Shuggie Bain: who is Scottish author Douglas Stuart who won the Booker Prize 2020 - and what is his debut novel about?

The ‘amazingly emotive’ book is available from Amazon and Waterstones now

Douglas Stuart is the second Scot to win the Booker Prize with his debut Shuggie Bain (PA Media)
Douglas Stuart is the second Scot to win the Booker Prize with his debut Shuggie Bain (PA Media)

Douglas Stuart has become the second Scot ever to win the prestigious Booker Prize with his debut novel.

The Scottish author’s book, Shuggie Bain, scooped the £50,000 award on Thursday 19 November after judges said it was “destined to be a classic”.

Stuart, a Glaswegian who now lives in New York, was the only British author in the shortlist of six finalists.

Shuggie Bain was announced as the winner of the esteemed award during a BBC live-streamed ceremony in London, which included virtual appearances from former US President Barack Obama and the Duchess of Cornwall.

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What is Shuggie Bain about?

Stuart’s first novel is a coming-of-age story about a boy who lives in 1980s Glasgow with a mother who is battling addiction and poverty.

It explores Shuggie’s complicated but unconditional love for his mother, Agnes, as he attempts to care for her while her alcoholism worsens after the breakdown of her marriage.

Agnes’ other children leave due to her deterioration, leaving Shuggie, her youngest, to help her with her descent into addiction, while facing his own struggles with his sexuality.

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The plot is based on Stuart’s own experiences growing up in Glasgow with his mum, who died from alcoholism when he was 16 years old. Shuggie Bain is dedicated to her.

Stuart said writing the book had been “incredibly healing” for him as he had carried “a lot of love and pain” over the years.

In his tearful acceptance speech, Stuart described the book as a “love story” which focuses on the “unconditional, often-tested love” that children can have for their parents.

He added: “My mother would be thrilled, she would be absolutely thrilled and I think she would be proud.”

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Chair of the Booker Prize judging panel, Margaret Busby, said Shuggie Bain was “destined to be a classic”, calling the novel an “amazingly emotive, nuanced book that is hard to forget”.

She added that it was “intimate, challenging and compassionate” and said Shuggie himself was an “unforgettable character”.

Shuggie Bain was rejected by 30 book publishers before being picked up by Grove Atlantic in America and Picador in the UK.

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Book review: Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart

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Who is Scottish author Douglas Stuart?

Douglas Stuart, 44, was born in Glasgow and grew up in a housing scheme in the city.

He moved to New York when he was 24 years old to work in fashion design, after graduating from the Royal College of Art in London.

Stuart has described himself as “a working-class kid who had a different career and came to writing late”.

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He started to write Shuggie Bain more than a decade ago, and writing about Glasgow from across the Atlantic allowed him to “fall in love with the city again”.

Stuart has called growing up in Glasgow “one of the greatest inspirations” of his life and, upon winning the award, thanked Glaswegians “whose empathy and humour and love and struggle are in every word of this book”.

After his win, Stuart has said he will now become a full-time writer. The author has already completed his second novel, named Loch Awe.

Stuart married an American man, which is why he stayed in New York, but he has lamented that his “heart is in Scotland”.

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He said he might use the Booker prize money to return to Glasgow where his family still live.

Who were the other Booker Prize finalists?

The shortlist for the 2020 Booker Prize was the most diverse in its 50-year history.

Shuggie Bain was one of four debut novels among the six shortlisted finalists.

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The finalists included American Avni Doshi’s debut novel Burnt Sugar alongside fellow US debutants Diane Cook (The New Wilderness) and Brandon Taylor (Real Life).

Acclaimed Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga (This Mournable Body) and Ethiopian American Maaza Mengiste (The Shadow King) were the only established authors on the list.

The long list was made up of 13 finalists, including veteran novelist Hilary Mantel.

Stuart’s novel was chosen as the winner by a panel of five judges, including Margaret Busby, Lee Child, Sameer Rahim, Lemn Sissay and Emily Wilson.

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Last year’s Booker Prize provoked controversy as the judges jointly gave the award to two authors, Canadian author Margaret Atwood and Anglo-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo.

What was the other Scottish book to win the Booker Prize?

Douglas Stuart is the second Scot to win the award after James Kelman triumphed in 1994 with How Late It Was, How Late, a novel which Stuart has said changed his life as it was the first time he saw “my people, my dialect, on the page”.

Described as “a raw, wry vision of human survival in a bureaucratic world” by the Booker Prize, Kelman’s novel is also based in Glasgow and written in an uncensored Scots dialect.

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The protagonist is Sammy, an ex-convict with a penchant for shoplifting. He wakes up in an alley and tries to remember the two-day drinking binge that got him there. He gets in a brawl with some soldiers and ends up in jail, discovering that he’s completely blind.

Then, his girlfriend disappears, he’s probed by the police and his stab at receiving disability Compensation embroils him in the red tape of the welfare bureaucracy.

The New York Times described it as: “A work of marvellous vibrance and richness of character... it convinces, it charms, it entertains, it informs and it has life.... How Late it Was, How Late deserves every accolade it gets.”

Where is Shuggie Bain available to buy?

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Shuggie Bain can be bought on Amazon as a hardback for £10.95, currently on sale from £14.99.

It’s also available on Kindle for £8.49.