The story of my stories — writing and publishing

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Books, Creativity, identity, Poetry, Politics, Reading, Reviews, Storytelling, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, The Shaping of Water, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, The White and Black Blues, Writing, Writing Process, Zambia10 Comments

The storyteller’s story

Colour photo of Ruth Hartley in 2019

Ruth 2019

Black and White photograph of Ruth Hartley aged 18

Ruth 1961

It is time to tell of my own journey as a writer from the young poet in 1961 to the writer of today. It’s a story of both writing and publishing.

I am in the process of publishing three more books right now. They are a novel, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, a memoir, When I was Bad and a book of poems, The Spiral-Bound Notebooks.

I’ve always told stories — as children do. I drew comic strip stories when I was 9; at 14 friends and I wrote and produced the Murderer’s Magazine at school. We hid it from the teachers and hired it out to the other girls. No photocopies in those days!

The Love and Wisdom Crimes – a long incubation

I started on poetry – it’s easier to hide and takes up less space and it’s more intense.

A thatched verandah by the shore of Lake Kariba

By the waters of Lake Kariba

the open page of a guestbook covered with writing

Notes in a guest book feature in The Shaping of Water.

I had children and did lots of unpaid and poorly paid work and THEN — the kids left home and I left Zambia. As a result, I had the time to sit down and write the story I’d had in my heart for 30 years, The Love and Wisdom Crimes.

I had plenty to inspire my writing, from Kariba Dam to art and wars in Africa. That’s easy, but doing it well and then, what next? 

Writing takes practice and needs to be learned

I went to Sally Cline’s excellent creative writing class in Cambridge. Then I looked for a publisher. It was the age before digital submissions. I sent off 40 heavy, stamped envelopes with a synopsis, my CV and the first 3 chapters of my novel. I had many rejections, but persevered. Fish Publishers did a beta-read. I was told my book was good, but hard to market.

It was The Very Worst Time to find a publisher

Publishers were flooded with books in English. Marketing and branding ruled, even the writer was branded. In spite of that, I carried on. I wrote poetry or plotted and planned books. I had been working and researching 2 other novels since the ’80s and my partner, John, and my daughter, Tanvir, encouraged me. One year I used Nanowrimo as a device on which to structure my writing work. In one month I had written half of my second novel, The Shaping of Water, and within a year I was looking for a publisher.

The Tin Heart Gold Mine by Ruth Hartley. Design by Terry Compton from a photograph of a Tin Heart on the First World War Cemetery at Marondera Zimbabwe taken by Ruth Hartley

Cover design by Terry Compton

The Shaping of Water book cover

The digital publishing revolution happened

A giant experiment was being conducted as publishers, self-publishers, and writers were busy inventing new ways to get their books published and find readers. I reckoned that, realistically, my books would still be a special case and not easy to market.

So I hunted around for a good self-publisher and decided to use Troubador for my next two books, The Shaping of Water and The Tin Heart Gold Mine.

The cost of self-publishing

If you self-publish it will be you who provides all the capital. You pay the publisher, the typesetter, the beta-reader, the proof-reader, the cover designer, the printer and you pay for advertising, reviews, publicity and media hype. You arrange your own website.

There is no short cut and you cannot do without any of these skilled people if you want to be sure that your novel is good enough.

It’s a different world for writers today

Every book has cost £100s before it even got to be printed — it has taken blood, sweat, tears and that most precious commodity — TIME! Readers are always getting an amazing bargain when they buy a book!

Now for the publicity for my new books

They will be published under my own imprint – ATypicalBooks.

At last, there’s The Love and Wisdom Crimes, a coming-of-age adventure story about a young woman who discovers to her cost that, in apartheid South Africa,  it is dangerous to love a revolutionary and a crime for a white girl to love someone black.

I am also publishing the poems written from 1961 onwards that inspired The Love and Wisdom Crimes. They were written in the actual Spiral-Bound Notebooks of that time. This time I am using a new self-publishing enterprise called Spiffing Covers.

Tanvir Bush, writer, her readers and reviewers

Ruth HartleyBooks, Nuanced Thinking, Politics, Publication, Reading, Reviews, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, Writing, Writing Process2 Comments

Tanvir Bush’s novel CULL has been published

CULL in the Corsham Bookshop window

My daughter, Tanvir Bush, is thrilled to have arrived at CULL’s date of publication and then discover this wonderful display of her books in the lovely Corsham Bookshop. These independent bookshops are greatly loved and prized by both writers and readers. The bookshop staff do great work in getting readers and books together – it’s a labour of love. Tanvir has a book launch planned for 22nd February in Corsham with the help of the Corsham Bookshop. It will be a special event and not to be missed. You can buy CULL there – or you can buy it from the publisher, Unbound.



The essential reviews

Display of the novel CULL in the Corsham Bookshop

Bookshops sell books thanks to their well-read and sympathetic staff, but sometimes readers only browse in bookshops. They take the advice of the bookshop staff then, like so many shoppers, whizz off to buy on line from Amazon because it saves money. Its sad – but we all do it.

Amazon does work for writers, however. Writers need the reviews that they get on Amazon to boost those magic selling algorithms. Please, Readers, if you buy CULL, or any other book, at a discount or not, from Amazon, do post a review and help the writer’s sales that way too.


Reviews of Tanvir Bush’s Cull

Here is the first review of the hero and her story from the Rachel Read it Blog Tour:- “Alex is a wonderful character, she is fearless, totally three dimensional and leaves a huge impression on the reader. Despite being given every reason to give up on life she refuses. She has some truly awful experiences across the course of ‘Cull’, some of which made me cry they were brutal. She, along with a bunch of disabled women whom society has deemed useless, are the only ones who can rise up and make a difference and the very opportunity they need is just around the corner at the Grassybanks grand opening…”



More reviews for the novel CULL by Tanvir Bush

Tanvir Bush smiling as she reads from large-print papers about her book

Tanvir Bush

“This is 2019 version of 1984 and we know Orwell’s words became our reality.  Tanvir’s CULL is also on the cusp of becoming true. Believe in Better is a new movement in CULL but not better as we know it. Quite the opposite. Tanvir paints a devastating picture of what will happen as the far right make life impossible for disabled people.

A must read to restoke the fire of protest as this satire is in real danger of being a reality.”

Jenny Sealey: Graeae

 “Bush is a master storyteller – a captivating and engaging read that introduces you to very believable characters –some not in human form – that tells of a potential future disability dystopia,  starkly. As a disabled person it sent shudders down my spine as the resonances are all too familiar, as it doesn’t just hold up a mirror to society in the UK today, but a colossal magnifying glass. My prayer is that it will make more people, especially those in power, sit up and take note.”

Ruth Gould: DaDa Fest

The Tin Heart Gold Mine Review

The cover shows a tin heart nailed to a tree with the book title "The Tin Heart Gold Mine" in gold across it

Cover design by Terry Compton Design

I too, have a new review of my novel, The Tin Heart Gold Mine on Goodreads from David Frye. David is a poet. We connected through stamps as he is a philatelist – of course, that’s another story.

This is what he says:-

“If you like novels that bring intriguing places to life, fill them with complex and nuanced characters, and tell stories that chart the hidden countries of emotions and relationships, then The Tin Heart Gold Mine should provide you with a memorable encounter with Lara and the people with whom she lives”.



Blood, a novel by Maggie Gee

Sadly, I can’t go to the launch of Maggie Gee’s new book. I will be buying it however! It sounds pretty fantastic!.


The Infinite Improbability of Satire – Tanvir Bush, author of CULL & guest blogger

Ruth HartleyImagination, Storytelling, Writing5 Comments

A writer reflects on her love of satire, and of Douglas Adams’s ‘A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’

‘There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.’

‘What? But, that is NOT a satire.’

We are having pre-Christmas dinner drinks and my older sister is glaring at me from the couch. Her glare has been known to melt galvanised rubber. Conversation stutters to a halt as all eyes turn to watch me burn. The glare is because I mentioned a recent commission to write an article about my favourite satire and have decided to pick The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. My sister has an informed view on this. Her view is that I am wrong. Under my sister’s glare, steam starts to rise from my once chilled glass of Prosecco. Her son, who is the political editor for a well-known magazine and is forced to trawl the corridors of power daily to mingle with the Westminster elite, sighs and reminds her about the Vogons.

My sister blinks, pauses. Sits back from her tiger’s crouch. We all relax somewhat and I blow on my now hot drink.

‘Well…’ she concedes. ‘I still say it isn’t satire. It’s parody.’

‘Vogons: They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy. Not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders – signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighter.’ Read More and Comment …

My family and other writers

Ruth HartleyBooks, Creativity, Family, Publication, South Africa, Storytelling, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, Writing, Writing Process2 Comments

The unbearable lightness of writing

Two copies of Tanvir Bush's novel CULLThe cover of Witchgirl shows a flying shape disolving into the backgroundI don’t like all Milan Kundera‘s novels but I did like his The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  I  joke about the lightness of writing, of course. Writing makes my spirit light even when it is an unbearably heavy task. Being part of a family is both heavy and light work. My daughter, Tanvir Bush, is a published writer. Her first novel Witchgirl published by Modjaji has been very well reviewed. Her second novel, CULL, published by Unbound will be out this month and has already got very good reviews. Its a cracking read. “A treasure!” one reviewer says. Tanvir knows all about the heaviness and lightness of writing – the liberating burden of it and the weight of its freedom. Tanvir writes with a light touch even on heavy subjects.

Writers in the family

All Ruth hartley's books can be seen in this imageThere are plenty of writing families. The Durrells have both Gerald and Lawrence. There’s Kingsley and Martin Amis. Writer wives and husbands may be more common than parents and children. Margaret Drabble and Michael Holroyd, Sartre and De Beauvoir, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Does it make for happy relationships? I don’t know. For example do Tanvir and I get on? Sometimes. Mostly. Are we in competition? Read More and Comment …

Let there be light

Ruth Hartleymonotheism, Poetry, Religion2 Comments

The God-trodden Mount Sinai

A group of pilgrims stare out over the montains of the Sinai desert

On the top of Mount Sinai

John and I made a pilgrimage to the summit of Mount Sinai in 2005. We were in Egypt to scuba dive and  snorkel in the exquisite Red Sea when the opportunity came up. The year before we had visited New York and again, by chance, seen an exhibition about the Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was extraordinary and fascinating and made us wish that we might see it and Mount Sinai one day.

Let my people go

The outer fortifications of the ST Catherine's Monastery are on a rise behind a group of Bedouin and their camelsn

St Catherine’s Monastery with Bedouin and their camels in the foreground

The prophet, Moses, adopted as a baby by Pharaoh’s daughter, escaped into the Sinai Desert for 40 years. After God appeared to him in a Burning Bush, he returned to Egypt to lead the Jews across the Red Sea and home to the Promised Land through the desert. It was on Mount Sinai that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Saint Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Monastery is an ancient and remote fortress, Read More and Comment …