Darlene Foster's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Mary Smith

I’ve been blogging for almost ten years and I love it. It’s a great way to communicate with like-minded people, and I’ve made wonderful friends all over the world through my blog. The blogging community is so supportive, sharing ideas and providing encouragement.

One friend I’ve made is Mary Smith from Dumfries, Scotland. She has written some wonderful books including a guide to her hometown. When I finally get to Scotland, I will be taking this book with me.

She has also written a couple of books based on life in Afghanistan, where she lived and worked for a number of years. This is my review of No More Mulberries.

I bought this book because I love reading stories that take place in the middle east. I was not disappointed. Mary Smith has written a wonderful story about cross-cultures, family, relationships and Afghanistan. The detailed descriptions of the land, people and culture are fascinating. The story is told through the point of view of Miriam, the main character, who is a wife, mother and medical practitioner. It is easy to identify with her as she struggles to maintain a home for her family in a culture so different from her life in Scotland. Miriam also has to deal with ghosts from the past and feelings she has suppressed for too long which are having a negative effect on her marriage. This well-written book takes place in a troubled time just before the Taliban take control. Since the reader knows what will eventually happen, but the characters don’t, it keeps you on your toes and turning the pages. I highly recommend this book.

During a book signing in British Columbia last fall, I had a most pleasant surprise. Mary’s cousin Grace hand-delivered a card from Mary to me! Grace had been in Scotland to visit Mary who knew I would be at a bookstore not too far from where Grace lived, so she sent a card along. How special is that?

What a lovely card, all the way from Scotland
And the perfect poem on the back.

I have asked Mary to be a guest on my blog and answer a few questions.

If you could choose a fictional character to be your best friend, who would you choose and why?

This one stopped me in my tracks, Darlene, and I found it difficult to pick one – so I’m afraid I cheated and chose two. I would have loved to be best friends with Jo March of Little Women. She is such a great character. She, like me, was a tomboy – I climbed trees, went fishing with boys because I didn’t know any girls who wanted to fish. I even played on building sites, climbing over the rafters of half-built houses (which makes me shudder to think about now). I think we’d have egged each other on to do ever more daring things and I think we’d have laughed a lot together. She was strong-willed, determined not to be bound by the conventions of the day. Best of all, she wanted to write. I’d never met a character – a girl at that – in a book who wanted to be a writer and was totally bowled over by this. If Jo could do it – which she did very successfully – then maybe I could, too. I was slightly less impressed with her in Jo’s Boys when she began to only write for family and stopped writing for money, saying “most of us (she was talking about literary women) write too much.” I don’t think my teenage friend Jo would have adopted such an attitude so I’ll go on believing the teenage Jo March and I are best friends.

The cheat of my second one is a bit quirky. I would love to be best friends with Flora. Flora is the main character in a wonderful novel called The Bees by Laline Paul – and Flora is a bee. She is born into the lowest class of the hive but she’s a brave wee thing and survives and thrives, breaking the rules of the hierarchy in what is a compelling thriller about the secret life of the hive. I think we could be great friends, Flora and me.

If you could personally see one natural phenomenon that you have never seen, what would it be and why that one?

I would love to see the Aurora Borealis. Growing up in Scotland I always loved the song, The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen, sung so often in school, at ceilidhs, on the radio, in which the lights are described as the “heavenly dancers”. I’ve seen amazing images of the phenomenon on the internet and would love to see it for real.

If you were to be paid to write a book about any subject you wished, what would it be about?

I want to write a biography of a remarkable woman who was a mechanical engineer in the early 1920s. She had an amazing life: supervising thousands of women (who could build anything from a bicycle to a battleship) at Barrow-in-Furness during the First World War, running a car factory, which employed mainly women, taking part in car racing trials and then establishing a hugely successful steam laundry – they laundered the uniforms of the soldiers who took part in the D-Day Landings. I have done some research but it would be lovely to be paid to do further research and writing the book.

Tell us about your next writing project.

Well, until I’m offered a nice advance to write about my woman engineer, my current project is turning the material on my blog, My Dad’s a Goldfish, into a memoir. My father had dementia, bad enough in itself, but his wife of forty years decided she wanted a peaceful life and left him, just at the time he most needed stability and continuity in his life. I moved in with him and started the blog as a way of recording events – and to keep my writing muscle working – and from feedback it seems all sorts of people would be interested in reading it as a book. It’s not in any way a ‘misery memoir’ – it has a lot of humour – but it does tell it like it is, from finding way to engage my father’s interest in life to dealing with him cheating at dominoes, from dealing with what it’s like to have to wipe your father’s bum to sharing his joy in the countryside.

Mary Smith

A brief bio

Born on the island of Islay but grew up in Dumfries & Galloway from the age of seven. After school had a miserable year working in a bank, went hitchhiking round France and Italy, came back and worked for Oxfam for ten years. Went for a holiday to Pakistan and found a job so the next ten years were spent first in Pakistan then in Afghanistan working for an aid organisation. A freelance journalist, I also write poetry, fiction and non-fiction including local history.

Social media links including Amazon.

Website: www.marysmith.co.uk

Blogs: My Dad’s a Goldfish   https://marysmith57.wordpress.com

Mary Smith’s Place    https://marysmithsplace.wordpress.com

Amazon Page US: http://amzn.to/2ecvjbP

Amazon Page UK: http://amzn.to/2jGw9A9

Twitter: https://twitter.com/marysmithwriter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000934032543

Thanks for answering my questions, Mary. I would love to be friends with Jo March as well. And thanks for being my blogging friend. I’m sure we will meet in person one day soon. Good luck with your writing projects.

Check out Mary’s blog where she is writing a fascinating series of posts about her experiences in Afghanistan. https://marysmithsplace.wordpress.com/

I was pleased to receive the Sunshine Blogger Award from Mary Smith of Mary Smith’s Place. Mary lives in Scotland and is a published 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 working in Afghanistan, Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni and a couple of local history books: Dumfries Through Time and Castle Douglas Through Time. I wrote a review of her wonderful book, No More Mulberries here

The Sunshine Blogger Award is a peer appreciation award given to bloggers who are creative, positive, and inspiring, while spreading sunshine to the blogging community.

Thank you, Mary!

The Rules:

Thank the blogger who nominated you in a blog post and link back to their blog.

Answer the 11 questions sent to you by the person who nominated you.

Nominate up to 11 new blogs to receive the award, and then give them 11 new questions – or cheat like I did and use the same questions 🙂

List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or your blog

Here are the questions I received and my answers:

What was the driving force behind the creation of your blog?

When I published my first book, Amanda in Arabia – The Perfume Flask in 2010, my publisher suggested I get active on social media to help promote my book. She thought a blog would be a good idea. I had been thinking about starting one, so that was the push I needed. Nine years later I am still blogging and loving it!

What was your vision for your future in blogging/writing when you first started this blog? How has that vision evolved?

My vision for the blog was to create a place where I could write about dreams. Not just mine but other people’s as well. I like to feature people who have followed their dreams, writers, artists etc. Since I love to travel, and it is a dream come true for me, I enjoy sharing stories and pictures of my travels. I also feature posts about things I love like my family, my dog, food, books and my life in Spain. I think my vision of creating a place to share dreams has evolved into just that!

What age were you when you realized you loved writing?

I always loved to tell stories and write them down but when I was twelve I had a story published in a local newspaper. That was when I thought it would be fun to write stories for publication. It was very much later when I finally realized that dream.

How has your life changed as a result of the electronic age? Is it better/worse/the same?

It is much better. I never learned to type so using a typewriter to write stories took me forever. I really didn’t seriously consider writing for publication until we got a computer. Without technology, I would not have been able to move across the ocean to Spain. Because of social media, I can communicate with my family and friends as if we lived next door. I also love being able to connect with people from all over the world, many of whom have become wonderful friends.

What was the very last website you visited today?

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/

If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be?

To attend university.

How would your life be different today if that one thing from your past were to change?

It would have given me more confidence and I would have met some amazing people.

If you have children, tell me…how did your parenting change from the time you had your first child until the time you had your last?

There are eight years between my two children so of course, I was more mature when I had my daughter. But I think my parenting was still the same. I loved my kids to bits but tried not to smother them. I gave them the independence they needed to be able to make it in the real world. I was also very busy so they had to do a lot of things for themselves, which didn’t hurt them.

Tell me about the funniest experience you’ve had in the past month.

I made a beef stew for hubby one evening. There was a little left so I put it in Dot’s dish on top of her kibbles. Next thing I knew she was busy sorting out her food. She made a pile of peas and a pile of carrots beside her bowl before she scarfed down the meat, gravy, and kibbles. Then she ate the peas, and then the carrots leaving the place spotless. It was so funny. I have seen kids separate their food but never a dog! She certainly keeps us entertained.

What do you have planned for the upcoming holiday season?

I plan to attend an Easter parade and festival here in Spain. Easter is a huge holiday here called Semana Santa (Holy Week) and is spread out over the full week. I wrote a post about it. https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/semana-santa-easter-in-spain/

I will also have an Easter egg hunt in my yard for our six-year-old neighbour. I just have to be sure Dot doesn’t get at them first.

If I nominate you and you have an award free blog, or if you have already been nominated for this award, please view the nomination as a compliment: you are under no obligation to respond.

My questions are the same as those posed to me.

My nominees of bloggers who spread sunshine and inspiration are 

Beth Ann Chiles at It´s Just Life https://itsjustlife.me/

Sue Slaught at Travel Tales of LIfe  https://traveltalesoflife.com/

Pam Wight at Rough Wighting https://roughwighting.net/

Molly Stevens at Shallow Reflections https://www.shallowreflections.com/

Jacquie Biggar at https://jacqbiggar.com/

Jennie Fitzkee at A Teacher´s Reflection https://jenniefitzkee.com/

Stevie Turner at https://steviet3.wordpress.com/

Annika Perry at https://annikaperry.com/ 

Fatima Saysell at https://sayselltravels.com/

Joy Lennick at https://joylennick.wordpress.com/

Of course, anyone else who would like to join in is welcome. 

 

I was pleased to see that everyone enjoyed my list of book recommendations, so following my previous post, I wish to share three more books I read and enjoyed this summer. I have included a children´s book as I believe everyone should read a children´s book once in a while. It is amazing what you can learn.

No More Mulberries

No More Mulberries is a story of commitment and divided loyalties, of love and loss, set against a country struggling through transition.

British-born Miriam’s marriage to her Afghan doctor husband is heading towards crisis. Despite his opposition, she goes to work as a translator at a medical teaching camp in a remote area of rural Afghanistan hoping time apart will help are see where their problems lie. She comes to realise how unresolved issues from when her first husband was killed by a mujahideen group are damaging her relationship with her husband and her son – but is it already too late to save her marriage?

My review
I bought this book because I love reading stories that take place in the middle east. I was not disappointed. Mary Smith has written a wonderful story about cross-cultures, family, relationships and Afghanistan. The detailed descriptions of the land, people and culture are fascinating. The story is told through the point of view of Miriam, the main character, who is a wife, mother and medical practitioner. It is easy to identify with her as she struggles to maintain a home for her family in a culture so different from her life in Scotland. Miriam also has to deal with ghosts from the past and the feelings she has suppressed for too long which are having a negative effect on her marriage. This well-written book takes place in a troubled time just before the Taliban take control. Since the reader knows what will eventually happen, but the characters don’t, it keeps you on your toes and turning the pages. I highly recommend this book.

A Marriage of Convenience

Gerrie Hermann, aspiring rock star from a rich South African family, has an unusual proposal for Sophie Woods when he meets her for the first time in their university canteen. Strait-laced Sophie has never done anything out of the ordinary in the whole of her 19 years. When she decides to take Gerrie up on his offer she has no idea that her decision is going to affect the rest of her life in ways that she could never have foreseen, even in her wildest dreams.
My review
Sometimes one hasty decision can affect your entire life. Sophie doesn’t know what she is getting into when she agrees to marry wannabe rock star Gerrie Hermann so he can stay in the UK and pursue his music career. Can a marriage of convenience survive a botched up kidnapping, harboured secrets, lost dreams and undeniable heartache? An easy read with real-life characters set in the exciting London music scene and exotic Rio de Janeiro.

I Am David

David’s entire twelve-year life has been spent in a grisly prison camp in Eastern Europe. He knows nothing of the outside world. But when he is given the chance to escape, he seizes it. With his vengeful enemies hot on his heels, David struggles to cope in this strange new world, where his only resources are a compass, a few crusts of bread, his two aching feet, and some vague advice to seek refuge in Denmark. Is that enough to survive?
David’s extraordinary odyssey is dramatically chronicled in Anne Holm’s classic about the meaning of freedom and the power of hope.
My review
This is an amazing book. One that makes you think. It is cleverly written from the point of view of a young boy who has been raised in a concentration camp. He escapes but has to make his way in a world he knows little about. He gets by with his resourcefulness, honesty, and unique problem-solving skills. The book is written for children but is perfect for adults as well, as the topics of hope, forgiveness and sacrifice are universal and timeless. A must-read for all ages.
I know that TBR list is growing but here are three more to add!!

In November of last year, I was a guest on Sally Cronin’s blog where I was asked to list two things on my personal bucket list. One of them was to attend a writers’ conference in Europe. A writer/blogger friend, Mary Smith, suggested I check out the Winchester Writers’ Festival, which I did. In June I attended this 38-year-old festival held at the University of Winchester with 300 other attendees, providing 50 talks, readings and workshops. I had a great time and thought I should share what I learned while there.

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Entrance to the University of Winchester

I arrived Friday evening in time for dinner where I met other authors over stimulating conversation. Later I attended a talk by James Aitcheson who discussed researching and writing historical fiction which was interesting.

I stayed on campus and found my little room to be comfortable. I felt every bit a student.

DSCN2037

My digs for the weekend. My room was on the second floor.

The next morning, after a good sleep and a hearty breakfast (there were even vege sausages!), we listened to the keynote address with Patrick Gale interviewed by Judith Henegan, Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival. This prolific writer of 15 novels and counting, spoke about “A Life in Writing”. He offered some great advice and this is some of what I took away from the entertaining and informative discussion.

  1. Write in ink first
  2. Use setting as a character
  3. Place defines a person
  4. End with a glimmer of hope and leave some things unanswered
  5. Remember the reader in the second draft. (are they seeing and feeling what you want them to?)
  6. Children are good to have in a novel as they disrupt, are indiscreet and honest
  7. Readers respond to recognition
  8. Cut out unnecessary stuff, remove anything that reminds people that they are reading
  9. Learn to write by reading
  10. Time is a good editor
  11. Dialogue is good but can slow down the action. It’s OK to use reported speech sometimes
  12. Readers rewrite the book when they read it

I bought his book, “A Place Called Winter” and he signed it for me. He was very interested in the fact that I was raised near the area in Canada where the story takes place.

IMG_20180616_095652 (2)

 

For the remainder of the day, I attended a number of workshops. One by children’s author, Patrice Lawernce, on “Whose Voice is it Anyway”. She discussed making your characters sound authentic by listening to how people talk and being perpetually curious, knowing their backstory and culture and getting under the skin of your characters.

Another workshop on “Creating a Picture Book”, was facilitated by Andrew Weale. He explained that you have to think visually as you write, write a lot, then pare it down to a few words as you let the pictures talk. Picture book stories can be generated by asking unusual, quirky questions.

“Twitter For Writers” by Claire Fuller gave me a few more ideas on how to maximize my time on Twitter. “Myth, Mystery and Magic” with Sarah Mussi reminded us that goodness wins in the end with examples through the ages. The hero should have a flaw, even if it is a good flaw like being too kind etc. The excellent dinner came with a guest speaker, Helen Dennis, who gave an animated talk about her route to success as a children’s author.

Sunday was an all-day workshop, “Casting the Spell of Place”, with Lorna Ferguson. I loved this as we were given prompts with time to write and share our work. A few points I took away with me.

  1. Cut out unnecessary details of description to avoid making it sound like a travelogue
  2. Don’t make lists
  3. Think of the reader and what effect you want to create
  4. Setting can create mood and atmosphere and help with plotting
  5. Location often takes the character out of their comfort zone
  6. It should transport the reader out of their ordinary world (armchair travelling)
  7. It should create a perception of the culture
  8. Description needs to be broken up with dialogue and action
  9. Be careful of information dumping, it will pull the reader out of the story
  10. If it doesn’t work, try a different setting!

Another point that came up which was very helpful for me and my stories is that a character can’t always have someone help them. They need to solve their own problems, sometimes in an unfamiliar location.

We were given a list of quotes. I love this one. Place is paramount. Annie Proulx

I also had two one to one appointments with authors who looked at the first chapter of Amanda in Holland and gave me great feedback.

With limited luggage space, I only bought two books, (amazing for me!) and an Elizabeth Bennet tree ornament to remember my time.

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Elizabeth Bennett Christmas tree ornament

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Charming bench on the grounds of the university

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One of the many great buildings on site, the Business School

Staying in a historic city, meeting other writers and learning more about the art of writing made this a perfect break for me and just what I needed to continue with my writing. Thank you so much, Mary Smith, for this suggestion. Check out her interesting blog and wonderful books.

https://www.amazon.com/kindle-/entity/author/B001KCD4P0

 


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