green-eyed monsters and how to trade them in for creatures with beautiful eyes

I’m not going to pretend, there are days when I look at my fellow writers and am overwhelmed with despair. People who are my peers, but who have series deals and several books out already, and I always start wondering where I go so wrong with my work, why I’m not there with them etc etc.

This is not productive, though god knows we all need a good wallow occasionally. Except it’s stifled my writing, because all I can look at is that compared to them I’m a failure, how my work is just not right, not commercial enough, not appealing enough to editors, or whatever. Whether this is true or not, I can’t even judge. At this point, I feel like it’s true, even though I have sold books, so obviously at some point I’ve written something that hooked editors.

I keep starting stories and then abandoning them because I can’t imagine who would want to buy them.*

So, I guess, I want to know – what are your tricks for getting yourself out of this mindset? What makes you carry on when you feel there’s no point at all to continuing?


*I was chatting to The Boy about this and he said ” I love you babes, but there’s no way to sugar coat this… you suck at marketing,

you have zero idea of what people will buy.” so there’s a chance I am just self-sabotaging here.

Ou Kraal and beyond

Today’s hike was up Ou Kraal to the Spes Bona forest, then along back to Pecks Valley. The total from home to back again was about 13 kms, but it took us 4 hours 25 minutes because *someone* had to go down half the trail on her seven-year-old arse.

ippThe forest is a wonderfully cool haven of wooden walkways (you’re not allowed to disturb the forest) that weave between lichen-shaggy rocks and twisted tree limbs. Because it was early on a Sunday we had the walk to ourselves, and could hear the peeping of frogs and the distant trickle of mountain streamlets.

We took a brief break in Tartarus Cave. We don’t currently have a torch because *someone* used it to go look for chickens in the dark and desn’t know where she put it, so we didn;t venture in very far, but it was a nice respite from the icy winds on that side of the mountain.

ippAgain, we got to enjoy a vast variety of fynbos and other plant and animal life , including spotting some little droseria “nurseries” in the lee of some rocks, and the range of proteas coming in to flower. I particularly loved the contrast of these deadheads swathed in lichen (?)


Paperback Writer

Yesterday, I received a mysterious package.


Upon opening it, I found that When the Sea is Rising Red is now out in paperback, the cover has been tweaked and improved, and it has a sexy sexy new tag line.


Voila! The pretty!



So if you’ve been putting off buying my book because hardcover be pricey, yo, then hie thee to Amazon or B&N or your local bookstore. Because you’re worth it!

Imma workin’ imma workin’

Making words and working on ghost songs

Read More →

A round-up of links

I really should be better at doing this, but I just tweet about things and then forget all about them.



For readers in South Africa who are for some strange reason reluctant to pay Amazon’s exorbitant delivery charges, you can buy the paper-and-ink version of House of Sand and Secrets locally from Megabooks

(For everyone outside SA, I’m afraid we’re still on Amazon for now, will update that.)




And a while ago my short story Waking was published by Apex Magazine, and now there’s a podcast up. This is very exciting because I’m pretty sure that’s my first podcast of a short story. Whee!

Hiking and flower-arranging in my head.

I know I’m exceedingly lucky to live in a really beautiful part of the world. At my doorstep is an ocean, an estuary, and a bunch of mountains. I am spoiled for outdoor activities. I can also be the laziest human in existence, with a tendency to lie around like a bear that just ate an entire wedding cake.

Recently I’ve been making more of an effort to enjoy my world, and one of those things is to go hiking in the mountains with my family. The Western Cape is home to some amazing plant life, and the fynbos is my favorite. It has such a subtle beauty, that pictures really don’t capture it. it’s spring at the moment, so it will be interesting to watch the floral landscape change (already the arum lilies have passed their bloom and are fading away to dune flowers).

I spotted this little (insect eating?) plant while walking. There were only a handful of them, but they were beautiful – I’d love to find out more. I think I need to buy myself a nice fat reference book.



At the top part of the mountain there’s a level area full of little puddles and tiny streams, and the area is where many leopard toads breed, as you can see.


And finally, a view from “round the corner”, across False Bay. You can see the tain tracks below – one of the best parts of the southern line is going along the coastal section. The trains themselves may be dreadful, but the view is killer (I have had a wave throw spray right over the carriage to the other side.)




A quick update.


I have struggled with depression and low self-esteem all my life. Like many writers (I’ve noticed a trend :P), I can remember word for word any negative review of my work, and dismiss the positive ones because…well, I can’t even explain why. It’s not logical. I *know* it’s not logical, but somehow that makes no difference.

In my head, it’s because I know the negative ones are right. My stories do suck, my characters are horrible and awful, I should learn how to world-build, I should stick to my day job. Those voices are just affirming what Inner  Cat already knows. The people who like my work are…lying, for some reason of their own.

Does any of this sound like the thinkings of a logical mind? Not really, right? And yet they are my daily thoughts.

So now a confession. I have a taken a step (or several) towards correcting my problems with depression and self-hatred. Some of these are medical, some are physical, some are small and simple but manage to give me some sense of accomplishment over my life. Like keeping a daily pen-and-paper to-do journal, and breaking everything down into small steps. (It’s not clean the house – it’s make the bed, sweep the floor, fold the laundry, room by room. It’s marking off showering and taking vitamins, and walking the dogs and going to buy milk. Things that I have trouble recognising as accomplishments because I gather to most people they are not. When you are depressed, I promise you, showering *is* a huge fucking accomplishment.)

Physically, I’ve been weight-lifting. This started because I wanted to get better at archery, but has turned into something I really love. I’ve always been pretty weak (upper body especially) so every small gain, every tiny plate I add to that barbell is a giant FUCK YEAH I AM AWESOME and it makes me feel superhuman.

There has been a bizarre downside to feeling better about myself and doing things that make me happy, and that’s been a complete failure to write. Part of me wants to blame it on medication, but I think the truth is that I’m terrified it’s the meds and so I’m too scared to try and have it confirmed. Because then writing is over. I will *not* trade words for the joy of feeling permanently suicidal.

So I’ve been editing an old work, and telling myself that editing, and adding 100 words a day to this thing is writing. I might not be making a new story, but I’m still being creative. Small steps, goals I can reach, goals that don;t make me feel like a failure.

And finally, an apology. I’m sorry I’ve been shitty to a number of people online and in real life recently (and not so recently), I’ve been trying to find a good place in my head, and I think I am a lot closer to it right now, and there’s a weird clarity to it that highlights my awfulness while also saying, okay, it’s over, you can move forward now. I’m going to do better, and be more careful with other people’s feelings.



Not a Review – Devilskein & Dearlove

Devilskein & Dearlove is a whimsical and slightly dark take on the classic The Secret Garden (a book I have always loved, so this was great fun for me.) It is a book of hearts and keys and lies and sacrifices, set in the wonderfully prosaic (a block of flats in Long  Street, Cape Town) and the wonderfully metaphysical (A labyrinth of bartered souls.)

Erin Dearlove is an orphan who is blocking out the horror of her family’s death with an intricate fantasy history, and a cold and bitter demeanour. Sent to live with her Aunt Kate in an apartment in Van Riebeek Heights, she is constantly sneering at the apparent poverty and the people who live there, comparing it unflatteringly with her “previous” life in a mansion with staircases of glass, with peacocks roaming the grounds. She rebuffs the friendliness of fellow teen Kelwyn Talmakies and is isolated even from her aunt, who doesn’t know how to help her.

Miserable and antisocial and damaged, she meets a person even more so than herself – The Companyman Mr. Devilskein, who keeps a fantastical secret in apartment 6616. Devilskein has lived for hundreds of years, bartering the souls of people desperate for fame or love or genius, and making it so that they can never reclaim those souls,  trapping them in his interconnecting worlds behind a series of doors called The Indeterminate  Vault; the keys all unmarked and muddled. In Erin and Kelwyn, Devilskein sees a chance at immortality – he will take the children’s hearts to replace his own failing one.

But there are other factors at play – the cricket Zhou who guides Erin through the fantastical world, and a shadow boy called Julius Monk, trapped in the Haga; a doorless,
windowless prison. Both play Erin for their own purposes – capturing her with friendship real and false. Zhou guides Erin to a Chinese garden behind a turquoise door, and there, is where Erin begins to grow back her lost self, by caring for a garden that was salted with tears, and bringing it back to life. The book is layered with this kind of delightful metaphor, and deep readers will get a lot from the shadings that writer Alex Smith uses to deepen the narrative.

Through the story, Erin changes from the sour, lost teenager who invented a fantasy past, to one who is powerful, artistic, and brave, one who will be able to finally face the horror of her parents’ and brother’s murders, and see real magic. She is fooled by false friendships and rejects true ones, but it will take these actions for her to change her world, and be able to free lost souls, and save a city.

The story has magical charm, embroidered with sensory details, and is a lovely and strange little book. The characters are all very different, though I would say the one thing that I found jarring was that sometimes the ages of the teen characters were hard to place. I knew they were teens, but often they read younger than that, which may also be down to trying to capture a little of the spirit of the source material.

Published by Umuzi Press, so although the book is available in South Africa, overseas readers will probably have to go through Amazon to get a copy.


So! Stuff has been happening. I’ve started my eldest Spawn at archery with me. She was rather upset at not being good but I pointed out she’s had 2 lessons. I’ve had way more and I’m still pretty terrible (though slowly getting better). The point is to have fun. You don’t have to be good at everything – that way lies despair because you will never be The Best or The Most Perfect. You just have to be the best you or else you’ll drive yourself to misery because other people are better than you.


Which brings me to running…. well walking. The Boy and I have been doing trail runs together, and by trail runs I mean we walk all the uphills because yeah… It’s been a fantastic good time though, and our last one is this Saturday and I can’t wait. Not because it’s the last – because they are so much fun, and I wish I had one every weekend.


In other good news, my story has made the longlist for the Short Story Day Africa 2014 anthology, Terra Incognita, which means it will be in the anthology, WOOH YEAH! The final judge is Nnedi Okorafor – so how cool is that?



And the cover for my very very very very loose take on Beauty and the Beast, Beastkeeper, has been revealed by The Book Fairy, so go check it out. I LOVE it, so I’m a very happy cat right now.

Book-keeping, and two quick not-reviews

I’ve sent this version of N&V off to a couple of beta readers. I’m too close to this draft to see the right shape. i know things are missing, but I’m not sure what. Hopefully, some outsider views can give me a better picture.


Working on a new book, just a fun little thing for me, and reading. So here are two small not-reviews.



City of Dreams Cover EBOOK LARGECity of Dreams is the first in a planned historical series following the life and adventures of Anna, who starts off as the young daughter of a Russian furrier, and by the end of this book has changed cities, married a scoundrel, fallen from grace, become a mistress-for-hire, and slowly rebuilt her life in Paris.

Set in the lead up to and during the Franco-Prussian war, it’s a fast-paced and enjoyable read. The writing is invisible (a type that’s surprisingly hard to master), with little in the way of metaphorical ornamentation, but it works well with the first person narrative of Anna herself, and I found that I’d finished the book within a few hours in a single sitting.

I can’t speak to the accuracy of the history, but we do see the horror of living through a war, and again through the internal unrest in Paris during the rise and defeat of the Communards.

Anna makes connections and friends in Paris (sometimes a little too easily for my taste, though) that see her through the terrible things she must endure. She might start off the story aa a naive little child-bride, with seemingly barely a thought in her head, but she is quickly thrown into unexpected circumstances that give us her true mettle, and by the end she has matured and taken on something of a grave and quiet responsibility to those who have helped her.

There is romance, but it is not the impetus and is far from cloying. The real focus is not on Anna’s romantic entanglements, but on how she develops, and on the network of people she gathers around her. It’s a novel more of friendships than love affairs.

I will be looking forward to reading more of Steel’s work.



lighthousekeepingWe are lucky, even the worst of us, because daylight comes.

Lighthousekeeping is a story about stories. We meet the narrator Silver as a child, her story told in the framework of the improbable. Child-Silver seems like something from a fairy-tale, albeit a dark and thin one. Fatherless, then orphaned, and finally handed on to the Lighthouse Keeper of Salts, she grows up strange, her world made of dark and light. Pew is blind, and he teaches her about light. How stories are light, and how it isn’t light that saves the sailors, but stories.

Eventually the lighthouse is automated (the stories lost) and Silver must venture into another world, one she barely seems to understand. Reality is something she cannot truly grasp, though perhaps it could be said her quest for reality becomes her quest for love.

Intertwined in Silver’s story are others about light and dark, man and man-beast, love and magic – Pew tells her the story of Babel Dark and Molly O’Rourke, and there are others; Tristan and Isolde, and the two parallels of Robert Louis Stevenson and Darwin (magic and humanity intertwined with science and evolution).

Our story is so simple. I went to bring you back for someone else, and won you for myself. Magic, they all said later, and it was, but not the kind that can be brewed.

And the final story, of Adult-Silver, recounting love. because love is also a story, and she tells her lover the words that shape them.

Turn down the daily noise and at first there is the relief of silence. And then, very quietly, as quiet as light, meaning returns. Words are the part of silence that can be spoken.

I’m a huge fan of Winterson’s style – her descriptions, the puzzle-piece way her novels are structured. I really enjoyed this read, constantly wanting to underline phrases and lines. If you’re looking for a structured plot and a grand climax, you’re not going to get it. This is more intimate. It is overheard conversations, remembering pieces of stories while falling asleep. And it’s beautiful for it, like almost understanding the truth