Douglas Stuart, author of Booker Prize-shortlisted Shuggie Bain, shares his favourite Scottish books

The author of Booker Prize-shortlisted debut novel Shuggie Bain shares his top books set in Scotland. 

03/09/2020
2 minutes to read

Douglas Stuart was born and raised in Glasgow before he moved to New York where he began a career in fashion design. Douglas returns to the streets of his childhood in his blistering debut novel Shuggie Bain, which is one of just six novels shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize and left the judges 'bowled-over by this first novel, which creates an amazingly intimate, compassionate, gripping portrait of addiction, courage and love.'

Set in the 1980s in a dying Glasgow where families struggle to survive, the book tells the story of Shuggie’s upbringing in a decimated mining town as he fights to help his alcoholic mother escape to a better life. Here, Douglas shares some of his favourite Scottish books. 

In the announcement of the shortlist, Booker Prize judge, author and broadcaster, Lemn Sissay, shared: 'every one of these books is an experience which has inspired us, and therefore will inspire the reader.' Watch the full video of the Booker Prize shortlist announcement, below.

Young Adam

by Alexander Trocchi

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Young Adam is a brilliant literary debut from Alexander Trocchi. Set on the canal which runs between Edinburgh and Glasgow, the novel follows Joe, who works as a barge hand. When he and the skipper he works for find the corpse of a young woman in the water tensions are high, and continue to rise when Joe seduces the skipper’s wife. 

Morvern Callar

by Alan Warner

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Morvern Callar, a low-paid supermarket worker in a remote Highland seaport, wakes one morning to find that her long-term boyfriend has committed suicide. He leaves behind the novel he has written with instructions on how to get it published. Morvern doesn’t follow his instructions though, and the shocking decision she makes offers her an escape from the small-town life that is slowly suffocating her. 

Gentlemen of the West

by Agnes Owens

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This is the story of a young, out-of-work brickie in Glasgow. Moving between the corner pub and the small tenement flat he shares with his mother, he searches for direction in life. It’s a warm, moving portrait of working-class life from a true working-class writer.

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

by Janice Galloway

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Struggling to deal with the deaths of her mother and her lover, Joy Stone desperately tries to find the trick to keep living. As anorexia and alcoholism threaten to overwhelm her, Joy’s world becomes ever more narrow. This dark yet funny novel is an honest and often shocking portrait of a woman destroying herself. 

Trainspotting

by Irvine Welsh

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Irvine Welsh’s most famous novel was adapted into the controversial but much-loved film starring Ewan McGregor and directed by Danny Boyle. Following a group of junkies and friends living in Edinburgh, this is a powerful, disturbing and often very funny portrayal of addiction. 

A Glasgow Trilogy

by George Friel

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These three stories paint a vivid portrait of life in the streets, schools and tenements of 1950s and 60s Glasgow. The Boy Who Wanted Peace is a parable of greed and religion, Miss Partridge is an elderly woman who develops a disturbing obsession, while Mr Alfred M.A. charts the mental collapse of a middle-aged schoolteacher.  Full of humour, realism and moral concern, these stories present a vision of loneliness, longing and the cruelty of youth. 

How Late it Was, How Late

by James Kelman

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This Man Booker Prize-winning novel is a dark political parable written in the language of the Scottish working-class. When Glaswegian ex-con Sammy wakes up in a jail cell after a bender, he discovers that he has gone completely blind. As he starts to search for his girlfriend who has disappeared, life gets even worse . . . 

His Bloody Project

by Graeme Macrae Burnet

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Set in a remote Scottish crofting community in the year 1869, this Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel is the story of a bright young man called Roderick Macrae who is arrested for a brutal triple murder. It’s clear from his memoir that he is guilty, but can his advocate uncover why he committed the crime and save him from the gallows?

The Young Team

by Graeme Armstrong

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In the forgotten heartlands of Scotland, your mates, your young team, they're everything you've got. At fourteen Azzy Williams is a rising star. At seventeen he's out of control. And by twenty-one, he'd like to leave it all behind, but finding a way out isn't easy.

The Young Team is an energetic novel, full of the loyalty, laughs and violence of life on the streets. This powerful story about the realities of life for young people in Britain today is inspired by the author's own teenage experiences.

Shuggie Bain

by Douglas Stuart

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Set in a poverty-stricken Glasgow in the early 1980s, Douglas Stuart’s blistering, Booker Prize-longlisted debut is a heartbreaking story which lays bare the ruthlessness of poverty and the limits of love. Agnes Bain has always dreamed of greater things, but when her husband abandons her she finds herself trapped in a decimated mining town with her three children, and descends deeper and deeper into drink. Her son Shuggie tries to help Agnes long after her other children have fled, but he too must abandon her to save himself. Shuggie is different, fastidious and fussy, and he is picked on by the local children and condemned by adults as ‘no’ right’. But he believes that if he tries his hardest he can be like other boys and escape this hopeless place.


See the Booker Prize shortlist announcement, with comments from the judges, below.