Douglas Stuart: “I had no wonder in me, I grew up knowing the value of hard work” – Livres Hebdo

Toxic masculinity, alcoholism, poverty, violence… Shuggie Bath addresses several themes, what is the central message?

Love! The message is how love endures when attacked on multiple fronts. One cannot write a book on the Glasgow of 1899 without mentioning the political aspect. There is unemployment, poverty, violence, misogyny and homophobia… But they are just there to test love. My only goal was to write a love story between a son and his mother.

A sad love…
Yes it is a sad love, but also resilient. Shuggie’s mother constantly disappoints him, but he comes back every time. He never judges her. He loves her and hopes tomorrow will be a better day. Shuggie is an engineer of hope. Children can overcome more than you think.

How does this book draw on your background?
I have a similar experience to Shuggie: I grew up as poor as him, I’m my mother’s youngest child, as far back as I can remember, she always suffered from alcoholism, until she died on my 16th birthday. I am also queer and I grew up in a patriarchal environment. I understand loneliness, isolation, poverty, loss and how to live with addiction. I wanted to take all of these things and turn them into a work of fiction. But I rely on several voices in my book, and not just those of Shuggie and his mother Agnes.

The book is also a plea for feminism…
I wanted it to be a feminist book. That time (editor’s note: industrial period of Scotland, end of the 19e century) is a world where everything is defined by what man does. For leisure, we talk about football, for socializing, it’s pub… It’s all about the man. I wanted to put the men against the wall, in the background. I wanted to focus on the real force of the time, which for me is women. But I also wanted to give a voice to men queer who were invisible, which at the time was the best thing that could happen to them, the worst being being bullied.

Very often, only independent publishing houses can take a real risk in literature.
Douglas Stuart

What motivated you to write?

There was an enormous silence on this world. He was always portrayed through the prism of heterosexual men. I wanted to fill this silence, because my mother had been dead for 30 years and I realized that no one thought of her anymore. She was a working-class woman and she disappeared.

Your book was refused by more than thirty publishers, how did you feel at that moment?
I had some acceptance. I haven’t changed a word, not moved a comma. The book has a soul. If they rejected it, it was not a book for them. I believed in Shuggie and his perseverance. I couldn’t ask my character to be persistent and not be myself.

Shuggie Bath is finally accepted by an independent publisher. For you, what does the place of independent publishers represent in the book market?
Very often, only independent publishing houses can take a real risk in literature. I am aware that the publishing world is a bourgeois milieu. Now, this is a book about the working class, and some have trouble recognizing this world. The independent publisher believed in Shuggie. Moreover, France is one of the countries to have translated the work first, while some English publishers still refused it.

From childhood, we are reminded of who we are, where we belong and what is expected of us. Nothing is expected of us.
Douglas Stuart

From an underprivileged child in Glasgow, to the life of a designer in New York, to a Booker Prize-winning author. How do you view your journey?

I never considered myself a talented person. I didn’t have a prodigy in me, but I grew up knowing the value of hard work. I’m not trying to be humble. I had to work twice as hard as the others. During the ten years that I wrote Shuggie Bath, I never told anyone about it. I was afraid of being judged:who does he think he is writing a book for?“I had very little self-confidence. I think this is partly linked to my social origins. From childhood, we are reminded of who we are, where we belong and what is expected of us. expect nothing from us.

You have often said that you grew up in a “house without books”. When did you start reading, and what books made an impression on you?
It was quite common not to have a book at home. In my neighborhood, no one read, but that didn’t make us any less curious or creative. Around the age of 16, while I was trying to succeed in school, my English teacher offered me books to read. The first one I read is Tess d’Urberville by Thomas Hardy. Literature has turned my world upside down.

Douglas Stuart- Photo DAHLIA GIRGIS

Can you tell me about your second forthcoming book, Young Mungo ?
It will be published in April 2022 in English and translated into French, still by Globe. At the end of Shuggie Bath, the character is left at the onset of adulthood. I didn’t want to develop his loves and desires, because the subject of the book was about his love for his mother. So I had this need to talk abouthomosexuality from another point of view. Mung (editor’s note: diminutive of Kentigern of Glasgowlisten)) is the patron saint of Glasgow. But my Mungo is a 15 year old boy living in the late 19e century in the eastern suburbs of the city. He is involved in petty crime. His family has little hope for him. He lives in a neighborhood where the tension between Catholics and Protestants is high. Him young Protestant falls in love with a young Catholic. For me, different masculinities and where you belong are exciting writing topics.

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Douglas Stuart: “I had no wonder in me, I grew up knowing the value of hard work” – Livres Hebdo