BOOKER Prize-longlisted author Douglas Stuart has made the astonishing leap from his poor, working-class childhood in Glasgow to a hugely successful career as a fashion designer for the likes of Calvin Klein and Banana Republic, living in New York – but the four years he spent in the “nurturing” environment of Galashiels, he says, are full of memories that will always have a warm place in his heart.

Stuart, 44, will be appearing online for the Borders Book Festival this Sunday (September 13) talking about his unforgettable debut novel Shuggie Bain, a work of fiction based on his childhood in Pollok, the son of an alcoholic single mother who died when he was 17.

The book, which has been called beautiful, bleak and intense, was written partly to prove that he could but also, Stuart admits, as a way of keeping hold of a past that has become increasingly distant and unreal.

“I feel like two very separate people; the boy who grew up in Glasgow, in poverty, who lost his mother to addiction; and then the guy who’s living in New York,” Stuart told the Border Telegraph.

“Sitting down to write the book 12 years ago was about anchoring my own personal history and making it real, and also bringing two halves of a person together because they feel like very disjointed halves.”

READ MORE: Borders Book Festival 2020: The online line-up for September and October

It was one particular high school art teacher who was the impetus for Stuart to break away from his poor background and, arguably, the reason for his success.

He said: “At 17 years old I was rattled by my mother’s death, I was by myself, the first person in my family to finish high school, living in a bedsit, going to school every day, working four nights a week, working all the weekend.

“I was a young man in turmoil, and my teacher saw me trying to do something; she saw me trying to go somewhere but I had no-one to tell me, ‘This is what you can do'.

“I just had an art teacher who sat me down and said, ‘Look, you’re a very creative kid. You’ve missed too much academia, you can’t be a biologist – you’re a creative kid and, as a creative kid, you’re also from the trades'.

“And textiles are just a trade-based, art-based skill, more than sculpting or fine art or performance art, so textiles in the early 90s was seen as a way to, if I wasn’t great at designing, I could work in a factory or I could make cloth.”

It was thanks to this advice that Stuart ended up in Galashiels at the Heriot-Watt University School of Textiles and Design.

“It was not a risky proposition for me,” he said. “I think she had the foresight to see that within me, to see me as a complete person.

“So she’s one of my saviours in life. My high school art teacher.”

Border Telegraph:

But even with his success, and even without the evidence of the graphic bleakness of Shuggie Bain, Stuart’s background clearly never left him.

As he neared the dizzying peaks of high fashion in New York, he felt increasingly uncomfortable around the trappings of wealth.

“In a way I had everything that everybody had dreamed of; everybody I went to college with would have given their eye teeth to have been designing collections and doing these things where your boss would turn to you and say, ‘How can you make that more expensive? We don’t want people to afford it'.

“But I felt so sick about it.

“I was like, I hate this, I hate the people I’m around, I hate how they talk, I hate the things they’re interested in, I hate how they think of other people… There was no compassion, it was just about how fancy could you make something.

“And as a boy whose mother bought everything for him from a catalogue or even used cigarette coupons to buy a school jacket, I was just like ‘uh’.

“So I thought I’d fulfilled some of my dreams coming to New York but the first two or three years were horrifically unsettling for me.”

But the author admits he has felt unsettled for much of his life.

“I’ve always felt not enough in any dimension and part of that is just growing up queer in a real working man’s world.

“You never quite exist properly where you’re meant to exist and you’re always outside the Venn diagram of how people are meant to be.

“And that’s the notion of my entire life; when I ended up in America, people couldn’t understand me because I was broad Glaswegian; when I come home to Glasgow, people don’t think I sound especially Glaswegian.

“So I’ve just learned to cope with never quite being enough of what people expect of me, and you just plough on.”

Border Telegraph:

He learned to plough on when he moved to Galashiels, surrounded by young people who did not share and could not understand his background.

“Other kids just look at you, they don’t have any ability to assume that you’re different from them, that you didn’t come from a two-parent household, that you didn’t come from the same sort of background as them,” he said.

“Not in a bad way, it’s just how young people are, so you don’t ever get to express it because there’s such an enormous shame around poverty and addiction.”

But, he said, his four years in Galashiels were “amazing”.

“When I was thinking about the college I wanted to go to I chose Galashiels because I wanted to be in the world of women.

“It was an incredibly comforting, peaceful, loving, supportive place to be.

“I was the only boy in my year, out of 30 students, and there was no boy in the year above me and no boy in the year below me, so I was literally just this man in a world of women.

“It was incredible for me because after all the disruption in my early childhood it was such a nurturing place to be.

“And I think it still is a nurturing place to be and that’s why I loved my time at Galashiels. It was great. I loved it.”

To see Douglas Stuart in conversation with Kirsty Wark on September 13, go to

The Borders Book Festival is sponsored by Baillie Gifford.