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‘In 2020, even winning the Booker felt surreal’


In 2020, Scottish-American writer Douglas Stuart won the Booker Prize for his debut novel Shuggie Bain. You’d think he’d be jumping with joy. But in a conversation with Ira Mukhoty at Times Literature Festival 2021, Stuart revealed that due to the pandemic, even “winning the Booker, which is a once in a lifetime opportunity, has felt a little surreal because it’s happening through the screen”.

It took Stuart almost 10-12 years to write and publish Shuggie Bain, during which the book was rejected many times. “I knew I was showing something that society says I am not supposed to tell anybody about because there is shame and stigma around addiction, misogyny and poverty,” he said.

Stuart drew parallels between his own childhood as the son of a single mother with alcohol addiction growing up amidst hardships in 1980s working-class Glasgow, much like the book’s central character Shuggie and his mother Agnes. “When you are the child of a parent who loses their battle with addiction and who is growing up under patriarchy as a young queer man, you have no ability to take control of the situation,” Stuart said. “To be a writer 20-30 years after the events and take the trauma and turn it into art is an incredible amount of power.”

Describing the writing of the book as cathartic, Stuart added, “It made me incredibly sad but also incredibly joyous. I laughed a lot… there can be incredible sadness with humour and sometimes when you don’t have the comfort of money that’s the only way you can deal with life as it comes at you.”

Stuart’s next book is also set in Glasgow in the 1990s, and examines toxic masculinity through a love story between two working-class men who are separated by territorial gangs.

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