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

 

January’s Featured Blogger: Hank the Hedgehog

I’ve never thought of Hedgehogs as pets until I ran into Hank over at Living a Beautiful Life. After I interviewed Danica, I researched Hedgehogs and decided to interview Hank the Hedgehog.

Hank the Hedgehog
Hank The Hedgehog

I sat down with Danica and Hank over a lunch of cold meal worms and
began our interview:

When did Hedgehogs start to become popular as pets?

Hank: Hedgehogs first became popular as pets in North America in 1980-90.

Are the hedgehogs kept as pets in the U.S. born in the U.S.

Hank: Yes, all hedgehogs kept as pets in the U.S. are born in the U.S.

How does Hank feel when Danica blogs about him?

Hank: When I first noticed Danica blogging about me I took over immediately    because I’m curious and like to explore new things.  Danica quickly realized that I prefer speaking for himself.  I’m small but I have a strong personality.

photograph og a hedgehog with stuffed animals
Stop with the stuffed animals already

What does Hank like best about Danica?

Danica: What Hank likes best about me is that I tells it like it is.  Whenever Hank announces that he’s going to live in the wild, I explain that he’d likely die within a week.  It would be 50-50 odds he’d wind up as dinner or as roadkill.

Hank: Danica means well but she’s wrong:  I have extraordinary survival skills.  I indulge her because she brings me meal-worms; but stop with the stuffed animals already.

While no pets should ever be released into the wild, I’m a special case.  I’m from the streets  and through a series of misadventures wound up on death row lock-up (i.e., the city pound).

Here’s my story:

I get these cravings for wild game!  I know it’s not PC but you can’t take the hedge out of the hog.  Danica does her best to prepare exotic gourmet meals for me — there’s this venison dish that’s quite tasty! — but I miss the everyday pleasures of my former life.  Ants, grasshoppers, flies, crickets.  I’ve left food out to attract ants and flies, but Danica is quick to clean up after me and she even picked up a couple of flyswatters.

What’s a wild-at-heart hog to do?  One day after she kissed me goodbye (she’s given up telling me to be good), I rounded up my boys:  Rabbit, Pig and Dog.  We flipped open the laptop near my crib and did some online shopping.  I ordered an ant farm and live fishing bait.  We clicked “next-day delivery”.  They couldn’t guarantee delivery time.  How could I make sure Danica wouldn’t be around?  Well, I couldn’t.  Then it hit us!  If you can’t get rid of them, distract them.  So, we added two dozen roses to the order!

Oh yeah, it played out like a bank heist.  She loved the flowers and the card really got her attention:  “All my love across the miles, from some dude who isn’t Kyle.”  LOL!  Oh man, it cracks me up every time I think of it.  She’s arranging the flowers trying to figure out, first, who is Kyle?  Second, who is this some dude?

We could almost see the wheels turning in her brain and she didn’t notice us bringing in the ants and live bait.  We managed to get the contraband rolled up in my new blanket — a pink blanket with flowers!  Bane of my existence.  That’s another story.

Anyway, what’s the lesson here?  Chicks dig flowers, man.  And secret admirers.  You’re welcome, bro.

Peace out.

Danica I’ve never thought of hunting.  I would like to learn how to fire weapons, outside of video games.  There aren’t any shooting ranges nearby so it hasn’t happened yet.  I’d like to fire rocket launchers and drive tanks too, but that may remain a distant dream.

Hedgehogs are carnivores and mostly hunt insects.  The domesticated hedgehogs that westerns love as pets are small, and to them insects are “wild game”.  Well, that’s that Hank calls them anyway.

Oh, and as for the “chicks” and “bro” references — Hank respects all orientations.  His experience using flowers to distract people is limited to chicks only, so he can’t speak to how it may or may not work on the bros out there.

Photograph of a hedgehog next to a potted plant
Hank the Hedgehog in the Wild

~ Hank the Hedgehog

All Material (c) Danica Piche 2018 All Rights Reserved

 

 

December’s Featured Blogger: Danica of Living a Beautiful Life

This month my featured blogger is Danica of the Living a Beautiful Life Blog

Her writing has a wonderful sense of adventure.

  1. Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging despite the fact that I had no idea what I was doing.  I created Living a Beautiful Life when I left the hospital emergency and was waiting to learn whether I’d need eye surgery or would simply lose my eyesight.  Living a Beautiful Life is my first blog and I hope to continue for a long time.

  1. I’m glad you didn’t lose your eyesight: What caused the doctors so much concern?

I’m not sure I want to go into more detail…the medical stuff kind of creeps me out.  It was the result of injury though, not a condition or degenerative issue.

Would it be fair to say that the crisis over the potential loss of your eyesight precipitated a crisis of identity?

Interesting question.  I love reading – and have since I learned how to read.  When I was a kid a big treat for me meant going to the bookstore and picking a book to bring home.  I’ve always felt that one of the best gifts I’ve ever received is exposure to books, and how fortunate I am to be literate.  When I was at risk of losing my eyesight, I thought, “Oh no!  Why can’t it be a limb or something else?”  It would be fair to say my identity is wrapped up in reading, ideas and learning.  Writing was always on the horizon for me and the possibility of leaving that unexpressed was devastating.

 

 

“No matter what, nobody can take away the dances you’ve already had.”

~ Gabriel García Márquez

 

  1. When was the first time you felt an urge to write?

I’ve wanted to write for most of my life.  I only started taking that vague notion off the back burner and putting it into action with my blog.

 

  1. How did you decide on the name, ‘Living a Beautiful Life?

When I started my blog I didn’t know what I’d write about or even what my general theme would be.  I thought about having a tiny speck of a space on the internet – what that would mean and what I wanted to contribute.  On a fundamental level, I believe there is always room for more beauty in the world and it wouldn’t hurt to focus on that.

 

Digital photograph of a Hedgehog
For more about Hank the Hedgehog click here
  1. You say you knew nothing the day you started your blog, what have you learned about blogging and bloggers since that day.

    I’ve learned the importance of what I call “blogging your love”.  The closer to my heart a blog post is, the more rewarding it is for me to write and publish.  It’s also more risky too; it just matters more.  I still expect to hear crickets when I post something.  Reader response is amazing.  The fact that one other human reads something I wrote and takes time to comment just tickles me.  I also enjoy reading other blogs and getting to know other bloggers.  The blogging community is amazing and I’m so lucky to be a part of it.~ Danica – (Living a Beautiful Life blog)

 

 

 

November’s Featured Blogger: Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha

It’s my pleasure to introduce Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha  as my featured blogger for November.

She is the creative force behind ‘A Cooking Pot and Twisted Tales,’ and ‘The Art of Beautiful Expressions,’

How did you decide on the name ‘A Cooking Pot and Twisted Tales,’ for your blog?

Choosing ‘a cooking pot and twisted tales,’ is as literal and as mundane as it gets.  Following weeks of coining names for feel and size, I failed to find anything that settled with me. One Saturday afternoon as I prepared lunch with my children, we swapped stories whilst cooking – it’s the way that my mother raised us. She entertained my siblings and me with folk tales or songs, somehow that made the chores lighter, happier and faster – that was when the name came to me, and as it settled in my heart it felt just right.

You write in the about me section of your blog: “If I blog successfully throughout the next year, I would have cultivated the discipline of settling down to write and ramble. I would (hopefully) have finished the drafts of the three novels that I am working on.”

Have you achieved those goals?

I have blogged consistently for two years and I must say that I am glad that I started. From my younger days, I journaled my thoughts in a diary, wrote stories and poems on scraps of paper. I started stories I never finished. I hoped that cultivating the habit of writing daily would give me a disciplined approach to my writing. I’ve written far more than I expected in the past two years. My novels are still in draft form because I am still reluctant to go the route of self-publishing for my novels – not just yet.

In two years, I’ve successfully published two of my poetry books – Out of The Silent Breath and Unbridled and the third poetry book is practically ready to go. I aim to release that in January 2018 because I have another book that sits in my soul and presses for my attention. Surprisingly, it’s a self-help book and inspirational. I have a need to get it out because I know it will help people.

Photograph of blogger Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha holding a copy of her book of poems, 'Unbridled' Photograph of blogger Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha  (c) Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha  Used with permission
My poetry book ‘Unbridled,’

Did you always want to be a writer, or did writing come to you as an adult?

My love for words and expressions led to my participation in school dramas/dance, writing dramas and short stories, and lead speaking at debates.

As a child, I didn’t know a lot of black writers except a few like Buchi Emecheta, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Flora Nwapa and the esteemed late Chinua Achebe who happened to live a stone throw away from my folks at the University of Nigeria Nsukka campus, even then, I simply knew him as Nwando’s daddy – Nwando Achebe was my school mate. Most of the books available to us were written by Westerners and I had no idea that one could become a career writer.

I grew up in a place where a child’s course of study was determined by the parents and my parents thought my flair for the written and spoken word was better channeled into Law as opposed to Mass Communication or Theater Arts, which were my choices. In fairness to my parents, back then our actors and journalists were not well paid and I guess my folks worried about my future. Out of deference, I started out reading Law, then French language and my career has evolved over the years. Now, I am finding my way back to that which always had my name on it – writing and communication – though I must say that I’ve gained more from my diverse career background.

You mention that as a child in Nigeria you loved Nigerian Folklore: do you have a favorite story?

I was raised in a loving, Nigerian family; I was fed the staples of folklore and proverbs. Words of advice from my parents and grandparents were always accentuated with proverbs that puzzled my young mind.  Being that our life was always busy with many chores and farming, to make these duties less cumbersome especially when peeling cassava, shredding the corn heap, making pap, weeding the farm etc, my mother told us stories and most of the tales were underlined with a moral or two.

These tales helped to hand down tradition and customs and I remember that tales of the clever Tortoise and the animal kingdom always made us laugh, while ‘AGABA, the eater of liars,’ firmly planted the moral to tell the truth in my mind.

 

book cover for Out of the silent breath
Out of the silent breath by Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha

What other kinds of art shape your writing?

My writing is influenced by a keen observation of things that go on around me daily. I am an avid people watcher and a people’s person. Sometimes, I simply take a seat and as people pass by, I formulate stories in my head about them. I love nature – who doesn’t. The wonders of the world that I see leave me in constant awe and appreciation. I draw from life’s experiences, past and present, from the handiwork of others, painting, photography, conversation with total strangers and music. Music kindles my spirit.

Do you see blogging as an art?

If art is defined as self-expression, then blogging which is a form of self-expression is an art and the blogger becomes part of the art he creates.

I see your blog as a centering influence, has anyone ever said that to you before.

Robert, words like yours keep going. I must tell you that when I started my blog, it was purely born out of the need to make some sense of my life, broken as it was. In real-time, I am attuned to community and society around me and for some reasons unknown to me, I draw others easily to me; I could say that I’ve unwittingly managed to carry this over to my blog.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about success as a blogger?

Blogging success for me is writing stuff and finding that it resonates with others. It still amazes me till tomorrow that people bother to read what I write. I will say that most times I’m tickled pink. If truth be told, I only expected a handful of humans to pity me and read an occasional post. I didn’t anticipate connecting with as many people as I have, and I must say that it humbles me.

Blogging has shown me latent parts of me that I had no idea existed. I knew that I had things to say, but I can’t believe that I have this huge well of untapped resources in me. What I’m learning is that the more I dig, the deeper and richer it gets. That I could take up blogging and stick to it has helped my self-belief, determination, and courage to grow. One thing I will say to anyone having self-doubt in their capabilities as a blogger or writer, ‘work through the doubts; they may never go away, but your can-do attitude will quiet them.’

You have a separate blog, The Art of Beautiful Expressions: how is it different from A Cooking Pot and Twisted Tales?

‘A Cooking Pot and Twisted Tales,’ is my first blog baby and the second blog baby ‘The Art of Beautiful Expressions,’ is a self-hosted blog set up to serve as a resource center for bloggers, writers and photography. I focus on the rudiments of blogging, writing and photography.

Please share a short piece of writing, a poem, or perhaps an excerpt from one of your books.

 

Excerpt from my poetry book ‘Unbridled,’

Us 

There are us.

Born at the edge of a void

where there is no beginning;

early memories blurred

by recollections of bouncing on uncle’s laps

where turgid erections caressed our baby butts.

 

There are us.

Sitting alone all night

erasing ourselves and playing cracked records

from torturous nightmares of useless rape

forcefully fucked and threatened with grim death

where safety is far, and we can’t seem to get away.

There are us.

Who have felt emptied

by those who take want they want

leaving us feeling less than whole

plotting their demise in inconceivable ways

where we pray for peace to find us.

 

(c) Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha 

 

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