ALL things considered, Douglas Stuart has had a good November. It might be about to get even better. This week Stuart’s debut novel Shuggie Bain was named Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year by the bookseller. Last week Nicola Sturgeon, no less, named the novel as one of her books of the year in the New Statesman. And later this evening it’s possible that Stuart will pick up the biggest literary prize at all.

According to the bookies, Shuggie Bain is the favourite to pick up this year’s Booker Prize, which is announced tonight. If he wins, he will be only the second Scottish author to pick up the award, following James Kelman who was a controversial winner in 1994 with his novel How Late It Was, How Late.


Winning the Booker would mark a remarkable end to a remarkable year for Stuart. Shuggie Bain was published in the United States, where he now lives, in February to great acclaim. More praise followed when the book was published in the UK in August. All this for a debut novel.

The novel, which was more than a decade in the writing, is a fierce yet tender account of poverty, addiction and queerness in 1980s Glasgow. Stuart’s own life contained all of these elements. As he told The Herald Magazine in August, “Shuggie is definitely a work of fiction, although I am the queer son of a single mother who lost her battle to addiction.”

Read More: Douglas Stuart - The Herald Magazine interview

The novel is the story of a young boy, Shuggie, and his alcoholic mother Agnes. From the outside it could be dismissed as poverty porn, but it’s a novel that, while not hiding from any of the painful reality of their difficult lives, is full of love, compassion and an understanding that comes from lived experience.

“He shows us lots of monstrous behaviour, but not a single monster — only damage,” Leah Hager Cohen wrote when reviewing the book in the New York Times. “If he has a sharp eye for brokenness, he is even keener on the inextinguishable flicker of love that remains.”

“To see a Scottish voice embraced in this way especially in America — and a book that is written in very broad Glaswegian dialect — has been phenomenal,” Stuart has said. “It has just been so encouraging and I feel really proud of that.”

Stuart, who was born in Sighthill and grew up in the east end of Glasgow, was raised on benefits. “Working class is a stretch,” he told The Herald Magazine, “because I never knew my single mother to work.” He was bullied every day, he says, from the age of seven to the age of 14 because he was considered different. He was also the victim of homophobic violence.

Meanwhile at home he was living with a mother who was living with an addiction. “Alcohol was always a factor in my childhood and even if my mother was in a period of sobriety there was always an unpredictability to how long that would last and when it would lapse. And so, it was always the mountain you could see, whether you were on the mountain or just beyond it.”

Stuart was 16 when his mother died. But after her death he committed himself to education while fending for himself. “I had to work four nights a week in Texas Homebase, and all day Saturday and all day Sunday, just to get through high school.”

He left Glasgow at the age of 18 to study textiles in Galashiels.Stuart then went to the Royal College of Art in London where his degree show earned him a job with Calvin Klein in New York.

He has worked in fashion for the last two decades, but with Shuggie Bain he has fulfilled a lifetime’s dream to be a writer.

He is now a writer full-time. As well as the novel he has also written short stories for the New Yorker.

In August he told the Herald Magazine about his plans for a second book. “I am writing essentially a love story between two Glaswegian boys who are separated along sectarian lines that I’m putting the final touches on now. It’s about toxic masculinity and what we expect young men to be and the narrow ways we expect them to be in the world.”