Storytelling in Zambia – there are different kinds of stories and different ways to tell stories

Ruth HartleyBooks, Writing, Writing Process, ZambiaLeave a Comment

The Nowhere Man and citizens of the world

The Fab Fopur stand to the right of a rainbow-coloured shape while the blue faced Nowhere Man dnces. He has red llips and pink ears and tail

John, Paul, George and Ringo and the Nowhere Man from the film Yellow Submarine

Those of us who think of ourselves as citizens of the world have found that politicians don’t much like us. They call us citizens of Nowhere and it seems that that makes us a problem. Is this because we cross boundaries and borders? Is it because we are travellers and migrants who come and go? It may be that we stay in one place all our lives but still travel in spirit and imagination. Is that also bad? For those who want to control us and tell us what to think and where to live, are world citizens dangerous deviants?

A divided world, people in search of identity and communication

A prince in a fur hat and coat stands on his magic carpet next to a glowing lantern. It is twilight as he flies over a river so high that there are birds flying below him

A Russian Prince on a Flying carpet

Of course it’s fine to see yourself as a citizen of the world – you may feel equal to everyone you meet, but does it work the other way around? Suppose you have to fight for your rights and to assert your own identity – suppose you are resisting racism or escaping oppression or struggling against inequality – how does that feel? Do writers from new nations feel that they are sidelined by the dominant culture of English-speaking writers? We all have individual needs and unique ways of expressing ourselves, so is the big question how do we understand ourselves and how we communicate with each other? My previous posts have discussed making art and writing as a white person and what that means for me.

Open a book and read a story to travel to new worlds

$ huge books lean against a wall. A small figure opens the cover of the nearest on to see light pour out of it

Reading books opens doors

A book is a doorway and a magic carpet to adventure. I was delighted when last week’s post had so many responses and there were so many books suggested by my readers – thank you all very much – it means a great deal to have a rewarding conversation across the continents that divide us. I am going to try to list some of the suggestions you made on the last post. Read More and Comment …

Storytelling in words and pictures and & what it means for history, fiction and our lives today

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Books, Colonialism, Storytelling, The Shaping of Water, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, War, Zambia3 Comments

The importance of art and photos – Gallery 37d Lusaka Zambia

A woman in black is silhouetted as she walks down a long gallery with paintings on either side

37d Gallery at the stART Foundation in Lusaka Zambia

Its wonderful when things come together to help enrich our lives and our understanding of the world. There is an art gallery in Lusaka Zambia – Gallery 37d – that is the home of the stART Foundation which supports Zambian artists. Apart from this important work they have been behind a very beautiful book about some of the people of Zambia. Gareth Bentley and Johan Rahm are the authors but there are other sponsors and contributors.


The Extraordinary Zambia Book

An old white-haired Zambian man in a suit with a medal bar on hs chest sits on a stool in his concrete block house with his possessions arounf him. Behind him his bed is hidden by curtains.

Mr Aaron Katonga Veteran of the 1941 – 1945 Burma Campaign in the Far East

Extraordinary Many of the extraordinary people in this book are known to me but there is one portrait in the book of someone I have never met which has special significance for me. It is the image of Mr Aaron Katonga, a veteran of the Burma Campaign in the Second World War. Nowadays few British people know of or celebrate the contribution made by colonial soldiers to the defeat of Germany, Japan and the Axis. It is a theme in my novel The Tin Heart Gold Mine. Samuel, one of the characters in my book fought in Burma for the British. (pages 229 – 233) Read More and Comment …

Billy Holiday singing Strange Fruit, James Baldwin on America’s racial problem and Charlottesville.

Ruth HartleyPolitics, Race, Racism, Writing Process9 Comments



We are the same flesh –

– we are brothers and sisters – we are parents and children – we are lovers and friends – we are all one people – humankind. Until we stop hurting each other in our desire for power we will never know peace and happiness.

The first two films are from more than 60 years ago – the third is from last week.


Robert Loder and his gift to Zambian artists of the Triangle International Artists Workshops

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Art Process, Creativity, Zambia4 Comments

Making Art

This blog is a tribute to Robert Loder, a great and generous person.

Some of the best things that happened to me in Zambia were because I met Robert Loder and he involved me in his passion for setting up artists’ workshops.

“Making art is what is important,” Robert said to me one day. I have never forgotten those words.

They have informed my life, my teaching, my art, my involvement with Cambridge Artworks, as well as my  work as a writer. My experience as a participant at the Mbile Workshop, now known as Insaka Workshop, was an enormous help in my development as an artist.


Mpapa Gallery, Lechwe Trust and art in Zambia before 1991

I had the unique opportunity of working at Mpapa Gallery alongside Cynthia Zukas, Joan Pilcher, Patrick Mweemba SiabokomaLutanda Mwamba, and Style Kunda.  At that particular time in history, 1984 – 1991, Mpapa Gallery was the only resource working for Zambian visual artists. There had been other initiatives before and other dedicated people had always done their best to support the arts. Bente Lorenz‘s ceramic studio was a creative space for Zambian potters and sculptors. Gwenda Chongwe and Diana Fynn’s Zintu Crafts were doing essential work for Zambian crafts. The Zambian economy, however, was in a disastrous state Read More and Comment …

Gabriel Ellison – artist, writer, designer and extraordinary woman

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Books, Zambia14 Comments


Gabriel Ellison

Gabriel Ellison, MBE and Grand Officer of Distinguished Service, was a very private person. You would never have guessed from her manner what an important role she has played in Zambia or that she was decorated by both the British Government and the Zambian government for her services to the arts in Zambia. She worked tirelessly all her life and did everything to the highest standards possible. She was a writer, artist, designer and loved to cook. Zambia was the country of her birth and she was devoted to it and known all over the world for the beautiful Zambian postage stamps that she designed.




The artist and designer

I personally, never knew Gabriel well but I did know that she was greatly respected by my friends in the arts in Zambia and that they valued her friendship enormously. In spite of her quiet, and rather reclusive life, her art is to be seen everywhere. Gabriel had painted murals at the Lusaka Airport and in many other public places. Every time you saw the Zambian flag or the Zambian coat of arms or any Zambian stamps you were looking at a design made and executed by Gabriel Ellison.



Celebrating Zambia and its women

For years I assiduously collected her stamps, Read More and Comment …

And still we rise…! 84%! – Tanvir Naomi Bush

Ruth HartleyFamily, Racism, Society, Storytelling, Writing5 Comments

Dear Readers – introducing my extraordinary novelist daughter, Tanvir Naomi Bush, who is crowdfunding through Unbound for her next novel – please read her post for a flavour of the story. If you like you can help through Unbound.

CULL has hit 84% of total and is on a roll!

A woman is lying on her back, hair curling out around her head. She has a big grin on her face and her eyes are shut. She is covering her face with one hand

84%! Yikes!

For those of you unsure about what this is all about, what the hell kind of novel it is and why on earth you should pledge and become part of this wonderful project, please allow me to shed some light!

CULL is my second novel, a literary fiction set in ‘another England’ where austerity has set the country’s teeth on edge. Hate crime is on the rise and the government has just passed The Protect and Care Bill as a cost- cutting method demanding the elderly and vulnerable, no longer able to afford care, are housed in huge residential centres for their ‘own good’.

Alex, a hard-bitten journalist, has fallen on hard times and is struggling to find enough work to pay her bills and keep her off the street. She is visually impaired and lives with her wonderful and compassionate canine companion, her guide dog Chris . . .

Read More and Comment …

A journey in France with story books, a donkey and in the company of wolves

Ruth HartleyBooks, Storytelling2 Comments

Two grey wolves sniff the gound

Siberian wolves at the wolf park

Companionable books and dangerous travels in the wild

One of the greatest pleasures that anyone can have is that of making a journey with good companions.

Some of the best travelling companions are pages of paper stitched and bound into storybooks – or the wizardry of a Kindle! One of the delights of both travelling and books is discovering that those magical places that you experienced as a reader are also the wonderful and extraordinary places that you are visiting.

Magical Realism and Cuba

In 1987 I went to Cuba and the Havana Biennial on a very long and roundabout journey from Lusaka to London to Madrid to Shannon to Gander, Newfoundland and finally to Havana in the company of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García  Márques and was transported to a world of magical realism and artists all the time I was there. I have posted a video from a later Biennial because there was no video of the earlier one but it has the same spirit.

The bottom half of an immense brick tower

Albi Cathedral 12th century

a red-haired woman in black dress and hat with ayellow bearded man behind her in a top hat by the orchestra pit

Lithograph by Toulouse -Lautrec

Moulin Rouge

Last week we went to Albi to see the art of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and of course I thought of Guy de Maupassant and his often sad and bitter tales of Gay Paris. Albi has the most wonderful brick cathedral and palace



 Land of wolves and myths

Also on this trip across France we visited the Wolf Park of Gévaudon and found ourselves in the land of wolves. So we remembered Little Red Riding Hood – Le Petit Chaperon Rouge by Charles Perrault and then of course Angela Carter and that terrifying and marvellous film of her stories by Neil Jordan – The Company of Wolves.

Of course there are many fables as well as children’s stories about wolves from The Jungle Book to  The Three Little Pigs. I am sure all my readers can think of a story or a film about wolves that made them laugh or scream. Please put them into the comments so we can enjoy them too.

Ah I ask – why are wolves so threatening – why are the monsters that live inside us even more terrifying than the ones we meet each day in the press and on TV. Read More and Comment …

Its Jim and Jenny’s Book Swap on Sunday 9th July at 3pm – Don’t miss it!

Ruth HartleyBooks, Imagination, Storytelling2 Comments


A woman in a Turkish dressing-gown reads a book sitting on  a chair draped in a yellow cloth in front of an exotic wall hanging

Felix Vallaton La Liseuse 1922


Free books and free drinks

A wonderful opportunity to indulge yourself for a whole afternoon searching out those fantastic books that you’ve been dying to read while you have a free drink. It’s too hot to go outside and garden – all you can do is lie in the shade and read and read. Bring the books that you have enjoyed to swap for another few hours and days of pleasure reading and reading.

There are over 6000 books to choose from all carefully sorted out by Jim so that you can find them easily. If it rains you’ll find the books in the Foyer Rural but otherwise outside in the garden at Jim and Jenny’s home at 5 Chemin des Ecoliers, Labatut-Riviere. Remember the books are free but its an opportunity to make a donation to those good causes Les Amis des Animaux and Chat 65.  You’ll also meet all those other readers who’ll give you their recommendations about the best books to look out for. Jim has been sorting out the books for over 12 years now. Its a great service to English readers. Decorate your home with books. (Perhaps you can be tidier than I am – this is my current pile waiting to be read). Delight your mind with stories from the great storytellers!

Bookshop and photographs

The small bouquiniste in Maubourguet has made a delightful window display  connected with Robert Dellerue’s photographs, The Republic which interrogates democracy. The photographs are part of the exceptional festival of photography, the”Quinzaine de l’image” organised by Peleyre Association in Maubourguet and Madiran. It is also not to be missed – its fantastic, thought provoking and some are very beautiful. You will find the photographs all over the villages, on the streets, in the shops, on the fences, at Peleyre and at the Maison des Associations in Maubourguet.


Quinzaine de l’image – photographic exhibition  in Madiran, St Lanne, Maubourguet and Peleyre

The sound and colour of an authentic African voice

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Art Process, Colonialism, Learning, Nuanced Thinking, Racism, Slavery

Slavery and Slavers, Black and White and Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B

A young black woman naked from the waist up sits on a bed and looks at herself in the mirror. She has an iron collar and chain around her neck and a number fastened to her clothes.

Racism or critique? … One of the installations in Exhibit B at the Barbican.

A similar debacle to the recent Whitney event mentioned in my previous post, took place in London in September 2014 when a South African artist, Brett Bailey, showed  Exhibit B. Did Bailey want to make the descendants of white colonists and  slavers think about their historic involvement in this history of slavery and abuse? Was it a forum for debate about current practise of slavery? Was it about race? Was it only white people who were slavers and black people who were slaves? Protestors said that it degraded black people so it was closed down.  Bailey answers his critics in this Guardian article.


Inside my skin: ‘white’ Madam and ‘Black’ art.

I posted about Exhibit B in my blog  Surviving Monsters where I quoted Tim Minchin, an intelligent comedian  who says:

“A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined. We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat.
Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege. Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.”

Nuanced Thinking

Nuanced thinking is needed when we consider the banning of Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B. Like many of those writing about it I haven’t seen it. I have read  the arguments however and they are important to me and my art. Dividing the world into black and white is plain silly because the world is not divided into simplistic opposites and never has been. Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B raises questions for artists and humans with both thin skins and thick hides of whatever shade they are on the outside. Art is supposed to shake up ideas and not fix them into one position.

The Single Story – one point of view – fixed or authentic

I am also impressed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on the dangers of a single story. She explains it here:

Read More and Comment …

Grenfell Tower

Ruth Hartleyjustice, Regulation, Society, Truth2 Comments

Grenfell Tower burning against the night sky above the city, one side is completely aflame

Grenfell Tower on fire











sprinkling light spreading debris sparkling

fire-wrapping the homes flaming

flaming the living core fire-wrapping

fire-wrapping the furnace of families flaming

flaming choking the children fire-wrapping

fire-wrapping blinding the babies flaming

flaming closer to the crying fire-wrapping

fire-wrapping the people who perish flaming

flaming suffocating the souls fire-wrapping

fire-wrapping searing the skins flaming

flaming shriveling the hopes fire-wrapping

fire-wrapping the black skeleton tower flaming

shaming blaming underneath blaming shaming

Mail-ing shaming blaming Mail-ing

lying regulation stuff “get-stuffed” stuff regulation lying

underneath ha-ha ha-ha “get stuffed” ha-ha ha-ha underneath

ash and cinders cinders and ash

Ruth Hartley

19th June 2017

This poem is about the people who lived in the tower. Underneath it lies the refusal to make good fire regulations and a willingness to blame the victims. I do, however, want to honour those men and women of the fire brigade who undertook the desperately dangerous task of saving people’s lives and will always remember with grief and agony those they could not save. You can read about their experiences by clicking on the link above.