Friday, August 2, 2013

Author Neel Burton: Plato: Letters to my Son

I’m always amazed at how many intriguing books you can discover and the authors that write them. I’m delighted today to introduce you to just such an author and book. Please help me welcome author Neel Burton to Thoughts to talk about his first foray into fiction, PLATO: LETTERS TO MY SON.

Here’s a first synopsis of PLATO: LETTERS TO MY SON

    My doctor tells me that, at last, I am dying. The time has come for me to write, or, rather, dictate these letters to you. I pray that I might remain lucid for long enough to finish the task and ask that you forgive any lapses in my memory or reason. I propose not so much to counsel you as to furnish you with an account of my life and thought; not the impersonal and incomplete fabrication that you or anyone might piece together from my books, but the real account–in so far as there could ever be such a thing. For all the man and the god that I have found in you, I do not, and cannot, expect your tender years to tease out my every accent and every nuance, and I am writing as much to account myself to you as to account myself to myself.

Neel, a psychiatrist who lives and teaches in Oxford, has authored a number of non-fiction books to date. Early reviews of PLATO: LETTERS TO MY SON, a lively and intelligent book, have been strong, with one reviewer calling it a “wonderful and gracefully written introduction to the world of ancient philosophy.”

Neel joins us now and has graciously answered some questions about his book and his writing.

Mason - What inspired you to write this book?

Plato is perhaps the most impressive of all thinkers, in fact, of all men. I first read him a long time ago whilst on holiday in Venice, and it moved me to tears. He doesn’t offer only abstract ideas, but also real solutions to the problems of living. He is so much more than people think, so much more than just the cave or the Republic or the Theory of Forms. I really wanted to tell everyone about him, not just what he thought but also how he lived and what he might have felt.

Mason - How did you go about doing research for your book?

Given that this is a work of historical fiction, creating my characters and my setting involved a lot of painstaking research in history and philosophy. Some years ago, I wrote a primer on Plato, so I was not entirely new to the field. The characters thatBook_Plato really stand out are Plato and his teacher Socrates, but there is a large supporting cast of historical figures such as Aristotle, Diogenes the Cynic, and Xenophon. It was a tremendous challenge to bring such great characters to life. In particular, I really enjoyed portraying the relationship between Plato and Socrates. For example, did they or did they not sleep together? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Mason - With the book’s release, as you look back what was the biggest surprise that occurred while you were writing the story?

As I was writing the last paragraph of the last page, I felt this enormous surge of emotion. It was as if the book had come alive and turned on its creator! That gave me tremendous satisfaction, and I can only hope that my readers feel something similar.

Mason - Have you always wanted to write or was there an event that lead you to writing?

I did not choose writing, it chose me: it found its way into my blood like some sort of disease. In the beginning, I wanted to be a doctor, but, after I qualified, writing gradually got the better of me. First I started writing medical books, then self-help, then non-fiction, and, at last, fiction. I love living in my head, it’s the only place I find peace; and, yes, I have a real need to speak to strangers!

Mason - How would you encourage someone who has never read your genre to give it a try?

I would say to that person, look, here you have the chance to get into the mind of a man far greater than anyone you have ever met or will ever meet. What could it feel like to enter his world and see it through his eyes? Just read the first chapter—it shouldn’t take you more than ten minutes—and see if you want to read the second.

Mason - What can readers look forward to next from you?

Something completely different! A book entitled, ‘The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting’. I am currently half way through the writing.

Neel, thank you for joining us today. Your undertaking of this task is amazing. I can see how this project could take on a life of its own.

Now let me share a bit more about Neel with you. He was born in 1978 in Curepipe, Mauritius to a Mauritian father and a Zanzibari mother, and grew up in Geneva, Switzerland. From 1996 to 2002, he studied medicine and neuroscience in London. 

He then moved to Paris, where he worked as a strategy consultant and, later, as an English teacher.

In 2003, he returned to medicine and the UK, and, in 2004, went up to Oxford to specialize in psychiatry, whilst simultaneously reading for a Master’s in philosophy in the University of London. He currently lives and teaches in Oxford.

For more on Neel and his writing, visit him on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. What are your thoughts on Plato? Have you ever wondered about his private life?


  1. Neel, thanks again for visiting with us. With this book you have me wondering about others in our history. Wishing you much success.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Neel.

    Neel - What a fascinating idea for a book! And in the form of letters, too, which I think is just as intriguing. Thanks for sharing your process and and the background to this story.

  3. This sounds like a wonderful book. We so often dismiss these great philosophers as being boring and I've never really thought about Plato's private life. Another to add to my list.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.