I had such a good weekend at the Charroux Memoir and Poetry Prize event. I met writers, poets, readers and lovers of books as well as the excellent team that organised the event. So thanks to Kate Rose, Jocelyn, and Gordon Simms and the awesome Freshly Press threesome, Maria Barry, Tracy Stewart, and Emma Gray as well as to John for driving me there – its a long way from home. It all took place in the small town of Confolens in the Charente and the venue was the ARThe Tea Room and Art Cafe on the banks of the Vienne River. The food was good and the company interesting. We exchanged books and stories, bought and sold books and talked and talked.
Why did I go?
The reasons are complicated and many-layered. I want readers for my books and that requires validation of my books and of me as a writer. How do I manage to get that? Hard work writing. Hard work marketing. Learning as you go. And that magic ingredient – luck. Many writers enter competitions or submit work to magazines. That takes time and then there’s usually only one winner and if you aren’t even on a shortlist that is discouraging. I have, however, just published my own memoir, When I Was Bad, so the idea of writing a short memoir was both fun and a challenge. I wrote two because I became so involved with the history of my own family. The idea of a memoir poem also attracted me – I entered that competition too. To my surprise my poem was long-listed but I won no prizes but the competition was serious and the winners were all very good. Congratulations to them all. Clara Villaneuva who I’ve mentioned in previous blogs was short-listed for the memoir prize. It is interesting to read the feedback from the judges on the Charroux Lit Fest Facebook page. Feedback from Gordon Simms. and from Susie Kelly
Writers support writers
I know I benefited enormously from the workshops by the Freshly Press team – and I must put into practice their excellent advice – thanks Freshly Press! I also felt that I had gained a connection with other writers and was part of a community and that really matters because writing is such a lonely way to work. When it comes down to what matters for writers it is the generosity and support that is provided by other writers and in these events that really counts. Thank you, everyone, who was there.
I entered the Charroux prize for a short memoir and had enormous fun writing two short memoirs and a poem for this competition. The prize, however, went to Moira Ashley for her delightful story Encounter. The third prize to Debi Lewis for Soundtrack of the First Marriage . I was surprised and pleased to be long-listed for the poetry section. The final poetry prize went to Matt Brydon for his beautiful Crossing the Owl’s Bridge. The second prize went to Gail Anderson for her thoughtful Kintsukuroi The art of golden repair.
I still think my short memoirs are unique and pretty good. They are A Use for Martyrs and Crimes and Secrets. I plan to improve them and publish when I can afford it. For this, I need an editor. For this work, the editor needs to be paid. To pay the editor and get my next books out I need to sell the books I have already written
I was flattered and thrilled to have a write-up by Kate Rose, about my poetry book The Spiral Bound Notebooks in Bonjour Limousin. One way and another this has led me and John to go to the event celebrating the competition and I’m looking forward to meeting the prizewinners and the organisers as well as the interesting Freshly Press Team too. They help writers on their journey and I need help!
A writer and poet, I am the founder of the Charroux Literary festival and the Charroux Writing Prize. I host writers retreats and events at my home in the Creuse in south-west France. Contact: @katerosewriting email@example.com
Thank you, Kate, for agreeing to let me republish it here:-
This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Ruth Hartley. She is a novelist, poet, and artist. She has recently published her first collection of poems, The Spiral Bound Notebooks, based on poems written between 1961 and 1995. I spoke to Ruth about the formation of her poems during the ’60s.
She was born in Zimbabwe and educated in South Africa. She later she spent time in London and Cambridge, before moving to her current home in the Haute Pyrenees in south-west France.
As a student in the 1960’s Ruth was looking forward to living in a multi-racial world. It seemed that Rhodesia would go that way, but after Ian Smith took power, things changed and it headed into apartheid and a police state. At University in Cape Town Ruth and her friends were horrified at this development, not least, the rapid changes that they saw. They were liberals, communists, peace campaigners with ideals of a better more equal and peaceful Africa, and like many students of the time, found hope in the protest songs of the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. She says that even as a child she sensed there would be a war of liberation one day, reflected in her poem, Africa
I have seen the rocks hard
Against the soft sky before
Sudden night descended and
Filled the hollows with
The sound of insect wings.
Acquiescent in the luminous air,
The rocks were waiting.
Hard as the rocks,
Against my heart lay fear.
During this time, she began an affair with a black man, which was a
crime under the apartheid regime, so when she discovered she was
pregnant, she fled to London to raise her child.
In her love poem HeartBird, she tells of an encounter with a lover, and used images of flowers, birds and rivers, and yet in the background is the constant darkness of the night, the fear that something will separate them, there is a sombre undertone that theirs is a fleeting moment in time.
The bird of my heart sang When you came by, though You only smiled at me as before.
I thought of a thousand things to say. How I would gather garlands of stars For you from gardens of the sky And twist the night winds Into wings of darkness To carry you home to me.
Many of the poems in her collection recall this time of unrest and confusion in South Africa. Through them Ruth captures the feel of the country, the poverty, the damage, the loss of freedom, she mixes her fear and anger at the time with images of the Africa she had grown to love. There were times when she feared for her life due to her close connection with the anti-Apartheid movement. In the first verse of her poem District Six at Midnight, she captures that fear, the emptiness of the town, the silence of anger, looking behind you for fear of being followed, checking who might be spying on you, the feeling always that she was being watched.
Under a hollow grey sky, Down streets wind-emptied Scoured and abandoned By a brief sadistic rain, I hurry. Alone.
Her concluding and most recent poem in the collection speaks of her deep-felt respect for Nelson Mandela, a man she greatly admired. In the poem Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Madiba, she speaks of Mandela as her hero, and yet it shows how many, including her, felt he had abandoned the cause once he was imprisoned on Robben Island. She was angry with him, but the conclusion of the poem brings a light for the future, which shows us that it was the people who forgot him, not the other way around. His world vision lives on in hearts and memories.
We forgot him. We forgot all about him. We lived on only in his memory. We were dead to hope and to our ideal of freedom Then Mandela walked out and back with his Hand raised. He stood up He came out of the box Mandela Human Hero Ours
2019 has been a busy year for Ruth. In addition to her poems, she has also published a novel, The Love and Wisdom Crimes as well as a memoir, When I was Bad. She tells me she is currently working on a children’s story and is hoping to produce another poetry collection.
Last Friday, I launched, at the wonderful book shop, La Litote, my three new books which took a lifetime to write. I had been invited by the generosity of Nathalie Curiel, the owner of La Litote. It was a lovely evening, well attended and really worthwhile for me.
I am very indebted to Nathalie, to John, my husband, who encourages and supports me, to Magali Charron who was there to translate for me and to Tia Azulay who read excerpts and poems from my books.
Thank you also to all the people who came, both old friends and new readers. I look forward to hearing from you about my stories. I do believe that my books are about people and places that will be new to most readers.
Vendredi dernier, j’ai lancé, à la merveilleuse librairie La Litote, mes trois nouveaux livres qui ont mis toute une vie à écrire. J’avais été invité par la générosité de Nathalie Curiel, propriétaire de La Litote. Ce fut une belle soirée, bien remplie et très intéressante pour moi.
Je suis très redevable à Nathalie, à John, mon mari, qui m’encourage et me soutient, à Magali Charron qui était là pour traduire pour moi et à Tia Azulay qui a lu des extraits et des poèmes de mes livres.
Merci aussi à tous ceux qui sont venus, anciens amis et nouveaux lecteurs.J’ai hâte de vous entendre parler de mes histoires. Je crois que mes livres parlent de gens et d’endroits qui seront nouveaux pour la plupart des lecteurs.
On 26th September, I was delighted to be interviewed by Stacey Garrity of Whispering Stories. I enjoyed considering and answering her careful questions. They covered things like my favourite authors, daily writing routine, the book publishing process, etc.
It was the day before my latest book launch so I was really pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the three books I was launching. They are: The Love and Wisdom Crimes, The Spiral-Bound Notebooks and When I Was Bad. I published all of these in 2019, although, as I explained in the interview, they had been 54 years in the making! (The book launch took place yesterday evening at La Litote, Vic-en-Bigorre, France. It was a great success. I’ll blog about that soon.)
I answered 12 “serious” questions and 6 “fun” questions. It’s a good format because it ends on a light note, even though the fun answers contain some perfectly serious insights!
This Saturday, I’m at the Au’Tour du Livre book festival in the nearby town of Vic en Bigorre behind a table loaded with my books. I’ll be hoping for readers and I’ll be talking to writers I know.
Last weekend I spent magic moments hunting through boxes of second-hand books at the Amis des Animaux fete.
The books I chose are taking me on time-travelling journeys that connect me with writers, readers, friends, family, places, and stories.
The endurance of books
I brought home books that are curiosities and gems. Each book I found is a link that leads me into the future and takes me back to the past. Each book opens experiences as many-layered as an onion.
Books into films
John Thaw: The Biography takes me to Doris Lessing’s first novel and the trailer for the film of The Grass is Singingwhich is an extraordinary, controversial and misunderstood story. It was made into a film in Zambia in 1981. John Thaw was praised for playing the lead. He said it was hell making it. I was employed to find locations, costumes and to cast minor characters for that film so I met all the stars. John Thaw was pissed off with me because I had to tell him to sunbathe with a shirt on so he’d look like an authentic white farmer. That’s an experience I’ll be turning into a short and exciting memoir.