Tall stories, true stories, lies, fiction, facts and truth-telling

Ruth HartleyAfrica, apartheid, Books, Family, genre, Poetry, Reading, South Africa, Storytelling, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, The Spiral-Bound Notebooks, When I Was Bad, Writing, Writing ProcessLeave a Comment

Writing fictions, memoirs and versions of my truth

In the last few months I have published three books.

The first is a novel, the second is a book of poetry, the inspiration on which the novel is based and the third is a memoir.

They are – The Love and Wisdom Crimes

A coming-of-age adventure story about a young white woman who discovers that in apartheid South Africa, it is dangerous to love a revolutionary and a crime to love someone black.

The Spiral-Bound Notebooks

Poems from southern Africa that inspired The Love and Wisdom Crimes.

When I Was Bad: A Memoir.

I recount my first year in London as an exile and the unmarried mother of a mixed-race child in the Swinging Sixties.

Writing these three books challenged me in ways that I didn’t expect because I had to engage with the truth of the stories I tell.  It was a fascinating aspect of writing that I imagine all writers have to consider. The close relationship of these three books to each other and to me certainly focussed my mind on the delights Read More and Comment …

Words, the power of words and the work of wordsmiths

Ruth HartleyBooks, Creativity, Gods, Politics, Power, Writing, Writing Process, Zambia2 Comments

“For magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

Words and editing

Rain Queen with children in tree

Makemba, the Wise Woman of the Garden with Chipo and Chibwe in the Rainforest. There is a Rainbird, a Honeyguide, and bees in the fig tree. Ruth Hartley

I’m engaged in a major rewrite of my children’s book The Drought Witch. It’s an exciting task expanding a children’s picture book into a novel for 9 to13-year-olds but the interesting work is in the editing and paring down of my words to make them work well. This major commitment is keeping me fully occupied at the moment. I love the way Ursula Le Guin describes writing so she can speak for what I aspire to do. I have been mentored by Sandra Glover, a successful children’s author and consultant arranged by Cornerstones Literary Agency. It’s a good experience and my book is taking shape well.

Chipo and Chibwe, school-children, make a perilous journey through the heart of modern and magical Africa to save their parents’ farm from drought and climate change.

A writer is a person who uses words carefully

Ursula K. Le Guin

“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art Read More and Comment …

Lily and the baby that is the colour of love

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Displacement, Human rights, identity, Migration, Race, Racism, Songs, Storytelling, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, Writing2 Comments

That song about Lily, the pretty migrant from Djibouti

This is a photo of Waris Dirie, a woman who had a real experience similar to the mythical Lily and who is a campaigner against FGM

Once again on Tuesday evening, the Krama Singers rehearsed the Pierre Perret 1977 protest song about Lily, who came to France in a ship full of immigrants ready to collect garbage in Paris. It’s a song I’ve grown to love as I’ve grown to love France – though I also see its faults! You can listen to Lily here! I have added the English translation below.

“She loved liberty so much, Lily,

She dreamed of fraternity, Lily,”

It reminded me of how I felt when I first arrived in London in 1966. This is the setting for my memoir, When I Was Bad.


Dreams and Realities

Street seller of Eiffel towers in Paris

Banksy mural in Paris about migration

Lily thinks that in the country of Voltaire and Hugo everybody will be equal, but Perret points out that on Debussy’s piano one white note is worth two black notes and that’s quite a difference.

Lily finds that hotels only welcome whites. She unloads crates, does all sorts of dirty jobs, and yells out “Cauliflowers for sale!” against the background noise of immigrants working jackhammers.

Lily is smart. When she is called Snow White by racists Read More and Comment …

Stories about wars that stop us remembering to forget

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Migration, Politics, Power, Race, Racism, Storytelling, The Shaping of Water, The Tin Heart Gold Mine, The White and Black Blues, Truth, War, Writing, Writing Process7 Comments

Black Cowboys in the Wild West and African-American soldiers in WW2

There are facts we don’t know and facts we choose not to know because they don’t suit us. There are facts that are hidden from us by politicians and power-hungry people and there are facts which are distorted by the media, by myth-makers, advertisers and film makers. When it comes to war and war stories the facts may be so extremely complex and convoluted that they are manipulated or simplified “for our own good”!. At the same time, writers, film-makers and artists, by telling stories, can and do remind us of what really happened and why it matters. It stands to reason, for example, that freed slaves would be as likely to seek their fortunes in the Wild West as German and Irish immigrants. It hadn’t occurred to me that there once were black cowboys until I saw Mel Brooks’ outrageous film Blazing Saddles


D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy – Omaha, Juno, Utah, Gold and Sword

I quote from Texas Democrat Marc Veasey – “It is a fact that too few know: 75 years ago, it was American soldiers of every race that hit the beaches of Normandy. 75 years later, it is our duty to remember and honor the courage of these men. As the world hung in the balance, Read More and Comment …

Hop, skip and jump to the heartbeat of life

Ruth HartleyArt Process, Creativity, Family, Imagination, Poetry, Songs, Writing, Writing Process5 Comments

The Child in the Garden

The child in the garden goes hop, skip and jump and sings to herself.

She dances her world into being.

The garden is dusty, dry sand, withered leaves and sharp-edged stones.

The child draws in the dirt.

The garden is a clearing in a forest, a marketplace of musical insects, a place where snakes wait and creatures watch.

The child weaves sticks and leaves into deities.

The garden is contained by a fence, contrived by another, controlled by a chemist, policed by plastic toys.

The child shuts her eyes and becomes an android warrior. Read More and Comment …