Spinning stories out of the stuff of life

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, Dust and Rain, Zambia2 Comments

When you see this post I will have just arrived in Zambia and my children’s book Dust and Rain: Chipo and Chibwe save the Green Valley will have been published by Gadsden Publishers.

How a story grows and changes as the world spins

Medusa’s third eye

It was a shock when I first realised that my story, Dust and Rain, so relevant 20 years ago, had become dated and would be bewildering for children – I ought not to have been surprised. It is astonishing is that we don’t notice how different the world is, or how much we’ve changed – and this can be bad news for writers of some children’s books. Harry Potter may always wave his wand at monsters as his world is timeless, but mobile phones, tablets and technology are evolving as I write. The children whose story I began in 1994 inhabited a world that today’s children won’t recognise – there were no mobile phones then. It was never my intention to write a historical book, so I simply kept on rewriting the story to keep it contemporary and interesting.

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The fateful story of becoming the author of books

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, Hamera and Hartley, Writing Process, Zambia4 Comments

No simple way to become a writer

It’s never simply a question of sitting down to write a story. First, you need money, food, a room of your own and time alone.  If any writers have all those things without also having paid employment, I haven’t met them yet. You also need to learn your craft, to practise it and develop it – and somehow fund it.

A room of your own

Life and opportunities change

My life changed abruptly and painfully in the 90s after my fiftieth birthday. I left home. I had to find salaried work instead of working as a volunteer. I made new friends but I had to stay connected with old friends as well as care for my family. It was challenging. I discovered I was too old to get a junior job teaching and not considered experienced enough to get a senior post. All the work I’d done in Zambia for artists was disregarded in Britain.

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Dust and Rain: Chipo and Chibwe save the Green Valley

Ruth HartleyBooks by Ruth Hartley, Children's Stories, Dust and Rain, Southern Africa, ZambiaLeave a Comment

What happened next in the making of this story

Painting by Styles Kunda. Women collecting firewood outside Lusaka.

There is the ‘day job’ and there is the troubling and tragic war in Ukraine. It’s necessary to have something ordinary to occupy your mind. I must carry on with my stories and writing and I believe my little children’s book does matter, even in a small way. It certainly did in those dark days so long ago after I left the home I loved in Zambia.

The drought arrives in a dust storm under the Ilala Palm

Creative insecurities

I suffer from the insecurities that affect all creative people and their projects. I know I have to write, but are my stories good enough? Why on earth would anyone read them? I find, however, that the stories are in charge of me. They demand to be told. ‘No one else but you can tell this tale,’ the stories tell me. ‘We need a life! We need to exist! We do matter!’ So in the end I’m the one possessed and driven by my stories.

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The story of two children who try to stop the drought destroying their farm

Ruth HartleyBook Launch, Books by Ruth Hartley, Children's Stories, Dust and Rain, Southern Africa, Zambia4 Comments

The long and surprising journey made by the story of the Chipo and Chibwe and the drought

One of the original illustrations made for the story

Readers and friends, I have wonderful and exciting news to share with all of you. For the first time in my long writing career, one of my books is being commercially published, not self-published. The Drought, my middle-grade children’s story, will be published by Gadsden Publishers in Zambia in April this year and I will be there in Lusaka when it happens. The launch arrangements are still not finalised thanks to Covid-19, so instead, I’ll tell you how the story came into being and what a long journey it has made.

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More or less around the world in eighty days

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The New Version

A watery world

The new version of Eighty Days with David Tennant is such fun that I’m blogging about it this week! The main scriptwriter, Ashley Pharoah, played with some of the realities of that era rather than continuing with Jules Verne’s romanticised view. I saw the original 1956 film as a teenager and loved it. Shocked to learn that living women were incinerated on their husbands’ pyres, I still wanted to travel to beautiful and unsullied exotic places and see extraordinary cultures. It was a good story and film with a handsome hero but it’s dated. Verne was interested in how new technologies changed the world. Now we take that technology for granted and see only romance and world tourism in his story.

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