A hundred years of remembering the Great War

Ruth HartleyThe Tin Heart Gold Mine, War, Women's suffrage, Zambia9 Comments

The war to end all wars

Hand-crafted and crocheted poppies made by the Hilmarton community – every poppy represented 1000 deaths.

The notice says that the display of poppies is icreased every 2 weeks until there are 888 in total. Each poppy represents 1000 military deathsTomorrow people in Britain will wear red poppies and visit cenotaphs, war memorials, churches and gravesides to remember those they will call the fallen heroes. In Germany they will carry Forget-me-nots, in France they will wear cornflowers. I will think of that song asking where have the flowers, the girls, the young men, the soldiers gone – gone to graveyards every one – when will they ever learn? This song composed by Pete Seeger must have been sung for over half a century yet wars still continue. What no one will remember tomorrow is that the war was not over in East Africa on the 11th November 1918 and that  the Germans were not defeated in that arena. I’ll write more about that on the 24th November 2018.

Never, ever, but again and again

A painting in black and white of a poppy. Around the stem is a banner saying 100 years, 100 days

The first of Kate Slater’s black and white paintings.

While I was in England I visited Hilmarton Church and was moved by the way the community there are remembering the First World War in charming and sympathetic displays and crafts. There is a very gifted artist, Kate Slater, who has made 100 paintings to commemorate those from Wiltshire who served in WW1 and she will be working with local school children on the same theme. The paintings are lovely and evocative so please do take the time to look at her website. I always like to refer to a book when I write a post. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is about the trench warfare endured by the Germans and the British and the tragic damage suffered by the soldiers. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West is also thought-provoking as is The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate. All are excellent films.

But where is peace and an end to war?

The display of poppies starts from the cross on the altar and spills down onto the church floor increasing in numbers and width as it falls

The display of poppies

I thought hard about war and peace and I found that I had conflicting ideas about what was appropriate to say. I might have quoted one of the well-known war poets but so will many other people. There are pacifist quotes but it would be hypocritical of me to use them. I might generalise and say that women oppose war but British suffragists joined the war effort while British suffragettes used violence to fight for the vote. Experience in Southern Africa has taught me that sometimes freedom can only be won by going to war and that withholding freedom is a form of war against those in bondage. War is always terrible but it can’t always be avoided. Who knows, but if Britain and the USA had fought against Assad in 2013 perhaps there might have been fewer deaths and a shorter war?

Making peace last

Perhaps the real problem is that we only know how to make war and not how to make a peace that works. Here is one of Bertolt Brecht‘s War Poems.

On the white altar are vases of forget-me-nots and white poppies, a pair of knitted mittens and a scarf in army green

Forget-me-nots and white poppies symbolise the dead of other nations.. The knitted mittens, scarf and embroidered card symbolise the work of women left behind.

Are of different substance.
But their peace and their war
Are like wind and storm.

War grows from their peace
Like son from his mother
He bears
Her frightful features.

Their war kills
Whatever their peace
Has left over.

Good, bad, sad, & happy books & trending endings

Ruth HartleyBooks, genre, Promotion, Publication, Reviews, Storytelling, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, WritingLeave a Comment

Books that taught us to be good








My grandmother gave me a Victorian children’s anthology. It had tales of Jack Downing who always was second in his class and Jack Upping who was always top of the class. The moral was acceptance of being second best – I can’t remember what the advantages were! Charles Dickens and Charles Kingsley wanted people to care for the poor. George MacDonald wanted to teach us the value and complexity of being good in The Lost Princess and At the Back of the North Wind.

Stories that taught me to be bad

Love stories in women’s magazines. They were like too many chocolates and made me feel sick. I wasn’t supposed to know about that stuff! Marvel and Beano comics were rubbish I was told. Girl and Eagle (Not titled as Boy!) were okay – I can’t remember why but the paper was better quality.

Sad Books about the end of the world and worse







It was the 80s – that time in world politics – the Cold War – Nuclear bombs – and psychology and we were all well educated  – the first post war generation to get free university education (I didn’t quite). Even children’s books told tales about the apocalypse but adult books were definitely morbid with tragic endings.  For over a decade I survived the trauma by reading children’s books sent to me for my children by the wonderful Puffin Club. Kaye Webb deserves a sainthood for her work as their children’s book editor. She inspired generations of children.

Trends in books and trends in how they end

I‘ve been reading for long enough to know that the book market changes according to fashionable trends. It affects what I read and I have to think about it when I am writing. Trends and marketing are among the reasons I have chosen to be an independent author. There are now book prizes which are all controversial in one way or another. They provide a select few with riches while most writers survive on their day jobs. There are stories without punctuation, without names for characters, without endings, or any inventions at all just a recounting of daily events. Anything and everything goes but what do most readers like? Do they like the prize winners or the blockbusters or the best sellers? Will they like my next story – The Love and Wisdom Crimes? Will you like it? I am reading Richard Rive’s book Buckingham Street, District Six which is about the place in which the second half of my book is set. He writes about the place as I remember it!

Please tell me in the comments below about the kinds of endings that you like to read.

Sunday afternoon, homemade fudge, a book to read in bed

Ruth HartleyBooks, Reading6 Comments

My mother’s recipe for bliss

An old-fashioned book cover with embossed gold lettering and decoration around a cameo of the 4 girls, Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth in Victorian clothes

The book I read had an original cover

The olf fashioned cover has embossed gold lettering and shows a profile of Anne Shirley with her abundant red hair

The original cover showing Anne’s red hair

On the Day of Rest, after The Sunday Roast Dinner, there was the Homemade Fudge, and the lie down on your Bed with a Book. (I am not sure if my father either read or slept.) As a devout child, however, I observed the rules and that was the start of my addiction to books.

Book shelves, the bucket loo and the Queen Victoria Library

A black and white photograph of a Italian Renaissance-style Victorian building building.

A photograph of the Queen Victoria Library from Jonathan Waters’ photographic essay on the evolution of Harare, Zimbabwe.

We had a book shelf with Reader’s Digest Condensed Books on it. I did have some children’s books.  The Christian Science Sentinel rested by the loo seat over the bucket toilet. (It was an indoor toilet awaiting conversion to a purer septic tank state.) I read absolutely everything in the farmhouse and understood some of it. (I was mystified by the sheepskin trousers worn on Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition and by James Bond in Casino Royale.) The place I loved most of all was the 1903 Queen Victoria Library which smelt of paper and old hardback books. Its atmosphere was dust and sunlight but it had every volume of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. When it closed at 4pm, I sat on the stone step outside while I read until a parent arrived.

The very best reading experiences of all

My book-reading friends have come up with ways of describing their best reading experiences – one of them said that a “book had been ‘balm’ to her soul”. Other readers talk of ‘an immersive experience’ – ‘opening a door into a new world’ – feeling ‘compelled’ – being ‘lost in a book.’ Gail, a Facebook friend, said about a book ‘it has slightly shifted something deep inside me – and that must be the highest compliment one can pay a book!’ I have spent hours wrapped up in the enchantment of a story that whizzed me off on quests to other galaxies and new adventures. Please, if you read this post – do tell me of your own experiences of the pleasures of reading in the comments below.

To update you on my next book, The Love and Wisdom Crimes – it is being typeset at the moment!

In memory of a friendship & of a shared love of books and reading

The photo shows a lit memorial candle and a few flowers in a small vase.

A candle lit for Emma

Today I will have been to the celebration of the life of Emma, a remarkable woman who I was fortunate to have as a friend. Emma started our book club and shared many books with us, her book club friends, so for the rest of my life, when I look at my bookshelves, I will think of her with gratitude and love .



How to make a book look good enough to read

Ruth HartleyBooks, genre, Publication, Reading, The Shaping of Water, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, The White and Black Blues, Writing3 Comments

How to be your own publisher

In the foreground is a half-full cup of black coffee, in the middle is a tray with coffeed pot and milk bottle, behind is a man reading a French newspaper

Ruth in need of coffee at a board meeting with John!

I don’t know what I’m doing! I’m learning on the job and wondering if what I do is make mistakes and then recover from them. The learning curve I’m riding gets steeper and deeper and the pressure to do it all at once keeps on mounting. Yesterday I was sent a cover design and a typeset sample of my next book. They are linked, of course. The font on the cover is used for the chapter headings inside. This is critical. Do I really like it? My designer, Spiffing Covers, tells me that he wants to brand all my books in a similar way. What does this mean? What do you – my readers- think of this idea?


Branding Ruth Hartley

What is being branded? Is it me the writer or Ruth Hartley’s books, or both? When I sold art in Zambia I discovered that art patrons often felt they had bought a large chunk of the artist too. Do readers feel this way about writers? I’m always curious about the writers I read Read More and Comment …

Writers, readers and the publishers picnic

Ruth HartleyBooks, Publication, Reading, Storytelling, Writing, Writing Process5 Comments

A lovely day, a friendly gathering and a picnic

It was a picnic about  different ways of publishing books that was held on a lovely hillside venue at a private home – many thanks to our hosts. It was well organised by Jane Sherwin of Cafe Matin and I was delighted to be one of those asked to take part.



Three writers and the man with the figures

We were three writers with very different approaches to the problem of finding publishers. Though we have three  different experiences and solutions there was a couple of things that we all agreed on – writing and publishing are very hard work and writers do not make much money from their books. Backing us up on this point was John Corley who had the figures from several self-publishing firms.

Ruth Hartley

In my last blogpost I joked about my dream team for the publication of my book. The reality, however, is that indie publishing is definitely the way to go. Standards of indie publishing and of indie writing can be very high but, of course, the writer has to pay every step of the way for professional editing, design, typesetting, marketing and publicity. The world of indie publishing is changing so fast that you have to keep on learning to keep up. I will publish my new novel, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, Read More and Comment …