Today is a good day to do something you love.

Just one small thing that brings you joy: it doesn’t have to be big or take a lot of time out of your day, or even something you’re good at, it simply needs to bring you happiness.

For some of us that may be making art or a tuna melt, singing loudly to your favourite musicals, taking a walk, reading/writing show meta, playing a computer game made in 1998, reading a squishy romance, meditating, sword practice, treating yourself to tea and cake in the mid-afternoon. WHATEVER IT IS, go do it today and enjoy it. I’m not going to judge.
(Well, unless the thing that brings you joy is shit-stirring on the internet or drowning puppies, in which case, yeah *judges*).

Yesterday I was talking about the things I love and decided to run with that and paint myself a little labyrinth-tree while listening to the Fallout 3 soundtrack.



Do a good thing for your head today. Be kind to yourself. Tell me what you did and let’s share something happy.




These are a few of my favourite things…

It’s in your head now, isn’t it. Sorry.

But actually I’m talking about the things I love in stories: subtle magic, tea, sleight of hand, labyrinths, drugs, queerity, deceit, love as war, found family, gardening, seduction.

What’s subtle magic? It’s a pretty wide umbrella – think of anything from Kathe Koja’s Under the Poppy books or Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels which have no magic but feel magical, to Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea books, which are about a magician and has talking dragons. I’m not overly interested in the kind of mages throwing spells in battle stuff that sometimes gets tossed my way because I say I like fantasy.

Tea’s easy. I love tea, but what I mean by tea is more the salon, the tea-room, the empty bar, gin and glass and porcelain. It’s the connections made and the battle lines drawn over polite sips. This actually ties in with deceit, legerdemain and seduction. All are facets of the same prism.

Labyrinths have always fascinated me. Whether we’re talking  mazes that could lead you out of this reality and into another, or House of Leaves, or meditative religious labyrinths designed to centre the mind and spirit, they turn up in all my writing thought processes (even if they’re not always overtly in the story.)

Queerity is my word for the people and spaces between the norm. It includes genderqueer, but also the idea of houses as identities, of cities as characters, stories as maps, human bodies as novels and paintings. Queerity and drugs often go hand in hand in my work. Think Tanith Lee and Clive Barker.

Love as war. Self-explanatory, I think. Ellen Kushner does it beautifully in her Swordspoint books, though she might not call it by the same name.

Found family and gardening are the same thing. Community, socialism, gifting, friendship, family structure. I don’t see enough of this currently in the SFF I read, but I have stumbled over it here and there in small doses.

Someone on twitter pointed out that my list of loves sounds a lot like my first book. Which made me happy. I wasn’t doing promo, but it was good to see that what I love does come through in what I write. I need to hold onto the things I love and share them with the like-minded.

So what’s on your list?

Run streak one week

set yourself free


So for reasons best known only to me, I decided on a completely different approach to running this year. Maybe out of acceptance that whatever I was doing before was achieving very little.

In a way, running is a lot like writing – everyone has a way that works better for them, and there are a bunch of accepted “right” ways to do it because This or That Pro said so. With running it’s slightly different in that you can cause physical damage if you push too hard, but in my opinion, writing can cause a lot of emotional/mental damage if you uh…overtrain. In the end, I decided I needed to find a way of running training that made me excited to run, rather than “oh god this shit again why do i do this i hate running” (If I can find a way to get me to like writing again, that would be swell, me.)

So I decided on streaks. I joined smashrun, and my minimum to keep my streak going is a mile a day. I can totally fucking do a mile a day, and then I’m good because I can feel like I’ve actually achieved something even if I just spend the rest of the day marinating in my own tears of self-loathing. I also told myself that I would be going super-slowly, and that I would be doing Galloway run/walk. (I am currently still not 100% over the whole horrible anaemia thing where I couldn’t even go upstairs without being out of breath, so I am being especially careful with my health.)

One week in, what have I learned?

1: It’s so much easier for me to run a little every day than clock up three longer runs a week.

2: I like running when I’m not killing myself for pace.

3: I inadvertently run more than I plan to because I’m enjoying myself.

4: I am probably running as much or more than when I was training 3 x week but I’m not feeling wrecked or miserable.

I hope there’s a way I can eventually translate this into writing. Part of the problem is that technically I am meant to be writing professionally, whereas running is just for me. But I’ll take these things one day at a time until I can find a place where creating things brings me joy again.

words, walking, ink and inspiration

It’s 15 days into NaNoWriMo, and I am comfortably on par which makes a rather nice change. Usually around this time of the year it’s summer for me and my brain has effectively melted, but this year I am on Scottish Seasonal Time, so I am rather enjoying the crispness, the colours, and the fact that every room in the house has a heater. (So not like SA, where I just froze in winter because no one believes in heated houses.)

I took a walk down to Inverkeithing today and I love how the seasons are so different. There’s no doubt that summer is well over and that winter has its claws out.

I love how these trees still have their very last leaves, like embroidery on a cuff. #autumn #trees

A photo posted by Cat Hellisen (@cat_hellisen) on


The colours are what get me though: flame oranges and deepest reds, berries crimson, bright translucent red, clusters of white globes, rose hips like fat contented octopuses, the deep dusky violet browns of faded hydrangeas and the stark trees, black and silver.

#Autumn colour

A photo posted by Cat Hellisen (@cat_hellisen) on


Inspired by artists like Jackie Morris and Emma Mitchell, I’ve been working on my drawing again. I’ve set myself to do one small nature study a day, and it’s quite soothing. It’s been giving me a sense of accomplishment to have actually drawn something, however small.

Daily study #art #ink #illustration #leaves #sketchbook

A photo posted by Cat Hellisen (@cat_hellisen) on


I’m hoping that my drawing practice is going to help my writing. Art is about attention to detail, and good writing comes alive in the details, in the specificity of the language.  Here’s to creative cross-training and future results and present happiness.


DAY 7! And cookies were needed. Also, gin.

The first few days of nano (or fauxnano, or #100words, or whatever you’re doing to get through November) are always the easiest. You’re still fresh, full of zing! Held aloft on a wave of naivety and sheer clueless joy.

By day seven, that wave has crashed into the soggy shores of Bugger All This For A Lark, and your zing has gone the way of all things. Returned to the foul earth, trampled underfoot. I’m here to tell you it’s only going to get shittier. But that’s good. Because if you know now already that it’s probably going to be less fun than grating your face with a rusty zester, you’ll trudge on regardless, carving out terrible prose with a grim determination matched only by dying men trekking through the snow.

On the plus side, you probably won’t have to kill and eat your own dog, so in that sense nano’s a winner.

I’m not here to lie to you. Middles are the Worst. Week two and three are going to suck. Your plot is going to fall apart, your characters are gonna be dumb as fuck, and your dialogue will sound like it was written by a person who was raised by lemurs and has yet to meet and converse with another human. What is werds even.

This is normal. This is first-draft fast-draft suck, and it’s okay. You don’t have to delete anything, you just have to write a different scene, or tackle the story from a different PoV, or go all Tolkien and have your characters start singing a forty-nine verse song. You’re finding your way through the snow.

There are ways to get yourself through this. It being nano – you can have word wars, you can pick a word of the day and incorporate it into your scene. I usually find setting myself a 15 minute writing sprint can give me a fair number of words. A few of those scattered through the day can get me to my minimum.

Don’t read back. Guys, it’s Nano, no-one is expecting works of scintillating genius. At this point if what you’re writing is barely above See Jane Run, you’re probably golden.

Go. Have fun. Don’t die in the snow.




1667, or day 1

You can do this. You write more than 1667 words a day of utter pointless crap in the form of tweets, facebook status updates, and political arguments with strangers on forums.




Building a Wall.

A good while back I interviewed Diane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer for Bookslive about their collaboration as Frank Owen, and their “Cowboy Apocalypse” novel SOUTH.

Interested in what these two immensely talented writers had to say about their process, their world-building, and the things that inspired the horror of the world that is South of the Wall?  Read on.



Cat:  You’re very different writers in terms of stories and styles and backgrounds. Can you tell us a little about Frank Owen, and the different facets of Diane and Alex that go into making him the writer he is?

Alex: Writing is a personal process, and so it took some time to figure out how best to write together. The way I saw it was that I’d drive the story line – try to get the pace and plot going so that there’s something happening in every chapter. Then over that Diane brings a very accessible but literary style – smart and layered and mesmerising.

Cat: P.J. O’Rourke once made the comparison between the Voortrekkers and the American pioneers, noting how much they have in common. Do things like this give you the overlap to make the story engaging for both American and South African audiences?

Alex: We were both initially uncomfortable with the idea of setting it in America since neither of us has spent much time there – but even so, the place didn’t feel foreign to write. That stems largely from the cultural colonisation that America has been doing for a century, through movies and books and big brands. America has become both a country and a genre. We’re writing in the genre.

Cat: South is an alternative history of the US, with the timeline deliberately fudged. We spoke about this Great Divide you create in your version of America. You are also able to draw on your South African experience. What were your thought processes while building this United America?

Alex: This story is basically a transposition of apartheid onto the American continent, though the dividing line is literally one border – a bit like the ‘homelands’. ‘South’ explores what apartheid might look like there.

Cat: The characters in ‘South’ run the gamut, and there were those I hated, those I wanted to give a good kick up the arse, and those I loved. Could you talk to us a bit about your favourites to write, and how you approached the heroes and villains in your story?

Alex: The backbone of the narrative rests on our favourite: Felix Callahan, an ex-TV salesman and amateur meteorologist living in an underground shack. He’s pivotal, yet he’s a reluctant participant the whole way through. We like him because his agenda is pretty clear. He’s not motivated by love or money, but by the hope that he might be left alone to drink his whiskey.

Every villain in South is really only trying to survive. They’re not malicious for the sake of it. The real villains are up North, since they’re the ones who’ve decimated everything below the border. Those guys we deal with in the next book, North.

Cat: South has a distinct Dark Tower (Stephen King) feel, though your story has stripped the magic and replaced it with science. Was King a deliberate influence? What other stories fed into the writing of South?

Diane: King is God. But all of Bradbury and Le Guin get a nod, too. Michiel Heyns’s ‘The Reluctant Passenger’ and Claire Robertson’s ‘The Spiral House’ resonated. Real news stories infected the writing: Wouter Basson repeatedly getting away with his apartheid experimentation; Jae Rhim Lee’s Infinity Burial Suit that lets mushrooms do the decomposition work after your death.

Cat: I know both of you have strong feelings on music. Was getting into the sound of the south important for you while working on this series?

Diane: I kept listening to Miss Texas 1977’s ‘Nettles’, and it twanged something in my head. Books are ballads, too. The curated nostalgia inherent in bluegrass and folk is fascinating – that history and experience that you find in every culture:

Johannes Kerkorrel and the Gereformeerde Blues Band; Valiant Swart. I also stumbled on The Civil Wars, and Iron Head Baker – the prisoner who first sang ‘Black Betty’.

And Gene Kierman of Miss Texas composed two tracks for the series. They’ll be downloadable from the site.

Cat:  I had some difficulties with accepting certain things – the winds and the viruses, and later the mushrooms. It turns out all this is plausible. Can you talk about the research?

Diane: A lot of mushrooms – like shiitake and oyster, not psychedelic ‘boomers’ – really are anti-viral as well as anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. China has known this for 10 000 years. Our government ought to be researching the hell out of these things. Mushrooms have direct implications for HIV, TB, hepatitis, and the common cold. They literally grow in wood and – usually – horseshit, though on a formal scale it’s a pasteurised substrate. Kimberley farmers tried large-scale oyster-mushroom farming in De Beers’s abandoned mine shafts: I’ve eaten some of those babies. South Africa has loads of sites – Mushroom Guru, Funguys Gourmet, and so on.


As always, it was a pleasure chatting with these two immensely talented humans, and I suggest you go check out South. And maybe stock up on mushrooms….


Blackberries and bicycles

bicycle-788733_1280It’s a quiet, warm Sunday, and there’s a magpie strutting about my fresh-mown lawn, looking for bugs. Everyone in the house is sick and/or asleep, so I mowed the lawn with the little push mower Brian bought and I just love it!  It actually cuts the grass, makes fairly little noise, and is fuel-free so good for the environment. While out in the back garden I discovered that it’s not all weeds and grass, but also the neighbour’s plants which have crawled over the fence and began to establish themselves. Which means, for the first time in my life, I have brambles!

Also discovered we have blackberry brambles. 😀

A photo posted by Cat Hellisen (@cat_hellisen) on

LOOKEE, actual real blackberries, not just stuff I read about in books. I am ridiculously excited about this, it’s kinda sad.

While we have hardly any furniture (beyond cardboard boxes charmingly “decorated” with my scarves), I did get myself a bike. I also discovered that though I walk a lot, walking and biking use a very different set of muscles. My knees are like HOLY MOTHER OF DRAGONS WHAT IS THIS WHAT DID WE EVER DO TO YOU?

I am loving it here in Scotland, though I am feeling a little lonely. My family and friends are all on the other side of the world. On facebook I see my friends doing stuff around Cape Town, having birthdays, celebrating book launches and all those things, and I realise just how isolated I am at the moment. I know no-one nearby here and it’s a little scary. One thing I am looking forward to is going to Fantasycon in Scarborough in September, where at least I will see some familiar faces and feel a little less like a lost fart in a perfume factory.

Writing has been on the backburner (haha let’s not lie, it has been off the hob completely) while we were making the final immigration moves, and I’m feeling a bit pointless at the moment. I need to knuckle down on Monday and try get my head back in the right space for making and fixing words. I know people are waiting for me to send them stuff or respond to emails but my mind has been totally occupied with the move (and the *wonderful* flu that came with it :P). Things should get more or less back to normal now.

Enter Scotland

I’m here. I totally made it, and while the flight was long and tedious, immigration was a breeze. I also arrived at Peak Brexit so I’ve been avoiding the news as much as possible because yeah.

So far Scotland has been living up to expectations haha. Also holy crap I love this place.

A photo posted by Cat Hellisen (@cat_hellisen) on


I haven’t had time to settle in properly, obviously, but here is a quick list of observations about Scotland and the UK.

  • The Scots are amazingly friendly. Like, so friendly I don’t quite know how to react. Last time I lived in the UK I was in Nottingham and I do not remember this level of helpfulness and what seems like genuine good feeling. The kids seem a bit more meh, but hey kids are little shits pretty much everywhere so yeah.
  • Bacon is cheaper than chicken. Again, just for the sheer WTFness. BACON IS CHEAPER THAN CHICKEN. Thank you, gods of Scotland.
  • Brooms are apparently impossible to buy. I have no idea why I’m finding a broom so hard to buy in a shop, when those same shops have a drug section like a chemist’s and entire aisles of hard alcohol. So weird.
  • When Capetonians talk about their weather being changeable, they don’t know shit. The weather in Fife seems to do complete 180s on a ten minute roster. I have no idea what to wear anymore – one minute I’m boiling, the next I’m drowning in cold rain and being lashed by Muizenberg-style winds. When the sun is out though, the whole place just looks amazing.
  • Scotland is so green. SO VERY GREEN. INSANELY GREEN. Things grow here, the trees are very tall and there are roses everywhere, whole hillsides covered in roses and foxgloves and nettles. And other things. My knowledge of UK plant life is fairly limited.
  • I can now recognise common local birds (we share a few – starlings, sparrows, wagtails etc), but yeah – magpies, rooks, carrion crows, woodpeckers, pied wagtails, herring gulls, robins, blackbirds, wood pigeons, and my favourite so far – jackdaws. The common lbjs are still beyond me, but it’s early days.
  • The sense of history. Just…mind-blowing. Walking around ruins of towers that are a thousand years old is pretty staggering.
  • The summer days are really long. It’s messing with my head a bit, especially when you discover school only starts at 9 am, so in summer you’ve had 5 hours of daylight before you get to your first lesson. 0.o.
  • Things like buying a sim card and getting connected, and opening a bank account, are piss-easy. No stupid RICA sim registration nonsense, bank staff are friendly and helpful (this seems to be a trend).


I have been using my instagram for actual pictures, so if you’re keen on seeing my view of my new country, you can go follow me there:


Forth Bridge from coastal walk

A photo posted by Cat Hellisen (@cat_hellisen) on

Getting Ready for the Weekend and Remembering faces


So this weekend is Kingsmead Book Fair, and I am pretty excited to be part of this, on a panel with Joanne Macgregor, Edyth Bulbring, and chaired by Bontle Senne.


We’re on at 13:45 in the Gym:

GymYoung Adult novelists Edyth Bulbring(Snitch)Cat Hellisen(Beastkeeper) and Joanne Macgregor(Scarred) discuss the themes of bullying and bloodlines, beauties and beasts and the transformative power of first love. Chaired by fellow youth writer Bontle Senne.

There will be an SASL interpreter at this session.

Now, fun stuff aside, I’m going to offer an apology in advance, and a small explanation.

Firstly, if you see me and want to say hi, PLEASE DO!


Secondly, even if we have met several times before, it’s probable I won’t recognise you. This is not because of you, it’s because of me. I have great difficulty remembering names and faces. I try very hard to build up a mental index card that matches people up, but if you do something like comb your hair differently, wear (or not wear) glasses, change your clothes, meet me in a different place, my index cards get scrambled and I need to re-sort them. This can take a while, and it’s very embarrassing for me because I hate making people feel like I don’t care who they are. I really do care, I just have an actual problem. The problem is made worse when I am anxious or stressed, and public situations make me both.


So, if it appears I have no idea who you are, just be gentle and say your name and remind me when we last saw each other and I can reshuffle my index.  😀


I other news, I’ve put CHARM up on Smashwords with a new cover, and added my Mundus short story Oma Zoli’s Mirror.

charm(1)Irene Kerry has grown up with the memory of her mother’s suicide, and has been in love with her best friend Rain for as long as she can remember. She thinks she’s dealing with both just fine until the day her best friend falls in love with a much older man. A man who knew her mother, and believes Irene is a magician like her. In order to protect her friend and family, Irene gets dragged into a hunt for an ancient magician who steals and eats magic, and discovers that the things she thought she knew about her mother’s death were all lies.





OMA ZOLI'S MIRRORDylan McKenzie is a collector of magical artifacts from this world and others, but when a voice underground tells him to look for his heart’s desire, he is pulled into the web of a fallen goddess, sent to murder her sister and bring back her soul.

Oma Zoli’s Mirror shows your heart’s desire. Or her heart. Or her desire. She spins webs to get what she wants, but will the man she’s trapped do as she commands?