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.


Woman at the Front: Memoirs of an ATS Girl by Sylvia Wild #TuesdayBookBlog



I chose this autobiography because Sylvia’s experiences during the second world war mirrored those of my mother, but the story of those years in France, Belgium and Germany is fascinating for anyone interested in 20th century history.

Sylvia joined the ATS, as the women’s section of the British Army was called, in 1943. She decided to volunteer for overseas service and as a shorthand typist was sent over to France as one of the few women soon after D-day. Her time billeted with French families was a revelation to her, but despite their initial resistance, she made friends. In Brussels she was reunited with friends and found more luxury and entertainment. Returning to London on her very first flight was alarming, and she was shocked to discover that her family were still suffering from the effects of the wartime bombardment.

The women of the ATS were given little credit, being dismissed by Montgomery as nuisances but their role was essential in the establishment of the British Army Over the Rhine bringing peace to Europe. Anyone who enjoys reading the minutiae of social history of a time almost still in living memory would enjoy this book.


The paperback version, including illustrations is available at Amazon UK

Bamboo Heart by Ann Bennett #BookReview

B Heart

Bamboo Heart has been waiting on my Kindle for a little while. I loved Bamboo Island and I found Bamboo Road really moving but I was worried that this, the first book of the Bamboo Trilogy might be very upsetting. Indeed, the Prologue takes us straight to a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp in 1943, where Tom Ellis has been incarcerated in a narrow individual earth lock-up. He keeps his spirits up by thinking of the girl he left in Penang.

The book moves on to London in 1986 where Laura Ellis, Tom’s daughter returns from Paris to see her father, who is sick. A successful city lawyer, she is dissatisfied with her life and worried about the actions of her boyfriend, Luke. Finding a photo of a young woman with oriental features, named Joy de Souza, Laura decides to travel to Thailand to learn more about her father’s wartime experiences and then on to Penang where he may have met Joy.

The book takes us back to pre-war London where Tom, also unhappy with his life, had decided to travel out east to manage workers on a rubber plantation. He becomes part of the expat community, but he also meets a local teacher who becomes very important to him. His easy-going life is suddenly changed by the approach of the Japanese, when he must become a soldier, but he becomes a captive in Singapore and is taken to the Death Railway.

The book reveals the suffering of so many soldiers and the repercussions in their lives post war. Laura’s experiences in Thailand and Penang are also life-changing but in a positive way. This is a challenging but fascinating story of the tragedy of war but hope for the future.

My interview about the Bamboo Trilogy is here  The book is available on Amazon UK



The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

Lover's Portrait

American Art History student Zelda Richardson loves her life in Amsterdam, but entrance into the Master’s course in Museum Studies depends on her performance as an intern at the Amsterdam Historical Museum. She is asked to work on an online project to restore 1500 paintings stolen by the Nazis during World War Two to their rightful owners or descendants but she is not welcomed onto the project by the stiff, unfriendly Huub Konijn, senior curator at the Jewish Historical Museum, who designed the website.

But not content with her editing role, Zelda uses her previous web design experience to brighten up the front page, with her own choice of paintings, in an animation. Despite Huub’s criticism, one of these paintings, Irises, triggers a claimant almost instantly. Rita Brouwer, a large, jolly American woman claims it was painted for her elderly sister, but as Zelda begins to warm to this lady, another claimant turns up. Karen O’Neil is an unpleasant socialite, accompanied by her German lawyer, Konrad Heider. She has paperwork listing the painting in the Gallery of her grandfather, Arjan van Heemsvliet.

In parallel with events in 2015, we read about how many valuable paintings belonging to Dutch Jews were hidden in 1942 by Arjan and his friend, picture framer, Philip Verbeet who was Rita’s father. But both men disappeared and the location of the paintings is still unknown. We know more than Zelda about whom she should trust but part of the mystery is concealed until the end and Zelda’s impetuous, proactive investigation leads her into danger and thrilling action.

The novel gives a detailed account of the large quantity of art that was stolen and how rightful ownership is carefully researched, which of necessity slows down the first part of the story, but there is also a compelling mystery which makes the rest of book a real page turner. Zelda is a determined young woman who stumbles into predicaments because of her desire to reveal the truth and the other characters also have convincing motives and characteristics. A great read.

I have since discovered that this is the second book about Zelda, so I am now looking forward to reading Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery, Book one in the series.

The Lover’s Portrait can be purchased at Amazon UK or Amazon US

Rosie's Book Review team 1


Past Meets Present at Clandon Park

Today I am taking the challenge set by Becky of It Caught My Eye in Portugal to compare a photograph of the past with a recent one I have taken myself.

I have lived near to Clandon Park for 37 years and although I didn’t particularly admire the appearance of the outside architecture, I always felt at home walking around this National Trust property.  Inside as well as the Marble Entrance Hall, there were beautifully decorated rooms full of enchanting china.

When I first saw the smoke and flames of the house fire which caused so much destruction I was very sad and my more recent photos show that although the shell remains, the roof and much of the interior has been destroyed.  Now the NT are looking for an architect to oversee its rebuilding.  I am looking forward to a hopeful future for the House.





Please visit some of Becky’s #PastMeetsPresent Pages and maybe join in yourself.


Return to the Little French Guest House (La Cour des roses #2) by Helen Pollard #FridayRead #bookreview

Blue skies, new love, and a glass of Bordeaux . . . what could possibly go wrong?


In January, I decided to chase away the winter blues by reading Helen Pollard’s “Little French Guesthouse.”  Now on a sunny Spring break I have picked up “Return to the Little French Guest House.” It was a delight to join heroine Emmy as she began her new job as Rupert’s right hand woman.  Filled with enthusiasm and great ideas she relished the task of putting the Guest House on the map, starting her own online business and developing her budding relationship with charming Anglo-French solicitor, Alain.  But it is not all plain sailing.  A critical review by a vindictive travel blogger instigates cancellations, a major booking for a large family was never recorded by Rupert’s wife, Gloria, and both she and Emmy’s ex-partner Nathan are still causing trouble.

However Emmy does manage to spend time with new friend Sophie visiting chateaux and nearby towns and she becomes closer to Rupert’s friends, especially Jonathan, who is beginning to feel his advancing age.  It is a warm community, always willing to help each other out and most of the guests enjoy their holidays immensely.  Once Alain returns from Paris, he and Emmy grow closer but will their previous relationships cause them grief?

There are some very humorous scenes occurring in the guest house and delightful repartee around Rupert’s dinner table.  Combining these scenes with lovely descriptive passages and the romantic experiences of a likeable heroine, make this an entertaining follow-up not to be missed by those who read the first book.

You can find Return to the Little French Guest House at Amazon UK

My review of the original Little French Guest House is here

Helen Pollard

As a child, Helen had a vivid imagination fuelled by her love of reading, so she started to create her own stories in a notebook.

She still prefers fictional worlds to real life, believes characterisation is the key to a successful book, and enjoys infusing her writing with humour and heart.

Helen is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.


The Separation by Dinah Jefferies #Bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog


This is a story about the separation of mothers and daughters told from opposite sides of the world by Lydia, a young mother abandoned in Malaya in 1955 and her daughter Emma lonely and unloved in England. Initially the main story is of Lydia’s journey during the Malayan Emergency through the dangers of jungle roads where insurgents may kill or kidnap locals or colonials alike. With little money, she searches for her missing husband and daughters gaining help from a mysterious stranger. Her story includes love and tragedy against the background of the steaming heat and lush growth of the countryside.

Lydia’s story is told in the third person, but we have no doubt about her feelings and emotions. Emma describes events in her own words. She is an independent eleven year old, traumatised by the sudden move to cold, drab England after her happy childhood in the tropics. No-one will tell her where her mother is and she misses her terribly. In addition she has to deal with an abusive adult and a harsh boarding school.

I identified strongly with this story, remembering 1950s England and having spent some of my teenage years in Malaya and Singapore. The authenticity of the settings is striking, but what captivates the reader is the passion and drama of the plot. There are mysteries to solve, scores to settle and happiness to hope for.

Dinah Jefferies is a talented writer who is able to give context and characterisation to a moving, thrilling plot. This was a book I read late into the night, not wanting to put it down. Highly recommended.

The Separation is available on Amazon here

D Jefferies

Dinah was born in Malaya in 1948 and moved to England at the age of nine. In 1985, the sudden death of her fourteen year old son changed the course of her life, and deeply influenced her writing. Dinah drew on that experience, and on her own childhood spent in Malaya during the 1950s to write her debut novel, The Separation.

Now living in Gloucestershire with her husband and their Norfolk terrier, she spends her days writing, with time off with her grandchildren.