Tag Archives: UK authors

Alana Woods interviews MARY SMITH, author of No More Mulberries

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I’ve just finished reading Mary Smith’s novel, NO MORE MULBERRIES, a story about a Scots woman who marries an Afghan chap and moves to Afghanistan in the 1980s. It was such a good read I immediately wanted to discuss it with Mary; she said Yes to an interview, so here we are.

Mary Smith

Alana: Mary, welcome. I traditionally ask guests if they would talk a little about themselves first, before getting on to their books and writing. You were born in Scotland and apart from 10 years in Pakistan and Afghanistan you continue to live there, am I right? Would you describe where you live and tell us what keeps you there.

Mary: Thanks so much for inviting me, Alana. I’m delighted you enjoyed NO MORE MULBERRIES. I live in a small market town (pop about 4,000) in Dumfries & Galloway in the south west of Scotland. It’s a beautiful part of the country and although our hills are not as high as in the Highlands they provide a stunning backdrop to lush farmland, forests, and glorious beaches. It’s a magnet for artists and is a really vibrant, creative place to live with a strong sense of community.

Alana: The photos you provided certainly make me want to do a bit of wandering around there. I was watching Escape to the country a couple of weeks ago; it featured the area and mentioned a walk. So who knows! You work part-time as a journalist, what are the types of stories you encounter?

Mary: Over the years I’ve worked on a wide range of stories from local history, including articles on locals who became explorers or writers – what I call my dead famous series—to interviews with writers and artists living in the area. I’ve also written more hard-edged stories on the difficulties of our young people finding a house to buy or rent, heroin use, and domestic abuse.

Alana: It sounds like you’ll tackle anything.

Mary: I love the variety. My last three features were on a major research project into dying with the aim of ensuring everyone can have a ‘good’ death, an interview with the head of a local university, and a feature on a locally-based charity which works to open schools in Afghanistan.

Alana: Talking about Afghanistan … the 10 years you spent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, how did they come about?

Mary: Believe it or not initially I only went to Pakistan for a two-week holiday!

Alana: So you ended up staying?

Mary: No, that visit was just for the two weeks. While there I visited the headquarters of the leprosy programme which received funding from Oxfam, for whom I worked. I was impressed by the work being done towards controlling leprosy and wanted to contribute in some hands-on way. It was suggested I stay and start up a health education department. When I pointed out I didn’t have any medical qualifications they said that was okay, they would provide that.

Alana: But you didn’t stay?

Mary: No. I came home but couldn’t settle and eventually wrote an application letter for the post. I knew they had been going to advertise and expected other, better-qualified people would have applied. However, I received a letter asking me to come as soon as possible. I signed a contract for three years, handed in my notice at work and headed back to Pakistan.

Alana: What did you do there?

Mary: I set up the health education department to help raise awareness of leprosy and spread the word that it is curable. After three years I signed up again but this time to work in Afghanistan where I established a health project teaching Afghan women to become local health volunteers.

Alana: So you were in Afghanistan for seven years? Is Miriam’s daily life in the book drawn from your own experiences?

Mary: Yes and yes. And also from observing what life was like for women in the rural areas of Afghanistan.

Alana: What has stayed in your memory of your time there?

Mary: I miss the excitement of new experiences and the colour and the sunshine. The hospitality of the people—in both countries—is something I will never forget. The adventure of travelling in central Afghanistan through amazing landscapes, over high mountain passes on bone-jarring roads will always stay in my memory. And a few less happy events will not be forgotten either—being caught in a bombing raid, or the time I was tied up by armed robbers in our house in Mazar-i-Sharif. The good memories far outweigh the bad. Oh, goodness, so much has stayed in my memory from those years—enough to write another couple of books I should think!

Alana: How about a series? NO MORE MULBERRIES was a lot of things including entertaining and emotional, but for me it was a real insight into the lives of people, particularly women, there. I imagine it has struck many readers that way. I’d love to gain more insight.

Mary: Very often when watching something on television about Afghanistan or reading in a newspaper, or even a novel, I find myself shouting, “But life for Afghan women is not ALL like that!” I feel very strongly that Afghan women deserve so much more than always to be depicted as repressed, downtrodden creatures, unhappily married to violent husbands. For sure, in some cases, this is true just as it is true in every country including mine. I wanted to show there are other aspects to women’s lives like having fun, enjoying a laugh with friends or taking delight in their children. I’d already written a non-fiction book but thought perhaps a novel would attract a wider audience. I was also interested in exploring what kind of problems a western woman would encounter if she was married to an Afghan man and if their marriage could survive.

No More Mulberries
Alana: Tell us about your other published works.

Mary: As I mentioned above, I’ve also written a non-fiction book. DRUNK CHICKENS AND BURNT MACARONI: REAL STORIES OF AFGHAN WOMEN is a memoir of the last three years I spent in Afghanistan. It describes the work I was doing and introduces the reader to some of the women (and their families) with whom I worked. I wanted to share my experiences of living in Afghanistan and, as I couldn’t persuade people to come and visit, I thought at least by writing about it I could give people an opportunity to be part of that life for as long as it took them to read the book.

I have a collection of poetry called THOUSANDS PASS HERE EVERY DAY which includes some poems about Afghanistan but also about where I live now and about family and childhood. I’m slowly—very slowly—working towards another collection.

My most recently published book is something quite different. DUMFRIES THROUGH TIME is a picture-led local history book with a ‘then and now’ format. I worked with a photographer who took photos of the places for which we’d sourced old images.

Alana: And you have two blogs, My dad is a goldfish: caring for a demented dad and Take Five Authors —would you discuss the ideas behind them both?

Mary: My dad is a goldfish is about caring for my dad, who had dementia. He died in December 2014 and I thought of not continuing with the blog but decided to keep on, though I’m blogging retrospectively. I’ve met some bloggers in a similar situation; some caring for a parent, some for a spouse and it has been good to feel connected with others. I think we all appreciate knowing we’re not alone on this journey.

Take Five Authors is a blog I share with four other writers. Some are traditionally published, some indie, and we put a new post up each week. This means each of us only has to blog once every five weeks. We blog about all aspects of writing and reading from new publications to overcoming the fear of writing; from saving public libraries to running writing courses. It’s a new blog and we’d love to welcome new followers to it.

Alana: I understand you have several projects currently underway. Do any of them involve a new book?

Mary: I want to publish My dad is a goldfish as a book. I’ve just started the process and have realised it’s going to be a bit more complicated than I first thought as the structure has to be changed. I don’t want it just to be a series of blog posts like journal entries, so I need to create something a bit more cohesive. I would like to think I could have it done before the end of this year—it was one of my New Year resolutions.

Photographer Allan Devlin and I have been asked to do another local history book featuring a different town and we’re starting the search for old photos and postcards.

And in case I feel I don’t have enough to challenge me, the other day I found the original manuscript for a book about my first six-months in Afghanistan – the first book which never sees the light of day!

Alana: Ah yes, we all have those. I have three!

Mary: There is quite a lot of material I haven’t used in my other books so I’m thinking of doing a major edit and getting it out there.

Alana: Mary, thank you so much and all the best with your endeavours.

Mary: Thank you so much, Alana. I’ve enjoyed our discussion – hope I didn’t ramble on too much.

Alana: Not even a hint of rambling, Mary. Loved listening.

Take this link to my review of NO MORE MULBERRIES

Mary’s links:  website   |    Amazon author page
Mary’s blogs:  My dad is a goldfish   |   TakeFiveAuthors   |   eNovelAuthorsatWork
Mary on:   Facebook   |   Twitter

Buy links
NO MORE MULBERRIES:  Amazon US   |   Amazon UK
DRUNK CHICKENS AND BURNT MACARONI:  Amazon US   |   Amazon UK
DUMFRIES THROUGH TIME:  Amazon US   |   Amazon UK
THOUSANDS PASS HERE EVERY DAY:  Amazon US   |   Amazon UK

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Alana Woods’ book reviews: NO MORE MULBERRIES by Mary Smith

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My books on Amazon    Imbroglio | Automaton | Tapestries  | 25 Writing Tips

No More Mulberries

We dive into the life of Scottish born and raised Margaret as she lives with her Afghan second husband Iqbal, a doctor, and two young children in Afghanistan.

The story jumps back and forth between the present and the past in which she met and fell in love with her first husband. Margaret has changed her name to Miriam and gradually throughout the story we discover her history as well as those of her two husbands.

This is a beautifully told story that will remain in your thoughts after you’ve finished reading. There’s conflict both on the social landscape level as well as the personal. There’s doubt and mistrust because of the conflicting cultural issues, but there’s also love, kindness and inclusiveness shown to Miriam. She becomes immersed in the life of Iqbal’s village partly because she’s a midwife and sets up a clinic for the village women.

The story is rich in imagery. Horrible things happen in Afghanistan, as they do everywhere else of course, but the miseries caused by families compelled to ‘save face’ are difficult if not impossible to understand by anyone not raised in such a culture.

I found myself musing that the author must have firsthand knowledge of Afghanistan and life there. There’s just too much detail, in my opinion, for it not to be from personal experience. I was curious enough to check out her website and discovered she had spent ten years in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a health worker.

I spent two very pleasant afternoons reading this book and would have been happy to keep reading if it had been longer.

No more mulberries on Amazon US   |   Amazon UK

Read my interview with Mary Smith

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Alana Woods interviews IAN JACKSON, author of Dead Charming

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My books on Amazon    Imbroglio | Automaton | Tapestries  | 25 Writing Tips

My guest today is UK author Ian Jackson. I recently read and reviewed his debut novel DEAD CHARMING, a psychological crime thriller I found confronting but, paradoxically, compelling.

Ian Jackson at desk 328KB

Alana: Ian, welcome. First a little about yourself if you don’t mind. You were born in Liverpool but now live in Cheshire. Why Cheshire? Did you choose it for a particular reason?

Ian: My father moved us from Liverpool to the Wirral when I was about ten years old and when I became old enough to buy a house myself I moved closer to Chester. I think of Cheshire as my home now rather than Liverpool.

Alana: The Wirral, you’re going to have to explain that.

Ian: The Wirral is a peninsular on the opposite side of the River Mersey from Liverpool…it’s a beautiful place!

Alana: And you’ve just been married—am I right in thinking that?

Ian: Yes, June 6th this year. It was a wonderful day and I married the girl of my dreams!

Ian Jackson wedding

Alana: That’s what I like to hear—a besotted bridegroom. ☺
You’re not new to the writing world. You’ve been a magazine and features writer for over 20 years. What was the catalyst for turning to fiction?

Ian: When you write to a contract the content is pretty much set and whilst you can be creative there’s no room to explore themes. Writing fiction means that I can write as I feel and then answer to readers, which is refreshing.

Alana: And why did you choose the crime genre?

Ian: I’m fascinated by the relationship between criminals and their crimes. I wanted to explore the psychological driving-force and the necessary impact that crime has on both perpetrator and victim—plus I love a great crime thriller myself!

Alana: DEAD CHARMING, your debut novel, is set in Manchester. Why did you pick that city for its location?

Ian: I know Manchester very well having worked in the city for a number of years. I love the city and the people and I wanted to set the novel in a place populous enough to help make the narrative believable.

Dead charming cover

Alana: I have to say that I found the subject matter difficult to read at times but even while thinking that I found myself thinking how well you dealt with it. How did you decide how graphic you should be?

Ian: I was careful to balance the murders with emotional response and bring in private lives as a shield against the natural horror of the crimes. I contemplated the psychological effect of the crimes on the characters themselves, thereby insulating the reader to a certain extent—I hope I managed to do that!

Alana: Thinking back on it I’d say you did a pretty good job of that. You have a new novel out I believe, in ebook format at the moment but a paperback edition isn’t far away. Would you tell us a little about it.

Ian: Yes, it’s called DEADLY DETERMINATION and is available throughout the world as a Kindle download. The paperback will be ready before the end of July and I have arranged book signings at Waterstones across the North West of the UK for late July and August—visit www.ian-d-jackson.com for further information.

The story is set in Liverpool and follows the trials of DI Karen Bellows as she navigates her way through a difficult investigation where honesty is not necessarily synonymous with the truth—I’ve written the book as a fast-paced crime story with an un-guessable and breathtaking ending—I hope!

Deadly determination

Alana: It sounds like another good one from you! It may be a bit premature to be asking this, but have you started on a third novel yet or, if not, have you one in mind? And can I ask whether you’ll be continuing in the psychological crime genre?

Ian: Yes, my third novel Deadly labels will be out for Christmas this year and readers of DEADLY DETERMINATION get a sneak preview as the introduction and first chapter are at the back of the book.

Alana: Ian, thank you so much for talking with me today. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed finding out more about you and your work.

Ian: Thank you Alana and thank you for your comments and review of DEAD CHARMING. I find it truly inspirational hearing readers’ thoughts.

Ian’s links:  www.ian-d-jackson.com  | Twitter: @crimenovel

Where to buy DEAD CHARMING:  Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith and all good book stores.
Go to Ian’s website and follow the buy links.

Take this link to my review of DEAD CHARMING

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Alana Woods’ book reviews: DEAD CHARMING by Ian Jackson

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My books on Amazon   Imbroglio  |  Automaton  |  Tapestries  |  25 Writing Tips

Dead charming

This is the debut novel by English author Ian Jackson, and it’s a cracker of a contemporary psychological thriller.

If you’re a squeamish reader I give you warning now: there are some disturbing scenes that you may want to skim. You won’t lose the plot by doing so.

Set in Manchester UK it tells the story of newly-qualified criminal profiler Jenny Foster as she starts work with the Manchester Metropolitan Police Serious Crime Squad and is dropped in the deep end of a serial killer case on her first day.

Among other things it’s a story of degradation, torture, manipulation and deception.

Told from multiple points of view—the victims, the killer, Jenny—it takes you intimately into their lives and their minds.

The story is well told and doesn’t lose its way at any point. Jackson keeps the anticipation mounting as the police close in on their quarry and Jenny has to contend with problems at home while hoping her observations about the killer are accurate.

And then there’s the ending! I’m not going to spoil it by saying anything about it.

If you like taut psychological thrillers you might want to give this one a go.

DEAD CHARMING is available at Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith and all good book stores.
Go to Ian’s website and follow the buy links.

Take this link to my interview with IAN JACKSON

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