t give people like Aldo opportunities, they find a way to make their own. For the author, it all stems back to how working-class people are treated in society.

“I think that people like Aldo, if society doesn’t give them opportunities to make a living legitimately, they just create their own, and I think that sort of stems back to society. Especially in Britain. When you look at the Tories, the opportunities for working-class people just aren’t there to gain social mobility. So people like Aldo, they don’t get the opportunities, they just sort of take them, even if that’s illegal,” he explains.  The writer is not one to shy away from exploring any topic. After receiving ­criticism in terms of how sexist some of the characters in his debut novel were, he decided to address the topic in his second offering.

“There’s a chapter with a teenage girl, who’s sort of like Aldo’s ­stepdaughter, and she holds up a mirror to his sexist views. It makes him realise that the things that he doesn’t sort of mean to be mean, the way he talks about women, it’s just the sort of way that he’s been brought up. Once Aldo hears her point that out, he tries to change,” says Burnett.  “I think that is relevant today because I think, especially in working-class ­culture, guys can be sexist and treat women a wee bit unfairly in terms of the way they speak about them.”

On the book cover, a map of Leith hides behind Bruce, the protagonist’s dog – a nod to the main location of Aldo’s adventures.  “I thought that was a great touch by the publisher. The book is mostly set in Leith and I think it makes the cover stand out more,” he says. “The thing I like about Leith is they have a strong sense of their own identity.”

The National: Aerial view from drone at dusk of Leith Walk from Picardy Place in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.

He remembers how he got told off by one of his Leith friends for asking if he was from Edinburgh.  “When I first met my pal from Leith, I said to him ‘are you from ­Edinburgh?’ He was really offended. I was like ‘what’s that about?’ A lot of them don’t see Leith as actually part of Edinburgh but as their own distinct region.

“To me, I like that idea because they have a strong sense of where they come from, a strong sense of their own identity. I do admire that in people.”

As Burnett himself has autism, ­dyspraxia and dyslexia, he hopes to ­encourage people with disabilities.  “I hope that my work can maybe ­encourage other people living with ­disabilities to engage with the arts,” he says. “One of the things that came from the first book was that I had a lot of parents contact me whose children were autistic, and they were saying that they were telling them about me, how I became a writer and went to university and stuff like that.

“They said that I encouraged their kids, so I’m determined to show that ­disabilities shouldn’t be the bubble around our lives. The more you push yourself, the more you can show that your disabilities don’t define who you are.”

When he said he wanted to become a writer to one of his teachers, an ­unexpected reaction made him want to succeed. If he could give one advice to his 16-year-old self, it would be to not let his disability define him.

“I remember, I’ve always quite liked writing. One of my English teachers sort of laughed in my face when I once said to her that I would like to be a writer one day. I’ll never forget that,” Burnett ­recalls.  “I would tell my younger self, not to listen to anyone’s limitations placed on you. Somebody might think that because I’m dyslexic, I can’t be a writer. Well, I see that as a challenge. I say ‘I’ve got to prove him wrong’.

“I would tell my younger self never to let your disability define what you want to accomplish in life because your potential is limitless.”

Burnett dedicated the book to his late parents, Anne and David, who always ­encouraged him to pursue his dreams.

“They had such an impact on my life. I always faced quite a lot of barriers at school, they were the ones who pushed me to not let my disabilities define me, they were absolutely brilliant people,” he says.

“My mum and dad always taught me to treat people fairly. I wanted to use my work to amplify the voices of the working class. And that was really what I learned from my parents because they always taught me to stand up for what you ­believe in,” he adds.

After losing both his parents, Burnett says all he wanted was to give up. But that’s not what they would have wanted.  “Losing my parents was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. There were times when I just wanted to give up. As much as everyone faces dark moments in their life, I think the easy choice is just to give up. But you have to pick yourself up and keep going because the people that love you don’t want you just to give up on life because they’re not there anymore.

“It did take me a while to get my head around that because there were times when I was so seriously depressed,” he admits.

But ultimately, writing helped him grieve.  “Writing really saved me in many ways. It let me channel my energies in a positive way, instead of just letting my thoughts eat away at me. That inspired me to write my first novel because I always resented the way that the state treated my family after we lost our parents.

“I really wanted to put the state on trial for the way they treat ­working class ­people,” he says. 

According to Burnett, there is a big appetite for stories written in Scots. He says he faced more criticism for writing in Scots by Scottish people, than by readers from overseas.  “l never had a reader from overseas who’s actually said to me ‘why are you writing in Scots? I can’t read that’. When you look at the education system in Scotland, you were always taught to speak proper English. To me, that was always like them encouraging you to abandon your own identity. I’ve had more criticism from actual Scots than I’ve ever had from people outside of Scotland.”

The author doesn’t believe in writing in “proper English”, instead preferring to embrace his identity, his culture.

“I think there’s definitely a bigger ­appetite for stories written in Scots. I think the readers outside of Scotland don’t see it as slang or a poor version of English, they just see it as a language. The thing that I was really pleased about was the ease with which people could read in Scots,” he smiles.

So what’s next for the author? Burnett says he would like to establish himself as a writer in the Scottish literary scene.

“I don’t really see myself as a proper writer. I’m a writer, obviously, but I don’t know, I’ve never really seen myself as someone who’s had an impact on the ­literary scene, and that’s something I’d like to do,” he notes.

“I have an idea for a new book. It will be away from these characters, although I’m not finished with them just yet. I’ll be going back to Aldo, I kind of like the idea of doing like a prequel, when they were younger.”