Stuart’s Shuggie Bain bags Book of the Year at the British Book Awards 2021

Stuart’s Shuggie Bain bags Book of the Year at the British Book Awards 2021

Douglas Stuart pictured right has won Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, triumphing with his “truly exceptional” début novel, Shuggie Bain (Picador). Others winners at the virtual ceremony (held on 13th May) were 17-year-old Dara McAnulty, former monk Jay Shetty, Delia Owens, Caroline Hirons, Robert Galbraith, and M G Leonard and Sam Sedgman.

Stuart’s novel, which also picked up the Fiction: Début award, claimed the overall prize after beating off fierce competition from authors including Maggie O’Farrell, who won the Fiction award for her chart-topping hit Hamnet (Tinder Press), and David Olusoga, who took the Children’s Illustrated & Non-Fiction prize for Black and British: A Short, Essential History (Macmillan Children’s Books).

Thursday’s online ceremony saw TV presenter and début crime novelist Richard Osman named Author of the Year, while Charlie Mackesy, author of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (Ebury), was awarded Illustrator of the Year. Osman’s novel The Thursday Murder Club (Viking) was the bestselling novel of 2020. 

Before Stuart’s novel found its home at Picador and with Grove Atlantic in the US, Shuggie Bain was rejected by 32 editors. It has sold half a million copies in all formats globally, and picked up the Booker Prize last year. The paperback edition was released last month, and has sold 50,195 copies in two and half weeks, according to Nielsen BookScan TCM data. Other titles shortlisted for the Début award included Abi Daré’s The Girl with the Louding Voice (Sceptre), Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez (Dialogue Books) and Ghosts by Dolly Alderton (Fig Tree), among others.

Speaking from his home in New York, Stuart said: “Shuggie Bain wouldn’t be in the world without the support of my family, and obviously my mother, who is at the very heart of the novel, but I would like to thank all the British booksellers and readers who have really taken Shuggie and Agnes to heart. My thanks to the amazing team at Picador, who took a chance on my wee sad Scottish book. And to everybody who embraced the story and—especially in such a tough and weird year—has kept literature at the heart of our communities, I’m so grateful to you.”

The Books of the Year judges hailed the novel, which took Stuart more than a decade to write, as “a classic”, combining quality of writing, an innovative publishing vision and excellent sales. It follows a boy growing up amid poverty and addiction in 1980s Glasgow.

Judge Ella Risbridger commented: “As a testament to the ways poverty, addiction and violence scar themselves on the body and the mind, Shuggie Bain remains unsettlingly timely. I hope in years to come, we can read it purely as a period piece; purely as a reminder of how things used to be. But for now we must read it also as something of an incentive and an invitation to change. That this is a début is remarkable, and Douglas Stuart is a talent to be reckoned with.”

Books of the Year chair Alice O’Keeffe, books editor of The Bookseller, added: “The success of Shuggie Bain is testament not only to Douglas Stuart’s extraordinary writing but also to the commitment and enthusiasm of publisher Picador, which acquired the novel after a dozen other UK publishers turned it down. The story of Shuggie and his love for his alcoholic mother Agnes is one that readers and critics have taken to their hearts, as did our judges on the day.”

Category winners
Among authors shortlisted for the Fiction prize, which O’Farrell bagged, were Brit Bennett for The Vanishing Half (Dialogue Books), Elena Ferrante for The Lying Life of Adults (Europa Editions, translated by Ann Goldstein) and Matt Haig for The Midnight Library (Canongate).

Macmillan Children’s Books won again in the Children’s Fiction category with The Highland Falcon Thief by M G Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli. The story was chosen ahead of David Walliams’ Code Name Bananas (HarperCollins), illustrated by Tony Ross, and Tom Fletcher’s The Danger Gang (Puffin), illustrated by Shane Devries.

Seventeen-year-old Dara McAnulty leapt ahead of Captain Sir Tom Moore’s biography Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day (Michael Joseph), Barack Obama’s presidential memoir A Promised Land (Viking), and Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy (Quercus) to win the Non-Fiction: Narrative Book of the Year, with Diary of a Young Naturalist (Little Toller).

Commenting on his award, McAnulty said: “I never imagined what this book [would] do when I put it out in the world. It was only meant to be a small compilation of blogs, something that I could feel proud of... the idea that a young person can go into the literary world, which has mostly been reserved for adults, is a massive revelation. I just want to thank my family, who have supported and put up with me throughout. Words do matter and our voices have the ability to change the world.”

In Non-Fiction: Lifestyle, Caroline Hirons took the prize with her guide Skincare (HQ), fending off author and cook Nadiya Hussain’s Nadiya Bakes (Michael Joseph), and Five Minute Mum: Give Me Five by Daisy Upton (Penguin).

In its inaugural year, the Fiction: Pageturner award went to Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Corsair), which beat Ben Aaronovitch’s False Value (Gollancz) and Adele Park’s Just My Luck (HQ), among others. The award was created to recognise popular fiction titles across all formats.

Elsewhere, Troubled Blood, J K Rowling’s thriller written as Robert Galbraith, won the Fiction: Crime & Thriller award, ahead of The Sentinel (Bantam Press) by Lee and Andrew Child, and Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club.

Jay Shetty’s self-help manual Think Like a Monk (Thorsons) took the top position ahead of Grown Ups by Marian Keyes (W F Howes), The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and Dirk Maggs (Audible), and the audiobook version of Obama’s A Promised Land, to win Audiobook of the Year.

On receiving his award, British historian Olusoga described the inspiration behind adapting the book he had written for adults, and tailoring it towards children. He said: “This book came about because I kept being stopped on the streets, on trains by parents, Black parents, white parents, who wanted books to tell their children about the history I’d written about for adults. People kept saying, ‘You need to write a book for children’, and after a while I thought ‘Maybe they’re right, maybe there’s a responsibility that I’m not living up to’. Then I thought about my own childhood, and the fact that it wasn’t until I was 16, when I bought Peter Fryer’s great book Staying Power, that I was able to engage with these stories, and how much it would have meant to me if I could have engaged with those stories at 12 or 10.

“I’m very grateful to all the people who instructed me to live up to that responsibility to write the book,” he added. Among those shortlisted for the Children’s Illustrated & Non-fiction prize were Adam Kay and Henry Paker for Kay’s Anatomy (Puffin), I’m Sticking with You by Smriti Halls and Steve Small (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books), and Draw with Rob by Rob Biddulph (HarperCollins Books). 

The announcements were made in a virtual awards ceremony hosted by The Bookseller, which was live-streamed from 4 p.m. on Thursday 13th May.

Picture credits: main image (Mark Guest). Douglas Stuart picture (Clive Smith).