NO MORE MULBERRIES: A BOOK REVIEW

The name alone of the country Afghanistan conjures up images of war, strife, death, despair and deprivation. Intellectually we know there is a life beyond the headlines, an everyday existence which is rarely written about. A few books in recent years have emerged to fill the gap of our lack of knowledge and one of the best of these is Mary Smith’s excellent ‘No More Mulberries’.

Although a fiction novel, it is evident that the author draws on her personal experience as a health worker for ten years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

‘No More Mulberries’ follows the life of Scottish-born midwife Miriam, who has wholeheartedly embraced Afghanistan and relishes her work with the local people in the rural community of her second husband. Here she makes friends, finds fulfilment with her work however cracks quickly appear in her life.

Her husband Iqbal is struggling to cope with the return to his home village and to balance the rigid expectations of his family, friends and colleagues with his previously more independent life in Pakistan, where he could equally celebrate and be proud of Miriam’s success. As Iqbal escapes into a world of work and silence, Miriam, against her husband’s wishes, joins another health clinic as a translator for Afghan paramedics and foreign doctors. Here the past and present collide as a friend of her first husband, her first and true love, rides into the clinic to bring her for a visit to the village she first lived in when newly married and in Afghanistan years earlier.

The book follows the intense journey of Miriam and partly Iqbal’s journey in the present-day as well as brilliantly bringing their past vivdly alive for us in flashbacks. Through these the characters deep introspection develops into an inner soul-searching journey. For both past traumas has marred their present lives and that of their children. Is it too late for them, they both wonder as their relationship seems to flounder? How can they live in a village that threatens to engulf them by history and tradition?

The book is set in the stunning natural landscape of the countryside as well as to the increasingly unstable political backdrop where tribal tensions are growing in severity. The, at times, precarious situation surrounding Miriam and her family ensures this is a tense, compulsive read which never flags. I was riveted by both the epic sweeping story as well as the wonderful descriptive writing and the beautifully drawn and varied characters in ‘No More Mulberries’.

Mary Smith is an assured writer who unravels the multifaceted lives of her characters with creative skill, whilst retaining a tight control of the overall novel. I was hooked from the very beginning and felt a sense of loss upon finishing the book … one of those times I just didn’t want to say farewell to my new friends! This is one of my favourite books this year and I look forward to reading more by this author.

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Available:  Amazon UK    And Amazon US 


EXCITING TIMES…COVER & BLURB REVEALED

Did you hear that whoop of joy? That screech of overwhelming excitement and happiness? It is with utmost delight and sense of pride that I can unveil the cover of my collection of short stories entitled, The Storyteller Speaks.

The ebook will be out in a few days.

TSS_Kindl_72dpi

No book cover reveal would be complete without the accompanying blurb.

About the Book

It only takes one event to change a life. What is that action, decision, occurrence? Whose life is affected? Changed forever?

In this eclectic mix of 21 short stories, flash fiction and poetry the pendulum swings between first love and murder, from soul-destroying grief to reconciliation. The tales veer from the sweet satisfaction of revenge to new beginnings, from heart-breaking miscarriages of justice to heart-warming Christmas misadventure.

One common thread binds them all; the belief that there is no such thing as an ordinary life; they’re all extraordinary.

Open your hearts and minds as The Storyteller Speaks.

In moments of thrilling ecstatic elation I just need a quick bop and this is is one of my all-time favourite songs to which I let my hair down and dance – I hope you can join me.

A week ago I posted my publishing woes when I was let down. Just as I had accepted the inevitable long delay before starting anew my journey to publication an email from Sally Cronin at Smorgadbord – Variety is the spice of life popped up my inbox.

I read it over and over. Could it be true…I both laughed and cried with joy; my hope re-kindled.

Sally wrote to say how sorry she was for me and that as she and her husband are publishers they would only be too happy to take on my book and prepare it for publication. David runs the publishing company and I was soon in touch with him at Moyhill Publishing.

Both Sally and David were adamant that we could get the book out by Christmas and ever since emails have been winging their way back and forth between David and myself.

David Cronin is a true professional, a joy to work with. His speed in returning amended proofs and answering questions is unbelievable. No query was too much, every step of the way was explained…all in the midst of proofreading and for him formatting the manuscript.

Meanwhile, there was one major hurdle – the cover, or rather lack of one! I  remembered Debby’s  beautiful cover of her latest book. I looked at her book cover designer’s website and found a fabulous cover for my book. I  immediately emailed Yvonne Less at Art4Artists. Within minutes and despite the early morning in Australia I had a reply! After this initial email it only took a few days until I had the finished cover.

I cannot thank David and Sally enough for coming to my rescue; they are both such warm, wonderful people. They work with great professionalism and expertise and the past week has been very uplifting for me.

I am overjoyed and honoured to be published by Moyhill Publishing.

The paperback book is ready however we are just waiting for print proofs and space at the printers. It will be published in January 2018.

Battle of Views

Black Tulip

In the past week the Battle of Viewpoints has been fought within the pages of my novel.

Automatically I started writing in the the third person, feeling comfortable and at ease.

Then one of the main characters clamoured to be heard and as an experiment I switched to her first person voice.

The result was not the triumphant powerful success which I had imagined.

Although I enjoyed being in my character’s head and travelling with her thoughts and observations on paper (or screen), my writing suddenly became simplified. This could be as the character at this stage is a young girl aged 10 and my language in her voice couldn’t help but reflect her youth.

Furthermore the passages of description which I feel are critical to the story became lost as the need to describe the settings became superfluous since they are familiar to the character. Any such description became false and forced.

Often writers use first person as this allows the reader to quickly engage and identify with the character, thereby drawing them into the story. I have often written from this viewpoint in my short stories and found it ideal. There is one danger though and that is the reader is limited to that one character’s perception of the story, through their eyes only. It is virtually impossible to introduce any events away from the character. One way to add further dimensions in the first person perspective is to use two or more characters.

Having just read ‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd I did consider this approach. In her wonderful book there are two narrators: the slave girl, Handful and the slave owner’s daughter, Sarah Grimké, who alternatively swap the story telling and thereby relate two very diverse and diametrically opposing worlds and experiences.

As I could not imagine two characters alone carrying the my story I knew more would be needed and was concerned this could be become cumbersome.

At one stage whilst discussing my dilemma with a friend she questioned if I could use both first and third person? I hesitated and gave the notion a thought. I cannot remember reading any books written thus, but perhaps they do exist. The mental and emotional logistics of such a narration though seemed fraught with difficulties and pitfalls, so I decided to avoid that route and instead reverted to the third person.

On the whole it was a relief to return to the third person viewpoint. The floaty descriptions returned but now enhanced with a third person perspective. The distant narrator is replaced with a more personal viewpoints of the characters.

Although the chapters are not headed by the which character is leading the story, there do exist ‘signposts’ very early on showing which character’s viewpoint will dominate the chapter.  I now retain the freedom to write about events well outside the characters if required whilst ensuring characters are personable and well-rounded. To avoid confusion I am sticking to four character viewpoints in the third person, this gives me the breadth to explore their emotional and inner feelings and thoughts of each one. The plot will still be pacey whilst other characters and subplots can be easily introduced.

In her book, ‘Sunrise’, Victoria Hislop writes beautifully and in the third person, so effectively at times I didn’t realise it wasn’t in the first person. The pain, anguish, deceit and love of the characters  are depicted with startling vitality.

The battle is over, calm reigns and now I just have to rewrite a couple of chapters. No problem.

I told myself reading was a kind of freedom, the only one I could give.

Sarah Grimké in ‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd

Current word count of first draft of my novel:  14,940 words