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.