Today we travel to to Dorset, England to chat with Ninette Hartley about how living in Italy, Maggie O’Farrell, Exeter University, Maya Angelou, a pony and carriage, Frank Sinatra, a dance teacher, Supertramp, the 2010 BBC TV Licensing campaign, and The Flintstones come together as part of Ninette’s current and past life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I returned to England in January 2016 having spent eight years living in rural Italy with my husband, actually we got married while we were living there. We are now settled in Dorset in a small cottage a couple of miles from Bridport. I spend my days, writing, reading, and walking the dog, she’s an Italian rescue dog and I think misses the warm weather — as do we!
In 2020 I gained an MA in Creative Writing from Exeter University and after graduating I completed my first memoir Dear Tosh and self published in May 2021. It’s about the loss of my twenty-seven-year old son. It’s a book for everyone about love, grief and acceptance. Learning how to come to terms with loss and that nobody is ever truly gone while they are still talked about and loved.
In which genre do you write?
I like writing creative non-fiction but I also write poetry, plays, short stories and flash fiction. I have completed a novel which is set in the 1940s and 50s. So as you can see, I definitely don’t stick to one genre.
What are you currently reading?
A book that I have known about for many years and only just got around to reading. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It is beautifully written I find myself lingering over every page and not wanting to rush to the end. The story of her life in Arkansas as a child is both heartbreaking and fascinating. What a wonderful woman she grew into. I was surprised to discover that this book is just the first in a series of seven. I’m definitely going to read all her other memoirs.
What outdoor activity haven’t you tried but you would like to try?
Well, I have driven and still do drive a pony and carriage. But what I would really like to do is travel around the UK for a week or two with a horse drawn caravan. I don’t want to be driven, I just want to drive myself and maybe take a friend along. I’m not sure how I would adapt to not having any en-suite facilities. I would just hope that the weather would stay fine. Maybe I should arrange to do it in Italy instead!
What songs hit you with a wave of nostalgia every time you hear them?
This is so easy. Any Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Nat King Cole…any of those singers from the 50s. It takes me back to my childhood and my parents playing the Pye Black Box record player they had in our front room. I loved all of them and on top of that I also love all the songs from the musicals, ’South Pacific’, ‘Oklahoma’, ‘Guys and Dolls,’ the list goes on and on. Oh…and ‘Magic Moments’ by Perry Como. Then, moving on a few years, any ‘Beatles’ song will give me the goose bumps and then ‘Supertramp’ from the 70s. My older children remember me dancing around the kitchen playing the ‘Breakfast in America’ album.
As you may have guessed music plays a big part in my life and it was difficult to pick out just a sample of the songs and music that I love. For over 25 years I was a dance teacher, ballet in particular so I love all the music from the ballets too. I should move on to another question!
Can you play a musical instrument?
Oh…it’s another musical one! Well, I can play (very badly) the piano and the guitar although it’s been so long since I did either I probably couldn’t manage to do much. But I have always had a hankering to play the oboe, I love the sound that it makes, soulful and it pull at my heart for some reason.
I’m also very fond of the cello, at least I didn’t realise how fond I was until recently when I met an actual live cellist and he made the instrument sing to me. Don’t worry, it wasn’t anything untoward, my husband was there too and he has also developed a fondness for the cello now. My daughter played it for a while in her teens and I think one of the grandchildren might take it up.
What is the most amusing, crazy or inspiring thing that has ever happened to you?
A great deal of events both happy, sad, good and bad have happened to me during my life but one of the most exciting was in 1966 when I made a record ‘Push a Little Button’. It was written by my brother, Tony Hatch (you may have heard of him) and recorded on the PYE label. It was fantastic being in the studio, in a booth with earphones on singing the song with live musicians. A truly amazing thing for a fifteen-year-old. Sadly the record was a massive flop but it didn’t detract from the enjoyment of making it. However, there is a coda to this story. In 2010 the BBC decided to use the recording for their TV Licensing campaign. It still wasn’t a hit but I did have my 10 minutes of fame!
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve received recently.
Do not compare your writing to anyone else’s, ‘compare and despair’ was the phrase used. Write for yourself, to the best of your ability and don’t try to be someone you’re not. This goes for other areas of your life too, not just writing.
Always carry a notebook and writing implement, although these days many people make notes on their phone. Of course Hemingway is reported to have written his famous six word story on a napkin and there’s an interesting page on Barnes and Noble website which lists various surprising surfaces famous writers have written on, see here:
Do you write a journal or keep a personal diary? Has this helped with your published writings? If so, how?
As my first publication was a memoir, my personal notes and diary entries were extremely useful. When I lost my son I began writing about things that were happening from day to day over the first year that he was gone. These notes were the basis of my book. I wrote him 27 letters, one for each year of his life. This year, January 2021 was the 10th anniversary of his death. The letters date from November 20th 2020 to February 1st 2021. As I looked back over the years before and after 2011, any notes I had made were invaluable.
If you could have three authors, past or present, around your dinner table who would they be?
Alan Bennet, Elizabeth Jane Howard and Maggie O’Farrell. To begin with I think they would all get on well together and there would be no horrible pauses in the conversation. I have admired Alan Bennet for some years, his ability to remain honest to himself, his sense of humour his wealth of experience as a writer in all genres.
Elizabeth Jane Howard, I only recently discovered and once I had I devoured as many of her books as I could, notably the Cazalet Chronicles, wonderful writing and once involved with the family, it’s impossible not to want to know what happens next . . .great characters.
Maggie O’Farrell, what can I say? I love her style of writing, her imagination, the structure she uses. I’m very excited about the prospect of my dinner party! I’d like to add one more and that would be Bob Mortimer. I’m currently listening to his memoir And Away and I think he would be an absolute must at the table!
What cartoons did you watch as a child?
I loved ’The Flintstones’ and ’Tom and Jerry’. Probably because of the slapstick nature of their antics. I was too young when I watched them to think about the animators and the writers who had created the series but when I think about that now, they were very clever people. I like the old cartoons better than any of the new ones that are around. Oh dear…am I getting on a bit?
Tell us about your book.
I think I’ve told you quite a bit about Dear Tosh already but I should add that it’s is selling steadily which is a good thing for a memoir written by someone who is not famous. The feedback and reviews have been very positive, which is gratifying.
It was wonderful learning more about you and having you on MTA, Ninette. Here’s to continued success for Dear Tosh, and much success with future books! – Camilla
Where to find the book:
The book can be bought from my website www.ninettehartley.com and it is available from Independent bookshops, also through Amazon, Waterstones. There is also an audio book narrated by me and an e-book. All available through the usual channels.
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