The casual power of good storytelling in Zambia

Ruth HartleyPower, Writing, Zambia1 Comment

A Casualty of Power by Mukuka Chipanta

A Casualty of Power is an excellent action story that I simply couldn’t put down. It is well told and well structured and so engaging that you have to read to the end. It’s published by Weaver Books, Zimbabwe and Gadsden Publishers, Zambia 2016, 206 pages, ISBN: 978-1-77922-297-8

The hero’s plight

My heart was wrenched by the plight of the hero, Hamoonga Moya, who is a naive and honest young man with a gentle disposition, forced by circumstances of poverty, and a chance meeting with a attractive, feisty young businesswoman into a devastating encounter with a brutal politician. Read More and Comment …

Flying backwards to yesterday and arriving in tomorrow’s world

Ruth HartleyArt, Books, Creativity, The Shaping of Water, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Flying backwards to yesterday

In the forground a young blond girl cuddles a rabbit. Behind her are English cows in a field. Behind that are 3 different herds of African cattle returning home to their kraals at sunset.

‘Other Sunsets’ an oil painting by Ruth Hartley in the Lechwe collection



Was I flying backwards into a nostalgic and unreal fantasy about a past life? Even now Zambia feels like home to me, the place closest to my heart where I feel most deeply rooted. I lived in Zambia for 22 years and my dream had always been to have a plot of land, build a cottage on it and have a garden of flowers and vegetables, birds and insects, where I would always  live.



A time of change, of leaving and of returning

The Food Lovers Market at one of the big shopping malls in Lusaka

When I left Zambia in the 90s it was starting to recover after a time of political upheaval and change. There was major deforestation around the city. Many indigenous trees were being cut down for firewood so that people without electricity could cook food. I knew Zambia would be a very different place today. Lusaka, the capital city had grown enormously. I knew there were new shopping malls, offices, roads, houses and suburbs. It was a long flight from London but when I finally escaped from the airport I found myself unexpectedly in a garden city.



Lusaka – the garden city

A women sits under a tree with potted plants for sale in front of her

Selling plants at the Dutch Reform Church market in Lusaka

Zambians have embraced gardening, my friend Guida, tells me. I am stunned by how lovely the city looks. It is the end of the rainy season and so it is green and lush. Walled gardens spill out generously onto the road verges. The trees are huge and the varieties of flowers and plants are beautiful and extraordinary. I shake my head over the water bills that must be paid. Even in the poorer areas people are growing and selling plants and flowers. The house where I am staying has lemons, mangoes, grapes, raspberries, granadillas, guavas and roses. Such abundance fills my heart with joy.




Zambia – a country of artists

Cynthis zukas gestures at a painting in the Lechwe Trust Gallery. Wiulliam Miko is on the left

Cynthia Zukas explains the choice of art for the Lechwe Trust

A group of Zambian students sittin in the Lechwe Gallery

Art students from the Zambia Open University and Evelyn Hone College



When I lived in Zambia, I worked with artists who inspired me by their creativity and commitment to making art. Now on my return I am taken by Cynthia Zukas, a dear friend with whom I worked, to see the brand new Lechwe Trust Art Gallery. The gallery is the culmination of years of work and dedication by her. It is a treasure house of Zambian art kept for the nation. I meet old friends and new young artists, many busy working in the latest, new media. Zambian art and artists are alive and well and their work is as fertile and productive as the gardens of Lusaka. I also visit Gallery 37D and the stART Foundation run by Claire Chan. I am blown away by the art I see. Each gallery is also surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Arriving in tomorrow’s world

Cordyla Africana or wild mango in the forest on the old race track in the Lusaka Show Ground

Ruth with her new granddaughter












There are new bookshops in Lusaka. In Grey Matter I find a copy of my novel The Shaping of Water – that is thrilling – thank you Gadsden Publishers. I visit the old race course in the middle of Lusaka. It is now a Forest Reserve and in it I find 2 wild mangoes Cordyla Africana I planted 24 years ago. They are tall and doing well. All around me in Zambia, I see industrious, creative, kind and positive people working for a a better future for their children. Zambia is a country of energy and hope. I am here on a special visit to my family and I hold in my arms that small miracle – the blessing of my new grand-daughter. Today I have arrived in tomorrow’s world and I know that with with. these people in it, it will be a good and happy one.

Ruth holds up a copy of her novel The Shaping of Water which was on display in the Grey Matter bookshop



The Ballad of the Public Library

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Zambia6 Comments

A man holds new bank notes in his left hand and old bank notes in his right hand

A Zambian man looks at the old and new Zambian kwacha notes at a time of devaluation of the currency


I walked past the *UBL*C LIBRARY

where the pavement is piled up in heaps

to the shop with non-see wood windows



As I strolled past a man selling apples

I saw a gutter where dealers deal dollars

and a man keeps a rainbow in bottles

and a woman without any eyes.


So I Cha-cha-cha’d on to the Gift Box

wrapped and tied up with burglar bars

Where the cinema is doing big business

in ancient and violent dreams.


Then I ran past a man dressed in tatters

who was screaming out words of abuse.

I ran past the kids who run rackets,

guard your car for some glue or a coke.


The roads are called Freedom and Dancing,

The drains smell of death and disease.

There are bricks that are handy for riots

and off duty police who are thieves.


There are barrows of money for burning

and rich guys who’ll flog you some dope.

There are Daddies who promise you sugar

but ladies, you’ll only get Slim.

So ‘Zikomo Lusaka’ – we’re leaving’

We are off to the village again.


An aerial view of Lusaka taken from the north looking down the main tree-lined road known as Cairo Road.

A view of Cairo Road, the main street through Lusaka with the railway line to the east

Alarge building on the left shades a concourse fiilled with Zambian people waiting for transport

Lusaka Bus Terminus – a later view tp give an idea of the city

The background story of this poem from 1991 is of a time of riots and political change. I wrote it with affection and in a state of  fury about the town I worked in. Zambia was suffering economic disaster. The currency was worthless. 99% of the people survived by working in the black economy. The liberation wars were ending but not their effect on Zambia. There were riots, an attempted coup, and at last a promise of new elections. Here is my explanation of the Ballad.

If you haven’t guessed – the sign outside the library had missing letters. I liked the idea of an ‘ubl clibrary’ and wondered what was inside it. Work had begun on the pavement but been abandoned. No one could afford to replace broken glass in shop windows so often they were boarded up. We had no idea what was really sold at the Lebanese shop.

Apples were imported and expensive so how did they get on the sold on the street? Men sat on the pavement surrounded by an arc of bottles of different coloured liquid ostensibly for shoe cleaning. Blind women were sent out to beg. I worked on Cha Cha Cha Road. It was named for a freedom movement and also a dance like toyitoying. Parallel with it was  a road called the Freedom Way. The Gift Box was a posh shop fenced all around with thick black iron burglar bars. Cinemas could only show old films and the favourites were of Ninjas.

People with mental health problems lived in poverty on the streets and so did orphans and street kids.  Dollars were exchanged illegally in the back streets. Finally the currency was devalued and wheelbarrows of old notes were exchanged for a few new ones. To survive women often had to accept the protection of a ‘Sugar Daddy’  Slim disease was the word for HIV/AIDS. Zikomo means thank you. It was a tough  time to be in Lusaka. In my novel  The Tin Heart Gold Mine Lara experiences these riots first hand.

I will be back in Lusaka when this post is published. I know it will be very different to this poem and I won’t recognise it. I failed to find any photos from 1991 so these are simply to give you a flavour of the place.

The Shaping of Water

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Colonialism, Displacement, Freedom Fighters, Storytelling, The Shaping of Water, Writing, Zambia5 Comments

The Shaping of Water

The Shaping of Water book coverSuch a lovely thing happened to me today. My first novel The Shaping of Water has appeared on the Facebook Page and Website of Gadsden Publishers in Lusaka Zambia. This is the right place for my book to be – Zambia is the home of this novel. You can see the video about the book here at – The Shaping of Water . It is the story of the people connected with a holiday cottage on one of the biggest dam projects in the world Lake Kariba built on the Zambezi River in the heart of Africa. The dam is shaped by the political ambitions of a colonial power but it  itself shapes the region – the story tells of the displacement of people, of power, and of the environment by water, by love, by hate and by war.

“As ideals and dreams founder on the rocks of political reality, three couples search for ways to keep faith.”

Ruth Hartley Writer

The roots of the story go back to my first visit to see Kariba Dam before it was finished – even before it was opened by the Queen Mother. I was  16. As a young adult I lived on Lake Kariba with my family for a year from May 1972. That was at a time when political unrest and war began to engulf the region. A few years later my family was lucky enough to regularly visit and enjoy a holiday cottage on the shores above the lake. That was the start of my love for Lake Kariba and the despair and hope that became part of my life in Zambia. The idea for the novel Read More and Comment …

Issam Kourbaj, artist and mentor – “Dark Water, Burning World”

Ruth HartleyArt, Art Process, Burning World, Cambridge, Creativity, Displacement, Family, Human rights, Issam Kourbaj, Kettle's Yard, Migration, WarLeave a Comment

Wonderful good fortune

A small boat made from a bicycle mudguard has a cargo of burning matches

Dark Water, Burning World – installation by Issam Kourbaj at Kings College Chapel Cambridge

Sometimes you know that you have been really lucky! I was when I met Issam Kourbaj, a Syrian artist in Cambridge.

I can’t remember who told me about Issam’s workshops but I went along to one without a clue about what to expect. Possibly I heard about Issam from someone at Cambridge Artworks where I had a studio for some years. Issam became one of the most important influences in my artistic life. His mentoring followed a key creative time in my life in Zambia  after my work at Mpapa Gallery and the invaluable Mbile, now Insaka International Artists Workshops (Triangle Trust and Robert Loder).


Issam’s C workshops in Cambridge

Issam had a studio at Christ’s in Cambridge and the first workshops were at CAT. Every workshop challenged conventional approaches to art and made us think with our eyes Read More and Comment …

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 …