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Shuggie goes global

Shuggie goes global

Reactions to Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize win have been hugely positive and hugely varied. They have shown too the reach of the prize; it is not just the big news outlets that covered the announcement but also rather more niche ones. The Yeovil Express, for example, serving a chunk of Somerset, ran a feature on Stuart rather than Shuggie Bain, informing its readers that, among other things, he “holds both British and American passports”. Pink News, a site for the LGBT+ community, also took Stuart’s personal history as its theme: “Gay author wins Booker Prize for ‘emotive’ novel about growing up queer in 1980s Glasgow”. The Chester Standard was another fascinated by Stuart’s personal history, quoting him saying: “I used to think there was no place for me in the literary world.” While the Border Telegraph was suitably exultant: “Former Galashiels student wins Booker prize.”


Meanwhile, Stylist magazine suggested simply: “Add this book to your lockdown reading pile, pronto.” The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, of north Ayrshire, joined in too and was particularly impressed by the participation of HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and President Barack Obama in the ceremony. This was something that struck an awed Vanity Fair too (though with a shaky grasp as to the naming conventions of both the Royal Family and the Booker Prize itself): “Barack Obama and Duchess Camilla were the headliners at the Man Booker prize ceremony.” The Prince of Wales was rightly proud of his wife, his own website noting: “The Duchess of Cornwall sends a video message to the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction winner ceremony.”


Stuart’s Scottishness was a major point of interest, with many outlets reporting on the fact that Shuggie Bain represented Scotland’s first Booker Prize win – and only second overall – since James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late in 1994. The Nation, for example, an independence-supporting news organisation, led its coverage with a discussion of the difficulties supposedly faced by the country’s novelists and publishers. One of its interviewees suggested that “sometimes London prefers a ‘Scottish’ precedent (urban, white, working-class, male) if it’s going to take a risk” so Stuart’s win was a boon in those terms too. The difficulties of being a Scottish novelist were also highlighted by The Scotsman, which noted that Shuggie Bain’s triumph had come too late to save the Scottish Book of the Year awards which had been “shelved for at least 12 months after being turned down for funding”. Such coverage is instructive in that it suggests that Stuart’s win has ramifications way beyond the orbit of the author himself, his publisher and booksellers.


Stuart is by now getting some idea of just what being a Booker Prize winner might mean. He has been talking, talking and talking as every reputable news outlet comes a ‘calling. The BBC, Guardian, Independent, Irish Times, Sunday Post are among those who have secured interviews so far and the queue snakes round the block from Stuart’s East Village New York home. Luckily, the man himself is as lucid and fluent in conversation as he is on the page and it is, perhaps, an unacknowledged gift that novelists are uniquely qualified to find new and inventive ways to answer the same question. He will be discovering too how quickly his words are spun into stories: “Shuggie Bain author Douglas Stuart credits two schoolteachers with changing his life” (Scotsman); “Douglas Stuart hopes Booker win helps working-class writers” (Washington Post); the fact that after reading the novel the film director Ken Loach sent him a fan letter (Guardian); while Stuart’s revelation that he has completed his second novel and is at work on his third was also widely reported. What Stuart says from now on is not just talk but news.

Stuart also let slip one charming snippet about his personal life that finds no reflection in the book. As he wrote, he said, his only reader was his husband, Michael Cary, who is a Picasso specialist and works for the international art behemoth Larry Gagosian. After a day’s work among the pictures Cary was presented with the 900-page manuscript for Shuggie Bain. Stuart does not recall how long it took Cary to work his way through it but the experience was clearly a positive one since the two of them married, after some two decades together, at New York’s City Hall. It just happened to be the very day Stuart signed with his American publisher.