Alexander Masters’ Stuart: A Life Backwards, about a homeless man, has won The Guardian First Book award, beating out aapro Suketu among others. Masters met Stuart in 1998 when he was interviewing homeless people for a Cambridge newspaper, and began slowly collecting Stuart stories. In July 2002, Stuart killed himself.
It can’t have been easy to write Stuart’s story.
If Masters picks the wrong day to talk to Stuart about being raped, for example – if it is not “at the end of an untroubled week, when he has money to spend from the dole, so there’s a distraction to look forward to in the evening” – Stuart “drinks, cuts himself, and then injects citric acid”.
I wonder if Masters thinks his questions ever made Stuart worse, maybe pushed him over the edge? “I don’t know,” he says. “It has occurred to me. He was questioning himself all the time, anyway, but that doesn’t get me out of it, because I was focusing the question and giving it a sort of a push. And there were times when it was uncomfortable, and he’d have to tell me to stop. It could have made him worse. I hope it didn’t. I don’t think I would have gone on had I felt it was making him worse”.