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.

10 Comments on “The story of my stories — writing and publishing”

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Hi Marianne – how is your own work going? I’ve wondered whether or if you would like to let me put one of your posts here on my website? I do like to post about art, and yours is so unique and indiviual and interesting? Maybe we can share? Love to you too

  1. Lorraine

    Absolutely fascinating! You are a true devotee to the discipline of writing, Ruth, and you pursue your goal with passion and true grit. Thank you for this insight.

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Hi Lorraine – I don’t know if I am a devotee or a slave! Perhaps both! As long as I keep on learning!

  2. Géraldine de Haan

    What a stimulating and nice to look at- blog, Ruth! So adventourous to test different self-publishing enterprises, find the just-right pictures and lay-out for the books and to share your way of going about writing trough live, very informative and interesting to read. To give this look into the creative proces of writing and getting into the proces of producing a book is forwarded with so much urge, it makes me feel the concentration! I’m really looking forward to your new books!

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Thanks, Geraldine, its been hard work but also a challenge to learn all the new skills associated with this website and my posts on my blog. Its a nice way to communicate with other people and I hope that more artists and writers will join me and add to my posts.

  3. Tia Azulay

    Hello Ruth… thanks for this lovely post! It’s really useful for aspiring writers to see how your desire to tell your stories has sustained you over the ups and downs of life, and how you’ve met challenges with creative solutions; above all, never giving up!

    You say of ‘The Love and Wisdom Crimes’: “… in apartheid South Africa, it is dangerous to love a revolutionary and a crime for a white girl to love someone black.” This immediately brought to my mind Trevor Noah https://www.trevornoah.com/ and his book ‘Born a Crime’. It’s natural now for sympathy to be extended to someone like him, and to his mother. As a mixed-race person, he’s very much a symbol of all that was wrong with apartheid, and one of those who suffered from it, through no fault of his own. His mother may have suffered through her own choice to conceive him, but the apartheid system that decreed the consequences of her choices should never have existed in the first place. And that’s true for your heroine too. People tend to forget that apartheid criminalised some white people too, especially those who deliberately acted against apartheid in the early years, but even sometimes just because they fell in love with the “wrong” person. Without diminishing the struggle and the amazing achievements of Trevor’s mom Patricia, it’s still true that a white woman carrying a mixed-race child in apartheid South Africa also faced social ostracism, emotional and practical abandonment, and incredibly difficult life choices. These are also stories worth telling.

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Thank you for your comments, Tia. They are always valuable. As far as my next book goes – well, for someone like me who was born white, and with privilege – I was always going to be more fortunate than others. As for Trevor Noah – what he has achieved is amazing. It would be great to have him read my book!

  4. marie-edith labarthe

    Ruth quelle énergie , quelle soif de vivre et de partager!Il me tarde de lire ce que tu nous a “donné”!Merci.

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Chère Marie-Edith,
      Merci pour tes paroles aimables, surtout de la part de quelqu’un comme toi – une personne qui fait tant de choses et qui est si généreuse.

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