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'l was down in London to do two interviews for the book but I got there and just had a massive panic attack. I got straight back on the train and came back.’

Laura Hird

16 THE "ST 4-18 Nov 1999

We're only too accustomed to the sex and scatology of the modern novel, but Edinburgh author LAURA HIRD creates characters as charming as they are depraved. Words: Hannah McGill Photograph: Peter Ross

FlFTEEN-YEAR-OLD JONI'S HELLBENT ON seducing an older man. Her best friend Rosie‘s exchanging favours for fivers in the back seats of cars. And her brother Jake’s busy getting off on lingerie adverts in Marie Claire. Meanwhile. her mum Angie is getting her extra-marital kicks with a workmate whose dullwittedness does not preclude a keen interest in fraud. And her dad Vic is wearily. woefully striving to make sense of it all.

Laura Hird‘s debut novel Born Free may sound like yet more stomach-churning shockLit. heavy on profanity and light on plot. but for all its graphic imagery and no- holds-barred vocabulary. it’s an oddly life— affirming read. There are vomity pillows. energetic forays into self-abuse. inadequate feminine hygiene products. and enough sexual transgressions to sicken the sickest voyeur

Yet even as they wade from crisis to crisis. Hird‘s characters retain enough self-effacing wit. and let slip enough of their deeply repressed affection for one another. for the end product to be perversely optimistic in its outlook. ‘The idea is to give a voice to people who wouldn't normally be listened to.’ Hird says. She missed her unhappy family once the book was finished. ‘But I don‘t think anyone else did: I became very boring while I was writing it.’

Hird is published by Rebel Inc. which is appropriate given that it was a Rebel Inc reading that kickstarted her writing career. ‘I saw Irvine Welsh and Alan Warner read. and I thought “I could do that“!' she recalls. She sent a story to Rebel Inc supremo Kevin

Williamson; instantly converted. he offered his support. A book of short stories. Nail And Other Stories. followed. and Hird was able to escape the treadmill of low paid day jobs to write full time.

‘I always did crappy jobs office junior. stuff like that and I got used to having something to whinge about. But when you‘re a writer. people think that’s a dead jammy job. And it is. So I miss not being able to whinge.’ She‘s also finding the adjustment tricky. ‘I used to work in an office all day. and write at night and at weekends. I found there was more discipline that way. Once I got a bursary to write. suddenly I was reading shampoo bottles. and thinking “I must go and get some teabags". You don’t get around to doing anything.’ '

The pressures on. though. with a second short story collection and a follow up novel already in the pipeline. She seems a little surprised and none too taken with the prospect of being flavour of the literati's month. ‘I just really want to get my work done. Doing anything like interviews just makes me nervous for weeks. I was down in London about two weeks ago. and I was meant to do two for the book; but I got there and just had a massive panic attack. I got straight back on the train and came back. It all suddenly got on top of me.’ So can we expect a JD. Salinger-style retreat. if her fame builds any further? ‘I have thought about that.”

This sensitivity is apparent in the warmth and humanity of Hird‘s writing. but doesn’t sit too well with the current stereotype of the hard-living. press-baiting. attention- seeking Scottish enfant terrible. ‘It annoys me the way Irvine Welsh gets treated in the press.’ she says. ‘What’s he done? He’s not posing a threat to anyone. He’sjust making a living.” He might want to watch out. though: while his star dims. that of his unassuming fellow Edinburgher is burning ever brighter.

Born Free is published by Rebel Inc on Thu 11 Nov, priced £9.99.