Bay of Plenty Times

Literacy and drug addiction tackled

- The Gift of Words by Josie Laird, Published by Swooping Kereru, $29.99

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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