Rica Hodgson – South African “foot soldier for freedom” – friend and hero

Ruth HartleyAfrica, apartheid, Freedom Fighters, South Africa, Zambia2 Comments

Rica – 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 unexpected. 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 someone to whom I owe an immense debt.

 

 

 

A long friendship from London through Lusaka, Zambia, and to Johannesburg in South Africa

Wedding photo at the registry offfice door. The men are in dark suits, Ruth in a red suit, Rica 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, we met in Lusaka, and we 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 has her hand of Madiba's cheek

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 assasinated 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.

 

 

 

Rica and my writing

Rica sits in a Sewdish style chair wearing a black suit with a pink blouse. Her hands are clasped and her hair is white. Her face shows that she has had treatment for skin cancer.

Rica in her Berea flat in Joburg shortly before moving to Pretoria. This was the last time I saw her on my visit in 2000

Rica was responsible for the first publication of one of my poems in Sechaba, the ANC magazine. She was a stern critic and told me that my first novel, The Love and Wisdom Crimes,  should not be a fictionalised version of my life but an accurate account of value to the anti-apartheid archives. Her memoir Foot Soldier for Freedom is indicative of her courage and her modesty about her own life. I sent her drafts of my memoir a while ago and I know that she did see some of it. I hope at last, that it met with her approval. 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, Zambia5 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 …

We are all made of stories, we make stories and we are stories

Ruth HartleyBooks, Reading, Storytelling4 Comments

I want to give up storytelling

The photo shows a laptop on the right, a large screen in the centre, blue and white mug of tea, yeoow post-it notes and pens in front of a sunny window and full bookshelf.

Ruth’s work station with large screen, mug of tea and post-its.

I want to give up writing – my efforts are going nowhere – nobody reads my stories – it’s such hard work – I can never be good enough – I spend all my days doing it  – and I do it alone  – shut away in my study  – tapping away at a keyboard – deleting – editing – rewriting – what for? Why? For you? For me?

Stories will not give me up

But stories can’t give me up because I am a story too and stories made me and make me. The stories that made me are millennia-old and these are the same stories that made you. These are the stories that were sung, shouted, danced, whispered, written down,  were secrets, were saved and were banned Read More and Comment …

Parisot Literary Festival – writers, readers, books, stories – a weekend of pleasure and good company

Ruth HartleyArt, Books, illustration, Reading, Reviews, Storytelling, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, Writing, Writing Process1 Comment

Good company and pleasure at Parisot 82

What better company can there be? A delightful French village called Parisot, the well-organised Parisot literary festival with good companions, excellent food and wine – and BOOKS!! John and I enjoyed ourselves so much that I failed to get photos of the people I met and so you’ll have to do mostly with pictures of books. I have one good photo of John and me enjoying the opening event which was taken by my friend, Ginster. I was smiling at a group of schoolchildren who, together with their teacher and a French writer and illustrator, Thomas Scotto, had created two books for the event which had been published and were on sale there. There’s a great video of the weekend here which gives the flavour of the event.  The festival worked so well for everyone and especially writers and readers – Read More and Comment …

Finding readers for ‘The Tin Heart Gold Mine’ – Lara’s London and Mandela’s statue.

Ruth HartleyBooks, Storytelling, The Tin Heart Gold Mine2 Comments

London’s South Bank Centre and the River Thames

Writers write about what they know. Even an imagined world must be thoroughly experienced and known to the author of a book.

At the start of The Tin Heart Gold Mine, Lara, the main character of the book, lives in London and in a part of London that I loved, so naturally I used my own experiences as settings for the story. On a recent visit to the city I took some photos of the places known to Lara that are mentioned in the book and I thought that I would take you on a journey to introduce you to some of Lara’s London. Read More and Comment …

Book clubs and choices, likes and dislikes, readers and reviewers

Ruth HartleyBooks, Reading, Reviews, Storytelling, The Shaping of Water, Writing, Writing Process5 Comments

What do writers want?

The image shows the writer from behind as she stares at her screen and holds a blue and white mug

The writer writing a post for her blog and holding a mug of tea

What do writers want? They want readers.

They want money and recognition of course, but they want readers most.

How do they get readers?

Well – they need sales. How do writers get sales?

Writers need an agent, a publisher, a good deal of luck and a huge amount of energy so they can do the hard work of marketing and they also need positive reviews – lots of them. Do writers get what they need or what they deserve? That’s another question altogether!

 

Lovely book clubs, readers and writers

Six people sit around a luncheon table, looking at the observer,

The book club at lunch. From left to right, Ruth Gillian, Val, Graham, Emma and Sigrid.

I love my book club and all the readers in it. Do you know why? Read More and Comment …