IMAGINE for a moment you are wading into the sea. The waves are pulling at your ankles, the sand moves beneath your feet. You slip on the pebbles and the rocks, but you stay upright.

You wade on, further and further away from the shore. And then you take a step and below you the coastal shelf suddenly falls away. One step and you are in deep water.

And, suddenly, you have to ask yourself the question, can you swim?

Well, can you?

In Brixton I buy Kerry Hudson a black coffee, then proceed to tip most of it over her. She moves back and away from the table, buoyant despite my best efforts. For the next hour she will remain so, even when she is remembering the days she found herself in the deepest of waters.

Hudson is a writer. She made her name with her first book Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, a fictionalised take on her upbringing in council estate Aberdeen. It’s a world she has returned to now in her latest book Lowborn. The subtitle sums it up: “Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns”. It is both memoir and a polemic (though of the quietest kind). Ask her for the reasons for writing it and she comes up with a number but one of them is a sort of rage. “I was really, really sick of the portrayals of poor people in the media and wanted to offer a different perspective.”

Lowborn, then, is a story about poverty and the way it marks and stains and even cracks the lives of those who experience it. It has marked Hudson. In thousands of ways, she thinks when I ask her to list them; the way she thinks about money, worries over it obsessively.

“And the other thing is I’m a pleaser,” she says. “One of the ways I manage to navigate my way through the society that didn’t feel like my own when I left my estates and came to try and make my way in London was by learning to adapt and please and soften all those rough edges.”

In a way, she says, that’s what she did when she wrote her first book Tony Hogan. Lowborn is a corrective to that. In it, the edges tear at the skin.

As early as page two there is an index of the cracks in Hudson’s own early life. It reads:

“I single mother

2 stays in foster care

9 primary schools

1 sexual abuse child protection inquiry

5 high schools

2 sexual assaults

1 rape

2 abortions

My 18th birthday.”

Those are the things Hudson deals with in the pages of Lowborn. As she says near the beginning, “this book’s really about if you’re born poor you’re f*****. But if you’re born poor and a woman then you’re genuinely and utterly f*****.”

As a result, it is painful reading at times. But it’s also full of life and humour and hope.And Hudson is full of all of those things too.

In person she is effervescent, bubbling with talk and jokes and asides and plans. So many plans. My favourite is the one where, if the funding comes through, she plans to tour fish and chip shops in deprived areas to read snippets from Tony Hogan and Lowborn. She’ll serve you your sausage supper while she’s doing it.

“The idea is to try and get people to come to take in some of these stories and meet a working-class writer in a different way.”

Hudson lives in Streatham these days. Her husband Peter is managing a health food shop up the road in Hackney. She arrives this bright Brixton morning wearing a grey “art teacher shirt,” silver Doc Martens and maybe a sense of release. Writing Lowborn has been freeing in a way, she admits.

“I realised that if I was going to do it properly I was going to have to be completely honest and I’m kind of a private person. I’m a bit shy, actually. So, it’s a weird thing to do.

“But, also, it was really liberating. A lot of the stuff I write about in the book – sexual violence, abortion, the shame of poverty – is stuff we’re told to be ashamed of. Somehow it’s not stuff that happened to us but something we brought on ourselves through some sort of moral failing.”

There are two strands to the book. Poverty then and poverty now. Working on it Hudson travelled back to all the places she stayed in her peripatetic youth to see what they are like today. The answer is in various states of disrepair.

The fact is in austerity Britain, when it feels like the Department of Work and Pensions has been weaponised against many of the people it is supposed to be helping, things for many are as bad as ever.

Hudson points to the fact that more than 14 million people are living in poverty, the terrible rise in child poverty which is predicted to hit a record high this year, and to the proliferation of food banks.

“When I was growing up, God knows, we needed food banks, but we didn’t have five food bank bins in every Tesco,” she points out.

“Actually, I was speaking to someone yesterday who said, ‘Isn’t it nice that your council estates haven’t changed?’ And I said, ‘no, that’s not nice. That’s terrible. That’s no progress in 30 years. Social housing that’s been left to just languish and rot and get more and more dilapidated.

“But I also felt that maybe what I maybe didn’t understand growing up because we were quite an isolated family how many people in those communities are holding those communities together with grass roots activism or collectivism.”

“In Coatbridge, I met a woman who set up a school uniform bank. She’d heard there was one kid who didn’t have a winter coat in North Lanarkshire and she put a call out on Facebook to say can anyone get this kid a coat and from that she ended up giving away 300 school uniforms that year to kids across Coatbridge.

“But very quiet, very unshowy. She’d worked for a snack bar and now she’s a benefits advisor and this was something she was doing because she saw a need.”

That need has always been there. Hudson started life on the Torry council estate in Aberdeen, but over the years she would move with her mother and sister and sometimes her mum’s unsuitable, sometimes abusive, boyfriends to Canterbury, Airdrie, North Shields, Coatbridge and Great Yarmouth. Her father was American and mostly absent. Her mother was constantly struggling with bringing up a family without a job and struggling with depression.

At least in Aberdeen the family had a support network. Of a sort. Hudson writes in the book that her grandmother was “the most terrifying woman I have ever known.”

How so? “My grandma was just a tough, tough woman,” Hudson says now. “She worked in the fish houses, which is a brutal, brutal job for her whole life.

“She looked like Liz Taylor when she was a young woman. She was very, very beautiful. But also quite ashamed of how beautiful she was. She felt kind of vulnerable because of it. All of a sudden, men were just staring at her all the time.

“And then I think you have two options when your life is really tough. You become really, really hard and you learn to fight every single day. Or you break a little bit. Those are your options. My grandma became ‘hard’ and my mum, I think, chose the other option.”

Hudson’s mum Fiona was a feminist, loved Blondie and Bowie and was full of life. But was also deeply vulnerable.

The result was a childhood for Hudson that was chaotic. A childhood of small rooms, second-hand clothes and torn and stained toys. Hudson was born in 1980. In 1983 she was taken into emergency foster care for a month. In the course of researching the book Hudson requested the paperwork for her case. Although large parts of it were redacted there was enough to see that her mother was struggling. The initial referral from the head of Hudson’s nursery school suggested her mum “drunk and not in a fit state to care for the child.”

For years after her mum’s ultimate threat was “I’ll put you into care.”

A pattern was being established. What comes across in Lowborn is the sense that at any time everything could fall apart. That life for Hudson and her family was contingent. The deep water was only one small step away.

“As soon as we left our council housing in Aberdeen and then got ourselves into that temporary accommodation trap, that’s when things got really serious for us. Until then we had access to social housing and we had family around us. And as hard up as they were and as dysfunctional as some of those relationships were, that was still a bit of a safety net.

“But I think when things really went wrong for us was when we moved down to Canterbury. We ended up staying in one after another hostel and women’s shelters and that’s when I think you start to get into a really precarious place.

“It can happen so quickly. One bad decision. One job that falls through and then you’re in that dark, deep place where you can’t swim anymore.”

Hudson’s relationship with her mother was clearly always difficult and they are no longer in contact. But at no point in Lowborn does she cast her mum as the villain. There is no blame here.

“There really isn’t,” she says. “These were generational long- term dysfunctional things that happened and they happened because people were poor and they didn’t get the help they needed and they were struggling. Their lives were hard and so I really hope I’ve been able to make it clear that for me my family, for all of their complexities and difficulties, are just victims of an unequal structure, you know?”

Did you feel loved as a child, I ask her? “I did. I did. It was absolutely there, for sure. But not all love is exactly as you need it. It doesn’t always fill all the gaps and hold you in the way that it’s meant to. So, it was there but it didn’t entirely set me up for an adulthood where I would feel absolutely secure in my ability to love and be loved.”

The parts I found hardest to read, I tell Hudson, was her account of her teenage years. In Lowborn, she paints a picture of a young woman discovering her sexuality and mistaking it for a form of power.

“It felt powerful,” she admits. “Suddenly, I was getting loads of attention. I was never really considered pretty until I hit a certain age. And, so, it felt like, finally, I was liked and I just misunderstood the attention for something real and valuable.

“And now I look back at it and loads of the older men I slept with in particular were actually terrible. They shouldn’t have been doing it. But at the time it made me powerful and womanly and it felt exciting.”

At 16 she began to hang around with a 28-year-old single mum called Lisa. Lisa was flirtatious and possessive and 12 years older than her. She is one of the people in Hudson’s story that I don’t really understand, I say.

Hudson nods, but adds, “She was kind of my saving grace as well. She was my first really true friend. It was genuinely like a love affair. I totally loved her. I got excited about every time I got to see here. There was a lot of love there, but it was flawed.”

Hudson writes about the horror of the sexual violence clearly and unsparingly. She says doing so was in the end a kind of relief.

“I’d lived with it for a long time. I’d written about it in a fictionalised form so it wasn’t like it was my first time treading into those waters but I really, really see the value of women sharing their experiences, especially of things like sexual violence and abortion, taboo subjects that people are not supposed to speak about. I sometimes say when I’m on stage that it shouldn’t be radical for a woman to get up on stage and say she’s been raped. It just shouldn’t be because it’s such a common occurrence.

“For all the problematic issues of the #MeToo movement I think what it really showed was how prevalent it was and for me, personally, it was valuable it was to know that other women were going through the same things as me. It took away a lot of the shame element, the secretive element that makes you feel like you’ve done something wrong.”

How do you look back on that young woman you were then, Kerry? “I feel very tender towards her. But, God bless her, she scrapped and her tenacity allowed me to sit where I am as an adult. I can only be grateful for that.”

And this is it, this is key. Yes, this is a story about poverty and the marks it leaves, the way it fractures lives. But it is also a story about resilience.

Hudson has been working since the age of 14 she’s worked. She’s been a waitress, a Christmas elf in Harrods working with “paranoid Santas who thought the booths we were in were bugged”. In her twenties she started answering the phone for an animal welfare charity and ended up managing a million-pound project for the NSPCC. That and a 10-year relationship with a girlfriend, Susanna, helped her piece herself together.

On a day off sick from work she decided to write a short story for a magazine competition. She posted it off and was astonished to be told she had won the £1000 prize. With that Kerry Hudson author, was born. “If that hadn’t happened I don’t think I would have pursued it at all”

She now has three books to her name, a husband Peter, a very naughty cat and if not much money (the average author, she reminds me, earns under £12,000 a year, “well below the minimum wage”), a sense that life isn’t quite as contingent as it once was.

“It completely changed my life writing this book and I never expected that. I knew that it would be difficult. I knew that it would shift things. I never imagined it would have such a fundamental change. I just feel more myself. If you spend half your life hiding half the stuff that ever happened to you it’s really hard to live an honest and authentic life.

“Me and my husband have been together for four years now and he says in this year he’s seen me change completely. I am much stronger and just more myself, I guess. It feels good.”

What does that mean? I guess it means that Kerry Hudson knows how to swim.

Lowborn by Kerry Hudson is published by Chatto & Windus. She is in conversation with Darren McGarvey at the Mitchell Library on Thursday and appearing at the Aberdeen Central Library on Friday.