Saturday, 23 July 2016


Flurries Unlimited (FU) had the wonderful opportunity to chat with talented author Mary Smith (MS) about her work, travels and creative use of wallpaper trimmings in writing. Here is what we discussed:

FU:  It's obvious from your bio what inspires your writing as an adult.  How did the jump from non-fiction to fiction come about?  

MS:  It was partly because I realised not everyone reads non-fiction and I hoped to attract different readers. I was playing a ‘what if?’ game – what if a Scotswoman was married to an Afghan and they lived in Afghanistan? What problems might they face? What, if anything, could they do to resolve them? I wanted to explore those issues in a novel and also use it as a way of letting readers learn more about ordinary, everyday life in Afghanistan. 

FU:  How did you go from working for a UK charity to living and working in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

MS: While I was working for Oxfam I went on holiday to Pakistan. I have to say Pakistan wasn’t a destination on my places to visit list but the opportunity came up when a friend’s wife and sister were going home to Karachi to visit family and invited me along. I fell in love with Karachi the night we arrived – sitting in the compound in the dark because there was a power cut and seeing the sky ablaze with stars and the genuine warmth of the people welcoming a total stranger to their home. While I was there I visited a leprosy project which Oxfam helped to support. I spent three days seeing all aspects of the work from the hospital to the outreach social and income generating projects and I was totally bowled over by all I saw. I was asked to take on the job of setting up their health education department. I loved my job with Oxfam and it wasn’t an easy decision but I knew if I turned it down I’d always regret it and wonder what I would have missed. I signed a contract for three years – though it was ten years before I returned home.

FU:  You've written several books.  Which is your favourite and why?

MS: Tough question! I’m very fond of Drunk Chickens and Burn Macaroni (the memoir) because writing it meant I could remember all the amazing times I had and the wonderful women who became my friends – and I know from readers they enjoy feeling they have really met these women and their families. However, the novel, No More Mulberries is probably my favourite because I think as well as providing an insight to life in Afghanistan it gave me the chance to tell a good story. And, actually, people ask me what Miriam and Iqbal are doing now so they must feel as real as the people in the memoir.

FU:  So what kind of stories did you as a little girl write on wallpaper trimmings?

MS: I think I probably plagiarised Enid Blyton! She was my favourite author for many years. I’m constantly meeting other writers whose love of books stemmed from reading Blyton as children. My stories were about secret gangs meeting in dens. And the mother in them would always supply endless buns and lemonade. And I vaguely remember one about a poor orphan girl who had to make her way in the world.

FU:   They say that every fictional character has some of the author in him/her. Which of your characters is most like you?  In what way?

MS:  I’d love to be more like Miriam. I think there are some elements of me in her – the urge to travel, to work abroad – but she is a far nicer person than I am – much more tolerant. I’m definitely not like Dr Jeannine who epitomises the worst kind of foreigner who thinks they know best in everything and don’t bother to understand anything of the culture. She is based on a person I met and I rather enjoyed writing her character. 

FU:  So what is on the horizon?  What are your new projects? When is your next new release?

MS:  I have several projects on the go at the moment, including a second local history book, Castle Douglas Through Time, which will be published next spring. I’ve also started to turn my blog My Dad is a Goldfish, about caring for my father through his dementia, into a book. I’d hoped to have it released before the end of this year but I think spring 2017 might be more realistic. And then the follow up to let people know what Miriam and Iqbal are doing now.  I started it but am letting it rest for the moment since a new character popped up and seems to be demanding that it’s her story – so maybe it will be.

FU:  Thank you so much for chatting with us.

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