Douglas Stuart, author of Shuggie Bain

Favourite book you read as teenager.

I read Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City as a closeted young man. I wrapped it in a brown paper cover and would read it on the top deck of the 23 bus on the way to school. It’s a siren’s song to those of us who needed to strike out in the world in order to find our ‘tribe.’ This book got me through some lonely times.

First book that made an impact on you?

Tess of The D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I always wish for better for poor Tess.

Which books have made you cry?

I love A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. I cry at the scene where Billy’s English teacher is teaching his students the difference between fact and fiction. When the teacher asks the class to write a ‘tall-tale,’ – something that cannot possibly be true – and Billy writes about coming from a happy, peaceful home and looking forward to a warm meal on the table every night, well, that breaks my heart.

Favourite character and why?

I have a real fondness for Morvern Callar. I admire the pluck and determination of the young woman at the heart of Alan Warner’s masterpiece. I worked so many dead-end jobs as a young man that I can relate to Morvern seeing her one chance at a better life and seizing it, no matter what. When she hides her boyfriend’s corpse and then later, dismembers it, I found myself cheering her on despite how gruesome it was.

Least favourite genre?

I don’t find myself reading much horror. Real life can be terrifying enough.

Book you wish you’d written?

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. If I could write something that was half as beautiful and devastating as that final abandonment, then I could die happy.

E reader or print?

Always print. But I’ve learnt to keep a book on my phone for those moments when I’m stuck in a queue or waiting on a bus.

Where do you like to read?

Its less about ‘where’ for me. All I hope for is inner peace, freedom from to-do lists, distractions or anxiety. If I can have that, I can read absolutely anywhere.

Last book you didn’t finish and why?

Giving up on books is a recently acquired skill. I used to see it as my failing and plodded through every book. I won’t name specifics, but I am not the best reader for privileged protagonists who are having self-induced, mid-life wobbles.

Last books you read?

I am still reeling from The Lamplighter, by Scotland’s Makar, Jackie Kay. It reads like the ballad of four enslaved women as they tell us their personal horrors. This book lays bare Britain’s role in the slave trade and it is an illuminating look at truths we would rather leave in the darkness. It is as beautiful as it is devastating.

I loved C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills is Gold. The novel follows two young sisters who are trying to survive following the death of their immigrant parents. It is set in the American west during the gold rush era. The writing is so immersive and its bleak beauty should sweep you away.

Favourite three novels?

It’s hard to choose just three, but…. I can never forget the intimate power of The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway. It’s such a unflinching look at the mental struggle and slow disintegration of its heroine. The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst has a special place in my heart. It was one of the first books I read that presented gay desire without apology. It’s a wonderful celebration of male beauty and gay life in London just before the scourge of AIDS. I also admire Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi. Every single character in this book seems without redemption, and yet Trocchi makes the reader care. ‘Joe’ the bargehand is a total user, who is only interested in saving his own skin. It’s a fascinating portrait of how desperate people use one another.

Favourite three non-fiction books?

I am always drawn to tales of survival. A Sense of Freedom by Jimmy Boyle, looks at the criminal past of a Gorbals hardman, and his struggle to survive in a dehumanising prison system. The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp had a profound effect on me as a young, queer man. On the surface it’s a bright, witty book, but it conceals great sadness, to live and present as gender non-binary in the 1930s – that’s resistance! His bravery is inspirational. I greatly admire Lowborn by Kerry Hudson. It follows the author’s childhood growing up in some of the most deprived areas of the UK. Hudson’s resilience, grace and humility is staggering. She’s an absolute inspiration.

Favourite Scottish book?

Gentlemen of The West by Agnes Owens. How powerful it is to read about the west coast of Scotland from a true working-class writer. I love the episodic tale of unemployed ‘Mac,’ as he searches for hope and swings between the local pub, with its chorus of Glaswegian characters, and his nagging mother’s claustrophobic flat. I find this books combines all the reality and brutality of a hard-drinking, post-industrial landscape, with Owens’s own perspective as a mother of seven. It’s a surprisingly tender and special thing.

Guilty pleasure?

No book is a guilty pleasure! But I have read As Meat Loves Salt, by Maria McCann about six or seven times. I’m always swept away by the historical detail of this gay romance. Set in the 17th century, at the time of the English civil war, it’s the tale of two soldiers who fall in and then out of love with each other. The protagonist, ‘Jacob,’ is an violent, unstable brute, but somehow the author makes us care for him anyway. This book does for me what Wuthering Heights might do for others – anyway, it certainly rips my bodice.

Most interesting or unusual use of a book?

Growing up, the only books in our house were those fake leather-y looking ones that housed VHS cassettes. The fact that my mother did that still makes me laugh. Imagine opening what you hoped was James Joyce and getting four episodes of Dallas.

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