Portrait of Author Mary Smith

February’s Featured Blogger: Author, Mary Smith

February’s featured Blogger is author, Mary Smith.

Mary is the author of No More Mulberries, a novel set in Afghanistan and a collection of short stories, Donkey Boy & Other Stories. Her non-fiction work includes a memoir of her time in Afghanistan, Drunk Chickens, and Burnt Macaroni.

Thank you for being here , Mary.

You write in your biography that you’ve always written, but was there a moment of inspiration?

Hi Rob, thanks so much for choosing me as your blogger of the month. Your first question stumped me because I honestly can’t remember any one single moment of inspiration – I just always wanted to write.

What did you read as a child and what was your favorite story?

I read a lot as a child. One of my favorite (sorry, I can’t do American spelling so you might have to change some words!) books was What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. I read it over and over again, couldn’t wait to get to the end so I could begin it again. I also read loads of Enid Blyton’s books – The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. As a child, I usually had my head stuck in a book.

You lived in Pakistan and Afghanistan for ten years and worked for a small health organization; what prompted your decision to live and work in Pakistan and Afghanistan and how does your work there inform your writing?

I drank too much whisky one night and under its influence accepted an invitation to visit Pakistan with two sisters who were returning to visit family in Karachi. While there, I visited the headquarters of the Pakistan Leprosy Control Programme. I had an introduction because in the UK I worked for Oxfam which helped fund the leprosy work. I was welcomed and spent three days seeing various aspects of the work and was really impressed. I wrote in my journal at the time that I knew I was coming back to Pakistan although I didn’t know how or when. Anyway, before I left I was asked if I would help set up a health education department. I came home, handed in my notice and returned to Pakistan on a three-year contract. During my time in Karachi, I met a number of Afghan students who were studying to be paramedics before going back to Afghanistan to open clinics. I spent a lot of time with them, teaching English, listening to stories of their mother country which they all loved with a deep passion. By the time my contract ended it was inevitable I’d sign on again to work, this time, in Afghanistan.

My time there has definitely informed my writing. I so wanted to share my experiences with everyone – all the people who will never have the opportunity to go there and see for themselves. I’ve written a memoir (Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni) which covers the latter part of my time in Afghanistan when I was setting up a project to train village women as health volunteers. I’ve also written a novel (No More Mulberries) set in Afghanistan and quite a number of poems.

 

cover of Burnt Macaroni
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni by Mary Smith

Who are the writers you read for pleasure and study?

I love the novels of Kate Atkinson, Margaret Elphinstone, the late Iain Banks and so many more. And poets, Seamus Heaney, Tom Pow (who was my tutor on a creative writing course), Norman McCaig. I could fill this post with lists.

Why did you take up blogging?

My father had dementia and his wife (my stepmother – or stepmonster as I call her in the blog) left him because she felt she “was entitled to a peaceful life.” I did not want my dad to go into a care home so I moved in with him, which changed my life entirely. I had thought I’d have time to continue as a freelance journalist and doing the PR for a charity as well as work on a book I wanted to write. I soon discovered this was not going to happen. I was exhausted, especially when I first moved in and had very little professional help, and spent much of my time in a zombie-like state. Creativity went out the window. Blogging was a way to ensure I did do some regular writing and way of trying to make sense of the situation.

Who is your audience?

The majority of my audience for the blog (My Dad’s a Goldfish) are people who are caring for or have cared for a family member with dementia. Some are also blogging about it. So many lives are affected by this nowadays and I think many of the people who read my blog do so because it helps them feel they are not alone, others are going through similar situations. Until fairly recently, although dementia was on the increase, little was said about – about how it really is to be care for someone who spends the night wandering around the house looking for things, who needs help going to the toilet, who doesn’t know who you are. Blogging helps me – and my followers – to see the funny side of situations which, at the time, are far from funny. I also have followers who are friends, writers and other bloggers whose blogs I follow

the cover of Donkey Boy and other stories

Do you consider your audience when you publish a post? (Another way to put this is how much does your audience influence your work?)

Yes, I do and I have been careful not to dilute the Goldfish blog with posts on other things. I don’t think my Goldfish audience expect to find re-blogs from other posts unless they’re dementia related or travel pieces or whatever. For this reason, I have recently started a second blog on which I can post all sorts of other things which have nothing to do with dementia.

The cover of No More Mulberries

I admire the way you balance promotional and personal blogging. What advice do you have for other writers who want to use blogging for personal and promotional blogging?

Thank you for saying that. I think it’s mainly because, as I explain above, I try to keep the Goldfish blog about my dad and dementia – though I do sneak in the odd post about my books. I’d advise anyone who thinks starting a blog is going to help them sell shed-loads of books to forget it! I think writing is about our need to communicate with others. We want to share our words, our thoughts, with others but if we only blog about the books we’ve written followers won’t stay around for long. Does that make sense? I feel I’m waffling a bit here – just cut this bit if you want

Tell us about your latest Book.

My latest book is a collection of short stories called Donkey Boy & Other Stories. It came about because I was feeling bad about not having published any fiction for such a long time. I always intended to write a sequel to No More Mulberries but somehow got sidetracked into doing other things – a poetry collection and a couple of local history books. The one day when looking for something on my computer (my filing system is a disgrace) I noticed a folder which contained some short stories. I decided they should be out in the world working for their living – or at least being read by a few people – and put them together. It’s an eclectic mix of stories about a diverse range of characters: a donkey boy (he drives a donkey cart for his father) in Pakistan dreams of buying luxuries for his mother; a mouth artist in rural Scotland longs to leave the circus; a visually impaired man has a problem with his socks; and a woman tries to come to terms with a frightening gift – or curse. I’m delighted by how well received it has been with readers and reviewers. And it’s only 99c – so much cheaper than a cup of coffee.

Book cover for Thousands Pass Here Every Day
Thousands Pass Here Every Day by Mary Smith

Thank you, Mary.

Below are links to Mary’s blogs and books.

Blog links: My Dad’s a Goldfish: https://marysmith57.wordpress.com  New Blog – MarySmithsPlace: https://marysmithsplace.wordpress.com

This is the smart url link for Donkey Boy & Other Stories. It will open at the Amazon site in whichever country the reader is: www.smarturl.it/dbaos

Drunk Chicken and Burnt Macaroni: http://smarturl.it/dcbm

No More Mulberries: http://smarturl.it/nmm

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marysmithwriter

Revised February 26, 2018: Header update

66 thoughts on “February’s Featured Blogger: Author, Mary Smith

  1. It’s so nice to learn more about Mary and the life experiences that contributed to her work. I loved No More Mulberries and can’t wait to read more of her work. Thanks for the great interview, Robert and Mary. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad you enjoyed the interview Darlene. Rob is a very good interviewer – asked good questions and let me prattle on. I hope when the books make their way up your TBR pile you enjoy them.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. So much enjoyed your interview Mary and getting to know more about you and your writing. Fascinating reading about your time in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Glad to know about your new blog too, I have thought of doing the same at some point, not wanting to mix things up too much at the Summerhouse. I also hope to write more about Asperger’s and ASD and my life as a carer. It’s the invisibility of it, as you know, that is so hard, and the isolation. The daily struggle that we don’t talk about, just rolling up our sleeves and getting on with it whilst keeping our own mental health pressures at bay. Sharing your story about looking after your dad during his dementia I know will have helped all who read it. I look forward to reading your books Mary as soon as I can and many congratulations on Donkey Boy! And I am glad that I’m not the only with computer files in a right mess 🙂 Great to meet you too Rob, thanks to Mary! Sherri

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, thanks, Sherri. I know about the invisibility and the loneliness. I am always ridiculously pleased when anyone tells me by blog has helped them to feel less alone, to know others are going through a similar situation. Glad you’ve popped into Rob’s blog and hope you’ll visit it again – he puts up some wonderful posts and I’m sure you’d enjoy them.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sharon. I started the blog when Dad was still alive and when he died I was going to close it down but people wanted to know more of his story so I continued with it. It’s a disease which is affecting so many people nowadays – not only the person who has but their families. Sorry to hear you went through it with both your mother and mother-in-law.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderfully informative interview with Mary. I enjoyed learning more about Mary and her writing as I already follow her wonderful blogs and recently finished reading Donkey Boy. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent interview! I enjoy reading Mary‘s Goldfish blog, and that is how I first ‘met’ her. As I struggle through my mom‘s dementia, I have found her blog extremely useful. Plus, I have felt Mary’s compassion and intelligence in each of Mary’s posts, in each of her blogs. Thanks so much for highlighting Mary and her work here.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Wonderful post, both. Mary, having taken in two aunts with dementia and then seeing my mother go the same way I related so well to your blogs about your dad -often made me see the funny side of things. I’ve never said thanks for that – so saying it now. Love your writing by the way (as you probably know!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely of you to say so, Judith. As for seeing the funny side of things – it most often happens after the event. What made it easier for me was that Dad kept his own sense of humour (maybe it was a sense of the absurd) right to the end.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Fantastic interview with Mary. One of the great pleasures in learning more of her life is seeing how her experiences have informed her work. And Judging by the depth and beauty of her work, one can easily see the fascinating she must have had…. it’s nice to have this confirmed!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Glad you enjoyed the interview, Paul and thanks for your kind comments. I consider myself very privileged to have had the opportunites I’ve had. I wanted to let others see Afghanistan and writing seemed the only way. For a while I had a dream of taking people there on holiday – three or four in a group, visiting the fabulous sights, staying with families rather than in hotels, getting to know people. Can you imagine the cost of insuring such a trip?

      Liked by 3 people

  7. I have to say I love the idea of Pakistan in theory but in practice I think I’d be **** scared most of the time, no doubt without cause but still… Loved ‘Mulberries’ when I read it and must get round to the new collection.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There are definitely places I wouldn’t go now – Peshawar, the Khyber Pass and Quetta as they all have a strong Taliban presence but that still leaves plenty of places to explore. I’m pleased you enjoyed No More Mulberries. The short sotry collection is a very slim volume so if it reaches the top of your tbr pile it won’t take long.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a great post, Rob! I won’t lie, if I had a chance to go to Pakistan I’d take it in a heartbeat (I’m a little apprehensive about Afghanistan, though). Reading about Mary’s experiences definitely got my daydreams spinning 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Josh. Glad you enjoyed the post. In Pakistan I lived mostly in Karachi in the south so not the place for snow leopards, which I assume must be in the northern areas. If you click on the link to MarySmith’sPlace which Rob has put in above there’s an article about crab fishing in Karachi. Not the same as snow leopards, I know! The security situation in Afghanistan is not great right now which is sad as it is a beautiful and fascinating country.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Mary! Snow leopards like high altitudes, so if I ever make it to Pakistan I’d like to visit the Karakorum Mountains…if possible. I have no idea what the security situation will be like in that region when, or if, I make it there.

        Liked by 2 people

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