The overnight success of Shuggie Bain

Did you hear that sound, the evening in October when Douglas Stuart was pronounced the winner of the prestigious 2020 Booker Prize for his novel, Shuggie Bain? Faint but insistent, that was the sound of hard-working, ever-hopeful, but so far unrecognised, writers up and down the land giving a little cheer. And that cheer said, yes! It is possible for a debut author to become an overnight success – as long as they’re prepared to work at it for years and years.

What a win it was! If you were in any doubt that this was a Big Thing, the presentation took place in the presence – albeit virtual – of the Duchess of Cornwall and President Obama. And, unlike last year, the judges’ decision was unanimous and speedy. They took only an hour to decide.

Though the verdict was fast, it was hardly a meteoric rise to fame for Douglas Stuart’s novel, which is based on his Glasgow childhood, growing up with poverty and addiction. Ten years in the writing, it was only picked up by Picador (all praise to them) after no less than thirty-two other publishers gave it the thumbs down.

To any writers – published or unpublished – the message is clear. If you hold your nerve, keep writing, keep trying, who knows, maybe in ten years’ time, it could be you bagging a Booker, while Camilla and Barack applaud from the sidelines?



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