The River’s Story

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Art, Colonialism, illustration, Imagination, Power, Storytelling, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, The Shaping of Water, Truth, Zambia4 Comments

We all own the River.

Ruth Hartley’s kinetic painting of a river that will always appear to look different as rivers do in light and shade.

That’s what we believe. The world of nature is ours and we can do what we like with it. The River belongs to us. We can use it – we can waste it – we can worship it. Not one of these ways of looking at the River tells us what it means to be the River itself. We think we know of and all about the River. But not one of these methods of evaluation and study tells us the story that is the River’s own story.

Telling our stories of the River

The Great River Zambezi became the focus for a million different stories in a social media post about the Victoria Falls this month. Known by the African peoples as the Mosi-O-Tunya – the Smoke that Thunders – it was renamed by Dr David Livingstone in honour of Queen Victoria. That was Livingstone’s way of giving the River to the British Empress of India. By saying that angels in their flight must have stopped to marvel at the magnificence of the Falls, he gave the River to Christianity and missionaries. Colonial governments ignored what the River meant to Africans who thought of the River as the great Snake God – the powerful Nyami-Nyami who brought life to the people who lived by the River. Livingstone hoped, however, that his story of the River would help bring about the end of the Slave Trade even if it brought colonialism to that part of Africa.

Different stories of the River. Different visions of the River

Thomas Baines The Victoria Falls.

Did Livingstone only see the material fact of water plunging into a vast rocky chasm? Did he see angels above it? How does the transformation of the River into spray and mist and sound, make us understand the power and the spirit of the River? What stories are science? Which stories are fantastic? What stories are spiritual?

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Profane and Sacred – the 5th Book Festival at Lourdes

Ruth HartleyApartheid, Books, Nuanced Thinking, photography, Politics, Reading, Reviews, Writing2 Comments

On Saturday the 30th of November, I will be taking part in the Lourdes Salon du Livre. It looks very interesting and they will be discussing self-publishing by independent authors like me! Do come and, if you can’t get to the book fair, please do read this post. I’ve cribbed an author interview from The New Statesman. I enjoy reading them and thought it was fun to pretend I’m the one being interviewed.

Here it is!

Ruth Hartley Author Interview

What’s your earliest memory?

A clipped green hedge and the terrible pain of abandonment. When my younger sister was born, I was left inside it. There may also have been a person and a house but all I remember is the hedge and misery. I was 2 years old. I was given a crayon and left to draw because my mother was busy with the new baby – that made me feel powerful. A pram in the garden and a white nanny all taller than me – that made me feel insignificant and cross.

Who are your heroes?

I have so many. Rica Hodgson, read her memoir – A Foot Soldier for Freedom. She rescued me when I was alone in London and was very generous. She was a South African freedom fighter and worked at Defence and Aid.

Also, my mother, grandmother, daughters are all amazing.  The world is full of heroes – ordinary amazing people. All my heroes have a sense of humour and are kind and idealist.

Rica is laughing.
Rica Hodgson at my wedding in 1969

Which books last changed your thinking?

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – an intellectual murder mystery with no outcomes – a journey through layers of meaning and learning, faith and faithlessness, literature and destroyed libraries to find understanding through misunderstanding and errors.

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter – a journey through the reality of dreams and desires to the unreality of the physical world.

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Writers get support & help from Charroux

Ruth HartleyBooks, Creativity, Promotion, Publication, Reviews, Storytelling, When I Was Bad, Writing, Writing Process1 Comment

Charroux Poetry & Memoir Prize Event

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.

The Freshly Press Team, Tracy, Emma, and Maria, wrestling with problems on behalf of writers who need help marketing.

Why did I go?

My stand during the event.

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.

The Charroux Prize for Poetry or Prose

Ruth HartleyAfrica, Apartheid, Books, Poetry, Politics, Race, Racism, South Africa, Storytelling, The Love and Wisdom Crimes, The Spiral-Bound Notebooks, Zambia2 Comments

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.

Standing behind a table displaying all her books, Ruth explains the background that substantiates her claim to have taken a lifetime to write the three books launched at La Litote
Ruth Hartley at her book launch at La Litote

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!

Kate Rose

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

Kate Rose

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.

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

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.

Three new books take a lifetime to write

Ruth HartleyThe Love and Wisdom Crimes, The Spiral-Bound Notebooks, When I Was BadLeave a Comment

My book launch at La Litote

Lancement des livres à La Litote

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.

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