I chose Scotland for our holiday destination this year with the proviso that we travel via York and visited the Bronte Museum, a placed I have longed to visit ever since I read about the tiny books produced by the Bronte siblings.
On Tuesday morning, after a brief visit to York and the Lake District, we drove to Dumfries in Scotland. Dumfries is a small town situated on the River Nith and is the place where famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns, lived for the last years of his life and died.
I was excited as we were meeting up with fellow blogger and author, Mary Smith, who had kindly offered to show us around her beautiful and historic town. Mary has written two non-fiction books about Dumfries and its history and a third is in the process of being finalised for publication. I bought and read a copy of Secret…
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?
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.
Who are the writers you read for pleasure and study?
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
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.
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.
After a month’s break, welcome back to my book of the month feature. To kick us off for 2018, I’d like to welcome Mary Smith to my blog. Over to you, Mary…
Thank you so much, Hugh. I’m truly honoured and excited to be here on your brilliant blog.
What’s the name of the book?
Donkey Boy & Other Stories, which, as the name implies is a collection of short stories.
Tell us a little about the stories and the characters. I’d have said there wasn’t a connecting theme but author Margaret Elphinstone who provided a testimonial for the back of the book describes the characters as ‘disinherited by mainstream cultures’, and I’m happy to go with that.
There’s the donkey boy of the title story, a young lad in Pakistan, who is confronted by a moral dilemma and there’s a visually impaired man in a residential home in Scotland…