Booker Prize: Douglas Stuart becomes only the second Scot to win prestigious book award with Shuggie Bain

The only British-born nominee shortlisted for the Booker Prize has triumphed with his debut novel after judges were explicitly told to pick only one winner after controversy last year.

Douglas Stuart has become only the second ever Scottish winner of the prestigious £50,000 award for his first work Shuggie Bain.

The novel is “not an easy read” and is based on growing witnessing the alcohol addiction of his mother during the 1980s in his native Glasgow.

"My mother is on every page of this book and without her, I wouldn’t be here" he said after being announced the winner. 

Stuart was the only writer to feature on the 2020 shortlist who was from the UK, but judges said they did not select him to appease those opposed to international and particularly US success in the Booker.

Last year's decision to award a dual prize – to Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo – caused controversy

Credit: RII SCHROER

Booker Prize bosses did however move to quell discontent among prize purists sparked by the selection of Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo as dual winners last year despite clear rules against this.

A directive was given to the 2020 judging panel stipulating they could only pick one winner this year, even if this was decided by majority vote instead of a unanimous decision.

Months of reading and judgement ended yesterday with a smooth one hour discussion in which the sole British-born nominee and only white man on the diverse shortlist was named the winner.

“It wasn’t something we set out to do,” chairwoman of the judging panel and literary critic Margaret Busby said.  

“We were not trying to tick boxes or think what people were going to say about us choosing this and not that.”

Since 2014 US authors have been eligible for Britain’s preeminent literary prize, with calls in some quarters for a reversal of the rule changes after a strong of American winners.

Last year there was further annoyance for prize sticklers when two winners were announced, contravening rules established in 1993.  

But literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation Gaby Wood said: “Last year there was a rule break.  

“This year they were under strict instruction this year’s judges not to choose two winners.”

There will be further insurance against controversial rebellions from judges in future, and the perceived unfairness of splitting the £50,000 prize money.  

Barack Obama spoke at the Covid-affected ceremony in London

Credit: PA

UK writer Ms Evaristo was significantly less commercially successful than Ms Atwood, with whom she shared the award in 2019.

Ms Wood said: “If it does have to go to a voet then the majority vote will be honoured.  This is a prefatory note that goes to the judges now.”

Stuart bested competition from US author Diane Cook,  Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga, Dubai-based American Avni Doshi, Ethiopian-American Maaza Mengiste, and another US writer in Brandon Taylor.

Two-time winner Dame Hilary Mantel did not make the final cut despite making the longlist this year.

Glasgow-born Stuart has become only the second Scottish winner after James Kelman’s book How Late It Was, How Late was picked in 1994 to the consternation of judges shocked by its use of dialect words.

Stuart was nevertheless inspired by the novel, and judge Ms Busby said his own work Shuggie Bain was “not an easy read but a very worthy winner”.

His win was announced by the Duchess of Cornwall during a virtual ceremony, at which former US president Barack Obama extolled the virtues of literature.

Shuggie Bain is about Stuart's mother and her struggle with alcoholism

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

After being announced as the winner, Douglas Stuart thanked his mother, saying said: "My mother is in every page of this book and without her, I wouldn’t be here and my work wouldn’t be here."

Stuart said she "would be proud" and "thrilled" about his achievement.

He added: "I know I’m only the second Scottish book in 50 years to have won and that means, I think, a lot for regional voices, for working-class stories, so thank you.

"Thank you to the people of Scotland, especially Glaswegians, whose empathy and humour and love and struggle are in every word of this book."

Delving into an almost Dickension atmosphere of alcoholism and youthful struggle, the Shuggie Bain shows “compassion without pity” and makes Glasgow a “character in its own right”.

It is based on Stuart’s own childhood  growing up in the city during the Thatcher years with a mother battling an ultimately fatal addiction which killed her when the novelist was 16.

Stuart graduated from Royal College of Art before moving to New York to start a career in fashion design, and began while writing in his spare time.  

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