Scottish author wins 2020 Booker Prize

Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart has won the Booker Prize for his debut novel Shuggie Bain.
Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart has won the Booker Prize for his debut novel Shuggie Bain.

Scottish writer Douglas Stuart has won the 2020 Booker Prize for fiction for Shuggie Bain, a novel about a boy's turbulent coming of age in hard-scrabble 1980s Glasgow that was turned down by 32 publishers before being picked up.

Stuart, 44, won the prestigious 50,000 pound ($A91,031) award for his first published novel, the product of a decade of work.

He was the only UK-born author on a US-dominated list of six finalists for the prize, which is open to English-language novels from around the world.

A former fashion designer who is based in New York, Stuart drew on his own experiences growing up gay in economically ravaged Thatcher-era Glasgow for the story of young Shuggie and his relationship with his alcoholic mother, Agnes. Stuart dedicated the book to own mother, who died when he was 16.

"My mother is in every page of this book, and without her I wouldn't be here and my work wouldn't be here," said Stuart, who declared himself "absolutely stunned" to win.

The novel's sweep, vivid characters and unflinching look at poverty have been compared to the work of Charles Dickens, but Stuart said it was rejected repeatedly before being published by Grove Atlantic in the US and Picador in the UK

Stuart told reporters after his victory that publishers praised his book but "didn't know how to connect it with readers.

"Working-class Scotland was difficult for them," Stuart said. He said his victory was a sign that "we are starting to hear and be able to respect diverse voices."

Stuart was chosen from a shortlist dominated by US-based writers from diverse backgrounds.

The coronavirus pandemic scuttled the Booker's traditional black-tie dinner ceremony at London's medieval Guildhall.

Instead, the winner announcement was broadcast online and on radio from London's Roundhouse arts venue, with virtual appearances by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and former US President Barack Obama.

In a video message, Obama praised the power of fiction "to put ourselves in someone else's shoes, understand their struggles, and imagine new ways to tackle complex problems and effect change".

The Booker Prize usually brings the victor a huge boost in sales and profile, and often sparks a debate about the state of the English-language literary scene.

Australian Associated Press