Donkey Boy and Other Stories

I’m delighted to announce the publication of my short story collection, Donkey Boy and Other Stories.
donkey boy book-cover-k v1Over the last few years I’ve been focussing more on non-fiction titles so I’m particularly pleased to be returning to fiction with this slim collection of eclectic stories. Readers will meet a diverse range of characters in wide-ranging locations from Pakistan to Scotland.

It was with some trepidation I asked author Margaret Elphinstone to read the collection and, if she liked them, to write a couple of lines to use on the back of the book. When she emailed to say she’d decided to read the first couple of stories then found herself reading them all straight through I was very happy. I was even happier when she sent me this:

‘Whether we’re in urban Pakistan, an old-fashioned travelling circus in Scotland, or repressed suburban Britain, Mary Smith’s stories take the reader right to the heart of a situation. They focus on characters who are disinherited by mainstream cultures. Whether it’s the boy from Peshawar whose father can’t let him stay at school, the adopted child who is marginalised by an identity she can’t recognise, or a woman escaping from lethal oppression, these people have been forced to abandon a part of themselves. The take on this theme varies from first person narrative ironically revealing its own complacency, to an impersonal voice which takes us right to the heart of suffering. The final story is perhaps the most chilling: is the character suffering from all-too-acute perception of cruelty and brutality, or is she simply crazy? In these stories the reader’s position is always ambiguous: are we colluding with dispossession, or are we honestly able to listen?’ – Margaret Elphinstone, author of The Gathering Night

My thanks to Melissa Priddy of Creative Station for the fabulous cover design.

The ebook is available now on Amazon.

A paperback edition will be published soon – so watch this space if you prefer to read a real book.

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Writing at Home or Away?

slide_local2 (Small)I’m just back from a week long writing retreat on my own in a caravan on the coast. Well, it turned out to be three and half days rather than the planned five days. On Monday my son had his Viva for his Masters and wanted a bit of parental support. Actually, what he really wanted was someone to take him for celebratory cocktails afterwards.

Not being one to pass up the chance to drink a cocktail or two with my son and his boyfriend I thought I’d leave early on Tuesday morning instead. Then on Monday night the painter and decorator who was going to paint our vestibule six weeks, ago before he emigrates to New Zealand, but failed to do so as he’s signed a contract with a record company and had to work on the material they’re recording, private messaged me on Facebook. He could do the job this week if I still wanted it done. DSCF0901sHe arrived just after 9.30 on Tuesday morning. I always loved the fact he wasn’t one of those workmen who arrive before 8am but this week I’d have welcomed an earlier start. I made coffee while he fed the cat treats. The cat originally belonged to him but we adopted her when he said he was going to New Zealand. The cat – called Bandit – had totally ignored him when he visited her a few weeks ago so he resorted to bribing her with treats. It worked. She’s the greediest cat ever. After coffee and a brief discussion on paint colours I left him with a set of keys (he already knows where the coffee is) and took off on my retreat.

By the time I’d picked up some supplies, unloaded the car at the caravan, set up my laptop, collected the tiny shards of broken glass all over the bathroom floor, reported the smashed bathroom window I was exhausted. I had a glass of a very nice Pinot Grigio I’d picked up in the Co-op – and that was the end of day two of my writing week. Honestly, I don’t understand how Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker, Hemmingway and all the many other writers who liked a drink managed to turn out such stunning work. One glass, and my brain is too fuzzy to focus on writing. Went to bed, fell asleep reading and was awakened by the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard.

Day Three, which is actually Day One of proper writing, was bright and sunny and I kept thinking about how much needs to be done in the garden and what a perfect day it would be to be working in it. I’d mentioned to some of my blogging friends I’d be away from all social media for a week so I didn’t feel guilty about deleting notifications and wasn’t too bothered when by late afternoon the internet connection had disappeared. I was writing. I didn’t need to be connected.

I wrote about three and half thousand words – then I started to become frustrated by the lack of internet connection. I needed to know what shower panels are called – not because I’d drifted off on to something else, it’s necessary for what I’m writing – but there was no connection. Okay, a row XXX to mark where the research is needed. Carry on. Four thousand words. Time to go for a walk. My desk is the wrong height, my back is aching. Come back; finish the Pinot Grigio and go to bed with a book. The caravan is a kindle-free zone so it’s a real book. Fall asleep again with the light on.

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Day Four, or Day Two, I re-write most of what I wrote yesterday. In the middle of the night I woke up (probably because I feel asleep with the light on) knowing there’s something fundamentally wrong and it really had to be sorted before I could move on. By the afternoon I am furious about the lack of internet connection. It’s one thing telling people I’m not going to be online but to be forced offline by a dodgy connection is quite another. I’ve only started to sort the problem with the book. Am also cross because the sun shone for most of the day. I want dull weather when I’m on a writing retreat.

Day Five, or Day Three, I wake late. Have chicken broth for breakfast. Should have had it last night and don’t want to have to transport it back home. It seems to work its magic and I sit at the laptop and work. The fact that it’s grey and miserable helps because I don’t think about sitting in the sun or working in the garden. I finish re-writing the first three thousand words and I write another couple of thousand. I stop. It’s time to stop. I may not have a huge chunk of work but I do have the first two chapters and I know where I’m going but if I see one more ‘server error’ sign appear I’ll quite possibly throw the computer through the, as yet, un-mended bathroom window.

I’m thinking now it might be better if there is no possibility of an internet connection then I might finally feel free to write all day. Or, maybe I should stay at home and take a few days away from social media? I think, though, I’ve realised I need to have a better system in place. Work first in the morning, then take an hour for blogs and Facebook before getting back to work with another hour for social media in the evening. That should work, shouldn’t it?

Free Promotion – Update

No More Mulberries - web readyI thought I’d give an update on my No More Mulberries promotion when, for five days, I offered it FREE to download.

I know it seems counter-intuitive to give books away and some authors are opposed to the idea and for a long time so was I. I knew it was something many indie authors did but I really didn’t like the idea of all my hard work being simply given away.

The redoubtable Jackie Weger, founder of eNovel Authors at Work, of which I am a proud member, persuaded me. She took me gently by the hand, pointed her snake gun at me and said, “Do it!”  I did it.

I’m delighted with the result. Over the five days almost 5,000 people downloaded the book, mainly in USA and UK but also in Canada, Australia, India and Italy. Okay, so they didn’t pay me for it but money isn’t everything, is it? I love the idea so many new readers now have a copy of No More Mulberries on their Kindles.

Also, people borrowed the book. This is something I don’t pretend to understand but for some reason people choose to borrow it from Kindle Unlimited rather than simply downloading it. I love it that they do because Amazon actually gives me money every time someone reads a page of a borrowed book. So far these lovely people have read 15,000 pages and climbing.

Reviews from these new readers have started to come in already. So far, they have been lovely, like the one Sally Cronin posted on her Smorgasbord blog as well as Amazon and GoodReads. Since the promotion ended and No More Mulberries returned to full price, paid sales have gone up. I expect they will plateau soon but it’s lovely while it lasts.

Of course, it isn’t just a matter of offering a book for free on Amazon – a fair bit of work is required if anyone is to know about it. Amazon doesn’t do much on that front so it’s up to the author. I booked a few paid ads on sites such as Ereader News Today, Digital Book Today, Great Books Great Deals and Authors Cross Promotion.

Major thanks go to Sally Cronin who promoted the free deal on her blog and to Sue Vincent and Marcia Meara who both let me write guest posts on their blogs, providing me with the opportunity of letting potentially several thousands of people know about No More Mulberries.

And for five days I worked social media – Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn – like a demon. The share buttons were red hot! It was exhilarating and exhausting and now I’m getting my head down to write.

No More Mulberries is FREE until 09th July

No More Mulberries - web readyWhat’s it about?

‘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.’

Amazon Links:  http://smarturl.it/nmm

To give you some idea of the setting for No More Mulberries here are some photos of where Miriam and Iqbal lived and worked.

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Looking down the valley towards the village

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The village, Sag-i-Sia, where Miriam and Iqbal lived.

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Harvest time

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Taking a break from digging an irrigation ditch

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Beautiful Band-i-Amir, a series of lakes of the most amazing shades of blue. In the past – and again now – Band-i-Amir was a popular beauty spot. The waters are reputed to cure all kinds of health problems – including leprosy. You can read about this is in the book.

What readers have said:
‘NO MORE MULBERRIES is so gripping, and the story and characters so interesting and relatable, that I was immediately drawn in. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough as the drama and emotion escalated. Ms. Smith gives readers clear-eyed insight into what Afghans love about their country, but also into the extreme and frightening aspects of Afghanistan’s culture, politics, and unrest. Miriam is not the only character who chafes under the oppression of entrenched tradition; her husband, a native Afghan, is desperate to keep his fear and heartache from showing.’ (Lornwal)

‘This novel is chock full of Afghanistan culture and is an absolutely brilliant read. It really is hard to believe this is a debut novel. Educational as well as entertaining from a fictional point of view, Mary Smith shares her unique perspective on the politics, culture and people of Afghanistan brought about by her years working in the area. The sights and sounds of the country come alive in this tale and I was engrossed from the start. This is a book which makes you think and also, if you look deeper, gives you answers to questions we ask when faced with a culture which is so different to our own. Mary Smith brought the country of Afghanistan alive for me in a way no news article could ever do.’ (Bodicia)

No More Mulberries is FREE until Sunday 9th July. Download here: http://smarturl.it/nmm

Third Annual Bloggers Bash

This is rather a self-indulgent post as I re-live the Bloggers Bash. I can’t believe it’s already a week since I was in London meeting up with bloggers, some of whom I met last year, some of whom I only knew online and others whose blogs were new to me.

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Here I am with two of the organisers, Geoff le Pard and Ali Isaac

The Bash, now in its third year, is organised by Sacha Black and her minions, Geoff le Pard, Hugh Roberts and Ali Isaac. This year, as well as the presentation of blogging awards in a wide range of categories, the day included presentations and a panel debate – as well as much hugging, socialising, eating cake and a huge amount of chatter and laughter.

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Sally Cronin and I have shared many virtual hugs so it was lovely to meet her and enjoy a real hug at the Bash. Here she is with author and blogger Noelle Granger from the USA

I experienced my usual ‘country bumpkin goes to the big city wobble’ a couple of days before. What if I was left sitting in a corner all by myself? What if I got lost and never made it to the Bash? I dread getting lost in London by jumping on the wrong train on the underground (Glasgow’s underground is so simple. It goes round in a circle so if you miss your stop you sit tight until it comes round again – there’s none of this changing to join other lines) or taking a wrong turning because often I confuse my left with my right.

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Willow and Ruth in the front row with Ellen, who won the inaugural short story competition, sitting behind with Shelley who was second in the Inspirational Blogger category

Anyway, armed with numerous bits of paper with step by step instructions I made it from Euston to Victoria – paying for the tube ticket with a contactless debit card made life easier than queuing. At Victoria I had a bit of a panic when I couldn’t find the exit named on one of my bits of paper – neither could three rail staff. As I approached three police officers coming out of their office, they backed off in a very unfriendly manner. Two of them vanished but I trapped the third between me and a wall as I brandished bits of paper and asked where the particular exit was. He demanded to know where I was going which, at first, I thought was none of his business really but realised when I reluctantly told him that he then knew in which direction to send me.I checked into my overnight accommodation and did a recce with my instructions to find the venue so I’d know where I was going and how long it would take. It was a nice evening so I didn’t mind that I’d walked an extra two miles because I missed a turning. Nice young man in reception looked confused when I asked if this was the venue for tomorrow’s Bloggers Bash. His colleague informed me it was the venue for an International Bloggers Conference.

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Elena, Bash orgnaiser Sacha and Ellen – sorry I practically decapitated you but the smiles are great.

Jessica Norrie and I actually met on the way and introduced ourselves and then we were there being offered welcome hugs by Hugh. Any worries about not finding people to talk to me vanished: despite the fact that the majority of us are complete introverts and usually run a mile from large gatherings the buzz bloggers generate when they get together is quite incredible.

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Sherri, Marjorie and Sally

The awards, for which there were 6,561 votes this year, were announced at intervals during the day – for a full list of winners see Sacha’s blog here.

The presentations by Suzie on how to make money from your blog and Elena on Pinterest were fascinating. Elena made it all sound so easy for a few giddy moments I was convinced I’d reactivate my Pinterest account as soon as I came home. Hmm! A lively debate took place with the panel of Suzie, Elena and Christoph Fischer.

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Adam Dixon and Christoph Fischer in earnest conversation

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Ritu, Steve, both of whom I met last year and Sue. I’ve followed Sue’s wonderful blog for at least two years – and she follows my Goldfish blog – so I was delighted to actually meet her in real life this year.

 

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Thanks to Sally Cronin for sharing this photo of Marjorie, Sherri and me

 

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Another of Sally’s photos showing Willow, Ritu, Sue and Noelle.

Check out the blogs of those who attended (apologies if I missed any) and see what an extraordinary range of topics people blog about.

Ritu – But I Smile Anyway

Shelley – Shelley Wilson

Jessica – Jessica Norrie

Willow – Willowdot21

Graeme – Graeme Cumming Dot Net

Rebecca – If Only I Could Read Faster

Marje – M J Mallon Author (Kyrosmagica)

Lucy – BlondeWriteMore

Sheila – SC Skillman

Noelle – SaylingAway

Sherrie – A View From My Summerhouse

Allie – Allie Potts Writes

Helen – Journey To Ambeth

Mary – My Dad Is A Goldfish

Christoph – Writer Christoph Fischer

Eloise – E. De Sousa

Julie – Julie Lawford

Steve – Sun In Gemini

Alex – Alex Raphael

Ellen – Ellenbest24

Elena – Elena Peters

Davy – Inside The Mind Of Davy D

Lance – Lance Greenfield

Sally – Smorgasbord – Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Icy – Icy Sedgwick

Matt – The Gay Stepdad

Susie – Susie Lindau’s Wild Ride

Adam – Adam Dixon Fiction

Lucia – Rereading Jane Eyre

Alexina – BOOKSTORMER

Ruth – Image & Word

Melanie – Melanie Roussel

Sue – Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo

Suzie – Suzie Speaks

Jo – My Chestnut Reading Tree

Donna – Jot to Jot

Sacha – Sacha Black

Geoff – TanGental

Ali – Ali Isaac Storyteller

Hugh – Hugh’s Views And News

If you are interested in attending next year’s Bash put the date in your diary now – June 09, 2018 and I think you can sign up on Sacha’s blog to receive email notifications regarding the Bash.