FOR Douglas Stuart, this has been the year of living anxiously. That might seem strange from the outside. In February, Stuart’s debut novel Shuggie Bain, a book he has worked on for a decade and more, was published in the United States where he now lives. It was greeted with universal acclaim and garlanded with exultant reviews. More have arrived now that it’s been published in the UK.

All good news. And yet Stuart, who grew up in Glasgow, has found himself as disconcerted as exhilarated by the experience. “It’s a huge thrill to publish a book, but it is also a very numbing, exposing time to suddenly put things you’ve carried around in your head for 10 years out into the world,” he admits.

He is sitting in a room in the Catskill Mountains, the retreat where so much of Shuggie Bain was written, as he says this. “And,” he adds, “I think there is a thing about Scottish men. We’re reluctant to talk about our feelings or emotions. And what is a book if it’s not 400 pages of that?”

I’m not sure reluctance is an option now. Shuggie Bain is indeed 400 (430, in fact) pages of deeply felt, hugely emotional storytelling. People will inevitably want him to talk.

The novel tells the story of a young gay boy growing up in Glasgow in the 1980s with an alcoholic mother, an all too intimate knowledge of what poverty does to people and what it feels like to be different and to be treated as such, sometimes casually, sometimes violently.

That is Shuggie’s story. It is also Stuart’s story, though he is quick to point out he is not Shuggie. And to talk to him about the novel is to constantly measure the distance between the author and his creation. “Shuggie is definitely a work of fiction, Teddy, so I think it’s very far apart, although I am the queer son of a single mother who lost her battle to addiction.”

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These days Stuart lives in New York where he has spent the last 20 years working in fashion for the likes of Calvin Klein and Jack Spade. He is, by anyone’s terms, a success. In his career and in his relationship. He has been with his partner Michael for 24 years. They were married almost two years ago.

Shuggie Bain, though, represents something new in his life. On one level it’s the culmination of a long-held ambition to become a writer. On another it’s an act of, well, what exactly? An act of coming to terms with his past? A reckoning? A letting go?

“There’s a little bit of release and healing in it, where I feel I can close the lid on the boy I was in a way and be able to move forward with it,” he suggests.

Does he feel a different person, then, having written it? “Yes, but I wrote it, first of all, because I felt like a different person. I feel like I’ve had two very distinct chapters to my life. I feel a little like two totally different people.”

There was the kid who was raised on benefits in Glasgow, he says. “Working class is a stretch, because I never knew my single mother to work.” And then there is the guy who moved to New York and worked his way up to becoming Head of Design for Jack Spade. “I think sitting down to write Shuggie was a little bit about trying to stitch those two halves of myself back together.”

Shuggie Bain, then, is an act of reconciliation. It is also a vision of Glasgow and its people at a certain point in the story, in the 1980s when jobs were disappearing. It’s a novel that takes in rain, casual violence, the importance of the Freemans Catalogue, and hiding from the Provvie man.

Stuart finds a language for all this that feels fresh and charged. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a remarkable piece of writing. Others think so too. At the end of July, the novel was named on the Booker Prize longlist. How did he and Michael celebrate?

“We put a frozen pizza in the oven, and we found a really old dusty bottle of champagne, left over from Hogmanay years and years ago. It was a very subdued and grounded celebration.”

The book hums with the truth of lived experience. Inevitably, then, the interviewer wants to know about the boy behind the boy, to talk about addiction and poverty as Stuart himself experienced them.

The bare facts are these. Stuart is now 44. He grew up in Sighthill and in and around Glasgow’s east end before moving to Pollok in his teens. His father disappeared when he was four. “I don’t know when he died. I think I saw him once. I didn’t know him. But he was always the “bastard down the street” and that was about it. I wouldn’t have called my mother a reliable narrator on what my father was like, but I didn’t know him so I can’t tell you much about him.”

Stuart, like Shuggie, was the youngest of three. His sister was 15 years older than him, his brother, who was sadly later killed in a motorcycle accident, was 13 years older, ready to move on with their own lives by the time he was five.

“Certainly I wouldn’t be on the planet without them stepping in at the moments I needed them and sort of seeing me through,” Stuart says. “My brother was often my father and my mother and my best friend. So, I am incredibly grateful to him.”

Still, for much of his childhood Stuart was alone with his mother.

Shuggie Bain is as much the mother Agnes’s story, as it is the son’s. That was deliberate, Stuart says. “Being the son of a single mother, I’ve always known the true strength of Glasgow lies in its women. Single mothers often make communities with other single mothers. So, my entire world was about watching these women struggle to get by, and to raise their kids and suddenly go out and find jobs and bring a wee bit of money in. But, of course, they were never paid well enough.”

He doesn’t want to tell me his own mother’s name because he wants to protect her memory. But he will talk about her, about her loneliness, her addiction, and the costs of that.

Alcoholism was a spectre throughout his childhood, he says. “I was her carer almost from the age of eight, but I was also her only friend often. You become a little bit of a spouse or a partner in a way because alcoholism or addiction can be incredibly isolating for the person who is suffering from it.

“And so, my role with my mother was incredibly complex. What it never really only was, was mother and child. It reverted from a very early age. I would be the caregiver or look after the household.”

There’s a back story here, too, of course. “My mother was a wonderful woman,” Stuart says. “She was loved, she was beautiful, she was so incredibly promising as a young woman. She always had the best of things and everybody thought she would go far in life. And then she didn’t. She married the wrong men, she got stuck in the mire of poverty. And she then went through the second half of her life always with that feeling that she had deserved better and couldn’t get it.

“That’s a bad, dark place to be.”

And where do you go when you don’t have any hope for a better tomorrow, Stuart asks? “You sink into addiction. I only came to understand it better when I became an older man myself. A lot of the time it’s about just not having hope. When you lift your head and you can’t see that tomorrow, or the next year, is going to be better.”

He pauses, reflects. “I’m not sure that answers about my mother as about what I feel about addiction.”

Who was the boy he was in all of this? Someone fighting a battle inside and outside the house, he says.

“I think a lot of children grow up and they don’t have a safe harbour anywhere, Teddy, and I don’t think we talk a lot about that. Some kids don’t necessarily have peace at home, and they don’t have peace within their community for whatever reason. What that gives you as a kid is a sense of isolation. But as an adult it gives you a sense of resilience.”

Perhaps, but it was hard-won.

When, I ask him, did he become aware of his sexuality? “I think I was about six and I was in the classroom on one of these wet Wednesdays when the kids aren’t allowed to go outside. The other boys, without knowing the power of what they had discovered, just turned to me and said, ‘Why are you like that?’ And from there it just sort of snowballed.”

When you say, “like that?”

“It was probably just an effeminate nature. Also, growing up in a very direct relationship with your parent you become a wee bit precocious, you’re too comfortable around adults. So, you’re not quite like a kid.”

The consequence was that he was bullied constantly. “I don’t think there was a single day from the age of seven to the age of 13, 14, where being called names, shoved and kicked wasn’t part of it.

“When I was about 15, I was set upon by a gang in the middle of the day because they had seen the look of me coming down the road. People sense when somebody is gay or queer. It doesn’t have to be expressed, especially in such hyper-masculine communities. They’re always on the outlook for it.

“And quite literally they tried to stamp it out. I wrote about it in the New Yorker as a fiction, but it was true when I tell you they lined up like it was a fairground ride all to have a shot at jumping on me.

“If it wasn’t for this wee old woman who was just coming up the road who initially thought I was a dog … I mean, I have no doubt I would be in a much worse way today. If I was here at all.”

You have to wonder what kind of impact that would have on anyone. For Stuart, it was “enormous amounts of self-loathing,” he says. “And so, for the longest time in my life I wanted to be anything but gay. It took a long time to connect with my pride. That didn’t really happen until I came to New York and I could enter a fraternity of proud gay men.

“I didn’t find pride in myself or peace in myself until probably my thirties, because it takes so long when you’re conditioned from the age of six to the age of 16 to think every time you see yourself in a mirror, ‘What is wrong? Why am I like this? Why did I have to be like this?’ It takes a long time to accept yourself, you know.”

It was only after he stayed on at school when most left for jobs or the dole, that he found his way to reading, helped by his teachers. No one was bullying him anymore. And then when he was 16 his mum died.

“After my mother’s death I also had more inner peace,” he admits. “Certainly, I was grieving and distraught. But I had a little bit more peace in my environment and a little bit more peace inside myself.”

Thinking of that 16-year-old somehow supporting himself with casual jobs, I’m surprised he didn’t suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. “I think PTSD is a luxury only middle-class people can have,” Stuart suggests. “I think when you are working class and when you’re struggling just to be on the planet you don’t have an opportunity to stop and reflect on how you feel.

“Or you can and then it will suck you into a mire. But I was just aware that my feelings were nothing I could get in touch with, really, until I sat down and started to write Shuggie. And I started it about 32. Up until then, the struggle just to get on was overwhelming.

“So, I was just exhausted, to be honest, Teddy. And I think until I was 40, I never had a chance to properly process it. I think, more than PTSD, I suffered from extreme disassociation. I have a supernatural ability to not connect with myself.

“And I want to be clear with you. Everybody was struggling. It’s not just me. I had maybe a particularly odd and peculiar and bad time, but so many people were struggling, and that was true about Glasgow, I think.”

Did he feel he had to leave Glasgow? “I didn’t feel that I had to leave. I felt there was nothing asking me to stay. Glasgow is an incredibly cosmopolitan city. It’s got one of the most vibrant gay cultures in the country, but not in the 1990s and not when you were growing up in Pollok in a housing scheme.

“And so, I was just untethered. I didn’t make a conscious decision to move away from Glasgow. In fact, I’ve spent most of my life trying to come back. Honestly, genuinely. Because I’m proud of what Glasgow made of me.”

Stuart went to Galashiels to study textile design at 18, the only man in the class, then to London to study for an MA at the Royal College of Art. Someone from Calvin Klein saw his degree show and offered him a job. Two months later he was in New York. He was 24.

“I hated it when I first got there. I was so terribly homesick. I was so insecure. I think a lot of working-class kids are always wrestling with the feeling that they’re not worth enough. That somehow, they are an imposter or inadequate.”

Eventually, he found his place in the city and in his career. However, the past was always there. As was the idea of becoming a writer. Now, after years of effort, Shuggie Bain is in the world. Its existence has altered Stuart’s position in that world, too.

“I think the book has made a lot of people re-evaluate who I actually am. In a way that’s what I wanted to achieve for myself.” It was a revelation to his husband Michael for a start, he says.

What has writing it taught him about himself? “I have learned to be proud to be the kid that I was. I was always proud to be working class, but there’s such a stigma with being poor and having addiction in the household and being queer. All you spend your youth trying to do is hide all that, right? I had these three fronts. Any time I went into a room I felt bad about one of them, whether I was gay whether my mother was suffering at home or whether I was poor.

“Writing the book has actually taught me to be proud of that because I think some people don’t even know they’re born, Teddy, and people move through the world worrying about the wrong things so being able to write a book like Shuggie which showed so many people suffering it brought me a lot of peace.”

Long may it last.

Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart, is published in hardback by Picador, £14.99.