Thanks to Marcia for allowing me to share Annika Perry’s wonderful five star review of No More Mulberries on her blog. I was thrilled to see it – and to see the lovely comments from people who have already read the book. I spent the day in a warm glow 🙂
This shot off before I had a chance to write anything – like saying thanks to Marcia for letting me use her blog to shout about my five minutes of fame. Well, one person in the supermarket announced she’d seen me on the telly!
A couple of months ago when Keith Kirk and I were launching Secret Dumfries we were thrilled to be invited to be filmed on ITV’s popular programme Border Life.
Of course, the programme could not be seen to advertise our book. There was a mention of a new book out but I don’t think they even gave its name.
Despite initial nerves (mine anyway, don’t know about Keith – he seemed very relaxed), we had a fabulous day. Presenter Lori Carnochan met us with cameraman Paul Robinson at Crichton Hall, formerly the Crichton Royal Lunatic Asylum. Here we explored the basement with its fantastic wine cellars where the wealthy patients kept their wine supplies. And debated the mystery of the ‘secret tunnels’.
Camaraman Paul, had me and Lori walking down the stairs umpteen times, and another umpteen times to walk along the corridor before he was satisfied he had the…
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Am re-blogging Karachi Crocodiles from MarySmith’sPlace as I know Marcia likes these wonderful creatures – maybe her followers do, too!
I apologise for the lack of decent photos to accompany this post. I visited Manghopir several times, taking many photos of the crocodiles and of the shrine, the busy shops around it and of the hot springs but I can’t find them. I suspect they were in the albums thrown out after our previous cat sprayed on them. He had a tendency, after a stray kitten tried to take up residence, to mark everything in the house as his.
The legendary crocodiles that guard the shrine of Saint Mangho (ManghoPir) were piled in a heap, under a tree. They looked very muddy, and suspiciously lifeless. The shrine, or mazar, lies to the north of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. There are two springs beside it, one hot, and one cold. Bathing tanks have been provided, for the water is reputed to cure all manner of ailments – from…
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Thank you to Marcia for letting me share the news that from today until 23 December, Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni is only 99c/99p on Amazon.
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is a unique portrayal of the lives of ordinary Afghan women before and after the Taliban regime. The reader is caught up in their day-to-day lives sharing their problems, dramas, the tears and the laughter: whether gossiping over tea or learning how to deliver babies safely.
As well as the opportunity to enjoy meeting the women, Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni takes the reader on a journey through some of the most stunning and dramatic landscapes in the world.
And right now it’s only 99c!
Here’s a little taster:
‘As was usual when it came to goodbyes, Sharifa enfolded me in a damp farewell hug, her eyes red from weeping. Blinking hard, I croaked past the egg-sized lump in my throat, ‘Please, don’t. You’ll start me off again and I’ve cried too much already over the last few days.’
Sharifa pulled back sharply, demanding, ‘What are you crying for? You made the decision to leave us. If you are so upset about it, don’t go.’
For a moment, changing my mind seemed such a stunningly simple solution to ending the misery, I almost agreed. Then I thought of the ordeal of the endless round of farewell dinners I had just endured. Each one had started with an air of forced gaiety as we laughed too loudly at not-very-funny jokes before lapsing into tense silences. Each one had ended in tears. I could not go through it all again.
Wordlessly, I shook my head and walked across the tarmac to where the tiny plane was waiting, its engines running. Leaving was proving to be more painful than I had ever anticipated. It was heart-breaking knowing that it would be many years – if ever – before I again saw the friends now clustered together waving goodbye. There was, however, no time to drown in my sense of loss. With the plane taxi-ing down the runway, five-year old David needed reassurance concerning his own doubts about our going away. Tugging at my sleeve, he demanded anxiously, ‘Are you sure there are sheep in Scotland? If not, we’ll have to come back because I really want to be a shepherd when I’m big – like Iqbal.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘there are sheep in Scotland but first you have to go to school. After that we can consider shepherding as a future career.’
Satisfied, he soon fell asleep – maybe to dream about running wild on the mountain with his friend Iqbal. I let my own eyes close. Instantly, three years of memories jostled for attention as the plane flew over the jagged peaks of the Hindu Kush, taking us away from Afghanistan.
During those three years working, along with partner Jon, for a small NGO concerned with health care in Afghanistan, there had been many emotional highs and lows. Along with a demanding workload, there had been excitement, occasional moments of terror – such as when armed robbers, demanding dollars I didn’t have, tied me up and poked a pistol in my ear.
There had been anger and sadness but, as well as tears, there had been lots of fun and laughter. In particular there had been the overwhelming warmth and acceptance shown by the Afghan women who had become my friends, allowing me to share a part of their lives.
Apart from the over-emotional, soft-hearted Sharifa, there had been acerbic, sharp-tongued Latifa, Habiba with her snobbish aspirations, and gentle Maryam with her practical good sense. I knew I would never need the nishani [remembrance gifts – of handkerchiefs and embroidered cloths] to help remind me of them.
Nor would I ever forget the village women who bravely agreed to be pioneers, joining with me to establish the first Female Health Volunteer training project. These women had learned how to prevent infants with diarrhoea dying of dehydration, to teach their neighbours all they learned, to deliver babies safely. They had been so excited when they received their hand-made certificates after passing the final exams. They had been even more excited when I showed them an article, accompanied by a group photograph, about their achievements, that I had written for a national newspaper back home.
‘Are people in your country really interested in reading about us?’ asked Fatima in wonder. ‘We’re poor. We can’t even read and write. What is so special about us?’
Find out just how special these women are by downloading Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni here. You do want to know why the chickens were drunk, don’t you? Did I say it’s on Kindle Countdown at only 99c?
Many thanks to Marcia for letting me take over her blog to tell her 3,600 dear friends about the release of my short story collection, Donkey Boy and Other Stories.
The ebook is already up on Amazon at the amazing, introductory price of 99p (which I think translates into $1.34 – still cheaper than a cup of coffee. The paperback will be out in a few weeks.
The cover, which I love, was designed by Melissa Priddy of Creative Station.
It’s a slim collection of stories which will entertain, amuse, and make you think – and there are little touches of humour. The reader will meet diverse range of characters in a number of different locations. A donkey boy 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 what may be a frightening gift – or a curse.
Here’s a sample story as an appetiser:
Such Soft Hands
Everyone admires her husband’s hands. They’re delicate with long, tapering fingers, the nails beautifully shaped. They might have been considered effeminate on another man but they’re all of a piece with Jonathan’s overall elegance.
Moira’s own hands are broad with stumpy fingers, the nails cut short. The backs of them are brown from hours spent in the garden. A few liver spots have appeared. She folds her arms, tucking her ugly hands under her armpits and turns her attention back to her husband on the television screen.
The camera focus shifts to his face, away from his soft hands, gently cradling a porcelain bowl. No-one had expected a programme on the history of porcelain to be such a hit but the camera loves him. Viewers – mainly women – adore his sexy voice and shiver at the sight of his beautiful hands caressing rare and delicate objects; they write in to tell him so. Continue reading
This memoir takes the reader on a journey through Afghanistan, meeting the women with whom Mary Smith worked and provides a remarkable insight into their lives. Share in the day-to-day lives of women like Sharifa and Marzia: the dramas, the tears and the laughter.
As well as the opportunity to get to know the women, Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni allows the reader through some of the most stunning and dramatic landscapes in the world And if you want to know why the chickens were drunk and the macaroni burnt – you’ll have to buy the book!
Excerpt: this is from chapter seven when the trainee health volunteers request a family planning lesson.
Before we started on lessons about healthy pregnancies and deliveries, the students requested a class on family planning. It was the contraceptive pill they most wanted to hear about.
‘Is it true,’ asked Kulsom, ‘that if a woman takes the family planning goli for a while then has another baby she won’t have any milk?’ Someone else wanted to know if forgetting the pill meant the woman would have twins. Others were concerned that they might be left infertile if they took the pill for too long.
This worried Kulsom, who said, ‘It’s not that I don’t want any more babies but I’m tired – I’d just like to have a rest before the next one.’ As she had had four babies in six years it was not surprising she was tired.
Nickbacht, a mother of seven commented, ‘It used to be that babies came every two years. Now, it is often every year. It is harder for the younger ones now.’ Her explanation for the increased birth rate caused laughter but general agreement from the others. ‘It’s since the war started and so many men went to join the mujahideen,’ she said. ‘They don’t have sex while they are on duty so when they come home they want it all the time until they go away again. If they come home once a year, then once a year their wives become pregnant.
‘If there is ever peace again and the men are at home all the time it will go back to every two years. When you can eat sugar whenever you want, you stop wanting it so much.’
There was much giggling and hiding of faces in chaddars when I asked the women to tell me what they knew about how babies are conceived. A few ribald remarks were made amidst increased giggles, making me explain hastily that I did not want a description of the physical act. While it was clear that the “how-to” aspect of procreation was undoubtedly understood, there was little knowledge of the process of conception.
There was some confused murmuring about male and female eggs and someone declared that a woman could not become pregnant unless she was sexually satisfied.
Nickbacht, the wool spinner, snorted. ‘If that was true, how come there are so many children running around.’ This smart rejoinder provoking much laughter from the women made Iqbal blush furiously.
Poor Iqbal often had cause to blush as the women teased him unmercifully, telling him that as an unmarried man he wouldn’t know about these things yet. When condoms were handed round during a birth spacing class, the women promptly blew them up like balloons, laughing and making jokes that he refused to translate for me.
On one occasion he was so embarrassed he left the room, leaving me to demonstrate – with an inadequate vocabulary and the help of a broom handle – that a condom cannot be fitted correctly if it has been stretched to its full extent and snapped like a rubber band.
Buy link: http://smarturl.it/dcbm
Bio: Mary Smith lives in beautiful south west Scotland where she grew up. She worked in Pakistan and Afghanistan for ten years, where she established a mother and child care programme providing skills and knowledge to women health volunteers. Her memoir, Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women, is about her work in Afghanistan which also provides the setting for her novel No More Mulberries.
She has one full length poetry collection, Thousands Pass Here Every Day, published by Indigo Dreams and has written two local history books Dumfries Through Time and Castle Douglas Through Time and is working on Secret Dumfries to be published in 2018.
She is currently working on turning her blog, My Dad’s a Goldfish, into a book about caring for her dad through his dementia. And planning to write a more interesting bio!
You can find Mary here:
Amazon Page US: http://amzn.to/2ecvjbP
Amazon Page UK: http://amzn.to/2de1Soi
Thank you Marcia for allowing me to commandeer your blog to let your followers know my novel set in Afghanistan, No More Mulberries, is FREE to download from Amazon until Monday 10th July.
Blurb: Scottish-born midwife, Miriam loves her work at a health clinic in rural Afghanistan and the warmth and humour of her women friends in the village, but she can no longer ignore the cracks appearing in her marriage. Her doctor husband has changed from the loving, easy-going man she married and she fears he regrets taking on a widow with a young son, who seems determined to remain distant from his stepfather.
When Miriam acts as translator at a medical teaching camp she hopes time apart might help her understand the cause of their problems. Instead, she must focus on helping women desperate for medical care and has little time to think about her failing marriage. When an old friend appears, urging her to visit the village where once she and her first husband had been so happy, Miriam finds herself travelling on a journey into her past, searching for answers to why her marriage is going so horribly wrong.
Her husband, too, must deal with issues from his own past – from being shunned by childhood friends when he contracted leprosy to the loss of his first love.
Excerpt from Chapter One: Iqbal was being ridiculous but if she was going to persuade him to change his mind, she must stay calm. She really didn’t want it to turn into a major row. She took a deep breath, which ended on a yawn. Too tired for one thing.
Maybe she should agree to Iqbal’s suggestion and employ a girl from the village to help with the housework? She’d always refused, telling him she’d feel uncomfortable having someone working in the house. She didn’t admit to him she hated the idea of people thinking the foreign wife needed help to run her home, couldn’t cope with hard work. Bad enough they knew she couldn’t spin wool – or milk a goat.
That bloody-minded animal, feeling her first tentative touch, had looked knowingly over its shoulder at her with its nasty, wrong-way-round eyes and walked away. Tightening her grip only made the goat go faster, forcing her into an idiotic crouching run, while her friend
Usma, in between shouts of laughter yelled at her to let go. When she did, falling over in a heap on the stony ground, the pain of her scraped knees had been nothing compared to the hurt to her dignity and pride. For weeks after everyone asked her if she’d milked any more goats. The day she could join in the laughter at the episode had not yet arrived.
She sighed and looked upwards. Familiarity with Afghanistan’s night skies never lessened her sense of awe. On moonless nights the Milky Way was a magical white path through stars that didn’t twinkle – they blazed. Constellations her father had taught her to recognise when she was a child – Orion, the Plough, the Seven Sisters – demonstrated proudly that here, they possessed far more jewel-bright stars than she had ever seen in Scotland. Tonight, though, the moon, almost full, had risen, dimming the stars’ brightness, silvering the jagged peaks of the mountains that kept the valley safe.
‘Our moon,’ she whispered. ‘Oh, Jawad, what have I done?’
‘Miriam?’ She jumped at the sound of Iqbal’s voice close behind her. Had he heard her whisper?
She turned to face him relieved to see he was smiling. ‘Children ready for bed?’ she asked. ‘I’ll go say goodnight to them.’
He shook his head, coming to stand next to her, saying softly, ‘Ruckshana’s already asleep. Farid is learning his spelling words for tomorrow.’ He reached for her hand. ‘Miriam, look, I suppose I should have mentioned it to you – cancelling the boys’ lessons.’
‘Mentioned it?’ She snatched her hand away, the need for calm forgotten. Tilting her head to look up at him, she asked, ‘What about discussing it with me?’
Bio: Author and journalist Mary Smith lives in South West Scotland. Although she has always written, whether childish short stories, very bad angst-ridden poetry as a teenager, or diaries, she never really believed she could be an author. And so she did lots of other things instead including fundraising for Oxfam and later working in Pakistan and Afghanistan for health programmes. Those experiences inform much of her writing. Her debut novel, No More Mulberries is set in Afghanistan.
Back in Scotland she found work as a freelance journalist while completing a MLitt in Creative Writing. She has also written Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women, a narrative non-fiction account about her time in Afghanistan which offers an authentic insight into how ordinary Afghan women and their families live their lives.
She has one full-length collection of poems, Thousands Pass Here Every Day and has worked, in collaboration with photographer Allan Devlin on two local history books: Dumfries Through Time and Castle Douglas Through Time. Secret Dumfries will be published in 2018.
Mary’s other project is to turn her blog, My Dad’s A Goldfish, about caring for her father when he had dementia into a book, which she hopes will be published before the end of 2017. Before that she will be publishing a slim collection of short stories.
GET IT HERE: http://smarturl.it/nmm
First, a big thanks to Marcia for the invitation to post on her blog – such a generous thing to do.
I wanted to tell everyone – especially anyone living in Australia – my memoir Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni is in Amazon’s Winter Sale in Australia right now for only 99c. Sale lasts until August 22nd.
Drunk Chickens provides a remarkable insight into the lives of ordinary women in Afghanistan. Despite the hardships in their lives – and there are many – they are not all helpless, downtrodden victims but women of courage, determined to make the best of life for themselves and their families.
Excerpt (taken from a section about the health classes)
Before we started on lessons about healthy pregnancies and deliveries, the students requested a class on family planning. It was the contraceptive pill they most wanted to hear about.
‘Is it true,’ asked Kulsom, ‘that if a woman takes the family planning goli for a while then has another baby she won’t have any milk?’ Someone else wanted to know if forgetting the pill meant the woman would have twins. Others were concerned they might be infertile if they took the pill for too long.
This worried Kulsom, who said, ‘It’s not that I don’t want any more babies but I’m tired – I’d like a rest before the next one.’ As she had had four babies in six years it was not surprising she was tired. Continue reading