Book of the Year - Fiction: Début

Introduction

In the Début shortlist, this year’s Booker Prize winner is up against some “must-read” titles of the year. The authors tackled issues of racism, domestic slavery, prejudice, alcoholism and identity. Each of the shortlistees wrapped these complex themes in beautiful, sought-after packages and entertaining narratives, making it a tough category for this year’s judges.

Winner

Shuggie Bain

Shuggie Bain

Douglas Stuart

Picador

Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain was a standout début in this category— and elsewhere, winning the Overall Book of the Year too. “It’s epic and important in its scope, scale and achievement,” was the verdict from the judges.

Inspired by the author’s own life and a desire to diversify literature to represent the working-class experience, Shuggie Bain follows the story of a family struggling to get by in 1980s Glasgow, and tackles themes of class, poverty, addiction and homophobia. Clearly the book resonated: it became the fifth début novel to win the Booker Prize. Judges were particularly touched by the publisher’s fervour for the book, and felt Picador’s acquisition — which followed rejection from 12 UK publishers — demonstrated its early recognition of the book’s potential, and showed it was prepared to champion an “uncompromising and complex” working-class narrative.

The marketing campaign demonstrated the team’s belief in the book too. It built an extensive long-lead word of mouth campaign to publicise it within the gay and Scottish press, as well as national newspapers and broadcast media. It sold more than 18,000 hardback copies before the Booker win, a figured that quintupled in the months following its triumph.

The Shortlist

  • Ghosts by Dolly Alderton
    Fig Tree
    Podcaster and memoirist Dolly Alderton’s first work of fiction tackles the protagonist’s early twenties, and themes of love, memory, ageing and identity. Fig Tree started the campaign early, creating a big online buzz and securing a Vogue interview for the author a month ahead of publication, generating a significant number of pre-orders. “Poignant,” said the Sunday Times.
  • The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
    Sceptre
    This début from Nigerian author Abi Daré tells the story of 14-year-old Adunni, who is sold into marriage by her father. Through a series of misadventures she escapes, but only to be sold into domestic slavery in Lagos. Daré’s ambitious tale was a Waterstones Book of the Month and one of the retailer’s paperback of the year picks.
  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
    W&N
    Pre-empted by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in a seven-way auction just two days after submission, Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times became one of the must-read débuts of the year. The Irish author’s novel follows 22-year-old Ava as she leaves Ireland for Hong Kong, in a bid to make her own money and become independent. “A bracing, refreshing first novel,” said the Observer.
  • Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
    Dialogue
    Paul Mendez’s book was submitted as a memoir in publisher Sharmaine Lovegrove’s first week at Dialogue. On her advice, Mendez spent two years re-working it into his début, which follows a young, Black, gay, Jehovah’s Witness from the West Midlands who flees to London, finding work as a prostitute. “Frank, urgent and fresh” said the Independent.
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
    Bloomsbury Circus
    Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age follows Emira, who is apprehended at a supermarket by a security guard for “kidnapping” the white child she is, in fact, babysitting: a scene which is depicted on the wallpaper-esque front cover design. Published by Bloomsbury Circus, this timely look at race relations in the US today was called “witty and incisive” by the Times.
  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
    Picador
    Douglas Stuart’s début novel is set in Glasgow during the years of Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministership, and tells the story of a boy’s attempt to save his alcoholic mother from her addiction. Rejected by 12 British publishers before it was picked up by Picador, the début ended the year with a Booker Prize win under its belt — it is one of just five début novels to have won the award.