An Interview with Miriam from “No More Mulberries” by Mary Smith

Set in rural Afghanistan during the 1990s, we quickly realise that Scottish-born midwife, Miriam loves her work at a health clinic and the warmth and humour of her women friends in the village, but she has personal problems which she can no longer ignore.  I am grateful that she has agreed to share some of her feelings with us.


Miriam, when you first settled in Afghanistan in 1986, did you have difficulty coping in a house where there was no running water, a latrine outside and no electricity?

Oh, god, yes. Although I’d tried to prepare myself for it, the reality was difficult. It was ages before I stopped reaching for a light switch when it became dark in the evening. I didn’t try turning on a tap for water – there was no sink. It all had to be brought from a spring. Fine in summer but not much fun in winter. Cooking was a nightmare. We stayed at first with Usma, who became one of my closest friends, and her family. I was amazed at how she could cook several dishes at once in such primitive conditions. The kitchen was always full of smoke which was supposed to go up and out of a hole in the ceiling but didn’t. It just swirled around. It’s no wonder so many village women have eye problems.

The worst was the latrine: the 100-yard -walk to reach it so everyone knew where you were going, no flush and the lack of privacy. At Usma’s there wasn’t even a latrine. People just said they were going ‘outside’ and everyone knew what they meant. Jawad built a latrine at the clinic but I soon discovered while Afghan women may be modest in front of menfolk they have no such modesty amongst other women and think nothing of following you into the latrine to continue a chat. When we came to Sang-i-Sia, I insisted we had a proper door (rather than a bit of sacking) with a bolt on our latrine. I became used to everything except having an audience when I went to the loo.

Why do you feel closer to your friends in Afghanistan then you did to your friends in Scotland?

My mother was incredibly strict when I was growing up, and terribly worried about appearances and what the neighbours might say. When I was a young teenager I wasn’t often allowed to hang out with my friends and missed out on all the giggly, flirty stuff. I was actually quite scared of my mother – she could make like difficult for me and my dad if challenged. Unless you’ve witnessed a Scottish ‘humph’ you’ve no idea. By the time I was older I didn’t seem to fit in. I felt I was being judged – not able to flirt, lack of make-up skills, the wrong clothes and wrong taste in music. In Afghanistan I felt free to be me and it was wonderful.

If you had returned to Scotland after the death of your first husband, wouldn’t you have given your son, Farid more opportunities and a better education?

You ask tough questions! It makes me feel I am a terrible mother to think I was denying my son a better education in Scotland than he’d receive in Afghanistan. At the time, though, I couldn’t think of anything other than the loss of his father, my husband. I was utterly devastated. It seemed – still does – to be so important Farid was not completely cut off from his father’s country and culture and family connections. Besides, it could have been quite tough for him in Scotland dealing with everything, including racism. I’d have hated him to feel he didn’t fit in.

What are your hopes and fears for the women of Afghanistan?

While Taliban controls the country I have only fear for the women of Afghanistan, no hope. Before they came I felt that things were changing for the better, however slowly, for women. Schools were opening for girls, giving them opportunities their mothers never had. Health services, including ante-natal care was becoming more available. There was never peace, always fighting somewhere, but in Sang-i-Sia and Zardgul life went on in its own way. People were poor, work was hard and we all hoped peace would come to Afghanistan. Instead the Taliban came and swept everything good away.

How would you describe your husband, Iqbal, to someone who had not yet met him?

If you mean physically, then I’d say he was quite handsome: tall, broad, a lovely smile. Like most Hazara people he has a small nose and slanting eyes. He is self-conscious about his lack of eyebrows from when he had leprosy. I never notice but I’ve learned how important eyebrows are in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Funny isn’t it, my friend Janet in Scotland has hers waxed almost into oblivion and Iqbal would give anything to have bushy eyebrows.

He’s a good man with a strong sense of fairness and doing what’s right, but he’s also a complex person carrying, as we all do, a certain amount of baggage from his past. I didn’t understand for a long time that he struggles with wanting to change things but not wanting to go against his culture. It almost always comes down to our fear of not belonging, doesn’t it?

You can find No More Mulberries on Amazon UK

My review of the book is here


With thanks to Mary Smith for allowing me to interview Miriam.


An Interview with Lottie from “Tipping Point” by Terry Tyler #Project Renova

Today is the first post in a new series, interviewing characters from books I have reviewed on my blog.  I am proud to begin with a conversation with one of my favourite book characters, Lottie from Terry Tyler’s Project Renova Trilogy.

Lottie 5

Lottie Keating was sixteen at the time of the viral outbreak in July 2024. The first UK case of ‘bat fever’ was discovered in Shipden, the Norfolk seaside town where she lived with her mother, Vicky, and Vicky’s boyfriend, Dex. Within a month, normal life in the UK had broken down.


Vicky and Lottie’s story begins in Tipping Point, which is on sale at 99p/99c from February 5 to February 11.  Their tale of survival continues in Lindisfarne, and the third part of the trilogy, UK2, which will be published in the spring.

Here is my interview  with Lottie: 

I very much admire the way that you have adapted to the dramatic change in your lifestyle, and I’d love to hear more about how the collapse of society has affected you.

Q         What do you really miss from your old life when you lived in Shipden?

I miss my friends!  A couple of them got the vaccine, so I hope they’re alive and well somewhere.  I miss Granny and Grandad, and my dad.  I miss ice cream, badly, especially salted caramel Häagen Dazs.  But when I think back to my old life it’s like I’m looking at someone else; it doesn’t seem like me.  I don’t miss the internet.  When it first went off I didn’t know what to do with myself (I kept looking at my phone and thinking, why can’t it just work?), but I soon forgot all about it; I had too much real life to live.  I do miss films, though.  As for social media sites—well, now I talk to people face to face, instead!

Q         What are your thoughts and feelings about Dex and Heath?

I used to think Dex was okay when he lived with me and Mum, before the virus.  He was a bit of a bighead (everything was all about him), but I could see why Mum liked him.  Looking back, I think he was probably cheating on her now and again; you don’t think about stuff like that when you’re a kid (he moved in with us when I was only ten or eleven), but when you’re older you can see what was really going on.  Anyway, he turned out to be a total retard, so who cares?

Heath – awesome.  But I won’t say anything else right now…

Q         Have you changed much since you left Norfolk?

Hope so!  I’m much fitter and stronger, and I can do all sorts of clever things like making fires and baking bread.  I can handle a gun, and I know some seriously awesome moves to throw if I get jumped.  Mac, who is now my boyfriend, taught me how to defend myself.  I think the new world has made me grow up and see the bigger picture.  Especially now I spend my time doing proper stuff instead of sitting on my bed Skyping with my mates and posting dumb selfies.

Q   If anyone had told you a year ago what was going to happen, what would you have thought?

I’d probably have thought, bring it on!  And been really excited and hoped there were going to be zombies; I’d have wanted to be like Rosita in The Walking Dead.  But I wouldn’t have had a clue what it was really like.  You don’t, but you just adapt.

Q         What are your hopes and fears for the future?

I live pretty much day to day.  The main fear is not having enough to eat and getting seriously ill.  Some of our community get stressy about the danger from outsiders, but I think we’re clever and strong enough to deal with anything that comes our way, and, to be honest, conflict gives me a bit of a thrill.  In some ways it’s better now because people don’t worry about bullshit like whether or not they’re ‘fulfilled’, ’cause they’re too busy staying alive.  Hopes?  That we will always live with lots of cool people who want to work together, and that all dickheads (no names mentioned here!) will die painful deaths.

To find Tipping Point on Amazon  or Lindisfarne

With thanks to Terry Tyler for introducing me to Lottie.

For interviews with other book characters:-

Miriam from No More Mulberries

Lachlan from Rack and Ruin

Patsy from Wild Water

If you are an author whose book I have reviewed, perhaps you would like me to interview one of your characters.  If so, please contact me.

The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris #FridayReads

The Lost Words

I bought this large sumptuous book at Christmas as a present for my husband but really it was for me.  Written as a response to the removal of words such as acorn and willow from a children’s dictionary, it laments the loss of these words to our children’s vocabulary and is a book of spells to help the words return accompanied by gorgeous pictures in medieval gold.  The spells are acrostics, filled with kennings like, “colour-giver,” and “ripple-calmer,” to describe the kingfisher and delightful alliteration.  You can guess the next spell poem by seeking out the name from the golden letters or gaze in awe at the wonderful pictures.

Can you guess what is being described in these words?

This shape-shifter’s a sheer breath-taker, a sure heart-stopper but you’ll only ever spot a shadow-flutter, bubble skein.

This swift-swimmer’s a silver-miner. With trout its ore it bores each black pool deep.

If you can find space for this impressive book, search in the children’s section and take it home to share and treasure.

The Lost Words on Amazon UK





My favourite books in 2017


This year, I reviewed 70 books from a variety of genres.  Often, those I like most combine genres such as mystery, romance, history etc.  I’m not going to list 10 or more top books but just 7 in the order I read them during the year.  These are the books I couldn’t put down, in which I became immersed and regretted finishing.

James & Laura

In April I was thrilled to return to Jan Ruth’s Midnight Sky series, reading the last of the trilogy, Strawberry Sky.  This was an intense story of love and suffering, a family saga featuring a wonderful horse whisperer.  If you are tempted please start with Book 1 Midnight Sky.


The next great book was the beginning of Terry Tyler’s post-apocalypse series.  What makes Tipping Point so convincing are her characters who step out of the page to talk to us.  They have flaws, they make mistakes, they are human and we want them (or at least most of them) to survive.  Luckily, Terry followed up quite quickly with the second book in the Project Renova series and I am looking forward to the third book in 2018.

Georgia Lies

Another of my favourite authors, Georgia Rose, whose unusual thriller series The Grayson Trilogy is well worth seeking out, produced Parallel Lies, a new stand-alone novel, this year.  Superbly plotted, with twists to catch you out, it kept me guessing to the end.


I was so excited when Carol Hedges published another episode in the investigations of detectives, Cully and Stride. Wonders & Wickedness lives up to the quality and excitement of the previous volumes, steeped in the smells, sounds and sights of Victorian London. You can start with this book or any other in this wonderful series.


It is always good to discover a new author.  Thanks to Terry Tyler’s reviews I started reading books by Deborah Swift and my favourite was A Divided Inheritance.  Starting in early 17th century London the story moves to Spain where the heroine finds herself a fish out of water in a dangerous situation. A fascinating novel.


Another author I finally discovered this year was June Kearns.  I loved both her books but An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy is superb.  A brave, desirable hero, a sympathetic heroine and an amazing historical setting made it such pleasure to read.


And the last of my seven choices is the second book I have read by Lizzie Lamb.  We share similar names, Scottish birth and similar careers but if only I could write the way Lizzie can.  If you’ve time to spare over Christmas, do download Girl in the Castle for sheer indulgence.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year


My Life in Books (1917 Edition)


Here’s a bit of Christmas fun courtesy of Roof Beam Reader

The rule is, complete the phrase with books you read this year:

At school I was the: Oath Breaker (Shelley Wilson)

People might be surprised by my: Past Encounters (Davina Blake)

I will never be: Down and Out in Kathmandu (Jennifer S Alderson)

My fantasy job is: Girl in the Castle (Lizzie Lamb)

At the end of a long day I need: My Sweet Friend (H A Leuschel)

I hate it when there’s: No Way Back (Kelly Florentia)

I wish I had: The Honesty of Tigers (David Bridger)

My family reunions are; A Divided Inheritance (Deborah Swift)

At a party you will find me making: The Last Gamble (Anabelle Bryant)

I’ve never been to: Lindisfarne (Terry Tyler)

A happy day includes: Wonders & Wickedness (Carol Hedges)

The motto I live by is: Everybody’s Somebody (Beryl Kingston)

On my Bucket List is: The Little French Guest House (Helen Pollard)

In my next life I want a: Garden of Stars (Rose Alexander)

If you decide to play along, add a link to your post in the comments box on Roof Beam Reader’s post and the comments box on this post so I can take a look at yours.


The Woman at the Light by Joanna Brady #FridayReads #BookReview

Woman at the light

One afternoon in 1839, Emily Lowry’s husband vanishes from Wreckers’ Cay, an isolated island off the coast of Key West where he tends to the lighthouse. As days stretch into months, Emily has no choice but take charge of Wrecker’s Cay and her husband’s duties tending the light to support her three children, and a fourth on the way. Unexpected help arrives when a runaway slave named Andrew washes up on their beach. At first, Emily is intensely wary of this strange, charming man, whose very presence there is highly illegal. But Andrew proves himself an enormous help and soon wins the hearts of the Lowry family. And, far from the outside world and society’s rules, his place in Emily’s life is as steadfast now as the light, and will forever change their futures. When Emily’s family is ripped apart once again, she faces untold hardships that test her love and determination and show how the passionate love of a defiant, determined woman can overcome any obstacle.

My Review

A lighthouse is of such significance both as a life-saver and a symbol. On dangerous coasts in the 19th century their importance could not be over-rated, so it is astonishing to learn that in some cases, the vital task of igniting the light each evening was undertaken by women.  This story is based on one of those women who had responsibility for part of the wrecking coast of the Florida Keys.


Emily is determined to take on this responsibility, in the hope that her husband Martin will reappear.  Living alone on the fictional island of Wreckers’ Cay, 23 miles from Key West, Emily’s family have in many ways found their life idyllic and she has no wish to become dependent on her Gran.  The arrival of Andrew, still shackled as a slave, is a shock but also a blessing.  He becomes an important part of the children’s lives and gradually Emily begins to feel desire for him.  Such a situation in that place and time can only lead to tragedy and the approach of a terrible storm changes their lives forever.


Emily is a survivor, but she is also a spirited woman who makes her own way in the world, fighting for the best life for her children.  Her sister Dorothy seems a more relaxed, easy-going woman for whom life is easier, but we learn that she is more complex and plays a major role in Emily’s future.  The second part of this story takes back to Key West and later to Cuba and New York.  I found the interaction between Emily and the men she encountered, depending on her social standing, particularly interesting.  We might find it very hard to adapt to a man such as Pedro Salas, who combines charm and sexual demands, but Emily is a woman of her time.


What begins as a story of love and hardship, becomes an unfolding mystery story and family saga.  I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in 19th century American history and also as a story of passion and courage.

You can find The Woman at the Light at Amazon UK

and at Amazon US

Joanna Brady

Joanna Brady


Jonah by Carl Rackman #fridayreads #bookreview


When a U boat is spotted floating on the surface of the Atlantic in 1940 by a British destroyer, the remaining German crew accuse one of their shipmates of being a Jonah.  Why then, in the Pacific in 1945, do the same events seem to be recurring on US Navy destroyer Brownlee?


The protagonist of this novel, “Lucky” Mitch Kirkham is introduced to us as he and his crewmates are involved in a terrifying battle with a continuous attack by Japanese Kamikaze pilots.  For the second time in his naval career, Mitch survives while others are killed.  He finds himself an outcast, distrusted, disliked and mistreated by his immediate superior.  When his life is threatened he is befriended by Father McGready, who gives him some hope that he will return home safely, but soon many of the crew are showing symptoms of hysteria, seeing ghosts and talking of a sea-monster.  Mitch is a naturally curious individual, an interesting character to follow, but this leads him into more trouble.  He no longer knows whom he can trust or who will be acting strangely, next.


The author gradually reveals the back stories of Mitch and the other characters so that we understand their demons.  Battle scenes are vividly described and full of tension.  It is evident that Carl Rackman has thoroughly researched wartime life in the US navy and we can imagine ourselves on board the Brownlee.  As the plot develops, the reader feels an increasing fear of imminent disaster leading to an eventful, surprising conclusion.

Jonah is available at Amazon UK  and Amazon US