Category Archives: Afrique Du Sud

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….


Officially Official: Scotland, Prepare Yourself

It’s my husband’s birthday today (happy borning day, spousal unit!), and yesterday the universe gave him probably the best gift ever. It sure beat my hairbrush (what? he has lots of hair, he needs a detangling brush…).

The upshot of Awesome Present is we now know where we’re moving to. Some of you know we’ve been planning to emigrate, and now it’s official. In 2 weeks, The Boy will be in Dunfermline, Scotland, and before the end of this year, we will be joining him.

I am so excited about this new adventure, even if I’m freaking out a little about the cost, and leaving friends and family, and starting from scratch in a new country at age 39… Ha! But, I think it will be awesome, and I cannot wait to see my new home. 😀


Once we’re there this may become something of an immigrant’s blog as I track my experiences, so, fair warning.

Auf Wiedersehen, Chooks

Wow, it’s getting closer and close to Leaving Day.


The chooks get rehomed on Sunday, which kinda slams home the reality that we are actually doing this.

May you enjoy your new free land, poultry-peeps. You have been good eggers.



Life is kinda weird and you should roll with it

I’m the fantasy writer without a home.

I don’t write the kind of genre that people can pretend is literary (Science Fiction, basically), but I’m also not endlessly rewriting The Lord of The Rings, so I can feel rather lost and overlooked. Too fantasy for “real” readers and not fantasy enough for “fantasy” readers. I also made the mistake of selling YA and children’s books so yanno, obviously not a proper writer.

Ha! This was meant to be a YAY COOL SHIT HAPPENED TO ME post and instead it became me eyerolling at speculative fiction/lit fiction divides.

Anyway, there was a point to this. OH YES. So there’s a short story writing prize in Africa, which I never submitted to because, yanno, Not Literary Writer Person. Then, for last year’s anthology, Short Story Day Africa decided to concentrate on a speculative approach, and as luck would have it, I ended up on the long list and my short story Mouse Teeth was included.

When this year’s theme came around (Water) I debated sending something in. After all, Not Literary Writer Person. But I knew that the organisers were actively trying to widen the net for the kinds of stories that were being submitted, so I thought welp, okay, I have nothing to lose. If they don’t take it, it goes back on the submission mill.

I wrote Serein, realised it was too short for the SSDA guidelines and sent that in to Shimmer (who bought it, because they rock). I still needed to write something to submit to Water, and as usual, I ended up telling a story about people who turn into things because hey, I pretty much love that shit. So. A girl whose family slowly become fish people, until they are drowned and “rise from the dead” as something not human. It’s about liminal space; of being human but not human, fishperson but not fishperson, caught between dry land and water, and belonging to neither. You can read it as a metaphor for many things but it’s about not fitting in, and about choosing a side.

Anyway, luck was with me again, and I made the long list, and then, even more bizarrely, the short list.

And then I got a phone call which more or less went like this:

“Rachel (Zadok) is in Nigeria right now, at AKE, announcing the SSDA winners.”

“Yeah, I know, I’m on the shortlist.” <<<this is me being confused, like, yeah….

“No, honey. You won.”

“Oh.” <<<me, looking for candid cameras. “Are you sure?”

As it turns out, it was not an elaborate joke. So yeah, my first actual award for anything and it is pretty swell and I am chuffed. 😀

And I get to go have celebratory gin with Alex Latimer and Mark Winkler, because they are awesome.


Many thanks to all the slush puppies, judges, editors, and most of all to Rachel Zadok, Tiah Beautement and Nick Mulgrew, without whom there would be no Short Story Day Africa

Some Rather Nice News

Last night was Bloody Parchment, the literary wing of Cape Town’s annual Horrorfest. This was the first year Bloody Parchment joined the rest of Horrorfest at the main venue (the wonderful Labia Theatre) and I think it was a good move to bring the two together.

I was one of several writers reading that night – some read their own work, some chose to read other people’s stories, and there was a nice mix of classic horror, from the usual horror icons of serial killers and monsters, to plagues, man-hunting dogs, dead film stars, and soul-swapping zombies, and finally to chat about the films and fiction of horror icon Clive Barker.  Prizes were won, wine was quaffed, popcorn munched, jelly brains and eyes squished, and Nosferatu watched over everyone like a really ugly angel.

Thanks to all those who came through, and to all the organisers and participants for inviting us along. 😀 It was also really nice to meet some new writers, because as you can tell, Cat doesn’t get out much.

So that was fun, and then I got to start my weekend with some good news, when a friend of mine pointed out I’d made the Short Story Day Africa short list. So that’s pretty cool, yes indeed, I think I owe myself a glass of vino now.

Also Nano starts soon! YIKES!  I was hoping to get EM done by then, but alas, not yet, so I will just keep keeping on, and cheering you all from the side lines.





SSDA flows on


There is one week left to submit your story to one of Africa’s premier short fiction anthologies – Short Story Day Africa.

Along with Rachel Zadok and Nick Mulgrew, Tiah Beautement is one of the three people at SSDA , and we spoke a little about the project.

Thank you to Tiah for taking the time out to have a chat. 😀

Cat: What about Short Story Day Africa and its aims do you think makes it an important feature for African writers?

Tiah: Short Story Day Africa is run on the continent with the love and support of African writers. This is something Africa owns, not something given to the continent from somewhere else. We are promoting our writers and stories while pushing each other to improve and raise up our game without trying to please an off-continent audience. This is about self-respect.

This is hugely important to me, as a mother of two children. I still remember watching my eldest’s first pre-primary concert. All the music they played was from artists overseas. I thought about what situations like this tell our children – if you want to be respected for what you do you need to leave. Which is bullsh-t.

When my children are adults, if they want to travel, that’s fine (so long as they pay for it). The world is an interesting place. But I don’t want them feeling they must go overseas in order for their skills to be respected. I want them to see that there are brilliant things happening right where they were raised. Short Story Day Africa is my way of proving that.

Cat: What’s been the most exciting development you’ve seen since you’ve been on board with the project?

Tiah: Short Story Day Africa is an exciting development in itself.

I’ve was a participant in SSDA from its first year, back in 2011, when it didn’t even have a contest and Rachel Zadok was both its creator and its only official team member. In 2012 I became team member number two, we ran the first contests and the project morphed into a child with rollerskates. We are now a team of three, chasing this kid zooming downhill and showing no signs of slowing down. The project evolves, bends and expands, both in response to what people want and what our resources allow. The fact that we’ve not only managed to keep this runaway child alive, but also flourish, is both an amazing and thrilling achievement.

Cat: SSDA is a grassroots approach to short story writing  – tell us a little about the workshops, the editing, the submissions to awards etc that SSDA does to polish its new and emerging writers.

Tiah: Writers that make our longlist – stories that will be published in our anthology – get put through a mini-boot camp. This is typically an experience reserved for writers who have a novel or a collection being published. But being paired with an editor is how a writer truly learns to take their writing to the next level. Our editors create a conversation between themselves and writers, pointing out plot holes, unnecessary description, sections that drag, where dialogue sounds the same. They go back and forth until everyone is satisfied. It’s like being a runner and finding a coach to train for the big race.

As to workshops on the ground, we do have a history of encouraging writers, in the spirit of SSDA, to host workshops in their local area, especially where youth is concerned. This year we’ve changed it up. For starters, we now hold #WriterPrompt. Twice a month a prompt is given and writers can post a story of up to 200 words. A member of the SSDA team moderates, while giving constructive feedback and encouragement. Participants are further encouraged to comment and provide thoughts on each other’s work. This year we’ve also been highly fortunate to have special funding ProHelvetia and the Swiss Arts Council to participate in SDC Regional Cultural Programme. This enabled us to have writers from Malawi, Zimbabwe and Botswana attend a course run by established writers in their own country.

While courses and workshops carry different themes, the overlying message is to craft your work with rewrites. As somebody who has read stacks and stacks of submissions, the biggest thing holding the majority of writers back is that they send in first drafts. Yes, they fix their punctuation and grammar. But this amounts to putting a first draft in a clean dress. These first drafts – clean dress or otherwise – don’t get published. I also suspect that rather than take the rejected story and try to make it better, the writers are moving on to write completely new stories. A pile of first drafts don’t create a ladder to publishing dreams. Which is why, on places like #WriterPrompt, we encourage writers to keep editing the first story they post for that prompt, rather than posting numerous stories over the two week period.

Cat: How do we tell stories and use language in a different way from Western story-telling?

Tiah: This is difficult to answer because Africa, as you know, is a massive place with many cultures, languages and influences. So while there are different approaches to telling a story, and some of these reflect a tradition the writer has grown up in, I can’t make a blanket statement.

Which I suppose is the point. It is not so much that African story-telling is different than Western story-telling, than it is about an African writer being able to tell stories without having to conform to a Western-reader-check-list. African stories might be about poverty, sex or vampires, but in a manner based on being in Africa rather than exploring Africa through a series of limited microscope lenses. Which means writers submitting to SSDA are not obliged to write their stories for an assumed Western reader. A writer in the United States wouldn’t be expected to explain to readers what caddy-corner means or the phrase ‘look two; go one.’ So yes, an American reader of a South African tale might initially get the wrong idea when they read about a taxi stopping at a robot. But if African readers can figure out Western stories, Western readers should be able to do the same. Having to write for outside readers changes the flow of a story and ‘others’ the characters and place.

Cat: There is no one Africa, and yet the international world sees us as the “dark continent” – an illiterate starving mass of indistinguishable faces. This is very disheartening for writers in Africa who are often expected to write a kind of “poverty-aids-orphan porn” to show the “real” Africa. If you were to highlight the sheer variety of stories that we tell, could you pick four writers and their stories to share with us?

Tiah: I’m not sure where to begin. There is so much out there that we can, easily, post on FB and twitter a daily #amreading – a previously published story from one of the many organisations putting out new content. Nor do we have any trouble filling in our #WriterWednesday slot, where we feature an African writer on our social media along with conducting an interview. There is so much talent and stories out there that it is rather amazing how people can remain oblivious.

From our anthologies, however:

Feast Famine and Potluck produced two Caine Prize shortlisters: ‘Chicken’ by Efemia Chela which has a character contemplating selling her ovaries and ‘My Father’s Head by Okwiri Oduor (who won) where the main character calls up her dead father to remember his face.


Terra Incognita was won by Diane Awerbuck. She describes her story ‘Leatherman’ as Tokoloshe porn. Mary Okon Ononokpong wrote ‘Editöngö, which is a creepy tale of a spirit that is continuously reborn.




Twitter: @ShortStoryAFR

Tiah Marie Beautement is the author of two novels: award nominated This Day (2014, Modjaji) and Moons Don’t Go To Venus (2006, Bateleur). Her numerous short stories can be found scattered across the internet and various anthologies. Her day jobs include: running writing courses for youth and adults, a book reviewer for The Sunday Times and is a member of the Short Story Day Africa team.
Find Tiah via her blog – – or on twitter: @ms_tiahmarie

Screaming at the water-cooler

As a writer who works from home, I can be kinda ambivalent about twitter. I follow a pretty wide range of tweeps – activists, game-designers, readers, journalists, other writers, people I have met at parties, artists, celebrity accounts, runners, computer programmers, conservationists, archers, photographers, chefs, mommy-bloggers, Curate-accounts…. so things can get pretty loud and angry sometimes. Lots of opinions, lots of voices all Being Right.


I’m online because twitter is my water-cooler. It’s where I hang out when I have my tea, and interact with Other Humans who are not eight years old. It’s where I get the news (often before it breaks), where I can get sucked into rants and discourses. Unfortunately, for a large portion of last year, twitter started to get really unfriendly. Not to me, particularly, but it became a place where I would be guaranteed to leave fuming. People fighting non-stop, throwing tantrums, trolling, being cruel – both in attack and defense. It became a pretty shitty place to hang out with tea.


I quietened down some of the people I was following, which helped, but I refuse to simply turn twitter into an echo-chamber, where everyone always agreed with me, and me alone. I became a lot faster on the mute-button, allowing that there were days where people I otherwise liked were just pushing me too close to a ragey edge.


But I wanted to see good there again. I wanted to see the connections, the community, the sheer force of working to help that twitter can be. I guess I got my wish. So, if you’re not in South Africa, you may not know, but the mountains near where I live are on fire. (#CTFires) It’s a really huge fire, destroying 1000s of hectares of mountain reserve, creeping close to settlements, and generally causing a lot of grief and fear.


But twitter. Wow, twitter and its other social media cousins have been an eye-opener. Just when I’m ready to give up because dear god could people get any more petty – a wave of support comes crashing though the twittersphere, spreading donations, prayers, good thoughts, money, food, time, animal rescue, offers of housing…. People are organising collections, tweeting about the need for more halaal food donations, spreading the numbers of snake and tortoise experts, child care service for fire-fighters… It’s glorious.


When these flames are finally doused, I want to remember what twitter can be for. Not just an ego-loaded mess of opinions and selfies and rants, but a place where we can help others.


And if that sounds all hippie and stuff, welp, then I’m a gorram smelly hippie and proud of it.

The (Mostly) Complete SA Spec Reader

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.


A – Adeline Radloff – Sidekick

– Alex Smith – Devilskein & Dearlove

– Angela Meadon – various short stories and novellas


C – Carlyle Labuschagne – Aftershock, YA dystopia series

– Cat Hellisen – When the Sea is Rising Red, House of Sand and Secrets, Beastkeeper.

– Charlie Human – Apocalypse Now-Now, Kill Baxter


D – Dan Jacobson – Confessions of Josef Baisz

– Dave de Burgh – Betrayal’s Shadow

– Dave Freer – (Dave Freer often writes together with Eric Flint and Mercedes Lackey) – Much Fall of Blood, The Rats the Bats and the Ugly, Pyramid Power, (and loads more.)

– David Horscroft – Fletcher


H – Henrietta Rose-Innes – Ninevah


J – Joan De La Haye – A prolific horror and specfic writer with many works listed here


I – Iain S. Thomas – Intentional Dissonance


L – Lauren Beukes – Moxyland, Zoo City, The Shining Girls, Broken Monsters

– Liesel Schwarz – A Conspiracy of Alchemists

– Lily Herne – Deadlands, Death of a Saint, The Army of the Lost

– Liz de Jager – Banished, Vowed

– Louis Greenberg – Dark Windows


M – Monique Snyman – Collections of short stories, appears to be mainly horror.


N – Nadine Gordimer – July’s People

– Nerine Dorman – Prolific writer of fantasy, horror, and SF – works listed here.


P – Paul Crilley – fantasy (children’s and adults’)


R – Rachel Zadok – Sister-Sister


S –  Sally Partridge – PickPlanet X

–  Sarah Lotz – The Three, Day Four

– S.L. Grey – The Mall, The Ward, The New Girl

– Something Wicked – a South African Horror/SF magazine, still produces anthologies


T – Toby Bennet – Mainly horror and fantasy – works listed here


W – William M. Timlin – The Ship That Sailed to Mars


Good morning, 2015.

This year is ready for me, and I am ready for it



I’m starting out how I plan to go on:


Walked on the beach with the hounds and family, breathing in the smell of storm-raised kelp and rotting seals and salt water.


Had breakfast and champagne, ordered art supplies, and read comics. Felt happy and peaceful, and the tiniest bit itchy with anticipation.


I am so excited for this year.

Not Your Nano day 19 – Holiday!

It’s the start of the summer hols for me and the Spawn, so take this as a free day. We’ve all earned it.



(The truth is am tired from walking to St James and lying in the hot sun. Such a hard life I lead sometimes. :P)