Scottish-born midwife, Miriam loves working at a health clinic in rural Afghanistan 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. When Miriam acts as translator at a medical teaching camp she hopes time apart might help her understand the cause of their problems. 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.
Will Miriam be able to find the answers she needs to figure out to change the direction of her life and marriage? Mary Smith the wordsmith behind ‘No More Mulberries’ has kindly joined me to lead us along the journey that Miriam follows from her native Scotland to Afghanistan. Mary, thanks for sharing your musings on your debut novel with us today. Looking back on ‘No More Mulberries’, what did you find inspired the first footsteps of Miriam’s journey?
I worked in Afghanistan for several years and wrote about those experiences in a memoir called ‘Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni’. The idea for a novel came from a what-if? question. What if a Scots woman was married to an Afghan? What difficulties would they encounter? Could such a marriage survive? I then added a previous husband to the mix and a lost love and went from there.
Few people share your experience of working in Afghanistan, an obviously just having the book set in Afghanistan shows that the book has been shaped by your experiences. To what extent are the aspects of your life reflected in this novel, was it more the broad strokes of living in that part of the world, or did you add in events from your own life?
I spent ten years working first in Pakistan then in Afghanistan. Although ‘No More Mulberries’ is a work of fiction, many of the incidents are based on real events. I established a project to train village women as health volunteers (written about in the memoir) and spent a lot of time living in a very remote rural area so I bring a high degree of authenticity to the book.
Were your experiences alone enough to ensure that authenticity, or did you find yourself doing a little digging into aspects of life like the Afghani culture to make sure your interpretations were correct?
Although I lived in Afghanistan for some years I still needed to do research, particularly into Islam. At one point I realised Miriam was preparing for prayer in the Sunni way when she was a Shia – perhaps not something most readers would notice but it bothered me until I got it right! Also I had to research aspects of the war.
How did the characters come of life within this culture against the background of war?
Many are composites of people I met in Afghanistan – a characteristic from one, a facial feature from another. Some strolled into the book along the way!
*Laughs* I love it when characters just waltz in like the own the novel! Did you find that the majority of your characters were strong enough to come in and waltz their way into the events, or instead do you feel that formed out of necessity from the events that were unfolding?
‘No More Mulberries’ is character driven.
What was the most important take away that you hope the characters drove home to the readers?
People who love each other can find a way to overcome obstacles. Also, I wanted to present a portrait of daily life in rural Afghanistan that is more accurate than most media representations.
Was sharing your love of people within this true to life picture of Afghanistan the most rewarding aspect of getting this story down on paper, or did you find other rewards along the way?
Feedback from readers, especially those who have enjoyed the insights into life in Afghanistan and getting to know the characters.
Have you enjoyed getting to know these characters so much that you’ve decided to return to them in your next writing project, or are you going to write in a different direction?
I’m returning to non-fiction with a memoir based on my blog My Dad’s a Goldfish ( https://marysmith57.wordpress.com/ ) which is about looking after my father who had dementia. His wife left him and I moved in to care for him with no idea of what life was going to be like.
Wow, taking care of a family member with dementia is an incredible journey, and I applaud your strength for taking on the challenge. I will keep an eye out for the release of that book, as I’m sure it will be an expectedly good read. When you’re in the middle of writing something, do you ever find that you have trouble keeping your mind on the writing project at hand, and what do you like to do to get yourself unstuck?
Write something I wouldn’t want anyone to read.
I love that technique! One of the best ones I’ve heard about in quite a while! Have you picked up tips like this one from your professional career? Generally, do you feel that your profession has helped you become a better fiction and non-fiction writer?
I’m a freelance journalist as well as an author. Being a journalist means I am used to working to deadlines and try to make that work in my other writing, too.
As an experienced journalist I’m sure that you’ve found many tips for both writing and life up your sleeve and I was wondering if you might be willing to divulge some of them today through our quick fire question round. Let’s see what’s up that sleeve with our first question: what is your zodiac sign?
What is your favourite ocean?
Where is the line between insanity and creativity?
Is there one?
I’m not sure. I’ve heard arguments all around that line now so I’m less convinced there’s an exact answer. But it’s still fun getting to know other people’s opinions on the topic. If all of the world is a stage, where does the audience sit?
In the round.
What is your favourite flavor of ice-cream?
What is your favourite word?
Askance – but it changes from week to week.
Askance, that’s a word that’s seriously underused. Other than using those often under appreciated words in the English language, what is your best tip for authors?
Read, read, read – and listen to other people telling their stories. Be nosy.
*Laughs* A licence to be nosy! We were all waiting for one, but it’s lovely to be granted with one in the name of better writing! Mary thanks for giving the readers a taste of Afghanistan and the licence to extend nosiness towards the creation of new stories. I’ve loved hearing your tales today, and I hope to hear more about the upcoming translation of your blog into a fully-fledged book.
Excited to read the book we discussed today? Find it here on Amazon: ‘No More Mulberries ( ASIN: B005RRDZ12 )‘.
Want to find out more about Mary Smith? Connect here!