An archive of speculative fiction written by South Africans, the list includes fantasy, science fiction, and related works – horror, dystopia, etc. This is simply a list with links, and not a review site, I pass no judgement and kept the list alphabetical.
This is a work in progress – if you know of more, email me at cat at cathellisen dot com with the details. In the interests of keeping the list manageable, please only link me to works published by a reputable press, thank you. For the majority of authors, I’ve linked to Amazon simply because it’s easier for international buyers.
There are always three stories. The winner tells one; the loser tells another; and the third, the one we could call truth if we looked at it sidelong through a piece of shattered glass, that is the story that fades soonest, forgotten even as it tells itself.
There is no room for truth in love.
Here is the story that eats its own tail. We must tell it quickly in dreams and whispers, before there is nothing left of it but an eye that watches and a mouth too choked to speak. It starts in the forest, where all the wild things learn their sleights and magics, in a castle, where all the tame things learn their place.
The king and queen are not important to this story (they have their own – it is short and bloody and sad, and it ends before it should), instead, there is a man who works with the castle beasts, with the horses and the falcons and the ravens. He was not born in the castle, but grew up in the forest that surrounds it, and he has a talent for speaking the tongues of animals. He is well-paid, he has a wife who is clever and almost beautiful when the candles are low. He is a comfortable man, with a comfortable life. He enjoys his work, he loves his wife. He loves his daughter.
When she was born, he likes to say, all the animals from the castle came to pay their respect. Every beast from the stable and keep, mouse and war horse both. It might even be true. Freya is smart like her mother, and she has her father’s talent, although it takes a different form. This doesn’t bother her. She plays with her magic like a princess plays with a golden ball – it is precious, and yet, it is just a toy. She makes rushes dance across the castle flagstones, teaches hares to stay away from the castle gardens, sets the great candles of the watchclocks to burn bright and high, their flames charmed into a flickering puppetry.
She is a plain girl, though there are no mirrors to tell her this, and it does not matter for her suitors are many and varied in temperament. She finds them amusing. Freya is waiting for love to come to her on bright and shining hooves, to be a roaring thing that takes her completely by surprise – the way she sees it still for her parents, who hold hands when they walk at night, and who laugh over spilled milk and spoiled fruit.
Instead, her mother brings home a girl so beautiful that it blinds her.
“This is Inga,” says her mother, as she pushes the girl forward. Her hair is a flow of sunlight against the kind of milky skin that terrible poets seem to favour in their verse. Her eyes are deep and black and wide as winter. She smells like pine needles. She smells like the heart of ice. She smells like magic.
Inga mutters her hello, awkward and out of place. She has some tragic story – a family dead – these things happen. She was working as a maid. Freya’s mother – whose needlework is small and fine as though it were stitched by mice (and perhaps it is) – found her barefoot and ash-painted in the lower kitchens, scrubbing out the blackened pots. The lowest job for the lowest scullery maid.
“I could taste her magic,” she says to Freya’s father. “How anyone could not have noticed….”
It’s true. She has that same strange under-the-tongue taste of cold air which Freya and her father both have. In Inga, it is sharper than splinters, sweeter than sugar shards. Even so, Freya knows that she is stronger still. Inga’s real power lies in her beauty and Freya finds herself caught in it.
“Welcome, sister,” Freya says, and when Inga looks up at her with those drowning eyes, Freya knows nothing will ever be true again.
It doesn’t take long for the beautiful to see the beautiful; after all, they have eyes only for their own reflections. The son of the king and queen is one of those pretty fools who are not malicious so much as bred to believe the lies they are fed. He is only as vain and shallow as he has been brought up to be. This is what Freya tells herself when the prince begins to send Inga gifts of delicate necklaces and embroidered slippers.
She watches Inga fall in love with the idea of her prince.
“You shouldn’t,” she tells her one day. They are both sitting at the kitchen table, peeling potatoes and carrots with slender sickle-bladed knives. Or at least, Freya is. Inga is day-dreaming, her head pillowed on one palm as she watches Freya’s knife swoop lazily through the air, slicing gentle skirts of orange from her dancing carrot.
“Shouldn’t what?” Inga’s eyes are half-lidded, her voice slow as a waking dream.
The carrot and knife dance faster, the blade paring away at its partner. Freya waits for the tremble in her throat to die. When she is sure she will speak without betraying herself she says; “Don’t trust the sons of kings. They don’t marry the foster-daughters of court magicians. They marry princess. You would be nothing more than a- than a dalliance. There are others who would give you more.”
Inga turns her head like a hunting snake and stares at her. “You’re jealous.”
And Inga is right but for all the wrong reasons. “Not – not – not of you,” Freya tries to say but the words are all caught up in her throat and crawling over each other like maggots in meat, and besides, Inga is already on her feet, her dark eyes like blown-out stars, her hair swirling in the gale of her anger. She storms from the kitchen, and slams the door behind her.
On the table, Freya’s carrot has been pared down to the pale core, lying in a bed of orange curls like flayed skin. She gathers the remains and chops them dully to add to the evening meal.
The prince can be charming, can be witty, can be attentive. These are the things that make him as popular as he is among the court ladies, Freya knows. Where before he was never someone she paid overly much attention to, now Freya finds herself waiting in the places she knows he frequents, learning his times and routines that she can follow him without following him. She wants to be able to know her enemy, her rival, to know him so completely that any move he makes she will be assured hers is better. When the prince sends Inga a set of earrings made of silver and sapphire, Freya carves a small and beautiful box with an intricate locking mechanism for her to keep them in. “If you wear them, you might lose them,” she tells her foster sister, and reluctantly, the earrings are hidden away. Inga keeps the box by her bed, and soon forgets to open it.
Freya does the same for each thing he sends to Inga – finds some way of reducing it, hiding it, replacing it with a gift more practical. She dresses Inga in gloves she has knitted, tunics she has edged with tiny embroidered wrens, shoes she has lined with rabbit fur. Each time she sees Inga wearing one of these, she is certain that she has stitched her foster-sister closer to her.
Inga wears her gifts with the careless ignorance of the beautiful. At night she begs Freya’s help and Freya shreds her dreams and weaves silk dresses out of spiders’ webs and dancing slippers from the sparkle of starlight on ice. She twists straw into golden bangles and thistles into jewelled hair combs. She dresses her foster-sister in her magic.
When the magician and his wife are asleep, Inga crawls through the window to join the prince at his innumerable balls and dances. Each time she kisses Freya’s cheeks fiercely and makes her promise to say nothing.
Always, Freya promises, and keeps the memory of the kisses burned into her skin.
She is losing Inga, though she knows that the truth is she never had her.
The problem with broken hearts is that they are sharp and jagged and filled with long fine splinters. Broken hearts are cruel. Broken hearts can see only their own misery.
Because she wasn’t the one Inga fell in love with, Freya feeds her jealousy as attentively as a watchman feeding twigs to a fire. As Inga has grown more beautiful, so Freya has grown more powerful. She has found how easy it is to shed her skin and sprout feathers. She turns into a white raven and soars over the forests when the prince goes hunting. He is always so quick to kill, like an animal, she thinks. Like a beast. She can no longer see him as human, he is a hunting thing and all he touches he destroys.
The prince is obsessed with a white hart that lives in the forest, and he chases the deer through spring and summer and autumn and winter, seeing no other prey as worthy. When he finally brings it down and stains the white snow crimson, Freya is there to see it. She lands, raven-skinned, on the corpse, and the prince’s men laugh and say it is a sign – a white raven to mark the death of the white stag.
“A ten-point stag,” says one of the men. “An excellent shot, sire.” He looks to Freya. “The bird’s wings would make a pretty ornament.”
The prince smiles and shakes his head. “I have what I want,” he says as Freya lurches skywards.
Later, the stag’s pale head is mounted in the castle hall. It looks down over the courtiers, over the lords and ladies. It is a reminder to Freya that the prince is a beast who collects trophies. That he cares only for the chase and the kill.
It might not be the truth, but it is Freya’s truth.
Her splintered heart festers, her hate and jealousy cushioning it in her breast. And like a sickening thing, her mind is poisoned, and at night she dreams of beasts and teeth, of murders and betrayals.
It is Inga’s seventeenth birthday, and the prince has sent her a gown trimmed in ermine, a golden circlet for her brow. The court-ladies have long since given up – against the shimmer of Inga’s beauty they cannot compare. Like the mystical white hart he once chased through the frozen forest, the Prince has found something beautiful that he must have, he hunts Inga as completely as she hunts him.
They deserve each other, Freya thinks, and weaves the gift she has designed for her foster-sister.
“He loves you,” she says that evening, as she helps Inga tie the laces of her tunic and dress, as she straightens the hair combs that hold her golden mane in place. He loves you like a white stag, like a trophy for his hall.
“He does,” Inga smiles, it is dreamy, soft and Freya hates it. It makes her look like an imbecile. They deserve each other.
“What if he strays?” Freya asks, her tone innocent.
Inga frowns. “That would never happen-”
“Real life isn’t a children’s tale,” Freya says. Her fingers twists and braid, twist and braid, twist and braid. “Look at his father – the old queen must watch and pretend she sees nothing when he takes court ladies as lovers. Younger, prettier women who replace her. One day that might also happen-”
“Shut up!” Inga says fiercely. “He’s not like that.”
“Or you,” Freya continues as though she has not heard. “Your head might be turned by the wink of a nobleman or knight. After all, you wouldn’t be the first queen to run off with her husband’s most trusted companion.”
“I hate you,” Inga whispers, her eyes glassy. “You’ve always been jealous that the prince saw me and not you.”
“He sees you, but he does not love. You are beautiful, and so – for now – you have his eye. It will not always be so. Men are faithless. He will move on.”
“Petty petty jealousy,” Inga says, but she is scared that at the heart of it, her sister is right.
“Not true,” Freya says. “But I can make it so these things never happen.” It’s a lie, of course. There is no magic that will make someone fall in love any more than one to make them fall out of love. But Inga doesn’t know this. Her magic is weaker than Freya’s and she doesn’t have her natural understanding of it.
“Can you really?”
Freya smiles, and lets Inga ask her for a curse.
“What will it do?” Inga asks when it is done, the magic laid under skin like a tracery of fine silver wires. “How will I know if it works?”
“It will work.” Freya smooths her hands over her lost sister’s shoulders. “No-one could stray from someone as beautiful as you, could fall in love with another, and no-one would fly away from their life with one they have promised to love for always.” The curse is sharp as bramble thorns. The prince does not love his trophy wife, he is merely in love with his reflection in her. Should he truly ever fall in love he will no longer be a man, but a beast. A hunting beast of the forest, a horror, an abomination. And if Inga is ever to leave the cage she has built for herself, she will become a bird and die a bird’s little death.
One corner of Freya’s mouth curls upward. It’s only fitting, she tells herself. It’s what they deserve.
Perhaps Inga is not as slow and stupid at magic as Freya has always assumed. She narrows her eyes and takes Freya’s wrists in her long and delicate fingers. “Should I lose my prince,” she says, and Freya feels the hooks and claws of Inga’s spell catching at her sinews, digging into her bones, “you will take the form of a raven white and be bound to me in his place for all eternity. Your freedom will come only when you lose what you love most.”
The two woman step apart from each other, their teeth bared.
“So be it,” says Freya.
Years pass, and nothing changes. The old king and his wife die, and the prince and his pretty Inga take their place. They have a little son, an heir who grows spoiled and wild under the long shadows of the castle.
She cannot watch their happiness, so Freya leaves the castle and goes into the darkest parts of the forest, weaving her solitude around her. Briefly, she takes a suitor. A man she barely cares for, but he gives her a daughter before he leaves, and she keeps the girl as close to her as she can, never letting her leave the sanctuary of the deepest heart of the forest. She weaves spells around the Within, cocooning it in magic. In protection.
Even this is not enough, and Freya’s daughter escapes her mother’s clinging confines and runs far from the icy forest, following the sun and the promise of freedom.
Time slips slow and strange, long and short and inbetween, and Freya and Inga begin to forget. Their children have grown to adulthood, and nothing has ever happened. The prince is a king, and the head of the white hart still watches the hall while cobwebs gather in its antlers. The king’s other trophy is perhaps less beautiful, but she has been tempered by the years, and so has the king. For the first time, he sees her as a person, as someone who makes him laugh at spilled milk and spoiled fruit. She in turn has begun to so see him as just a man, with flaws and facets. The mirror has tarnished but she has put aside dreams of love and settled for days that do not last too long. And she has her son, a distraction and a hope that things will be better for him.
Curses are not bound by time or memory.
The day the king becomes a beast, the day the man falls in love, Freya knows it. Inga has lost her once-handsome prince to love, he is nothing but a beast.
Freya is deep in the heart of the forest – the Within that is hers and hers alone – when the pain reshapes her body. Her feet turn to claws and her arms are jerked out of shape and rearranged. She is shrouded in feathers, and like a fine chain, she feels the magic pulling her through the skies to Inga’s windowsill at the very top of the castle. It is already deserted, the servants have fled. In the courtyard, the king-that-was prowls the flag stones, his great claws raking gashes through the pitted stone.
“What have you done?” Inga says through gritted teeth.
The raven caws, flicks its white feathers. “What I promised. He is no man.” She thinks of the daughter she loves, long since fled from the Within, and hopes that her run-away child will stay safe.
Inga presses her lips into a thin line, and tightens her grip on the ledge so that her finger bones show whitely beneath her thin skin. Her hands are beginning to age, just a little, and Freya can see wrinkles gathering at the corners of her eyes. Fine threads of silver weave between the gold of her hair. “And what happens if I leave this monster now, tell me?”
“You will become a little bird. You will have no more brains or heart than a wren.” The raven bows. “And then you will die.”
And Freya knows that her jealousy has betrayed her, that she has lost everything. “I cannot.”
“Then – do something.” The desperation rises in Inga’s voice, making it brittle.
The raven can only twist and braid, twist and braid, twist and braid, pulling the threads of the curse into a neater shape. “There,” she says when she is done. “The prince will be a man again, but only when the one he loves, loves him in return.”
For a long moment Inga says nothing. She smiles instead, her eyes far away. Her smile is terrible. “And my son?”
Freya knows what she is asking; if the curse will follow him, if he too will be made a beast by his desire. “Send him away,” Freya says, and for the first time she feels regret. The boy is an innocent but even innocents will be caught in curses. “Send him far from magic and mystery and true love.”
Inga closes her eyes. “There is no place far enough for him to run from love.”
“Out of the forest, into the world of science and now. There he will be safe from curses.”
“He will hate me, he will not understand,” Inga says, and Freya’s broken heart breaks more because she has done this to the one she once held dearest.
“Better to hate you, better to hate everyone,” Freya says softly and they both look to the beast below. “Than to be a man who falls in love.”
“Or his keeper.”
The first snow has begun to drift from the clouds and far below, the beast roars into the flurry and the falling night. The curses work their way deeper and Freya knows she must turn her heart to stone and forget her daughter. She must stay a raven and belong only to Inga so that the girl can live.
She bows her head and empties her mind of regret. There is an eternity to unremember love.
(This story is free; you don’t owe me anything. If you liked what you read and you’d like to support my work, consider the button below my open violin case. Thank you.)
I’ve had people ask me if I have a preference for where I’d like them to buy from, and really, whatever is easiest for you. if you can, the best would be to support a local indie, or a place that makes you happy.
Right. Crop rotation. You probably learned about this in school, yeah, but a quick refresher – you have four+ fields, in each you plant a different crop, the following year, you move all the crops along, and you give one of the fields a rest, planting it up with something like vetch to give nitrogen and stuff back to the soil.
Okay? We clear?
And why the hell am I talking bout crop rotation?
Because I’ve come to a realisation thanks to Beth Wodzinski about how the various pursuits she loves all draw from the same energy source, and that got me thinking about how I do something similar.
I think, somehow, writing, yoga, and art all require the same kind of energy from me.
I have only so much whatever, and when I feel like I can’t write anymore, I should not look at it as stalling, or writers’ block, but as an opportunity for crop rotation.
So right now, instead of freaking out that I’m not working on a book, I am planting a different seed. (If you follow me on instagram or twitter, yeah soz, have been picspamming. :P) I’m working on other creative things – fixing things in the house, doodling, gardening.
These all are good for my creative brain, and they fulfill the need to be making something, while also being productive and giving the word-field a chance to recover, to get rich and fertile in time for the next season.
Busy prepping for the 2015 school year, and one of the ideas I came up with while walking, was this tree.
I painted this today (that’s our school room wall, also known as the dining room to normal people), with the idea that when school starts I will make leaves from three different colour cards. Tentatively these cards are green, orange and pink, but we’ll see what the shop has
The plan is for at the beginning of each week for both Spawn to write on a green leaf a goal for the week (can be big or small) and on the orange one a little idea or suggestion to make school better.
At the end of the week they will write something they’re proud of achieving on a pink leaf. Slowly through the year we should see our tree coming into leaf.
I might add teacher cards like birds or fruit for things I think of through the year, still mulling that thought around.
Anyway, both Spawn are very excited about the project, and that’s a good way to start off a year.
My friend Elissa Hoole has been making doodles, and I loved what she was doing so much that I was inspired to go buy some fineliners and paper yesterday, and scribble away.
Doodling is safe. It’s okay if I fuck up because it’s just a doodle. No one expects it to be a masterpiece. So I can just enjoy the process. Something I’m remembering from doodling is that it all looks crap until you add more. More colour, more layers, more shading, more line.
Applies to books to yes?
I need to get back to The Silver Bowl, and I need to not worry about fucking up, because it’s just a doodle and I can rework it later, and with every layer of detail, it will look less crap.
South African writers can be really hard to get hold of outside The Country, but more and more SA publishers are making the books available as ebooks. (hush, it takes us a while to catch up sometimes.)
There’s a huge range of fiction coming out of SA – from the things you’d expect, like political, heavy-hitting, narrative journalism, to completely alternate world fantasy.
So here are two very different books to look at and add to your ereader.
Loss has left Ella Spinner alone to care for her husband, Bart, who suffers from clinical depression. Their days now echo the tides: any progress made, rolls back. Yet Ella keeps pushing against the monotony. Set in Mossel Bay, Ella’s day begins like any other. But on this day the minutes begin to crack allowing change to filter through. As we cheer on her tenacity, we’re left asking ourselves what motivates anyone to try again.
Tiah Beautement is an American-Brit living on the Garden Route with her South African husband, kids, dog and a flock of chickens. In between her own writing, she helps run Short Story Day Africa. This Day (Modjaji 2014) is her second novel. She’s @ms_tiahmarie on twitter.
Going from contemporary adult novels to fantastical middle grade, we come to
Sometimes having a fairytale prince as a best friend can be a real pain.
Jay didn’t realise that sticking up for Rowan, the gangly new kid at school, would plunge him into the dangers and politics of the magical realm of Sunthyst. But if anyone is up for the challenge it’s Jay September. With his trusty dog, Shadow, at his side, he braves the Watcher in the dark that guards the tunnels between the worlds, and undertakes a dangerous quest to rescue the prince.
It’s a race against time – can he sneak Prince Rowan away from under King Lessian’s nose and bring him safely back home – all before the prince’s sixteenth birthday? Or is Rowan’s mother, the exiled Queen Persia, secretly trying to hold onto her power by denying her son his birthright?
Jay is ready for anything, except, perhaps, the suffocating darkness of the tunnels. And that howling …
Nerine Dorman considers herself a human doing rather than a human being, which suits her fine, because she has a broad range of interests, including music, literature, history, magic, gardening and looking after her pets (which includes a husband). Her favourite genres include fantasy, horror and SF. She is currently studying for her BA in Creative Writing through Unisa, and works for a newspaper publisher when she’s not editing or writing.
2014 Year in Review: 1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
Took up archery, French, and Aikido. Started reviewing books for print media. Adopted battery hens, became a guinea pig parent. Started weight-lifting.
2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
tbh, I don’t even remember what they were.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
No? Some family members, i think, but they are people I hardly ever see.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
Not this year! Hooray!
5. Where did you travel?
This has been a travel-free year, paying the house-stuff meant not being able to go anywhere this year. Though I did mange to get away for one day to Franschhoek for the lit festival (and ice cream :D)
6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
More compassion, for myself and those around me.
7. What would you like to have less of in 2015?
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Getting some shorts published in Apex and F&SF,
9. What was your biggest failure?
home schooling, probably.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Spent this year feeling very tired, for no reason.
11. Did anyone close to you get married or divorced?
Eh, I stay out of this stuff.
12. What was your favorite family adventure this year?
Dunno about favourites, but this year we took the kids (and hounds) up the mountain a lot more, and it’s been good for them and us.
13. What was the best thing you bought?
A house in my favourite place in Cape Town!
14. Where did most of your money go?
A house in my favourite place in Cape Town!
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Buying my bow and rest of my archery kit.
16. What song will always remind you of 2014?
manic street preachers – europa geht durch mich
17. Compared to this time last year, you are: Happier?
Hmm, about the same
No, but stronger. RAWR!
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
getting upset by stupid things.
20. How will you be spending Christmas?
With my family, hugging urbuddy.
21. Who were you friends with this year?
eh, people. This is an odd question.
22. Did you fall in love in 2013?
I’m always in love.
23. Did you lose touch or regain touch with anyone important this year?
Still tentative, but looks like my brother and I are rebuilding our relationship.
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Eh, hate. There are some people who annoy me more so I stay out of their sphere, but hate is a strong word.
25. What was your favorite TV program?
Hmmm, In the Flesh and Call the Midwife are probably tied.
26. What was the best book you read?
Best is relative, I have a list of favourites I’ll talk about in another post.
27. What was your favorite film of this year?
Not of this year, but the first time I’ve seen it and I loved the animation – Azur et Asmar
28. What was the best thing you ate?
Shrimp tempura (it’s been a bad year culinary-wise, i admit)
29. What made you laugh this year?
The Spawn, and the things they say/do
30. What made you cry this year?
Many things, but that’s part and parcel of dealing with depression.
31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 37, and I climbed the mountain and then watched The Princess Bride on my projector with some good friends.
32. What was your happiest/proudest moment this year?
Probably the F&SF sale, let’s not kid.
33. What was your saddest moment this year?
eh…a long series of publishing moments
34. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
desperate and sad
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
BENNY LIZARD, but really I dunno, I just like how weird he looks. like a Byronic Lizard Person
36. What current event affected you the most?
So many depressing things happened this year, but because of who and where I am, few of them had any real personal effect on me, let’s be honest.