Pascale Petit’s art and poetry: The Survival of the Artist and of our World

Ruth HartleyArt, Migration, Storytelling, Writing Process2 Comments

What connections are there between art, song, poetry, dance and all of us?

Pascale Petit has generously agreed to let me put her video about her art on my post. I was moved by what she says in it and I found many thought-provoking links and connections in it to my own feelings and experiences of art, poetry and the survival of our beloved world as we wander down paths that are not entirely self-chosen. I am curious too, about you, my readers, and what your opinions are? Please do comment – I welcome that.

Our animal selves, our environment and Pascale Petit’s poetry

The cover of Fauverie shows a hand reaching out to a black panther in leafy greenery

Cover of Pascale Petit’s Fauverie

I encountered Pascale on the internet and love her Fauverie poems. Pascale writes poetry about what she knows, the places she has been and what she has experienced. For me, there is something lovely and hopeful in the trajectory of a life that is lived through art, poetry and the natural world. Listen to Pascale read My Wolverine – its wonderful!

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The Vic en Bigorre Book Festival

Ruth HartleyBooks, Graphic novel, Reading, Reviews, Storytelling, The Shaping of Water, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, The White and Black Blues, Writing1 Comment

Clara and Ruth stand behind a table on which their books are displayed

Ruth Hartley with her books. Clara Villanueva is on the left.

A very pleasant and successful day

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and sold some of my books.

I started the day slightly bemused as we had just returned from Paris rather late the night before. Nick Inman, Clara Villanueva, myself and June Gadsby had a table together for our books in English and Spanish. This is the second year that there has been an “international books” corner. We all hope that it will continue to grow. June’s book aroused considerable interest – as did Nick’s and Clara’s

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Why English writers choose to live in France

Ruth HartleyUncategorized4 Comments

That’s why it’s so hard for me to speak French

Ruth sits a table against a wall outside a bookshop

Ruth outside the Glass Key at Montmorillon with The Shaping of Water

I love living in France and I enjoy learning French but I also love hiding away in my study and writing in English. It’s hard to get better at spoken French when my creative world is so concentrated on English – that’s what I tell myself. What about you? Are you gifted at languages? Is this a conflict you experience?

I am taking part in a French Literary Festival today. It has been set up to include writers in English – last year Nick Inman was there alone  – this year there are three of us, but the aim is to make it grow bigger and benefit more English writers.



The Book Fair – Salon du Livre at Vic-en-Bigorre

When this post arrives in your email I will be setting out my books on a stall at this book fair. I hope that if you live nearby that you will come and visit Nick Inman, June Gadsby and me. We will be delighted to welcome you. This book fair is taking place at the season of La Rentrée Littéraire and the award of the Prix Goncourt. In fact it’s about the same time as the Booker Prize. I never thought about the literary season until my publisher said that there are good and bad times to try to launch a new novel. What all writers need, of course, is that ‘Successful’ time when we sell well.

French Literature

French literature appears to be very different to British literature in the way it is regarded. The French take literature seriously, even reverently. In Britain writers become celebs for their personality rather than writers who are celebrated for writing. Even the book covers seem less important in France, which is not to say that many of them aren’t beautiful.

I am not only a writer but an artist, so I am in love with the French 9th. art. Read More and Comment …

Readers, writers and arithmetic for authors and storytellers searching for readers at literary festivals in France

Ruth HartleyBooks, Promotion, Storytelling, The Shaping of Water, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, Writing, Writing Process1 Comment

How do writers and readers get together?

They go to the Second Salon du Livre at the Salle Multimedia in Vic en Bigorre on the 23rd September

Ruth sits a table on which are her novels against a wall in the street outside a bookshop

Ruth outside the Glass Key with The Shaping of Water

A group of people arounda table eating an informal meal in the street

Ruth, John, James and Patsy have a meal with shop owners in the street at Montmorillon









We are all  readers  and more and more of us are writers too. How can writers find readers? That means you and me of course. Well – here we are one week away from the Salon Du Livre organised by Marie-Clémence Duguet and what we need is you to come to make it a success. Please come and say hello!

It’s a new project – this is only its second year but from the outset there has been a place for writers in English. This year Nick Inman, author of A Guide to Mystical France will be a key speaker. June Gadsby, author of Rosa, will be there and so will I with The Shaping of Water and The Tin Heart Gold Mine. Apart from us and over 30 other authors, there will be food and wine. In Vic there is also a lovely bookshop La Litote run by Nathalie. It has a great selection, beautiful books for children, lovely cards, and my favourites – a selection of Bandes dessinées. My books are there too.

Book Fairs can be found all over France  – The Charroux Literary Festival

People reading books displayed on tables by the authors under a marquee

Montmorillon Book Fair


Book Fairs take place in lovely little towns and are great business for them as well as inspiring for both readers and writers. Harriet Springbett, author of a smashing YA book Tree Magic, went to the Charroux Literary Festival. Here is a link to Joining the Dots, her blog about it. Read More and Comment …

Falling out of Wonderland – Alice Backwards

Ruth HartleyArt, Art Process, Books, illustration, Imagination8 Comments

Alice Backwards

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson) – one of the most wonderful books of my childhood. I’ve written an upside-down poem about a book I love that has been beautifully illustrated by so many inspired artists. I hope you enjoy my take on it. To go with the poem are links to some film clips of Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

alice in a blur dress falls headfirst into a hole lined with shelves on which are innumerable strange objects and creatues with eyes.

Alice falling down the rabbit hole by Tanya Miller

Lucky Alice fell to wonders.

I fell out.

Lucky Alice fell feet first.

I fell back.

Lucky Alice dreamed of flying.

I fell asleep.

Lucky Alice swooped and flew, past the cupboards, past the rooms,

past the books, even past the jam-jars too!




Past the dust, the grime and soot.

Alice falls feet first down a hole with strange passages leading off it - her hair floats straight upwards

Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Lizabeth Zwerger

Past the laundry and the ironing;

past the cooking and the cleaning.

Lucky Alice found a baby.

Little baby ran off squealing.

Little baby was a pig!

Lucky Alice!

No more wailing.

I’ve been washing nappies

for a long time since.



Black and white drawing of Alice floating down past a bat and cupboards with open drawers

Alice by Tove Janssen creator of the Moomins

Sleep time comes and I start falling.

Up the tunnel, always backwards.

Even in my dreams I’m dusting,

sorting, finding, tidying.

This goes here – and that’s for you –

Save that! Throw that!

Quickly, quickly! Cook that slowly!

Books fly past me, pages flapping.

All the shoes and socks are odd.

All the shirts have buttons missing.



All the cupboard doors keep banging.

Dark-haired Alice with spectacles falls headfirst down the rabbit holehole

Alice by Marian Portela

All the veggies still need peeling.

Look! Here comes Lucky Alice sailing,

flying past to Wonderland.

Me, I’m always looking backwards

at the things I’ve left behind.

Was that clean and did I finish?

Then I find I’ve woken up.

Popped out from my rabbit hole.

Nearly sixty, tired of dusting,

somewhat grey and rather worn.


Alice floats feet first down a hole lined with bookcases and objects in glass cases - she wears a white lacy dress

Alice illustrated by Justin Todd

Whatever happened on my tumble

out of Wonderland to life?

All those cupboards, all that cleaning.

Was it needed? Is it missed?

Lucky Alice on her journey

off to Wonderland and Life.

Funny! Something still is missing!

Where’s that baby I’ve been raising?

Alice! Daughter! Where are you?

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, Zambia5 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 …