Scottish author Douglas Stuart has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020 with his début, Shuggie Bain (Picador). He talks to us about the inspiration behind the novel here.
Douglas Stuart was born and raised in Glasgow. After graduating, he moved to New York City, where he began his design career. His début novel, Shuggie Bain, was published by Picador in August. Stuart describes it as the story of “the pure, unsinkable love that children can have for their damaged parents”. It is a portrait of a family struggling to get by in 1980s Glasgow, as the city begins to decay around them. Youngest boy Shuggie is a sweet, lonely child who longs to be “normal”. His mother Agnes is his guiding light, but also a burden for him and his siblings, increasingly finding solace in alcohol.
The book, which took over a decade to write, was inspired by Stuart’s own life. He says: “I was raised in Sighthill, Glasgow. I am the gay son of a single mother who struggled with addiction for my entire childhood. I hope the book is a love story to the city that made me—not a gushing, sentimental love, but a realistic one.” Realism was important to Stuart because he believes “representation of the working-class is essential for diversity in literature”. He explains: “Growing up, I rarely saw books that portrayed families like my own, and that always made me feel so lonely.” He also felt Agnes’ story was doubly vital, as Scottish fiction about struggling souls is often reserved for male characters.
In the US, Stuart does not always get to hear or read about new Scottish voices, but he still finds writing from his homeland to be “some of the most diverse in the world”. Despite being an ocean away, he says that publishing Shuggie Bain in Scotland “means the absolute most” to him of his achivements to date. Stuart is now focused on writing full-time and is working on a second novel, Loch Awe, a dark love story between two boys divided along sectarian lines which is billed as a portrait of toxic masculinity. Looking to the future, he says: “I think I’ll always be inspired by gentle souls surviving in hard places.”