Mum's the word
With a book of short stories out and letters from her mother to come next year, Laura Hird tells Brian Donaldson why she is pleased to be putting something back.
The image of the self-obsessed author hammering away at their keyboard in pursuit of their own fame and fortune is not one which Laura Hird would readily recognise. While she may not have produced a book since Born Free in 1999, the Edinburgh writer has been far from idle. She has set up her own website which has not simply consisted of her own musings with a picture gallery of ‘here’s me at my posh reading’ or ‘here’s me on holiday with my cats’ but has provided a platform for the best new Scottish and international writing. Plus, Hird teaches at the Arvon Foundation, the creative writing centre she has been connected to ever since she worked voluntarily as a teenager addressing envelopes for their newsletter.
There is another more personal reason why it has taken Hird such a lengthy period of time to get her work back on the shelf. ‘My mum died just prior to Born Free being published and for a while I just didn’t have the stomach to write any more,’ she recalls. ‘It seemed insensitive to make characters up when I should have spent more time getting to know my own parents better. We were very close but both my writing and life in general meant I wasn’t always there for them when they needed me.’ Perhaps as a way of thanking her mother for being a key inspiration, Hird is releasing a book called Dear Laura early in 2007. ‘The book features letters my mum wrote to me during the time I was a student in London in the late 1980s and early 90s,’ Hird reveals. ‘At the time my friends and I would take turns and read them out loud to help combat our homesickness and we’d invariably end up in tears or uncontrollable laughter.’
When Hird’s mum died in 1999, the author took great comfort from those correspondences once again and as well as the letters, Dear Laura contains Hird’s thoughts about her life away from home, her parents’ early lives and her later relationship with them, holding back none of the regrets and memories. ‘It was an emotional book to work on, but I could not resist the opportunity to finally get a book of my mum’s out there.’
For now though, June’s little girl has her own work back in the literary arena with Hope and Other Urban Stories, her second set of short tales, after 1997’s Nail and Other Stories. The new book is infused with Hird’s trademark depiction of tough working class life (tough, yes, but with a tender soul) whether it be an elderly lady doling out wisdom or a bunch of Hearts fans preparing for their pal’s funeral. Amid all the hope, there are some pretty grim moments in there, but Hird is never one to shy away from getting her metaphorical hands dirty. ‘I would only worry about how some of my older, more sensitive friends might react to reading the harsher stories, but generally, I just warn them if there’s something I think they’ll find unpleasant. And to be honest they are all very open-minded and encouraging and always make a point of buying copies of my books rather than asking for freebies.’
Hope and Other Stories is out now published by Canongate. www.laurahird.com