IN the weeks before I finally catch up with writer Kerry Hudson, I track her movements across the UK like a human GPS system: from the southside of Glasgow to a houseboat on the Thames and then finally to Sheffield where she, her husband Peter and her toddler “Sammy” (Hudson never uses his real name) are renting a flat.

Her restlessness makes me think of Vianne from the movie Chocolat - blown from place to place by the north wind. Like Vianne, Hudson’s urge to keep moving is inherited from her mother; yet there was nothing romantic about her early transience.

In her acclaimed memoir Lowborn, she wrote of a rootless and abusive childhood spent moving from one estate to the next - a latticework of dingy flats and B&B accommodation stretching from Coatbridge to Canterbury. Lowborn is a demonstration of both the legacy of a fractured past and the human capacity to transcend it.

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Now a successful author of novels, opinion pieces for The Herald and radio scripts, Hudson still feels the wind at her back; but she is in a place - financially and emotionally - where every fresh start is a fresh adventure.

“Moving around is natural to me. Some people find it tiring and stressful, but I get really excited,” she tells me from Sheffield, which they chose because it is affordable, “left-wing” and allows relatively easy access to both Glasgow and London.

“And I have routines to help me settle. No matter where I have been in the world, be it Hanoi, or Buenos Aires or Sarajevo, I have found the local cinema, the local gym, the best market to make me feel at home.”

Even so, does she not crave stability? “For me, stability is my husband, my little boy, our rescue dog,” she says.

We have hooked up - by phone because Hudson has been ill with flu - to talk about Newborn, her follow-up to Lowborn, begun shortly after she became pregnant with Sammy. The book was supposed to be a straightforward story of hope, proving to those from similar backgrounds that past trauma is no barrier to becoming a great mother. But - living in Prague as the pandemic began - Hudson found her marriage pushed to breaking point. And then, just as she and Peter were finding their way back to each other, she fell seriously ill.

“That added a layer of urgency because I often didn’t know if I was going to be alive for much longer so the book became a sort of testament of love to my husband and child,” she says.

The Herald: A baby changes anyone's lifeA baby changes anyone's life (Image: free)

Eventually, Hudson was diagnosed with two chronic illnesses - tracheal stenosis and an autoimmune condition, which has left her susceptible to infections, especially now Sammy has started nursery.

She still talks ten to the dozen and is brimful of future plans - a thriller, more radio programmes, trips here and there - but though the drug methotrexate means she is better than she was in Prague, she has slowed down. “I used to be ferocious, so energetic,” she says. “Imagine the way I am now, but times 200. I was a tornado.”

She and Peter have built their lives around their new normal. When Hudson is ill, she writes from her bed while Peter, now an illustrator, looks after Sammy.

“We know childhood trauma takes a physical toll. For years, I saw friends around me with similar backgrounds fall down with fibromyalgia or adrenal fatigue, so I wasn’t entirely surprised,” she says. “I just feel lucky it happened at a point in my life where I could work around it, instead of it destroying my opportunities.”

Hudson’s new book takes up where the last one left off, and is just as intimate. Once again, there’s a feverish compulsion to her sharing of personal details. Is this urge to divulge a reaction to all the questions that were never asked of her as a child; to powerlessness and invisibility?

“Absolutely,” she answers. “I was brought up poor and a woman so of course I felt voiceless in society, like what I had to say didn’t matter. And doubly so for me because I grew up in a house where ‘it stays between these four walls’. It’s a privilege to tell my story now, but it also feels genuinely radical every time I do so.”

Throughout her early 30s. Hudson told anyone who would listen that motherhood was not for her. “This was a simpler way of saying: ‘I’m still trying to make sure my childhood trauma doesn’t ruin my life. I’ll be fucked if I let it hurt another generation too’,” she writes in the opening chapter of Newborn.

But the act of writing Lowborn convinced her she was not culpable for what happened to her as a child and eased her self-doubt. “I realised a lot of the things people were telling me about the kind of mother I would be were perceptions based on very little knowledge. I became brave, then, and understood that, even if I did come up against barriers, or struggle mentally, I had enough tools and resources to deal with it.”

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Having made the decision to try for a baby, and with Peter “[bobbing] about on the ocean of [her] drive”, Hudson approached her new project with typical gusto. In Liverpool, she bought prenatal vitamins and a machine to track her ovulation; on holiday in Georgia she picked up a book called “Planning for a Baby?” and took pregnancy test after pregnancy test. Still, every month, her period came.

By the time she and Peter moved to London in 2019, she was depressed and becoming resentful of the mothers she saw around her, so she gave up on the idea and invested in a different future: one spent working and travelling in Europe. She and Peter had got as far as Prague - their first port of call - when Hudson took one last test, and saw a second line turn “a blush of pink”. It was early 2020. So there they were, in a foreign city, on the cusp of the pandemic: happy, but isolated and scared about everything that lay ahead.

From the moment he was born, Hudson has lavished on Sammy all the care and loving consistency she lacked. “He is such a joyful kid and it is a gift to see that happening,” she says. “There is a term - ‘reparenting’ - which is where you look after your kid, but at the same time you are looking after that broken child you were. It does feel like every time I give him something good I am also mending something in myself.”

The Herald: Kerry and PeterKerry and Peter (Image: free)

The hallmark of Hudson’s work, however, is its allergy to soft focus. When her relationship with Peter began to crack, she did not shrink from holding those cracks to the light. Those sections of Newborn when they come close to splitting up - when they parent together while sleeping apart - have an almost voyeuristic feel, though it is refreshing to see the pressures parenthood places on a marriage so readily acknowledged.

“I spent a lot of my pregnancy thinking: ‘We are special, nothing is going to change us’,” Hudson says. “I mean, really, the hubris of that because, of course, our relationship did change. But it’s a taboo subject. No-one wants to admit relationships can be hard, so everyone has ridiculous expectations. Thank goodness we made it through, but it’s tough. Your focus changes. What you are to each other changes and it can feel like you are failing.”

Hudson lets Peter read her writing before she files it. He seems content to be a supporting character in his wife’s life story. In Lowborn, she described him as the only man to have loved her unconditionally. When he accompanied her to bookshop readings, members of the public would come up and hug him.

So that’s Peter; but what about Sammy? Does she worry about him reading her books in the future? “I don’t because I am a firm believer that children should be spoken to honestly about what the world is like and who you are,” she says. “I trust deep in my bones that he is going to have a peaceful, loving childhood and so my past is not going to come out in destructive ways.”

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In Lowburn, Hudson returned to the estates she had grown up in and found them as bleak and neglected as ever. An indictment of decades of failed social policy, it led to requests for her to talk and write about poverty, housing, lack of opportunities and the importance of lived experience. Newborn is less polemical maybe, but still exposes inequalities, especially around chronic illness.

Not long after Sammy’s birth, Hudson’s breathing became increasingly laboured as her trachea narrowed. It took a long time for her to be properly diagnosed. In part this was because most of her consultations were being conducted in a second language - for her, the doctor or a combination of both. “But it didn’t help that my symptoms were symptoms many women have: I was tired, but I had a kid. I was overweight. Of course I was, I was mainlining digestives.”

At first, she was told she had tracheomalacia - an incurable condition that could have left her hooked up to an oxygen tank. After GPs realised it was stenosis, she was given surgery which helped in the short-term but was not a sustainable solution. And so, she and Peter - their marriage back on an even keel - decided to head home to the UK, where a specialist had told them her condition was eminently treatable.

Though vastly improved, Hudson’s health still fluctuates. Last month, she went for a long run - the first she had been on since becoming sick. “I could actually breathe properly. I was like: ‘This is amazing, I am going to run marathons’,” she says. “Then I caught the flu the next day.” Being ill has opened her up to new inequalities. “I’ve realised nothing works because we are a society in which your value is linked to your productivity. I am not as productive as I used to be and so you have to find a whole different type of way of living.”

And yet - for all the injustices she has endured - Hudson is relentlessly upbeat, and without a hint of chippiness or entitlement. She doesn’t mind being asked to talk about poverty; doesn’t worry she might be defined by the very thing she worked so hard to escape.

“I am grateful to have the opportunity to keep banging my drums,” she says. Her only fear was that Lowborn might lead the Tories to coopt her as a poster girl for social mobility. “I really didn’t want people thinking it was a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of book because I could have worked just as hard, I could have been the writer I am, I could have been cleverer and more athletic or whatever and never have made it out of the situation I was in.” She puts the fact she flourished down to sheer luck: to meeting the right people at the right time and to writing her first novel Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma in a fleeting moment when working class female voices were the zeitgeist.

I think Hudson underestimates her own resilience, talent and determination. But I take her point: she is an exception to the rule. In a better world, more people from backgrounds like hers would have the opportunity to thrive. Her memoirs are a rallying cry to those still stuck in the quagmire not to let society’s low expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When Hudson returned to Glasgow, it was with the intention of putting down roots. Conscious of the damage switching from school to school inflicted on her, she wants Sammy to have a settled childhood, with close friends. But once again, life had other plans. It quickly became clear they couldn’t afford to buy a flat in Glasgow. Next, she thought a houseboat might be the answer. Hudson had once lived on one near Eel Pie Island in Twickenham; she woke up every morning to swans pecking on the window.

After an attempt to buy a boat fell through, a writer friend loaned them his. Hallowe’en was magical. They took Sammy out guising with a boy berthed on the same marina, knocking on all the other boats. But as winter crept in, things started to go wrong. “First, the plumbing, then the toilet, then the heating, until we were basically just living in a box on the Thames,” Hudson says. The family “limped” into Sheffield in December, but fell in love with the city. Their flat is opposite an independent cinema, and she has found three or four cafes she can work from. “It’s very wholesome,” she says. “I don’t think we’ve seen a single fight since we arrived. It has surprised us all, but I think we are Sheffield folk now.”

Hudson seems at ease with the thought of staying put. But then, who knows when that sly north wind will blow again? She hopes regular holidays will help her resist its summons. All three of them are heading off to Porto the day after the interview. The prospect of showing Sammy beautiful São Bento station, and of eating pastéis de nata has raised her spirits. “I hope it will infuse me with energy for at least the next few weeks,” she says between coughs. “But then doubtless I’ll be looking at plane tickets again.”

Newborn Kerry Hudson Chatto & Windus £18.99