Very excited to have author, blogger and friend Mary Smith here today for a book reading and interview. This has been a special week for Mary with the release on Thursday of her latest local history book, Castle Douglas Through Time. The second in the series with her first Dumfries Through Time, both co-written with Allan Devlin. The book will be featured in the Cafe and Bookstore update on Monday 20th March
Mary spent over ten years living and working in Afghanistan and Pakistan and her highly acclaimed book No More Mulberries has received 90 reviews.
Please remember that this is an interactive interview and Mary is welcoming questions about her life and work in the comments section. Mary is busy promoting her new book but will be available later over the weekend to answer them.
Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She longed to allow others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.
Scottish-born midwife, Miriam loves her work at a health clinic in rural Afghanistan and the warmth and humour of her women friends in the village, but she can no longer ignore the cracks appearing in her marriage. Her doctor husband has changed from the loving, easy-going man she married and she fears he regrets taking on a widow with a young son, who seems determined to remain distant from his stepfather.
When Miriam acts as translator at a medical teaching camp she hopes time apart might help her understand the cause of their problems. Instead, she must focus on helping women desperate for medical care and has little time to think about her failing marriage. When an old friend appears, urging her to visit the village where she and her first husband had been so happy. Miriam finds herself travelling on a journey into her past, searching for answers to why her marriage is going so horribly wrong.
Her husband, too, has a past of his own – from being shunned as a child to the loss of his first love.
The latest review for the book
Having travelled through villages in Iran in the 1960’s and visited villages in the North of India, I have some idea of what cultural differences Miriam, the protagonist of this novel, is facing.
The book opens in a village in Afghanistan, with her sharing a lifestyle of limited freedom with her doctor husband, Iqbal. Being a qualified midwife from Scotland, she helps him in the clinic they work in. Slowly, through flashbacks, Mary Smith reveals that her first love was Jawad whom she met in Scotland where he was a student, whom she wanted to marry and was given a year’s separation by his family before they were allowed to marry. In this time she became a Muslim by choice. Later on a visit to Scotland with her son Farid, she is notified that Jawadhad been killed by locals. She is devastated, wants to return to Afghanistan and finally marries Iqbal without love.
All mayhem breaks out when Jeanine, their boss demands that Miriam comes to a month’s clinic at Charkoh. Iqbal is threatened by the loss of his wife for a month as Charkoh is where Jawad was killed and because he loses status in the local community by allowing his wife the freedom to attend.
The interplay of Western and Eastern values is sensitively handled by the author and makes for fascinating reading. The background of local politics and the Taliban cruelty is sufficiently introduced with overtaking the story of Miriam’s personal growth.The reader learns about local customs regarding rights of women and contraception.
What I enjoyed most of all was the conflicts between Eastern and Western values which unravel to reveal the essential humanity of all the characters.
Read all the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/No-More-Mulberries-Mary-Smith-ebook/dp/B005RRDZ12
Also by Mary Smith
Read all the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mary-Smith/e/B001KCD4P0
Now it is time to turn the post over to Mary with and I am sure that you will have many more questions that you would like to ask her. Please leave them in the comments.
Welcome Mary and congratulations on the new book…
Tell us about your chosen genre of books that you write and why?
Hah! Good question, Sally. I write contemporary women’s fiction, memoir, poetry and local history. One day, I may finally settle for one genre over another but I am enjoying doing different things and not being pinned down.
What genre do you read and who are your favourite authors?
As with my writing, I’m not pinned down to any reading only one genre. I’ve loved all Kate Atkinson’s books and wish she’d do another featuring Jackson Brodie because I’m totally in love with him. I’ve just finished A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart and When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (a neurosurgeon who died of lung cancer, aged 37 and whose wife completed the book). I’ve enjoyed everything Terry Tyler has written – she has such a distinctive style. The book I’m reading now is Being Mortal by Atul Gawande.
What are your plans for 2017 for your books and blog?
This month, Amberley Publishing has published my second local history book, Castle Douglas Through Time. This is a picture-led book done in collaboration with photographer Allan Devlin with old images of places in and around the town paired with ‘today’ photos and accompanying captions.
I have a very slim collection of short stories currently with an editor and I hope to have that out in the not too distant future.
My main project for 2017 is to convert my blog, My Dad is a Goldfish, into a memoir. I started writing the blog when I moved in with dad who had dementia. Many people have said they enjoy it, find it helpful, especially as I tell it like it is, and have asked about a book. It’s proving more difficult to restructure the blog material into book material than I expected but I’ll get there. I hope it will come out this year.
Oh, and I also want to start a new blog. I share a blog with four other writers and I have my Goldfish one but I can’t really re-blog other bloggers’ posts on those. I’d like a blog in which I can part in some of the things that go on in the blogging community – flash fiction or poetry prompts, interviews, what I see on walks and, as Sue Vincent put it, “somewhere we can blether.” So, watch this space!
Your life was anything but ordinary Mary. Did you find it difficult to adjust when you returned to Scotland after ten years in Pakistan and Afghanistan and what stands out in your mind as being particular daunting?
I found it incredibly difficult to adjust to life back in Scotland. I never experienced culture shock when I went to Pakistan – I suppose because I expected everything to be different. Coming home was when culture shock hit. I was so giddy in the supermarket, so seduced by all the wonderful array of ready meals that I piled my trolley. I can’t remember what I ‘cooked’ the first time but my son (who was five) and I each took a bite, screwed up our faces and declared it disgusting. I missed colour – everything seemed so dull and grey here.
Have you done travelling or is there still somewhere you feel you should visit and why?
Oh, I hope I’ve not done travelling. I was truly privileged to spend ten years in Pakistan and Afghanistan and I’m never going to be able to spend so long in a country again. I’ve been to India a couple of times and would like to explore more of it – and Vietnam. Must remember to buy a lottery ticket!
You have interviewed some interesting people as a journalist. Who did you enjoy talking to the most and why?
That’s a difficult question to answer as I’ve interviewed many people, some famous, some not at all well-known. I suppose at the top must be Barbara Dickson who was coming to perform in Dumfries. I was so nervous because people said she could be difficult but she absolutely lovely and we chatted for ages, much monger than I expected to have.
I enjoyed interviewing author Margaret Elphinstone shortly after The Gathering Night, came out. It’s set in Mesolithic Scotland and I was amazed at how much research she does – even to making a coracle so she knew how it would be to use one.
You can read some of the interviews on Mary’s website: http://www.marysmith.co.uk/articles.asp
I asked Mary for an extract from one of her books for the reading today.
The extract I’ve chosen is from Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni. It’s part of what I read when I recently gave a lecture to Sexpression, a university-based charity which teaches young people about sex and relationships.
This is from the chapter on a birth spacing class with village women in Afghanistan:
Someone declared that a woman could not become pregnant unless she was sexually satisfied.
Nichbacht, the wool spinner, snorted. ‘If that was true, how come there are so many children running around.’ This smart rejoinder provoking much laughter from the women made Iqbal [translator] blush furiously.
Poor Iqbal often had cause to blush as the women teased hi unmercifully, telling him that as an unmarried man he wouldn’t know about these things yet. When condoms were handed round during class, the women promptly blew them up like balloons, laughing and making jokes that he refused to translate for me.
On one occasion he was so embarrassed he left the room, leaving me to demonstrate – with an inadequate vocabulary and the help of a broom handle – that a condom cannot be fitted correctly if it has been stretched to its full extent and snapped like a rubber band.
I suspected what really did for him, was the sight of his mother, Aquila, dangling an unrolled condom from her forefinger, asking laconically if her classmates knew anyone with anything large enough to fill it.
My thanks to Mary for an interesting and entertaining interview and here is a reminder about where you can buy Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni and her other books.
Read all the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mary-Smith/e/B001KCD4P0
Connect to Mary on her blogs and social media.
Facebook address: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000934032543
Blogs:http://novelpointsofview.blogspot.co.uk/ and https://marysmith57.wordpress.com/2014/07/
I am now throwing open the interview to you and I am sure having read about the interesting and adventurous life that Mary has led that you have plenty of questions to ask her. Because of the launch of her new book, Mary will come back to you later today and over the rest of the weekend.