Booker Prize-winning author Douglas Stuart has opened up about his difficult upbringing in Glasgow and how it influenced his next novel as he was interviewed by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Stuart, who won multiple awards for his debut work Shuggie Bain, spoke to Sturgeon in front of a live audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
The First Minister was able to attend the event at the Edinburgh College of Art after testing negative for Covid-19.
She had been self-isolating after being identified as a close contact of someone with the virus.
Stuart discussed the influences behind Shuggie Bain before giving a reading from his next book Young Mungo, which will be published in April next year.
He said the new book was written before he was long listed for the Booker Prize and “comes from a personal place”.
He said: “It’s a story about two young men. Writing Shuggie asked me a question. It asked me about Shuggie’s sexuality, it asked me about what we did to young men, working class men, what we expect of them, how we hurt them, as we do.
“And I couldn’t answer that in this book… so I wanted to go away and look at two teenage boys growing up in 1991 in the East End of Glasgow, one of the most deprived neighbourhoods like I grew up in myself, and just sort of think about masculinity in that way.
“So these two boys are divided by territorial gangs, scheme gangs, but they fall in love across the divide.
“The book is told in two separate parts, where we look at Glasgow and the blossoming of their love, but then the protagonist is sent to the north of Scotland, he doesn’t know where, to make a man out of him.
“It’s a trip that has disastrous consequences for everyone involved.”
Stuart spoke about his background and the struggles of growing up with an alcohol addicted mother and how it shaped his work.
Sturgeon said addiction “at its heart” is about stigma, “about people feeling they cannot come forward for the help that they need”.
“We’ve got so much more to do in Scotland as I’ m sure in many countries to help people suffering from addiction,” she said, adding that Shuggie Bain helped humanise the problem.
Stuart’s mother died when he was 16 and he said from his first memories she struggled with alcoholism.
The author, who now lives in New York and was appearing at his first ever live UK event, said he always felt “incredibly lonely” trying to cope.
He said we “often blame women harder than men when they suffer” and that addiction is less visible in women.
Asked by Sturgeon what his mother would think of the book, he said: “I think she would be incredibly proud… she would have bought tons of copies and have been up and down the scheme and handing them out.”
He said the book was not autobiographical but he drew on growing up “queer in a place that was incredibly masculine”.
He said he was rejected by the children around him but that he was afraid tell his family.
“I was so fearful that if I said to my mum or I said to my brother, you know, ‘This is what they are doing’, that they would be like, ‘Oh, you are like that?’” he said.
Stuart told Sturgeon that he would soon be coming home to live in Scotland.
“I think Shuggie was a way to bring myself home first, to reconnect with the city and I’m just so, so excited,” he said.