Literary hotshot to read at Belfast Festival
Following up with his recent debut novel, Utterly Monkey, Laird is now arguably no longer Mr Zadie Smith but one of Northern Ireland’s most talented writers.
After winning enviable reviews for his first collection of verse, the 30-year-old was nominated for the Forward poetry prize for the Best First Collection.
As a child growing up in Cookstown, Laird showed promise as poet. Aged four he wrote a poem about an enormous teddy bear he had:
Bouncy bouncy on the bed – happy couple, me and Ted!
Educated at a comprehensive school in Cookstown, Laird was the first member of his family to go to university. At first he wanted to study at Queen’s but was propelled by his school and his parents to study law at Cambridge. However, he decided law could wait and changed to English.
At Cambridge it was a mutual love of books that brought Laird and Smith together. Laird was editing a collection of Oxbridge writings called The May Anthologies, and spotted her short story immediately. A year later they both entered a literary prize. Laird won and was given a £60 book token while Smith signed a deal for White Teeth.
While his wife-to-be was coping with the hysteria following White Teeth, Laird, despite early signs of a successful writing career became a solicitor, while continuing to write.
Laird took a sabbatical from law and followed Smith to Harvard, where she was teaching and where he became a fellow. Laird returned to the UK and stuck it out temporarily at a law firm.
But the heavy caseload didn’t agree with him – he resigned and continued to work on his poetry, eventually producing a manuscript which was accepted by Faber & Faber. By February 2004, he had signed a lucrative two-book deal with Fourth Estate.
His first collection of verse, To a Fault won rave reviews. Praised by Seamus Heaney and heralded as ‘the most auspicious debut in Irish poetry since Paul Muldoon’, Laird garnered himself a reputation as a challenging new voice in poetry.
The poems are dense, complex, painfully sensitive and packed full of witty reference and wordplay. As with so many Ulster poets, Laird’s work explores his Northern Irish roots.
Laird followed the collection with his debut novel, Utterly Monkey. Nothing like his poetry, Utterly Monkey is infused with black comedy, telling the story of Danny Wallace, a disillusioned city lawyer from Northern Ireland. One day, his school-friend Geordie arrives, clutching a bag with £50,000 stolen from loyalists. Ian, a muscle-bound enforcer from Belfast, is soon hot on Geordie’s trail. The novel won mixed plaudits, a result of critical wisdom or green envy?