Happy Saturday everyone! I hope your day is going well! I had a nice three-week break from the Saturday Evening Interview but…it’s time to come back! Today I have a wonderful interview with fellow blogger friend and now Texan, Kerry Duncan from Postcards from Kerry. Despite losing her mother-in-law and having to fly overseas for the funeral, she still finished our interview! If you click on the link to her blog, you’ll be able to read a beautiful post she wrote about her mother-in-law. Kerry talks about her recent e-book about living in Egypt, her volunteer award from the president, her writing career, being afflicted with a genetically inherited mental illness and more! So without further ado, here’s Kerry A.K.A. Chatty Kerry!
Me: I know you’ve traveled the world a lot throughout the years for work and fun. Tell us about your favorite destination and why?
Gosh, that is such a hard question to answer but I will try. My ultimate favorite destination was Istanbul in Turkey. I had tried for years to visit Istanbul but each time American citizens were warned not to because some instability or threat to Americans. After living in Egypt, I realized there would always be some issue with a country both occidental and oriental. As soon Turkish Airlines had a direct flight to Houston, I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Abu Dhabi connecting via Istanbul. It was everything I thought it would be and some more – a perfect mix of east and west, exquisite food, amazing unique history from all the various invaders and the friendliest people. We stayed in the old city in a boutique hotel and it turned into a second honeymoon. https://chattykerry.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/istanbul/
Me: Your memoir, Letters from Cairo was released in September last year. What memory from your book would make someone want to read the e-book and not put it down for a second?
I would like to think that it was when the Gulf War started. We had only recently moved into our leased villa in a suburban area of Cairo close to the desert. There weren’t many westerners living there but there was a lovely old Egyptian man living across the road who went to the Mosque everyday in his pajamas. He was very friendly and we greeted each other in Arabic every day. I had the feeling that he might have been a retired professor, he was charming and well-spoken. There were so many warnings from the various consulates for our safety that we were on edge. A few days after the start of the war loud Koranic music came blasting out of our lovely old neighbor’s house. I was so upset, convinced that they were trying to make us feel uncomfortable and completely paranoid. I felt so silly and sad when I realized he died and this was the equivalent of an Egyptian wake. It put everything in perspective. Life and death goes on, even in war time, and there are good and bad people all over the world. I think it illustrates the book’s swings from hilarity to poignancy. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Letters-Cairo-This-memoir-travelogue-ebook/dp/B015JFY1F0/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
Me: What compelled you to write your memoir about temporary life in Egypt? Well to be completely honest, my psychiatrist put me on a new drug for depression and it chemically made me as high as a kite! I kept journals with the intention of writing a book but could easily have just kept them in the closet. My new ‘high’ allowed me to write the first draft in a few weeks, buy an apartment with a sitting tenant, set up a soap making company and various other crazy things. It was so much fun while it lasted…and then it was not. Finally, everybody realized this was not my normal personality and I switched onto a different drug. I wrote the journals about life in Egypt as a sort of therapy then they turned into genuine letters from Cairo which I sent in emails to friends and family. The phone rarely worked so we had little communication with the outside world.
Me: I know you’ve written for other publications and of course you have your blog. Tell us about your writing career. How long have you been at it?
I have been writing professionally since the 1990’s when I managed a community mental health project in Scotland for people with serious mental illnesses and their caregivers. I had to write courses, speeches for conferences and monthly reports. The director of the charity sent one of my reports as a template for all the other managers to use – can you imagine how popular I was? Then, I started writing grant applications and research theses for other charities. I was convinced if I included pathos via client statements or experience and some humor, the grant applications would have a better chance. One application was to the Scottish Government for a small rural transportation charity and they had about $10 in the bank. They gave us the equivalent of about $500,000 – and more than we asked for! Nothing will ever crown that wonderful achievement. Now I have published Letters from Cairo and have an occasional part-time job as a writer for a local magazine in Texas. http://woodlandslifestylesandhomes.com/around-town-january-2016/
Me: What do you have planned for 2016 in terms of life and writing? Before my husband was laid off at the beginning of December, my plan was to market Letters from Cairo properly, write a companion book with further anecdotes and continue writing for the magazine if they would like me to. I hoped to do some solo traveling and write more travelogues. Now life is different. My husband is in the process of setting up a consultancy and I will likely do all the business administration, especially if he travels for contracts (he is a geologist). My major was in business studies and I have project management experience so I am both qualified to help and (be) ‘assertive’. I am sure my husband would corroborate this… as long as I keep the stress levels down perhaps I will achieve all of it including continuing to volunteer at an international airport.
Me: What advice would you offer an up and coming writer? What has/hasn’t worked for you?
Read, read and then read more. Read literary tomes, magazines (silly and sensible), sci-fi, romance and newspapers. We learn most about writing skills by reading other people’s writing. I only had to read the first page of 50 Shades of Grey to see it was not well-written (in my opinion) and yet it’s a best seller! In today’s world, a blog is a fantastic way to hone your writing skills and it worked for me. I only started Postcards from Kerry to give me a way to market my book. Now I enjoy the blog much more. Travelogues seemed to be my genre especially since I have a qualification in travel writing but I realized my readers preferred my funny and poignant anecdotes. Finally, go with your gut instinct but edit endlessly. I wrote and rewrote my book (for) over a decade and it still is not my best work.
Me: What word describes you the most and why?
Kind. People use many adjectives or phrases to describe me. Forthright, funny, sweet, nice, generous, sunny, chatty, bossy, impatient, friendly and sexy occasionally… The core of my being is kindness to all creatures, great and small. Both my mother and grandmother were kind so some of it is learned behavior. I think it is something I was born with. There is a lovely word that is used in Scotland, ‘couthie’ – it is the opposite of uncouth and it is probably the best descriptive word of me. It suggests niceness, kindness and friendliness. I asked my husband’s opinion about your question and his word was ‘giving’.
Me: What do you love and hate in life?
I love compassion, nature in all its wonder and the universe. I love CATS! I love my car – I didn’t start driving until I was 45 so it still feels miraculous. I love my husband, my family and friends. I really try not to hate anything but bigotry, cruelty, racism and greed is right up there!
Me: Who’s inspired you in life and writing?
So many people have inspired me so that’s a hard one. My mum and grandmother inspired me with their love for me and how hard they worked to look after me. My husband’s giant brain and gift with photography inspires me (he sells photographs through Getty Images). No one writer has inspired me – it is all of them, from Tolkien to Hemingway. I am in love with Pope Francis though and I think that’s okay because I am a lapsed Catholic. Philanthropy turns me on so I would go on a date with the Pope, Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama, Warren Buffet but not Oprah. For some reason I am the only person in the world who is not that keen on Oprah. Even with all her philanthropy I feel a coolness emanating from her. Now Ellen Degeneres is another matter – I might even bat for the other side…
Me: Tell us about your volunteer work. I was very intrigued when I found out you earned an award from President Obama. Congratulations! Please tell us more about your award. Did you get the opportunity to meet the president?
Anyone who volunteers for a registered agency/charity for a certain amount of hours receives awards from the President so I am one of many with no opportunity to meet the President. I have volunteered for six years at an airport, helping people at the information booths. ‘Mi Espanol es malo’, ‘en peu de Francais’ and a smattering of Arabic are used frequently along with mental health experience and counseling skills. I started volunteering when I was 15 and rarely stopped. So that’s 40 years of volunteering for organizations as diverse as Youth Hosteling, Homelessness, Down’s Syndrome, Rural Transportation, Psychiatric Facilities (including dementia) and a Community Internet Project.
Me: I can tell from reading your blog life hasn’t always been easy for you. You’re afflicted with a genetically inherited mental illness. Has writing helped or hurt you? How do you stay healthy?
Why do mentally ill people marry other mentally ill people? Our family has so many people who have an inherited mental illness including me. Each illness is unique and mine is mostly anxiety and depression with a soupçon of OCD just to spice things up! I kept my illness secret for many years especially since I worked in the field of mental health. Writing helps tremendously and I first learned when I encouraged my clients to write a letter for their psychiatrist that was truly honest. It is so easy to clam up when in a stressful session. Now I just hand a bullet pointed list to my psychiatrist and then we chat around it. Writing the blog has allowed me to be completely honest about my health and feelings. It is entirely therapeutic in a safe environment like Word Press where you are less likely to get negative feedback. I don’t use Facebook because I feel unsafe in that open environment and for various other reasons. I stay healthy by taking my medication, eating well, keeping stress levels low if I can, sleeping well, exercising and listening to my doctors. It really isn’t rocket science but it is very hard to do these things when you are in the depths of depression so I try to prevent major ups and downs.
Me: Anything else you would like to add?
Yes I would like to thank you for interviewing me for your blog. I can’t remember how we found each other but El Paso is one of the few cities in Texas I haven’t visited and really want to. Your blog has a delightful cozy feel. It is like visiting a friend. There are many of your blogs I have enjoyed but I love the glimpse into Tejano life. I am Hispanic also, although brought up in Scotland. The photo of you making tamales with your mother for Christmas provoked a lovely memory of a dinner with some of my cousins in California…eating tamales for the first time. The Epiphany is an important celebration for Roman Catholics all over the world but I hadn’t heard of Dia de los Reyes. As for the Dallas Cowboys, well everyone has to have a flaw… 🙂