Storytellers, readers, writers and reviews

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, The Shaping of Water, The Tin Heart Gold Mine2 Comments

A brown vase with pale pink roses to the left of a young girl with dark hair engrossed in a book her fist on the page and her head propped on her other hand a brown coffee mug in front of her

Painting by Ruth Hartley of her daughter reading at the breakfast table 1980

We are all storytellers. We are all readers. Some of us are writers. Not all readers write reviews but all writers need reviews and even bad ones mean that we have been noticed and read. In this post, I am going to tell you in a 4 short paragraphs, about 4 books that have given me great pleasure and that I recommend. Afterwards, I will briefly say how writing changes the way I read. I belong to an enjoyable book club and while readers never agree on all the books, the best books do get approved by most.

I, Carmela  Clara Villanueva

Cover shows a young girl in a flamenco dress with castenets

Cover of I, Carmela

This is a cracking read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s fast-paced, funny, a little sad, interesting and the heroine is a feisty, passionate young woman who is determined to never give up in her search for love.  I recognised the locations and felt I knew the people. It’s set near Toulouse in France. Carmela is Spanish. I read it in Perpignan where I saw an exhibition about the Spanish Civil War – that is the background to Carmela’s identity. Spanish refugees like Carmela’s grandfather crossed the Pyrenees to this part of France. It’s a story about mixed-up people, in a new-age, mixed-up place told by Carmela as she tries to straighten up her life and her old lovers.

The Ginger Tree Oswald Wynd

Cover shows a Japanese painting of two carp behind a net pattern

Cover of The Ginger Tree

I picked up this book with reluctance expecting a historical romance about Japan. I was stunned and seduced by the story. It is a romance, but not a conventional one. It’s a love story about Japan that starts in China. It is a love story about two people who have only sex in common because their cultural backgrounds are so different. It is the story of a young woman’s escape from 19th century misogyny and restriction to find herself in more dangerous situations. She starts in China, a bad place for a woman, and finds herself a concubine in Japan. A remarkable story of a courageous, adaptable person. I loved it and it took me on a voyage of discovery. It is the work of a master storyteller.

A Place called Winter Patrick Gale

Cover shows a man in overalls with a cloth cap and a suitcase on a journey

Cover of A Place called Winter

This book is also a good read. Gale has taken a piece of his family history about a disgraced relative in the 1900s and turned it into an interesting story about a well-bred husband who after a torrid affair with a man is forced to emigrate to Canada. It is an adventure, an account of a pioneering life as a farmer. The plot hinges on the vulnerability of homosexuals to exploitation by criminals. The impact of the First World War and the devastation of the Spanish Flu epidemic bring it to a dramatic conclusion. The subject matter of homophobia is of course, tragic. I wanted, however, to see more of the hero’s struggle to accept his sexuality than I did.

Be Ready with Bells and Drums Elizabeth Kata

Cover shows a line pen and ink drwing of a young girl with her hands on the dark glasses that his her blind eyes

Cover of Be Ready with Bells and Drums

This is a book I want to wrap my arms around and keep close to my heart. It was recommended to me by Anne Hyatt, a dear friend, whose lakeside cottage features in my book The Shaping of Water. Curiously, it’s by a woman who was married to a Japanese man – like Oswald Wynd she lived in Japan before WW2. Selina, the heroine, is blind after an acid attack aimed at her prostitute mother. She lives in a slum and is dependent on her bigoted racist grandfather. Her only friend is Pearl, a black girl . . . This story is a gem, beautifully told, perfect, and short. It has been turned into a film and rewritten as A Patch of Blue. I like my old copy with the cover drawing by John Ward.

The Tin Heart Gold Mine Ruth Hartley

I am happy to have had an enthusiastic review myself from Nudge Books. The comment that pleases me most is this – “This relatively recent portrayal of Africa with a very observational prose is immersive and engaging. It encompasses politics, love, war, extortion and art seamlessly. I felt transported to Africa, such were the vivid images of the dusty landscape and creaky ram shackled buildings. The threat from beasts and corrupt men alike was palpable.”

The important question for me as a writer is how the interplay of experience and imagination works. How much of each of these novels is autobiographical? Writers take armchair travelers into new worlds and new lives but first, they have to have lived themselves. These books opened my eyes and that’s what I want to do for readers. Like Oswald Wynd, I want to be published by Eland. I admire their reasons for their choice of authors and books.

2 Comments on “Storytellers, readers, writers and reviews”

  1. cathy harris

    Interesting, A great review, I have made a note of the books mentioned and already have the Tin Heart Gold Mine.

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