Tag Archives: Fantasy

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


because rambling about world-building is just like world-building

So this sprung out of an email conversation and a thread on a forum.

Now, world-building is kinda the mouth-breathing, socially-unskilled nerd of fantasy. It’s touted as what sets fantasy apart from other genres, and as obsessive pointless wankery. Really, it’s a bit of both.

I have pretty mixed reactions to my world-building in fantasy. Some readers love what I do and find it evocative, and some readers suggest I go read better authors and learn how to do it properly. (I do, in fact, read better authors. I’d have stayed a terrible writer if I hadn’t and didn’t). I can only talk about what I do, though, and if it helps you, that’s cool

>When writing something set in a secondary world I usually start with a close-up image related to the main character (something that tells you about that particular character’s social status, class, money-situation, work, age. You can get a lot of that information across without actually stating anything out right.) At this early point I have a vague idea of what’s happening outside (relative to the MC), and a couple of other key images that set tone for the world.

Most of these early image-scenes don’t even make it into the final draft in their original form. This is fine. It’s like grisaille work in an oil painting – an underpainting that sets out the form and shadows, that gives the artist a blueprint to work from and underpins the end product. You don’t see it (though sometimes you do) but it informs everything about that final finished piece. It gives depth.

So I start with these scraps and forms, and I follow my character through their story. As they move through their narrative, they *have* to, in some way, also move through their world. In the first draft I’m learning story and world. I’m seeing what happens, I’m wondering why this would happen and not that. It’s pretty obvious I am not an outliner, though I have guide-notes for reference, and an idea of resolution (that also changes quite often).

Once I’m done with that, there will be world-building that grew from this process which will directly influence and change the narrative.  This is also fine, it keeps things interesting. Sometimes things happen in real life, or I stumble across an interesting article and I think yesss this is perfect this must go in and I seed it into the fictional universe. Something as simple as taking my dogs for a walk and watching the pied kingfishers hovering and plummeting will thread its way into my book; the sour-mud smell of the air, the squish of goose crap underfoot, the bite of the south-easter. For me, world-building is as much about observation of our world as it is using my imagination to create new things.

I  once heard or read someone talking about how specificity in a novel makes the fantasy world come to life, so instead of using generic words like tree, I’ll say what kind of tree it is, and that sparks more thought – why this tree? What does it say about climate? How would this tree affect the world around it? What kind of furniture would people make from this tree? And then I think about furniture…and the process never ends.  And that’s how the world develops. It is an organic process, and sometimes no matter how cool (or truthful) a world-building element might be, including it throws the story off, so in those places I either smudge, or use smoke and mirrors. Some things are not THAT important in the grand scheme of story. It’s when these elements become more important than your story’s truth, you know you’re headed too far into the realm of writerly wankery.

One of the things I do is use zim wiki to keep world-building notes in order for easy adding and cross-referencing, (and also so I just have a repository of the pointless detail – things like eye colour of some random mentioned once on page 18 of book one who is suddenly a major player in book 3 :P).

So that’s my take on world-building; if you have little tips or tricks or things you do to help build and visualise a strange new world, I’d love to hear. If you want me to expand on something, I’ll do that.

Snippeting from the shadow book

The sunwings have followed me onto the deck and they hover around my shoulders like large, bright wasps, their wings a humming blur. I try walk carefully, one foot neat in front of the other, with the shawl of birds streaming out behind me. I’m thankful that they take some of the attention off my awkward lander’s walk. Already the women of Yuliu boat find me pitiful and strange – an old maid at twenty-seven given to raging headaches that leave her bedridden for days. A pathetic thing, What skills does she bring, they ask themselves,

What skills indeed. I embroider. It’s a quiet art, suitable for land-locked virgin aunties in stone towers. But it’s also a valuable skill, given to those with magic in their hearts.

This is why they tolerate me on their ship. Their ship. It’s hardly mine. The elders of Yuliu are swapping my brother out to Song and I am the burden that travels with him. Poor little Pil. There are enough herders here and he is young and small of a weak green tendril of the Yuliu clan. The girl coming from Song is a good hand with the beasts, they say. The swap is a convenient one. Song gets a new apprentice-driver in exchange for the girl Galeka, and Yuliu can be rid of me in the bargain.

Aunty is dead and my protection is gone. And Pil is just a boy who cannot yet see that the old men and women are trading him off to get rid of the bad luck I will bring.

“Kara!” Pil says. “Look!”

And I do. I have never been to the Island of Shadows. The crescent bay is heaving with estate-boats, like a vast pod of black oil-whales coming to shallow water to calve. They are decked out in tribal flags, family colours and talent-crests, waving bands of bright-dyed silk rectangles that hang from braided sisal ropes. There are iron and ivory bells, some as big as pots and others like strands of little thimbles, and their clanking and calling mingles with the cheers and shouts of the people greeting long-left cousins, exclaiming over growing children, woven cloths, new strings of silvery-grey pearls, beaten gold earrings. Over it all comes the occasional sudden high trumpeting of waders entering their mating season, the thrash of water as a fight begins.

People are making bets, handing out ivory tokens, mother of pearl tokens, the white disks of kreukel-doors.

The shallow waters of the bay are a startling blue like the breast feathers of an island quail-finch in spring, but they are also still and clear, and the bronze shadows of fish dart between the boats as they scavenge for fallen food. Behind the clatter of the boats, a ridged beach rises white-gold to a a low dune forest thick with gnarled little trees and tough grasses. A tower of cliff juts up behind the forest, its black-wet stone studded with moss green and ringing with the high screeching calls of gulls and terns. Their teeming white wings circle the mountain shoulders.

My feet itch to be on stone, not polished wood over water. I take Pil’s hand and let him lead me through the throng. My other hand presses the amulet under my shift, pushing the ridges against my skin. The dead are all asleep and locked away in their iron-lined kists. I am as safe as stone towers. “Tell me which is to be ours.” I say. I have studied flags from the ink-drawing scrolls in Aunty’s house, but they were never that interesting to me. I always preferred her bird scrolls, her leaf-and-flower scrolls – things I could use when I embroidered the hems and sleeves of the robes Aunty brought me.

Yuliu’s flag at least holds my interest a little: a leaping silver-and-black marlin on silk dyed sky-cerulean. Song – Song I do know, but with a million rippling squares of silk in every shade, I cannot spot them. I still myself, like I do when I want the island birds to come to me. The sunwings settle soft on my shoulders and sleeves, their claws like beetle legs through the silk.

“There.” Pil points to a vast ebony estate-boat as long as a southern sea-drake and half as wide again, approaching from the sea. Song. Mighty Song, where Pil and I will just be two useless tokens; kreukel-doors, common as kelp.

Fantasy books also marketed to Young Adults

UPDATE: WOW. just WOW, I have been pointed in the direction of so many very cool-looking titles. Thank you all so much. (And haha, seems I’m just as bad at assuming titles are paranormal or UF when they’re in fact …not. My bad.) I really hope this list proves useful to people, because it is getting EPIC.

(As I have not read most of the books listed, I am making no judgement calls good or bad. The only books I left off were ones that I felt weren’t secondary world, or skewed too young (or I’m waiting for covers closer to release date))


After another weird day where people called my book a dystopian (and I cried) I thought it might be useful to build a resource for current secondary world fantasy that is marketed to Young Adults.


In many cases, these are trilogies or longer running series. In all cases I’ve linked to the first book only.

If you can think of any more (recentish, I am pretty well-acquainted with classic fantasy for younger readers) titles that you think would suit this list, please leave me a comment and I’ll add it in.



Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses. The one who has never done anything remarkable, and can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs her to be the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies, seething with dark magic, are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior, and he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

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