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Shuggie goes to Tinseltown

Shuggie goes to Tinseltown

Well that didn’t take long. Precisely two weeks after Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain was announced as the 2020 Booker Prize winner, news arrives that the hotshot Hollywood producers Scott Rudin and Eli Bush have bought the rights to the book and will be turning it into a television series. Rudin and Bush can number a plethora of big hits to their names – Lady Bird, Ex Machina, No Country For Old Men, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Social Network among them – so Shuggie Bain is in hands used to sprinkling a bit of stardust as it makes the journey from down-and-out Glasgow to the Hollywood hills. Next question. . . who gets to play Agnes and Shuggie?

Some things just seem right, and one of them is the news that Picador, Douglas Stuart’s publisher, is donating 300 copies of Shuggie Bain to Glasgow’s Streetreads project – an initiative that gives support, accommodation and books to homeless people. A representative said: “We asked our teams and service users which books they would wish for and Shuggie Bain came top of the list. It is a story of a tough life, love and compassion which will resonate with many.” Resonate is spot on, since the novel tells of a boy growing up in Glasgow in tough circumstances and tough times. Hopefully Shuggie’s story will offer a glimmer of hope since there’s often a vanishingly fine line between fiction and fact.

Before Bernardine Evaristo took up the pen she took to the stage. Her earliest training was in drama, first at the Greenwich Young People's Theatre and later at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama in Sidcup. How apt then that Evaristo has just been installed as president of the latter institution, making her the first black female president of a major drama school. “I think it’s really good to have a black woman as the head, even if it’s the titular head of a drama school, because it makes a very powerful statement,” said Evaristo of her elevation. “It’s really important that it should be Rose Bruford where I am the president, because 40 years ago I was there as a student and in many ways that college was the making of me.” After leaving the college in 1982 she went on to co-found the Theatre of Black Women. Had her acting career taken a different path Evaristo might never have become a novelist – a sliding doors moment if ever there was one.

One more drop in Evaristo’s overflowing cup. . . she has just been immortalised in paint, three times. Evaristo was one of the sitters for Sky Arts’ Portrait Artist of the Year and for a woman used to activity, sitting still for three hours cannot have come naturally. Also immortalised, though on the far side of the world, are the costumes that took starring roles in the television adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s Booker prize winning The Luminaries. A selection of sets, props and frocks from the series has been given to Hokitika Museum – near where some of the programmes were filmed – and will take pride of place. Writing Booker Prize-winning novels is clearly not the only way to become part of cultural history.

Some authors are notoriously slow workers but it is fully 10 years since Monica Ali last produced a novel. Way back in 2003 Ali was named on Granta’s “Best of Young British Novelists” list - the same year Brick Lane was published, for which she gained a Man Booker Prize (as it then was) shortlisting. Three more novels followed in decent time and then, after Untold Story in 2011, silence. The intervening decade, however, has seen Ali working on a new fiction, Love Marriage, to be published by Virago after what has been described as a “heated” five-way auction to secure the book. The story concerns two young doctors, Yasmin and Joe, and their meeting “leads to the unravelling of long-held secrets, lies and betrayals”. Readers shouldn’t get their hopes up – or orders in – just yet though: the book is not due for publication until Spring 2022. After so long a break, what’s another year?