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Interview: Josie Laird talks about The Gift of Words

Josie Laird is a self-sufficiency enthusiast who lives on a lifestyle farm outside Auckland. She trained as a scientist and worked as a laboratory assistant, pharmaceutical rep, and in the medical publishing world. She is a beekeeper, chicken-herder, tree-planter and is addicted to solar energy. She makes a reasonable scone, but prefers to make jams, jellies and pickles from excess produce. Her first book, All About Kate, was published in 2019.

Can you tell us a little about The Gift of Words?

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.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was an adult literacy tutor for five years and I was amazed at the variety of people who sought help. I wanted to show how someone could struggle with literacy because of things in their past that they had no control over.

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

I was fortunate to 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.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

The first draft was written in November a few years ago, as part of a world-wide challenge called Nanowrimo. For me, it involved writing two thousand words each day. After I reached my daily target, I’d go for a walk and think about the next day’s scenes. It helped keep the creativity coming without my critical editor side undermining me.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Word Crimes, by Weird Al Yankovic. What a laugh!

We don’t need no education, by Pink Floyd.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

Melanie Lynskey would make a great Sharon, while Lee Donoghue would have to get scruffy to play her son Finn.

What did you enjoy most about writing this novel?

Planning the interactions between Sharon and her best friend Debbie. Debbie is a good foil for Sharon and their conversations tended to push Sharon in uncomfortable directions.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I went fishing, without taking my laptop. Sat in the sun and caught snapper!

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Sixty Seconds, by Jesse Blackadder. It’s the story of a family reeling from a tragedy, and how they all cope in their own way. I also enjoyed how each of the three main characters is written from a different point of view, including a very well done second person POV. It took me a while to realise what she’d done, because it worked so well.

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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