Bay of Plenty Times

Lit­er­acy and drug ad­dic­tion tack­led

- The Gift of Words by Josie Laird, Pub­lished by Swoop­ing Kereru, $29.99 Society · New Zealand · Google

With pow­er­ful themes that tackle lit­er­acy and metham­phetamine ad­dic­tion, New Zealand author Josie Laird de­liv­ers another heart-warm­ing main­stream fic­tion read.

We asked her some ques­tions:

Can you tell us a lit­tle about your new novel?

The Gift of Words is about Sharon, a widow strug­gling with a son who’s ad­dicted to metham­phetamine (also known as P). Her se­cret shame is that she is barely lit­er­ate, and this be­comes more im­por­tant when she takes over the care of her young grand­daugh­ter.

tack­les some big themes, can you share with us some of the themes you ex­plore?

The Gift of Words

The main is­sue is lit­er­acy. Sharon is iso­lated be­cause of her in­abil­ity to be fully in­volved in so­ci­ety. I wanted to show how an ordinary New Zealan­der can hide and hurt, even though she is not stupid.

I also wanted to show how a drug ad­dict’s fam­ily suf­fers, es­pe­cially a mother. Then, be­cause her son can’t look af­ter his child, Sharon must be­come one of the many thou­sands of grand­par­ents tak­ing over the care of their grand­child.

What re­search did you have to do to write this novel?

The best re­search I did was at­tend an expo on meth ad­dic­tion, where many of my pre­con­cep­tions were busted. There are some amaz­ing peo­ple out there do­ing what they can to help ad­dicts and their fam­i­lies.

Does any of the novel re­late to your own life?

I was an adult lit­er­acy tu­tor for five years. I haven’t used any­one’s sto­ries from that time, as pri­vacy is para­mount to the trust we built. That ex­pe­ri­ence though showed me that many peo­ple lack skills through cir­cum­stances be­yond their con­trol. They end up feel­ing as if they are un­in­tel­li­gent. I ad­mire those who have the courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion to seek help and change their lives.

How im­por­tant do you think lit­er­acy is in a per­son’s life?

Some peo­ple can be sur­pris­ingly in­no­va­tive in how they deal with their low lev­els of lit­er­acy. How­ever, I won­der how much bet­ter their lives could be if their lit­er­acy was im­proved. So much of our world is now based on email, signs and in­struc­tions, Google searches, that I think it must be lim­it­ing to be ex­cluded from that.

Can you name a cou­ple of au­thors you ad­mire and their books?

Stephanie Parkyn, a Kiwi, who has writ­ten two mag­nif­i­cent his­tor­i­cal nov­els re­cently, Into The World and Josephine’s Gar­den. Her im­pres­sive re­search is wo­ven seam­lessly into the story.

Jesse Blackadder, an Aus­tralian author, for her book Sixty Sec­onds. It’s the story of how a fam­ily re­acts when tragedy strikes. Each char­ac­ter is drawn so clearly.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m tack­ling a his­tor­i­cal novel based on a real woman who came from York­shire to the Hokianga in 1839. It in­volves much more re­search than I’m used to, yet her story is one that is beg­ging to be told. I’m try­ing to do it jus­tice.

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