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.

The slippery nature of stories

Under the Tamarind tree

If stories have to be told they will find a way to make that happen. They change, reform and adapt and then they are edited and altered. They have to survive all that and then the story has to find a publisher and conquer the market and that becomes another reason to write and to blog. Please read my stories – enjoy them, love them, hate them, throw the book across the room, but please tell someone what you think of them. Every writer needs you all – you readers and your opinions!

Authenticity, advice and accuracy

Boabad pods under the Erythrina tree

Are stories true or fantastic inventions? As I said in my last post, I wrote this story for my grandson and that immediately put enormous constraints on me. It meant the story had to be a cracking good story, well written and of significant relevance to the world that my grandson would grow up in, so I signed up to do a short course in writing and illustrating a children’s book at St Martin’s School of Art. There is a standard format regarding the number of pages and illustrations. I was proud of the story. It was designed for anyone just beginning to read. They would mostly be children, but adult literacy is also an issue. I wrote one story for both groups. In Zambia, I worked with artists who had degrees and those who had minimal or no schooling. A friend, Archie, and I started a school for the wives and children of our household staff. So a lot was riding on this children’s story and that is before I get to what the story was about.

Life and literature and shaping a better future

Under the Strychnos tree

I had the privilege of a lovely home in Lusaka but I worked downtown and visited artists in the townships and squatter camps around it. I watched women making gardens in the vleis and every day saw street kids who only knew urban slum life. All around Lusaka trees were being cut down as the urban population depended on charcoal to cook their food. Fortunate as I am, I often spent time in the bush. I fished, camped and saw wildlife, birds, animals, plants and trees. What would these urban children know of their Zambian natural heritage? My grandson’s African heritage goes back centuries – I was sure he, too, would want to know about it one day. So considering all of these things, trees became the shape of this book.

Saving the Green Valley by knowing about trees

The first version of this book was structured around well-known trees. Every illustration I made had a specific tree in it that would be well known to Zambians. In Africa, trees provide food, shelter and medicines and so are essential to the continuance of life. The hero, named for my grandson, and his sister, named for a friend, make a magical and dangerous journey across Zambia to save their home in the Green Valley from drought and on their way home they symbolically plant seeds to regenerate the earth.

An ancient Greek myth

In the forest under the Fig tree

Thousands of years ago the Greeks were building a new city and they promised to name it after which of the Olympic Gods gave them the best gift.

The first, Poseidon, struck the ground with his trident and a magnificent horse reared up.

“Here is my gift,” Poseidon said. “The horse will carry you to war.’

Athena struck the ground with her staff and an olive tree sprung up.

“This tree will give you shade and fruit and firewood and materials to build your homes,” she said, and so the Greek city known as Athens is named after her. Which gift do you think matters most? As you can see, my version of this myth is different from the one I’ve linked to here. I also need to say that the taxonomy of trees is constantly being changed and updated.

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