AS someone with autism, dyspraxia and dyslexia, Colin Burnett was told by teachers he would never be able to handle university.

Yet he has not only gained an honours degree from Queen Margaret University, he has also written a novel which has won plaudits for its use of Scots as well as its gritty depiction of working-class life in Scotland.

Now Burnett hopes he can inspire others with disabilities to follow their dreams.

“You might get obstacles in your way but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve what you want,” said Burnett, who also had to deal with losing both his parents to cancer during his studies.

Grief caused him to take a break in his final year at university but he still went on to gain a 2:1 in sociology as well as write Working Class State Of Mind, which has been compared to Trainspotting.

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Popular with the public, it led to him being nominated for Scots Writer of the Year this year. He was also nominated for Media Person of the Year in 2020 as the book’s genesis was in small stories he started tweeting because he wanted working-class voices to be heard.

Like the book, they are written in the Scots vernacular rather than in English, which he thinks is routinely associated with the middle classes.

“The Scots language is currently the biggest social class issue facing Scotland,” he said. “When the dominant group of today can turn the common breath of a nation into cultural self-hatred, that is what separates the pawns from the kings.

“It is my hope that A Working Class State Of Mind can play a part in counteracting such ideas by bringing the everyday language of Scotland to the surface and celebrating it through colourful working-class characters and stories.”

He thinks the 2014 referendum is one reason there has been a resurgence in Scots works being published as it engaged more people, especially young people, with politics and demonstrated that Scotland has its own identity. “I think it’s important to show we have our own culture and art to counteract the idea that we’re nothing without being a part of the UK,” he said.

Now 32, it has taken Burnett a little while to find his own voice as the result of the challenges he has had to face.

He grew up in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, then went to college in the hope it would prepare him for university but, even there, he was told university would be too much for him because of his disabilities.

Fortunately his father, David, a plasterer, and his housewife mum Anne, continued to encourage him and he gained a place at Queen Margaret just before his dad died. His book is dedicated to both of them.

“I’m pleased Dad knew I had a place and they both would have been even more proud if they knew I had a book out,” said Burnett. “They were the ones that gave me the belief to go to university, not my teachers, and I will never get over losing them because they were so encouraging and good to me.”

He does not deny there were difficulties along the way, not least because he finds being in groups very hard.

“Undertaking my studies proved challenging with me being autistic and dyslexic, although I was determined to prove my disability wouldn’t define my aspirations in life,” he said.

“It was daunting attending lectures and university but I had a great support network with my family and the university itself which allowed to me excel in my studies.

“One thing I would really like to come from the book is to inspire people with disabilities to pursue their dreams. I have been told I can be a role model for people on the spectrum because I have a book out and went to university, which was a big deal in itself.”

He admits writing the book was hard but he persevered, with his playwright brother Michael, one of his seven siblings, helping to edit it. It was awarded a Scots language publication grant from the Scottish Book Trust and an audiobook is due out soon. He hopes it could be turned into a sitcom as readers seem to have responded to the humour in the book.

“The book has been compared a lot to Trainspotting because it shines a light on issues like poverty and the welfare system,” said Burnett. “People seem to really engage with it and have said they want to read another so I will try to keep going.

“I think the message I am trying to send through my work is that a person with disabilities can achieve just as much, if not more, than someone born without a disability.”

Working Class State Of Mind is published by Leamington Books