The Writing Life of: Ruth Hartley
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Ruth Hartley. Ruth will be sharing with us detail of her writing life, telling us all about her latest book ‘ When I Was Bad‘, which was released on 10th July 2019 and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
I write and paint because I am a storyteller. I have always made stories, though at times I’ve been lost for direction, identity and method. I paint to explore and share ideas and feelings.
I have lived and worked in several countries. In my art and my writing, I draw on my own stories and those of the fascinating and extraordinary people I’ve met.
Through my four remarkable children and my grandchildren, I am connected to other generations and enriched by different cultures and ways of being. My stories explore connections, conflict, creativity and communication.
1) As a child did you have a dream job in mind?
I didn’t dream about work or a career. When I was a kid, the three jobs on offer for girls were teaching, nursing and typing. What I wanted was autonomy. I wanted to have my own life and my own farm. I wanted to sail off on a yacht. I wanted to be a cowboy and ride the ranges – “Don’t fence me in!” – that would have been my song then. Those were dreams – I was a timid child.
2) Who was your favourite childhood author (s)?
“Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery, “Little Women” by Louisa M. Alcott, “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain, “Jock of the Bushveld” by Percy Fitzgerald, “Prester John” by John Buchan and “King Solomon’s Mines” by Rider Haggard.
I read most things on my parents’ small bookcase and so read Zane Grey’s cowboy stories and fell in love with the idea of new frontier of the Wild West and the adventures that boys were able to have.
3) Was there a particular point in your life that you realised you wanted to be a writer?
There was no particular moment when I thought of myself as a writer. The idea that I might be is still a surprise. I had a pressing need to tell stories that were filling up my head and heart. My other need was to express myself and my feelings and that was largely a private matter. It was a way of exploring and learning about who I was. I was never interested in the ‘role’ of writer. The process of writing and the creative drive behind it is what pushes me on.
4) What is your average writing day like? Do you have any special routines, word count, etc?
I have a pretty good system for writing at the moment and John, my husband, encourages and supports me which is an enormous help. Writing comes before everything else, so cooking, cleaning, gardening, shopping all get done as and when. I can write all day but a good morning’s work is sometimes enough. I do check my word count and I do set myself deadlines but they are not at all rigid. I have a rough idea of how long the book, story or article needs to be and an idea of when I would want to move onto another piece of work. I reject rules about how a writer should write. Life demands we are flexible with schedules and this is especially true for women writers.
Editing is different from inventing and developing a story and takes a different amount of thought and time. I blog once a fortnight about the process, pleasures and pressures of writing and then of course other things intervene – competitions, for example. You’ll find my blog – and other things – on my website – Link below. I do need to read. I am interested in how other writers work, think and formulate their styles.
When I was single in my fifties, I worked and studied during the day and then wrote until 2 or 3 a.m. My first husband had disliked me having a life that didn’t revolve around him and he needed to feel he was better at everything than I was. I had to write discreetly and even secretly and, of course, not very often.
5) How many books have you written? Any unpublished work?
I have self-published six books. They are three novels, a memoir, a book of poems and one of short stories and excerpts. I have a number of unpublished short stories and poems as well as several children’s stories that I’m working on and plans for another three related books or one large epic.
6) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m not a pantser, but I’m not a plotter either. I find that stories evolve and a significant part of that process happens almost subconsciously. It is partly even dreamed because when I am working on a story, I become so immersed in it that I’m saturated by it even when I’m asleep. A place or a situation appears from something I’ve experienced or seen or been struck by and the characters grow out of what happens to them and their environment. I do have an idea about the plot but it’s very sketchy at first.
I also develop the plot by drawing up interconnecting thought clouds and brain-storming all by myself on a big sheet of paper, but never in a linear way. To be honest, though, I’m learning and improving the way I work all the time and I hope that I’m getting better. I can abandon plots that don’t work without too much pain but what I don’t sacrifice is the core, the raison d’être, the fundamental idea that drives the story. I may write another book in the meantime. But I will come back to that central theme.
Concerning your latest book:
Publisher – Atypical Books
Pages – 320
Release Date – 10th July 2019
ISBN 13 – 978-2955734438
Format – ebook, paperback
“Love, it seems to me, is as important to our psychic, spiritual and emotional life as fungi are to our physical life and both together may be essential for us to function.”
In 1966 South Africa miscegenation laws decreed that people who were classified as racially different should not marry, love each other, have sex or children. Racism was the accepted norm, and morality strict, but Ruth was pregnant. The father of her baby was classified as non-white so she had no choice but to run away to London. This is a raw, brutal account of her first year in England. Ruth Hartley’s writing is sometimes lyrical, sometimes funny, sometimes painful to read, always worthwhile.
Message from Ruth Hartley – I have just published three books that are set in the apartheid era between 1965 and 1967. They are a novel, “The Love and Wisdom Crimes”, a memoir, “When I Was Bad”, and a book of poetry, “The Spiral-Bound Notebooks”. They are all very different and explore that time from different angles and in different ways. Examining the relationship between the different genres of these books explains why and how I write. For a writer it may be more useful to look at the three books together rather than for a reader to do so.
7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
My first research was my own lived experience. I also researched the history and the politics and listened to what other people said about their own lives at the time and afterwards. Once I got down to writing the stories, I researched the accuracy of what I had written and John, my husband, fact-checked it all. As the stories are set so many years ago, I had my own notes from that time in the form of poems, diary entries and newspaper cuttings.
8) How long did it take to go from ideas stage to writing the last word?
From ideas to the last stage it took me 54 years to finish the novel, “The Love and Wisdom Crimes”! That is only partly a joke. I started the first written version of the novel in 1996 and finished it in a year but I was working from notes, poems and ideas collected from 1966, thirty years earlier. It was rejected many times by publishers. I rewrote it two years ago and it has been read, reread, edited and re-edited several times since. This is true of the novel, the memoir, and the poetry book. A year to write, a year to edit, re-edit, and self-publish. The last word is the last word that is typeset and printed.
9) How did you come up with the title of your book?
The first book of this latest three is a coming of age story about the impossibility of loving and being wise in a police state where both can be crimes – hence “The Love and Wisdom Crimes”
Most of early poems were written in a spiral-bound stenographer’s notebook so the book had to be called “The Spiral-Bound Notebooks.” The memoir, called “When I Was Bad”, speaks for itself. I write about being an unmarried mother in 1966.
10) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
I guess that many first fictional stories have autobiographical elements in them. That’s certainly true for “The Love and Wisdom Crimes” which is based on my own experiences. I think, though, that most writers like me will use aspects of their own emotional and physical experiences in order to embody a character but also try hard to allow that character to exist in their own right and not be just a mouthpiece for the author. It’s enormous fun to invent characters from imagination and to try and make them real flesh and blood – especially the bad characters. I have been asked if one character in “The Shaping of Water” was me. She isn’t, but she did go to a similar school to the one I went to.
11) What process did you go through to get your book published?
‘Hell’ is the short answer.
I soon realised that in our digital world self-publishing is the way to go. A publishing company used to provide a writer with an agent, an editor, a designer and a PR and marketing support system but today even traditionally published writers have to do most of the marketing themselves and marketing really eats into writing time.
Self-publishing is a very steep learning curve and mistakes will be made. It’s essential to have a good editor but they do cost money. I used to say of artists that they marketed their work for 4 months, earned a minimum salary for 4 months, and made art for 4 months. They never made money. I think it’s probably the same for writers.
We do it for love of writing and for love of readers!
12) What’s next for you writing wise?
There’s no next – it’s all ongoing. I’m rewriting my first children’s story “The Drought Witch” – there are more to come in that series. I’m planning a short story collection which will need editing as well as another book of poetry and I am looking forward to getting on to a book that’s been planned for the last five years and is busy shape-shifting and morphing into three novels and something a bit more experimental.
1) If you could have any super power for the day which would you choose?
The instant ability to fix computers and the internet and file documents efficiently so I never lose anything I’ve written and it’s all perfectly accessible in a trice.
2) Do you have any pets?
Wild birds, fish, frogs, newts, lizards, toads, moles and mice and two cats who think every other creature is food for the taking.
3) If you decided to write an autobiography of your life, what would you call it?
4) Your book has been made into a feature film and you’ve been offered a cameo role, which part would you choose, or what would you be doing?
I would love to write a screenplay, probably for TV, working together with an excellent director and cameraman.
5) Where is your favourite holiday destination?
6) A baseball cap wearing, talking duck casually wanders into your room, what is the first thing he says to you?
“Hello – do you want to hear my version of events?”
I would like to say a big thank you to Ruth Hartley for sharing with us details of her writing life and for a wonderful interview.