Tag Archives: Writing



It’s kinda odd to be (sort-of) included in a Steampunk Storybundle because I’ve never considered myself a massive fan of the steampunk/clockpunk movement. (despite the fact that there are some awesome names there – Cat Rambo, Genevieve Valentine – obviously I need to check my presumptions at the door like whoa). Partly it was because a lot of the “Victoriana But With Goggles!” motif felt very one-dimensional, but there are writers in the genre who I’ve enjoyed. They take a slightly different angle with the concept, and the stories are substance over flash. You’ll see there is also the South East Asian steampunk collection, The SEA Is Ours, in that bundle, so definitely not a one-dimensional package.

When I was  initially asked if I’d be interested in contributing to a ghost steampunk anthology my first thought was “why me?”. Then I realised I’ve been writing so much stuff that fits a loose definition of the genre but without the Victorian and colonial trappings, so I plunged back into my Three Dog Dreaming-verse, and wrote a story about love and ghosts and roosters, which was included in the anthology Ghost In The Cogs.



It is winter in Pal-em-Rasha and all the roosters have been strangled. We are in mourning. The prince was born white and strange, his dead sister clinging to his heel, and since then, three weeks have passed without cock-crow.

People work with their heads bowed and their lips pinched. In the markets—normally ringing with calls and shouts and trades—money falls from palm to palm in muffled offerings. Even the People of the Dogs wrap the hooves of their shaggy red oxen with rags when they come down to the city from their mountain homes. Peasants chase the monkeys away from the orange groves and the tamarind trees, and the leaves hang dry and limp. The little brown doves do not heed the king’s order for silence, and they line the buildings, chuckling at each other in low coos, taking turns to steal the fallen rice from between the road stones.


I would definitely recommend that readers also check out the work of Beth Bernobich and Lisa Mantchev if they want to read more within the genre.

The End of Love, or just Burn Out?

What happens when the thing you used to love makes you so miserable that the thought of doing it means you end up sleeping for two hours instead?

How do you get love back, or is there a time when you have to look at something and just gently admit that it’s over?

It’s a tough question and one I am currently struggling with. (So, I’m not going to have any answers. But maybe you will. I’m all ears.)

Untitled design

I’ve always struggled with a cyclic approach to writing – there are times I can hammer out a book in three months, and times when I’d rather scoop out my own eyes with a spork than write. Normally I call those fallow periods me time to refill the well. I concentrate on reading, watching films or shows, going hiking, etc etc. But what happens when there’s never an upswing anymore, and the thought of *reading* is depressing? (confession, we are one month into the year, I have no managed to get through a single book yet.)  What do you do then?

At this point I’m still grimly clinging to the idea that the love will come back and until then I have to just do the bare minimum to keep myself vaguely motivated. But it’s hard. Because I hate it right now.

Partly it’s to do with not selling any books in a while (and I have a backlog sitting on sub, waiting to go on sub). The slump magnifies my fear that I’ll never sell again, that my work is just too small for current publishing trends.

So I look at selfpub and what I see is you must have a new book out every six months, you must have a series and the work and the first must be perma free, you need to hard-market, you need to, you need to, you need to, and I just feel this crushing tsunami of despair.

None of this is me. Six months to write, revise, rewrite, edit, typeset, organise covers etc etc, for one book, and then do the same thing again as soon as it’s over? When right now I can barely get 100 words down without wanting to slit my own throat?

Yeah, I dunno.

So, do I hate writing? Do I hate writing right now? Do I hate what publishing is right now? Do I step back and away and find something else to do with my life? These are all questions I’m struggling with.

Have you ever burned out on something you used to love? (not necessarily writing: any hobby, especially if it turned professional) What if your identity is strongly tied to what you do? How did you deal with it? Did the love ever come back?



An Update on Newsletters

Once, long ago, I tried to get the whole newsletter thing going but it all felt very frustrating for me and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do the sort of thing I saw in other author newsletters. I’m not really the type of writer who is going to hand you a how-to on publishing, or an ebook on marketing. Man, if I knew how to do those things properly, I’m sure I would have a great newsletter for you. But I’m still learning.

What I do know how to do is be myself. Sometimes that means I witter on about inspirations, or I talk about the books I’ve read or shows I’ve watched. Sometimes it means snippeting, or cheerleading people to write 100 words with me. Sometimes it means arting, or running, or wibbling. Occasionally I’ll come to a realisation about writing or publishing and share my moment of *ahem* genius with the world at large.

So that’s what you’re going to get when you subscribe to a newsletter written by me. It’ll be me, being me. A roundup of me. If that doesn’t get you excited then I don’t know what will.

But just in case that didn’t work, I’m giving you two choices:





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.

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 post shared 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.

Gimme100 and the May Patreon Project

May is feeling pretty damn stressful. I’m still trying to sort out paperwork for the UK immigration thang, I miss that guy what I married once, I may have an aikido grading coming up, I’m still fixing the house, and I’m trying to reignite an old project for the agent-person. Add to that, I’ll be away part of May for the Kingsmead Book Fair.

Hev1LeLSo yeah. Feeling a wee bit eeeeeeek.

But mainly I need to be productive and all that nonsense, so to that end I have two small projects running. The first is a twitter-based bit of fun designed to get over that horrible feeling of, “oh god, words, they are scary, I cant make them, I’m going to watch Sherlock (again) instead.”

It’s called #gimme100, and the premise is that simple – give me 100 words every day. You can write more, but don’t write less.

and people have started joining in, which is pretty cool.

My other project is for Patreon, where I’m growing a story from seed, showing how I grow, compost and prune a short piece of writing.

Growing Stories in small spaces

Create Small

#createsmallThis morning I was having one of my daily meltdowns where I decide I can’t do anything and everything I try I will fail at.

Read More →

More Fool Me

I have a lot of bad writing days. A LOT of them.

even ALOT

ALOTMostly these days are just me beating myself up for sucking so badly. (They often happen after I read reviews that call my books wastes of paper, include links educating me on how to write, or say I should be beaten with my own book, and other such manna for the writing soul 😉 ).

Thing is, if I let myself not write because of this, then these people have won. They’ve crushed me, they’ve made me believe that I am not only the most talentless hack to hack, but that I don’t deserve to write at all, let alone be published.

And you know what?




So I have ways of getting myself past the terror (“oh god, what if they’re right, what if I am deluding myself, what if I should have studied accountancy?”) and getting words down. Since we’re deep into Nano territory, I figured I’d share my little tricks. Maybe one of them will help you when you’re stuck in the empty well of self-loathing.

Not all my tricks work all the time. I have to use them like a deck of cards, shuffle them, and keep drawing new ones until I find the leering, winking joker that will work today, right now, for this story.

1: Square Brackets of Absolution. Ive talked about them before. They’re basically me allowing myself to be shit. If I open the [I know I can type any old rubbish and it clearly doesn’t matter and I don’t have to feel guilty because lookee here they are within the brackets and therefore DO NOT COUNT as real writing and so I can chill with the whole performance anxiety claptrap.] Which is nice. And does rather help get the flow started.

2: 100 Words. I set myself the amazingly high goal of one hundred words. My brain, which prior to this was hiding in a corner and sobbing under a blankie, now feels slightly less threatened by the sheer amount of work expected of it, and comes out to play for a bit. It is very rare that I don’t end up writing more. Just the act of setting the bar so low gives me confidence to get started.

3: 15 minute egg timer. I have an egg timer which gets used for writing. I set it for fifteen minutes, with the knowledge that I can do any amount of horrible things (like clean my house) for fifteen minutes. I am allowed no distractions – I have to write for the duration, no twitter, no fb, no “research”. If all I do is type god this is really boring I am so bored maybe I should make my characters eat each others’ brains because at least that would be more interesting than staring at this boring screen then that’s good because progress, of sorts. This can be made social if you’re competitive, go have word wars.

4: Go read. Go read something you love, something that makes you want go write, that inspires you. (Conversely, you could go read some published drivel and return to your work knowing that no matter what, you’re still better than that.)

5: Work on something else. Finish a blog post, write a review, jot out what-if questions on your manuscript (hey! they count as words!), write fanfic, poetry, music. Be ready to go back to work the moment your brain goes “oh hey, I thought of something…”

6: Go watch something. A film or documentary that is in some way related to your work (though not imperative, sometimes surprising ideas come from unlikely places.). If you’re a visual person like me, you might find that watching a period piece, or a documentary can help spark some ideas, especially when it comes to things like landscape, worldbuilding, dress, etc.

Obviously these are just the things that help me, perhaps they wont work for you, or perhaps you have other tricks you’d be happy to share. I’d love to hear them – the more jokers in my pack, the easier it is for me to win this game against my self-loathing.


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.