Saturday 31 March 2018

The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . with Mary Grand

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog you’ll know that a few years ago I hosted my first Virtual Mini Book Festival which featured lots of amazing authors from the Isle of Wight. What started off as an idea in my head came to fruition through a very lovely author called Mary Grand who lives on the island, she put me in touch with other authors who live there and I’m absolutely thrilled to be chatting to Mary today and finding out about her new book Behind the Smile.

Welcome back to The Hippo Mary, it’s wonderful to have you back here. Please, grab a chair and introduce yourself to everyone.

Photo courtesy of Mary Grand

I was born in Cardiff and have retained a deep love for my Welsh roots. I worked as a nursery teacher in London and later taught Deaf children in Croydon and Hastings.
I now live on the beautiful Isle of Wight with my husband, where I walk my cocker spaniel Pepper and write. I have two grown up children.

'Free to Be Tegan' was my debut novel. The second 'Hidden Chapters' is set on the spectacular Gower Peninsula. I have also published two short books of short stories 'Catching the Light' and 'Making Changes'. 'Catching the Light' is also available as an audiobook, narrated by Petrina Kingham.

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Do you often hear from your readers and what do they say?
If you’d asked me the question ‘what do you expect your readers to say?’ the day before I published my first novel Free to Be Tegan I probably would have said ‘very little’! I had written a book from my heart and hoped maybe one or two people may read and enjoy it. However I was very lucky; it was well received and formed the foundation of many new friendships on line and in ‘the real world’ with both writers and readers.

Within a fictitious setting I do like to write about issues I care about. They are usually things I have at least touched from a distance and then done a lot of research on. The responses to these from readers are among some of the most moving I receive. I have heard from people in recovery from living in a cult, children of alcoholics and parents of Deaf children.

Also I hear from people who read the stories as chance to escape into beautiful parts of Wales …a number plan to visit Gower after reading Hidden Chapters which is lovely as it is the most beautiful place.

On line a very supportive group has been the one I joined when I first got my cocker spaniel Pepper. Pepper has taught me just how much a dog can bring to your life and in acknowledgement of that there is usually a cocker spaniel tucked away somewhere in my stories. The question from my group on Facebook therefore is naturally ‘what colour cocker spaniel is going to be in the next book?’

Photo courtesy of Mary Grand
I love this photo of Pepper, he looks so handsome ๐Ÿ™‚

What’s your favourite motivational phrase?
“Bird by Bird”. This is the title of a book about writing by Anne Lamott and is one of my favourite books. The phrase ‘Bird by Bird’ is one that keeps me going when I feel overwhelmed when writing or in fact by life itself. The story behind the saying is wonderful.  Anne Lamott’s brother was feeling totally at a loss as how to write up a complex report on birds for school. It was due in the next day but he was over whelmed by the task. His dad them put his arm around him and said ‘Bird by bird buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ Good advice.

I think this picture is so clever – a bird made up of lots of tiny birds.

What advice would you give your younger self?

This is what Glinda, the Good Witch of the North told Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, at the end of her journey in Oz, as she is trying to get back home. All along, the ruby slippers on Dorothy’s feet had the magical power to fulfil her wish.

As a child, partly from being brought up in a very strict sect, I was made to feel that I couldn’t do anything worthwhile in my own strength; if I tried I would fail. When I succeeded in school or socially I never believed it might be anything to do with my own ability but thought it had to be someone else, maybe God or someone in authority who had enabled me to do it. It took me a long time to realise that I am often able to work some things out for myself, that I don’t always need someone to rescue me, tell me what to do.  I know now I can try new things and am able to do some things well. I wish I’d had that confidence when I was younger. I am also learning that although I sometimes make mistakes it is not God judging me but part of the process of learning and growing. As someone said ‘the only way to avoid mistakes is to do nothing.’

What character in your book are you least likely to get along with and why?
The leader of the cult in Free to Be Tegan is called Daniel. He shares some of the traits of leaders in the sect I was brought up in and I guess this is why I feel so strongly about him and what he tries to do to people. Writing his character, understanding what makes a cult leader tick, was very therapeutic.

Daniel has charisma, charm, people are attracted to him however he is also controlling, demands unquestioning obedience. To keep them in his cult he manipulates and uses mind control.  He isolates members from the real world, in fact he teaches them that the world is the enemy and warns them that the world will disapprove of them because it is blind to the truth. Members are discouraged from  critical thinking and slowly loose their sense of self and self worth.

This is a terrible way to treat people; it is done in a cold, calculating way. For the character of Tegan in the story it is the only life she has known and the book opens with the devastating scene of her being cast out of the cult, cut off from her family, for a relatively small misdemenor.Daniel’s words are harsh in the extreme “You will be judged with all those in the Domain of the Beast. On the day of judgment the High One will show you no mercy and you, Tegan Williams, will be thrown into the lake of fire, there to suffer for all eternity” Fear is an important tool of control within a cult.

Later in her story Tegan confronts Daniel. This to me is the pivotal point in the book and in her healing.

What is your guilty pleasure?
I thought I’d choose a reading guilty pleasure although I don’t think we should ever really feel guilty about the books we choose to read, we need different books at different times in out lives. For me, when life gets just too much, I escape into one of Simon Brett’s Fethering Mysteries. I love these two amateur female detectives, uptight Carole Seddon and her easy going, free spirited friend Jude. The stories are well thought out mysteries (and lots of wine is drunk!). They are books for a rainy Sunday with a cup of coffee and chocolate biscuit in hand.

What did you edit out of your last book?
Stephen King said ‘Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, and kill your darlings.’

It’s is very hard when editing to make major changes such as taking out characters but I had to do this when editing  my latest novel “Behind the Smile.” This is the story of Lowri who, facially scarred and hiding dark secrets goes to idyllic village on the Isle of Wight. She wears the mask of a fake smile but soon learns that she is not alone, that everyone has something to hide, be it an addiction, unrequited love or even a desire to destroy her.

In the first draft I had created a complex back story for Lowri, written scenes when she met her grandmother and mother. Both were characters I had become attached to. However, I came to realise that they did not move the plot forward. The characters may have been well-developed but they were still weak because they didn't serve a strong purpose. They did reveal things about Lowri but I found a different and I hope tighter way of sharing this with the reader. Sadly they had to go!

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You mentioned your latest book, Behind The Smile, can you tell the readers more about it Mary?

Behind the Smile is my new novel, a gripping family drama set on the Isle of Wight.
 Lowri is pregnant, looking forward to a new life with her lover, Simon. But her plans are shattered. She finds herself alone, her face scarred, her future uncertain.

Her estranged husband, Jack, proposes they “settle” for each other, and raise Lowri’s unborn child on the Isle of Wight, in the idyllic village of Elmstone.

Lowri is befriended by Carina, the beautiful Italian woman living in Elmstone Manor, and Heather, the popular local cafรฉ proprietor. However, she soon discovers that no-one is the person they appear.
What dark secrets is Heather hiding from her family and from the village?

Why is Carina desperate for Lowri to fail in her new life and prepared to go to increasingly desperate lengths to destroy her?

As she confronts her own insecurities, and faces another devastating loss, will Lowri find the courage to be proud of the person she is hiding behind the smile? Will she find true love amid the confusion and intrigue?

It sounds like a great book to curl up with and read over a long weekend. . . . . like an Easter weekend perhaps Mary? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Behind The Smile is available now so if you’re looking for something to read this weekend why not take a look?

You can find out more about Mary, her books and connect with her using the links below:


I'd like to say a big thank you to Mary for taking the time to stop by and chat today. It's always a pleasure to see you and I wish you lots of success with Behind The Smile ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜˜


  1. Thank you so much Neats for inviting me along. I loved answering your questions, thank you for finding the wonderful picture of 'bird by bird'.

  2. It's always a pleasure to host you Mary and thank you for bringing the very handsome Pepper along with you. ๐Ÿ˜˜