Saturday, 26 July 2014


It doesn't happen as often as it should but the book I was reading made me cry.

It was Kurt Vonnegut's “A man without a country”

The tears ran down my face and had to be wiped away.

He is a very funny writer but I wasn't crying tears of laughter.

This is what he wrote that made me cry.

“Joe, a young man from Pittsburg, came up to me with one request:

“Please tell me it will all be okay.”

“Welcome to Earth, young man,” I said. “It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, Joe, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of: Goddamn it Joe, you've got to be kind!”

So what do you think?

I was thinking it is impossible not to feel passionate about what is happening in Gaza to ordinary people, women, children and civilians.

Passion is needed to make things better.

I was also thinking that the suffering makes it more important to be dispassionate about the facts that led to and created the problems of the Middle East.

If we aren't dispassionate at the same time we will undermine our own arguments.

Vonnegut talks about a one day massacre that killed 135,000 people. It was inflicted on the 'worst people in history' – those guilty of the Holocaust - by the 'good' people of Britain. It was done out of revenge or as an experiment and was not necessary to end the war.

Those same 'good' people refused to allow Jewish refugees to travel to Palestine even though there was no place on earth for them. Many died or drowned. Those same 'good' people refused to allow the creation of Israel until the Stern Gang and Irgun, both terrorist organisations, forced their hand.

The suffering on the people of Gaza does not make Hamas any better than it is.

The Holocaust does not justify the attack on Gaza.

What can we do? What can I do?
Be passionate about helping people who suffer.

Be dispassionate. It is not the suffering on either side makes people good or bad or justifies their politics or history.

Be kind to both parties to be fair. Be merciful to be just.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


Ruth, with her novel 'The Shaping of Water' outside The Glass Key in Montmorillon

A wonderful second-hand bookshop and antique shop specialising in antique fabrics.
The Glass Key is run by James and Patsy Fraser who do an internet order service.
There are wonderful books to browse through and to buy. James and Patsy are very helpful and knowledgeable.

Lunch with James, Patsy and the other boutique owners during the book fair.

The book fair and discussions by writers. All French of course!

Montmorillon is a beautiful town between Limoges and Poitiers.


I didn't sell any of my books but gained a great deal of knowledge by meeting and talking to other writers about writing and selling novels. John and I had a very pleasant weekend indeed.
It is lovely to be back home again and once again working away on my next novel.
From the Glass Key I bought and read 'The Reader' by Bernhard Schlink. A really good novel. Highly recommended
I much enjoyed Dashiel Hammet's 'The Glass Key'
Also a book of poetry by Adrienne Rich
The Will to Change'
and as research for my novel  - 'George Grosz' 'Les annees de Berlin' 

Monday, 21 July 2014



I find Ms Schutte's article confused and confusing.

True, Mandela has been subjected to hagiography and reinvention. All important historical figures worldwide suffer in this way. Gandhi, Kennedy, Martin Luther King are all examples. Some do well out of it and some not. None of them will escape criticism forever or keep their reputations intact.

Time and historical research will rebalance and reassess Mandela's contribution and there will always be arguments about his value. That's good. Remember too, that Mandela was turned into a brand and a money-making legacy on his death bed. He was denied dignity as his life ended so others could make political capital from him and this was done by his immediate family and by senior politicians, none of whom were white. This behaviour may be reprehensible but it is also human. Human behaviour is human behaviour – not white or black behaviour.

It is true that black leaders throughout post -colonial Africa have been given an unjustifiably bad press from the West. Nevertheless leaders will always be criticised and deserve to be criticised because they will all inevitably make mistakes and sometimes prove corruptible. Mandela and Gandhi included. What is needed is for people to be well-informed and not leap to defend or decry any leader because of the colour of his skin or his culture or traditions or religion. Leaders ought to be judged by the egalitarian way they fulfil the constitution of their country.

Ms Schutte's anger is directed against rich privileged whites and neocolonialism. Justifiable? Useful? Relevant to the South African situation? One might ask how helpful is her polemic in effecting change for the better for those she advocates for – the poor black folk who lack agency. After all there is a new colonial power searching for mines and farms in Africa. It's emissaries are relatively poor Chinese workers. Everything will change.

Ms Schutte talks about the 'dominant discourse' but what does she mean exactly? I take it, and I apologise if I am wrong,that she means to identify those who hold power and have control of society but she uses this term rather broadly. Is she talking about the global dominant discourse or specifically the dominant discourse in South Africa? They should not be conflated even where they impact on each other.

Ms Schutte quotes Richard Dyer's book 'White'. I haven't read it but it sounds interesting. He is talking she says, about the construction of Western imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries which was undeniably built upon racism and the slave trade. Does his analysis fit today's situation as well?

Global power and wealth has changed and is concentrated in a few giant corporations who are controlled by a small number of individuals. This may be disturbing and frightening but how white is this concentrated power and is the selection of the powerful based on race and wealth or just wealth? In the present mix of global power are there not also people from the Middle East, the Far East, Russia, China and Latin America? If there is one dominant group its not static but changing all the time especially with regard to race and culture.

Power today may in fact be 'colour-blind'. I wonder if Ms Schutte isn't directing her energy at a moving and changing target and doing her cause far more harm than good by indicting 'whiteness' as if it is the main and only cause? According to Dyer 'whiteness' is not located inside the physical body and therefore can be an attribute of people whose skins aren't white. Schutte though, returns to the surface colour of people to make her point. She is rather selective with facts and analysis which weakens the validity of her argument.

The dominant power/discourse today probably doesn't care about race or the colour of anybody's skin. It may also be unconcerned if ordinary folk regardless of their colour, hate and kill each other because they are black against white, Sunni against Shiite, Catholic against Protestant, fundamentalist against free-thinker. By identifying the enemy primarily as white Schutte could be unintentionally arming racism and racists and losing potential allies because they have white skins.

I have seen very unpleasant examples of extreme white racism among some white Africans but isn't this a small group who are noisily vociferous when provoked? Attacking this group might make them implode in fury damaging the innocent when they do. Better to take the oxygen of angry attention away from them. My guess is that most whites are ashamed of apartheid and racism but if they are made to feel guilty about it they will become reluctant to adapt. That's human too. Learning how to live together can't be done through blame and humiliation. That was how apartheid managed and enforced separation.

Racism is not exclusive to pale people in any case. All people were damaged by apartheid. Racism, nationalism, chauvinism and tribalism start from the personal and they have to be understood and defeated there. People of all gradations of colour need to do this. Providing education and information gives the power to ordinary people to make up their own minds and change their own prejudices. I doubt that Ms Schutte's tactic of haranguing one group of South Africans in her article entitled 'Dear White People' was effective in changing attitudes. Those who approved of it were already in agreement. To change the minds of people you have to first show them respect even when you disagree with them. Mandela understood that.

At the moment there may be more well-off white people in South Africa hanging on to any vestiges of privilege they can than there are well-off black people who feel threatened by the poverty around them. Its possible that both groups might together form a new South African elite that disregards the poor. How do you change that for the better? Not by reducing people to their surface colour but by understanding their fears and their aspirations.

Can the case for change be made without referring to skin colour?

Monday, 14 July 2014


 'The Shaping of Water' Ruth Hartley
Book signing and Question and Answer Session at Peleyre.

Ruth answering questions about her novel 'The Shaping of Water' Jacky Barry leading the discussion and the Question and Answer session.

Display of 'The Shaping of Water',  books and Zambian artefacts

The audience

Zambian art at Peleyre for the book signing of 'The Shaping of Water'
Many thanks from Ruth to Jacky Barry and John Eden and Peleyre for hosting this wonderful session.
Many thanks to John Eden for making the video of Ruth Hartley talking about 'The Shaping of Water'