Booker winner Anna Burns thanked by food bank and housing charity

Author mentioned charities that helped her in prize-winning novel’s acknowledgments

Man Booker winner: Anna Burns thanked a housing charity and  food bank. Photograph: Frank Augstein/Pool/Getty

Man Booker winner: Anna Burns thanked a housing charity and food bank. Photograph: Frank Augstein/Pool/Getty

 

A charity and food bank have expressed their gratitude to the winner of the Man Booker Prize, Anna Burns, after she took the unusual step of thanking them in the acknowledgments section of her novel.

Burns, who is the first Northern Irish author to win the prize, received the award for Milkman, a novel set in an unnamed city in Northern Ireland, telling the story of a young woman sexually harassed by a powerful man against the backdrop of the Troubles.

In the acknowledgements of her book Burns thanked the housing charity Lewes District Churches Homelink and Newhaven food bank, in Sussex. Both say they are thrilled at her win.

“We are delighted that Anna has won the prestigious Booker prize. She has expressed her thanks to us for helping her rent quiet accommodation in order to write, and donated a copy of Milkman to us. Trustees were surprised but very pleased to be included in her acknowledgements,” Terry Howell, of Lewes District Churches Homelink, says.

Howell says it was very unusual to help a novelist but they had done so. “We have all sorts of people referred to us: some single and some families, sometimes people thrown out of their house… or those who are sofa surfing.”

He says the charity helped Burns in 2014, offering the writer a loan to get into private accommodation. The charity offers loans that can be paid back at a low rate of about £20, or about €22.50, a month.

Rob Whitehead of Sussex Community Development, which runs Newhaven food bank, says it was great to be acknowledged. “The work of the food bank continues with an approximate 100 per cent rise in the number of people fed by the food bank in Newhaven over the past year,” he says.

Burns has taken home £50,000, or about €57,000, for her prize win. When asked what she would do with the money, the 56-year-old said: “I’ll clear my debts and live on what’s left.” In an interview, Burns, who lives with chronic back pain, also says: “I move around usually to do with finances. My money runs out. Most writers don’t earn much. I’ve used all my money up trying to get help with my injury. I know I’m not better, I know I still can’t get back to writing, but it’s quite nice to feel I’m solvent. That’s a real gift.”

Burns is the first woman to win the Booker since 2013, when Eleanor Catton took the award for The Luminaries, and the first Irish winner since Anne Enright, in 2007.

Burns, who was born in Belfast and now lives in Sussex, drew on her own experiences for Milkman, having grown up in what she calls “a place that was rife with violence, distrust and paranoia”.

Another Faber & Faber writer, Lyra McKee, who went to the same school as Burns in north Belfast, says no one deserves the award more. “She was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth and had no advantages bestowed upon her. This honestly is brilliant. It’s just so great for people from north Belfast, in a place that lacks hope, to see one of our own do so well. She is genuinely one of those really sweet nice people, and this is life-changing for her. I am ecstatic for her.”

McKee says the school they went to was “crippled by a lack of funding” and “in a really deprived area” that was a hot spot of the Troubles and dealt with every issue. “We had families in north Belfast where there would be one generation of men wiped out by suicide,” she says. “We had one or two teenage pregnancies every year, which is standard at any school in a deprived area, but our school was called the maternity ward.

“When reading this book… it’s amazing if you are reading it and you are not from Northern Ireland, but if you are reading it as someone from Belfast… you know the streets [Anna is] describing even though she does not name them. You pick up on nuances others wouldn’t. This is a book that has so many layers. Me and her are a generation apart, but it feels like she is describing my childhood.” – Guardian