Votes for women, the working classes, men, and the dangers of a single story

Ruth HartleyHuman rights, Politics, Race, Slavery, Storytelling, Votes, Women's suffrage2 Comments

Women, the vote, and the stories told about it 100 years later

On March 8th I will join friends to celebrate International Women’s Day. It is always fun.

Its great to be celebrating a centenary since British women got the vote. The vote was only for women then, who, like me now, had property – but hold on! 100 years ago my peasant grandmother didn’t get the vote. My middle-class grandmother wouldn’t have been granted a degree. That vote for middle-class women eventually benefited not only me, but all the men and women of Britain. It wasn’t easy or straightforward or done perfectly right. Working-class men at the time felt cheated but change for the better is always a process. Why, I ask, is there still negativity about it today?

Deceptive, defective, but delectable single stories

We do like to keep our history simple so we know who was good and who was bad – who to honour and who to blame. That allows us to criticise the achievements of the suffragists and suffragettes without understanding Read More and Comment …

The very Special Olympic Games and stories of sex, love and politics

Ruth HartleyArt, Politics, Sailing, Sport, The Olympic Games, Writing2 Comments

 The Special Olympics and my good fortune

A Golden Chinese junk sails into the Special Olympics arena on a blue sea made of dancing people

A view of the firework display at the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony through the roof of the stadium









How could I not write about the Special Olympics when the media are bursting with stories about the Winter Olympics and its stars? I can count myself among the very privileged because I was at the Special Olympics with John in both Shanghai and Athens. and so I’ve seen two amazing Olympic Opening Events in two extraordinary places. In Shanghai in 2007, John took part in the sailing events as the unified partner of Great Britain’s Special Olympic athlete John Hollingsworth who had Down’s Syndrome. I was there as the chaperone of Sarah Biggs, the only woman in the sailing team. In Athens in 2011, John and I were simply volunteers with the sailing team for the events at Marathon. We drove to Greece from the south of France and went home through Albania

The Great Britain Special Olympics Sailing Team

The Olympic flame is a double circle of fire above a fountain of water in front on the Special Olympics symbol for 2007

John Hollingsworth and John wearing lifejackets ready for their training at the London Docklands site

The full Team of Special Olympics athletes with their unified partners, and training team ready for the Shanghai Olympics

John had been a volunteer with Special Olympics for some years and the training took place in the London Docklands – a pretty fantastic place to sail – Read More and Comment …

Remembering Rica Hodgson — my brave friend

Ruth HartleyAfrica, apartheid, Freedom Fighters, South Africa, Writing, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Rica Hodgson affectionately cups the cheek of Nelson Mandela with her right hand as he leans toward her, grasping her left hand with his right. The are at a function where several people in the background appear delighted with this display of affection.

Rica Hodgson and Nelson Mandela at the first Malibongwe dialogue held at the Nelson Mandela Foundation

Hello friends and fellow readers. Are you amongst those who didn’t see or couldn’t read my post on 20 January? It was about my friend and mentor, Rica Hodgson, who died recently.

I am really sorry that it didn’t reach all of you who are interested in South African history and the anti-apartheid movement. This was due to technical problems with my blog, and possibly to the recent Facebook outage.

Rica Hodgson’s Memorial Service in South Africa

On Sunday, I received from Rica’s family the details of her memorial service to be held in Johannesburg on 4 February. She was a brave and inspiring woman, a colleague of Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela. She will be celebrated by many who appreciate her enormous contribution to the struggle for freedom and democracy in South Africa.

I can’t go to the service, but reading of it has made me quite emotional again as I think of her huge impact on me personally. Despite her involvement in national issues of enormous consequence, she took the time to rescue and look after me. I was pregnant and friendless, alone for the first time in the strange, vast world of London. She may well have changed the course of my life.

How can I commemorate Rica from afar?

So, to further honour Rica Hodgson, I have spruced up my original post to improve overall readability and impact. I’m also taking the unusual step of re-publicising that post to my mailing list and social media accounts. (If you’ve already read it, the content is the same, including the excerpt from my soon-to-be-published memoir When I was Bad.)

I would be so grateful if you would share the link with anyone who may be interested:

Your feedback and questions on that post would be very welcome. Thank you to those who have already commented.


‘The Shape of Water’ and ‘The Shaping of Water’ and the Oscars

Ruth HartleyDisplacement, The Shaping of Water, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, video, War, Writing Process2 Comments

Films and books and Oscars


There’s my first novel The Shaping of Water – and there’s the film – The Shape of Water  – its quite strange when the title of your book is almost, but not quite, on the shortlist of the Oscars! If only! Add to that that there is a fascinating character called Oscar in my novel The Tin Heart Gold Mine.

Gothic horror and new ideas

The thing is that I love Guillermo del Toro‘s films – they are strange, disturbing, wonderful and very thought-provoking and of course, completely unlike my story and in fact unlike anything I write. I loved Pan’s Labyrinth and I enjoyed The Devil’s Backbone but then del Toro’s films are gothic horror though never simply about scaring you – they jolt you into thinking and seeing things anew.

Film director instead of writer

The photo shows a handsome cowboy in a snazzy white suit and stetson leaning on a garden bench on which sits a scruffy and dirty hillbilly girl with a blond plait and a dirty face. She is in love with the cowboy.

Howard Keel and Betty Hutton in Annie Get Your Gun

If I had been born into a different generation I would be making films. When I sat in the cinema in Salisbury, Rhodesia, watching Annie Get your Gun I knew I wanted to be the film designer – I didn’t know that I actually wanted to be a film director – I was 8 years old and didn’t have the right words – I just knew I wanted to be the artist in chief of the movie! Of course I wanted to write the screenplays too.

How to buy my books

Instead I am a writer. If you go to Troubador my publisher you will be able to buy The Shaping of Water at a reduced price by using the discount code which is, of course, OSCAR  – or the code they tell you to use. Click here to buy The Tin Heart Gold Mine  also reduced.

My MA video

So here’s the video I made for my MA thesis. I enjoyed making it – its supposed to be about the things that we know and understand that are never obvious or out in the open – the things we read “between the lines”. Read More and Comment …

Rica Hodgson: “foot soldier for freedom”, friend and hero

Ruth HartleyAfrica, apartheid, Freedom Fighters, South Africa, Writing, Zambia5 Comments

Rica Hodgson — the freedom fighter who rescued me 52 years ago

Rica is laughing with her head tilted back slightly. She has on a blue dress.

Rica Hodgson at my wedding to Mike Bush 1969

This post is harder to write than I expected.

I was at my desk and about to write Rica a letter when I learnt that she had died. It was not unanticipated. She was 97 and had been in frail health for a while. I had only just completed another, perhaps final, re-edit of my 1966-1967 memoir When I was Bad which tells how I met Rica and how she rescued me.

Rica Hodgson is one of the leading South African freedom fighters celebrated by South African History Online (SAHO). On this amazing site, you can read her biography and those of many other significant figures in the anti-apartheid movement.

Rica is also someone to whom I owe an immense debt.

A long friendship from London through Lusaka to Johannesburg

Wedding photo at the registry office door. The men are in dark suits, Ruth Hartley in a red suit, Rica Hodgson in blue, Noppy and Jean and Ruth carry bouquets, Rachma has a basket of flowers and a brown pinafore.

The registry office wedding of Ruth Hartley and Mike Bush. L-R Jack Hodgson, Bill Lewis holding Rachma, Ruth, Mike, Rica Hodgson, Noppy Lewis, Jean Lawson

When I first knew Rica she worked in the Welfare Department at Defence and Aid in London channelling aid to apartheid prisoners and their families.

I wasn’t part of that remit but she helped me anyway. Without her I might have lost my child and ended up on the streets seriously depressed and suicidal. In April 1966, I was alone, poor and pregnant. Rica became my friend.

She was at my wedding in 1969, I visited her when I could, went to her 80th birthday party in London, stayed with her in Joburg, went with her to the ANC offices where I met her boss Walter Sisulu, met her in Lusaka, Zambia, and talked of her experiences at Solomon Mahlunga Freedom College in Tanzania.

A time of secrecy and danger

Nelsonn Mandela leans towards Rica holding her hand. Rica's hand cups Madiba's cheek affectionately.

Rica Hodgson and Nelson Mandela.

Everything to do with the anti-apartheid struggle and the African National Congress and with Rica’s work was dangerous until Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa.

The apartheid government assassinated Ruth First, Chris Hani and many others. They attempted to kill Albie Sachs too.

For 30 years it was essential to keep silent so as not to endanger the freedom movement.

Read More and Comment …

The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Colonialism, Displacement, Family, Migration, Politics, Race, Racism, ZambiaLeave a Comment

New Year in another country

A young Zimbabwean woman tilts her head and smiles at the camera

Petina Gappah – photograph from the Guardian interview

On New Year’s Day we fled from France across the snow-covered Pyrenees pursued by stormy winds and heavy rain. There we wandered along empty twisting roads among ruined and isolated stone villages and ancient monasteries in the  brutal mountains of Spanish Aragon. In our hotel room the television showed no news and told no stories so we were free to lie down in silence and read the books we unpacked from our suitcases. John was reading Lost History, a book about the culture and science of Islam. I was reading Petina Gappah‘s The Book of Memory, published by Faber and Faber and long-listed for the Baileys women’s prize for fiction. I was soon so absorbed into the story that I couldn’t put the book down and we were almost too late to get supper. In Spain supper goes on so late that missing it is nearly impossible. It’s an indication of how much I was enjoying The Book of Memory Read More and Comment …

Dancing and carolling through the dark days of the winter solstice

Ruth HartleyMusic, Seasons, Songs4 Comments

Season’s Greetings

Best wishes and greetings to all who read my posts – have a happy, green and gorgeous winter.

Here are are some wonderful songs to listen to over the solstice

It will soon be the night of the Winter Solstice

Keep your fires burning and your candles lit throughout the longest night

Bring in enough firewood to keep your family warm on the cold days

Dance and sing to keep warm and to celebrate life

Decorate your home with evergreen leaves and branches for good fortune

Make a feast of wine and good food to share with your friends

Offer kindness and charity to those in need, it is a human duty

This is a time to spend with your beloved.

Please sign up for a free present
of my poem PLANT LIFE

Poem Plant Life by Ruth Hartley in white text centred over a background picture of green succulents and a network of thorns over volcanic earth, taken at Lanzarote

Mythological me – images from a memoir of childhood

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Colonialism, Family, Imagination, Race7 Comments

For a child, facts are fantastical and fantasy, factual

Somewhere in my infancy, there is a thick green privet hedge, clipped and trimmed to right-angled perfection. It encloses a perfectly square empty space brimful of desolation. It contains no house, no people live there and it is nameless. Its eternal position is located somewhere inside the fortnight when my mythical mother vanished forever, but returned immediately with the fact of my baby sister. I can only recall the hedge. Perhaps I did live inside it once long ago.







Childish ghosts

Years before my mother’s disappearance, two time-travelling ghost children began to haunt my parents and stayed with them until they died. As a result, my mother had to be on duty each day to keep my sister and me from being harmed by them. As we could not be trusted to a nanny, we were left alone when my mother and her friends played tennis at the club across the road. Then Clare and I hid from each, and hunted the other, under the scruffy eucalyptus trees around the stick and straw pavilion where tea was served. Read More and Comment …

Driving back over my childhood

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Displacement, Family, Poetry1 Comment

Going home to Zimbabwe

Because of the unexpected changes in Zimbabwe last week I am posting two poems – one from 1980 when I returned to my father’s farm, and another from 1961 my last year at school.

Ford Laser speeds up the dual highway.

(Commercial break)

Camera pans back to parents.

Airport to homecoming – half an hour and a litre of fuel.

I have been driving back over my childhood

on the rim of a blown out brain.

The past has been smoothly macadamised

and has altered the shape of the day.

Strange trees hold their hands to the sky Read More and Comment …

Love Stories, World Wars, Armistice Day & why I wrote The Tin Heart Gold Mine

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Books, Migration, Mining, Politics, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, War, Zambia6 Comments

Today 11.11.2017 is Armistice Day. Next year is the centenary of the end of World War One. On that day the German East African army was undefeated. It only surrendered on 25.11.1918 two weeks later. The surrender was signed in Zambia at Mbala (Abercorn),- check out the website – all those fascinating facts link to The Tin Heart Gold Mine

Love and War stories

Ruth Hartley smiles at the camera. Her expression is friendly, pleased and engaging, inviting contact.She wears light-rimmed spectacles, a red-brown ribbed roll-neck top with a dark green-and-cream patterned pinafore over it, as well as ochre earrings and a black-and-ochre necklace.The Tin Heart Gold Mine is, first of all, a love story. It is the love story of Lara and Oscar and it is the love story of Lara and Tim and it is also a story set in Zambia, a place I love,  which in the book I call Chambeshi. I have other agendas as all writers do – I wanted my story to show something different. In The Tin Heart Gold Mine there’s a new angle on Africa – war is part of it as it was of my life.


By the way – this is  a photo of me smiling. I’m not giving up writing, even if it is tough – it won’t let me – I have to do it.


The Tin Heart Gold Mine and the War Cemetery

One of Otto Dix's war paintings: An armless soldier uses his foot to play cards with two soldiers who have lost their legs. All three men have very damaged faces—one has a rubber tube to near his ear, another has a metal plate covering his lower jaw.

Painting by Otto Dix of WW1 survivors playing cards

It was a tin heart nailed to a tree on a 1914 – 1918 war cemetery in Zimbabwe that was the germ for this story. Read More and Comment …