I’m very grateful to Sue for allowing me to guest on her blog to share the news that my novel, No More Mulberries is FREE between now and Sunday 9th July.
No More Mulberries is set in Afghanistan. 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.
I thought rather than an excerpt I’d share a day in the life of one of the characters. Usma lives in a small village in a remote part of central Afghanistan. She is a friend of Miriam, the main character in No More Mulberries. When Miriam first came to work in Afghanistan with her Afghan husband, Usma became her closest friend. The two women have not seen each other for many years but are about to be re-united…
It was still dark when Usma stumbled, yawning, into the kitchen. She lit the fire, putting water on to boil for tea. She stirred the tandoor into life, made the nan which she slapped onto the sides of the oven – all routine tasks tinged today with excitement knowing Ismail was bringing Miriam. How many years had passed since they said goodbye, never dreaming of the tragic events which would lead to them being separated for so long?
Usma called her children for breakfast. Habib toddled in, closely followed by the older boys, Sultan and Hassan with Shahnaz trailing behind. By the time breakfast was over the sky was lightening and the boys went off to take the sheep and goats to the mountain. ‘Don’t forget to bring back firewood,’ she said. ‘I need plenty.’
She sent Shahnaz for water. ‘And don’t be there all day. There’s plenty to do and I’ll need your help.’ Her daughter looked as though she was going to argue, thought better of it and headed towards the village well, where a group of women and girls were already gathered.
Usma let out the chickens who were distracted from the grain she threw for them by the grasshoppers jumping around them. How Miriam had laughed the first time she saw the chickens try to catch grasshoppers. She had missed her so much, but would the spark of friendship still be as strong after so many years?
Throwing a last handful of food to the chickens, Usma milked the cow before leading her down to the patch of pasture where she tethered her. When Shahnaz arrived back with the water, Usma left her daughter to wash up the breakfast dishes while she cleaned and prepared the room for Miriam. Would her son, Farid be with her? He wouldn’t remember anything of his life in Zardgul. He’d only been a baby when they left for Scotland to see Miriam’s father before he died.
Usma folded bedding at the foot of the mattress and gave the room a last check. It was neat and clean – two mattresses on the floor, bedding, a brightly embroidered curtain, which Shahnaz had finished only last week, over the alcove. This was the room in which Miriam and Jawad had begun their life here in Zardgul. Was it a mistake to put her friend in this room with all its memories? With a sigh, she left the room.
She’d prepare the dough for the ash for the meal. Miriam had always loved the strips of dough – said they were like spaghetti. Miriam rolled the word doubtfully in her mouth not sure she was saying it correctly.
Shahnaz was trying to do some school work while entertaining Habib and Usma took the child from her telling her she was free for an hour. She noted the speed with which her daughter leapt to her feet and wondered. Before she could issue any warnings, her daughter had vanished down the mountainside.
Usma took some warm nan to the rooftop and her next door neighbour Jemila brought tea in a large thermos. Usma relished this time of day when most of her work was done and she could relax in the sun for an hour with her friends. From their vantage point they could see the rest of the village and the surrounding fields. She was telling them of the preparations for Miriam’s arrival when she spotted the deep blue of Shahnaz’s chaddar in amongst Malim Ashraf’s rows of peas – and next to her, the slim figure of Abbas whose father owned the land next to theirs. From this distance she couldn’t be sure what Abbas was doing but it looked like he was opening peapods and tipping the peas into her daughter’s hand. Jemila giggled. ‘At least he’s not popping them in her mouth.’
‘Mmh,’ Usma gave a non-committal grunt. Shahnaz was a strikingly pretty girl with dark dancing eyes and she was growing up. Usma hoped she’d be sensible. Abbas was a nice enough boy but Usma hoped for better for her only daughter.
Jemila and the other women were leaving when Shahnaz returned. She lowered her eyes demurely to greet the older women but not before Usma had seen the sparkle in them. Before she could say anything to her daughter, Jemila spoke to Shahnaz. ‘I believe Malim Ashraf grows the finest peas in Zardgul: so sweet and juicy. Is that not so, Shahnaz?’
Usma turned away to hide her smile as she saw her daughter flush a deep rosy red.
Get No More Mulberries FREE on Amazon.
Extracts of Amazon reviews of No More Mulberries:
“This was one of those books that stayed with me when I wasn’t reading it; the emotions of the main characters, Miriam and Iqbal, were so well painted.” Terry Tyler
“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 a novel which completely changed my hazy, ignorant view of Afghanistan. Miriam, its narrator, describes life in the 1990s as a “foreign” wife of an Afghan doctor in the small village of Sang-i-Sia. Her frank account of her commitment to the country and determination to make her marriage work, despite cultural differences and the troubles of civil war, make you feel that you are reading a letter from a close friend.” Lizanne Lloyd
About the author
Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She wanted others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.
Mary loves interacting with her readers and her website is www.marysmith.co.uk.
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