Wednesday, 29 July 2015

No More Mulberries by Mary Smith

Release Date:1st October 2011
Publisher: King Street Press
Genres: Contemporary / women's fiction

Brook Cottage Books is thrilled to welcome Mary Smith to the blog for the first time. Read on to find out more about Mary in this great author interview!

Do you write under your real name or is this a pen name you use?

I write under my own name. Sometimes I wish I’d chosen a more flamboyant pen name – Mary Smith is a bit prosaic – but I think I’ll stick with it now.

Where are you from?  

I am from Scotland. I was born on the island of Islay, left there when I was seven and grew up in Dumfries & Galloway. I lived in Lancashire in England for a time, where I worked for Oxfam. I went to Pakistan for what turned out to be a life-changing experience and found myself signing up to work at a leprosy centre in Karachi for three years. After that I went to Afghanistan. Altogether I had ten amazing years in Pakistan and Afghanistan before returning to Dumfries & Galloway and town where I grew up.   

Did you write as a child? 

 As a child I wrote stories which borrowed pretty heavily from Enid Blyton. It never occurred to me I could become a writer, though. I assumed that was for other people. As a teenager I wrote dreadful angst-ridden poetry; all love and loss and longing. I shudder at the thought of it. 

What was the first thing you ever had published? 

It was a short non-fiction article about my town and it was published in a magazine produced at the summer camp I attended.  It was judged the best piece of writing in the magazine and my ‘payment’ was a duffel bag! I can still remember how absolutely delighted I was - chuffed to bits. In the years before I had a book published – the years of rejection letters – it was the fact that editors (newspapers and magazines) wanted my work which helped me to keep going and believe that I could write!   

Do you have a writing routine? 

No. I really wish I did. I am very easily distracted and can find a dozen things which really need my attention – the washing machine, the kitchen floor, emails to answer, and blogs to read – rather than get on with writing. Once I do start, I can keep going – it’s just starting that is my problem. I do try to write every day, even if it’s only an account of my day in my diary.

Do you have any writing rituals?
Not really, but I have certain things which must be on my desk in their correct place. One is a yellowish stone, which looks vaguely (to me) like an old woman and the other is a carved stone, which has a woman’s face on one side with a fish carved on the back. There’s a piece of string threaded through a hole in the top. They must be upright, surrounded by four polished stones and a lead fishing weight. If they fall over I cringe – and now I have written this I feel a bit silly. But you did ask!

Do you have a current work in progress? 

Yes, I have a couple of projects on the go. I’m in the early stages of a follow up to my novel No More Mulberries. I’ve been blogging about caring for my dad who had dementia and I’m planning to turn this into a memoir: it has humour but doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is. I’m really excited about something very different – a stage play. It’s a half hour monologue called The Nasties, which is going to tour next year as part of a double bill. Now that’s done – apart from some tweaks the producer wants – I can focus on the novel again.  

Where did the idea for your book come from? 

 The idea for No More Mulberries was the classic what if? Question. What if a British woman was married to an Afghan – what problems would they face in Afghanistan; could their marriage survive the cultural differences. I wanted to explore those issues and also I wanted to give people an insight into what life is really like for ordinary Afghan women and their families. As with my non-fiction Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women, I wanted to get behind the media portrayal of life in Afghanistan to show that things aren’t always what we see on our television screen. And in case that sounds a bit too worthy and pompous, I wanted to envelop it in a page-turning story of loss, cultural differences – and love.

Who was the first person you gave the book to to read? 

After it was published I sent a copy to a journalist friend, Jackie McGlone, to whom my first, non-fiction book is dedicated. She was the editor of a newspaper weekend supplement and published many of my articles about life in Afghanistan. She, more than anyone, made me believe I could write. I’m pleased to say she enjoyed it.
Do you have any advice for budding authors?  Don’t give up! And read. Read for pleasure, not only in the genre you write but widely. Read to see how others write successfully. Keep reading. Enjoy it. And keep writing. I also think joining a good writers’ group can be really helpful as can signing up for the many excellent writing blogs out there – though there’s a need to be selective or writing time can disappear into reading blogs.

Author links – Website:

Book Blurb

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 once she was 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, must deal with issues from his own past – from being shunned by childhood friends when he contracted leprosy to the loss of his first love.

Author bio

Mary Smith is a writer, freelance journalist and poet based in beautiful south west Scotland. She worked in Pakistan, where she set up a health education department in the national leprosy centre, and in Afghanistan for ten years, where she established a low-key mother and child care programme providing skills and knowledge to women health volunteers. Those experiences inform much of her writing. Her debut novel, No More Mulberries is set in Afghanistan and she has also written Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women, a narrative non-fiction account about her time in Afghanistan which offers an authentic insight into how ordinary Afghan women and their families live their lives. 

8 Responses so far.

  1. Thanks so much for this. I appreciate it enormously.

  2. Nice interview, Mary! I'm going to turn the blog posts about mom and Alzheimer's into a memoir too. I think writing about it is good therapy :)

  3. Islay - where the scotch comes from!
    Nice interview, Mary.

  4. Great interview! I'm quite intrigued with your work in the leprosy centre.

  5. Mary, this is a wonderful interview. I enjoyed learning about your real life as much as about your books. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I loved NO MORE MULBERRIES. What a fascinating story, and one most Westerners have little idea of. The story really grabbed me, and I learned a lot, too!

  7. Fabulous interview Mary Smith and Brook Cottage Books :) Fascinating life.

  8. Many thanks to everyone who has read the interview and left a comment and/or shared.

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