Cat Hellisen's Blog
February 23, 2017
I have a piece up on #FolkloreThursday about the Tooth Mouse myth, so it seems a perfect time to share my story Mouse Teeth, which originally appeared in Short Story Day Africa’s Terra Incognita anthology, a collection of African speculative fiction.
It’s about witches, identity, magic, female power, and, yes, teeth:
(clickenzee pic for story)
February 17, 2017
Spring is making itself known here in Fife. First off was the snowdrops, which I knew from extensive research (reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) are the first sign of spring. Now some purple and yellow flowers have started to appear. I’ve been informed these are crocuses; another plant I only know from books.
One thing there’s no shortage of here in Scotland is water (it’s coming through my roof, which is…less fun), and Water is also the wonderful anthology I am very proud to have been part of. A collection of African short stories from across the continent and diaspora, it received this lovely write up from WAWA BOOK REVIEW:
What plays out in this rich collection is a stimulating re-imagination of water: as giver and taker of life, as nourisher of life and harbinger of woe, as purifier, as an unstoppable change agent. Each of the writers featured in this anthology dares to plunge into deep water to deliver a rich serving, a robust contribution to the discourse of life (reminding us that the African story is not a single trite tale but, like water, a refreshing outlet into the intricate design of a fertile continent).
The review had kind things to say about my story and I was so happy to read this:
Perhaps the boldest in the collection, Cat Hellisen’s ‘The Worme Bridge’ captures the unsettling transformation of an entire family into scaly aquatic creatures. The gripping story almost forcefully drags the reader into the strange world of the unfortunate family, pushing the borders of imagination to the lofty realm from which the writer conceived this grim tale.
If you haven’t yet checked out the anthology, it’s available internationally via Amazon in either paperback or ebook format.
February 16, 2017
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.
February 13, 2017
No, not rugby.
It’s the Great Saffer Scot Food Off! How is this a competition, you may ask? Well, you’d be surprised.
First though, we’re going to start with one that’s sure to divide my readers and have people calling for my blood. *cough*
HAGGIS VS BOEREWORS
I’m afraid to say this isn’t even a competition. Haggis isn’t bad, but you offer me haggis with neeps and tatties, or a boerewors roll I’m not going to waste a second on my decision.
Point South Africa.
IRN-BRU VS CREME SODA
As South African creme soda (which as you can see is green, and tastes like no known substance on earth) is utter shite, and Irn-Bru is possibly my favourite soft drink, the point here goes to Scotland.
MUNCHIE BOX VS NANDOS
I mean from a health perspective I suppose Nandos is better but let’s not kid. When I am looking for take-out I am not making decisions based on how good this crap is for me.
Point – Scotland
hmm with Scotland currently one point in the lead, what can bring SA back? Pickled fish (yes), Biltong (yes), and what will Scotland bring to round two? (whisky, bitches)
January 26, 2017
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.)
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?
January 23, 2017
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:
January 20, 2017
Today is a good day to do something you love.
Just one small thing that brings you joy: it doesn’t have to be big or take a lot of time out of your day, or even something you’re good at, it simply needs to bring you happiness.
For some of us that may be making art or a tuna melt, singing loudly to your favourite musicals, taking a walk, reading/writing show meta, playing a computer game made in 1998, reading a squishy romance, meditating, sword practice, treating yourself to tea and cake in the mid-afternoon. WHATEVER IT IS, go do it today and enjoy it. I’m not going to judge.
(Well, unless the thing that brings you joy is shit-stirring on the internet or drowning puppies, in which case, yeah *judges*).
Yesterday I was talking about the things I love and decided to run with that and paint myself a little labyrinth-tree while listening to the Fallout 3 soundtrack.
Do a good thing for your head today. Be kind to yourself. Tell me what you did and let’s share something happy.
January 19, 2017
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?
January 15, 2017
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.
November 15, 2016
It’s 15 days into NaNoWriMo, and I am comfortably on par which makes a rather nice change. Usually around this time of the year it’s summer for me and my brain has effectively melted, but this year I am on Scottish Seasonal Time, so I am rather enjoying the crispness, the colours, and the fact that every room in the house has a heater. (So not like SA, where I just froze in winter because no one believes in heated houses.)
The colours are what get me though: flame oranges and deepest reds, berries crimson, bright translucent red, clusters of white globes, rose hips like fat contented octopuses, the deep dusky violet browns of faded hydrangeas and the stark trees, black and silver.
Inspired by artists like Jackie Morris and Emma Mitchell, I’ve been working on my drawing again. I’ve set myself to do one small nature study a day, and it’s quite soothing. It’s been giving me a sense of accomplishment to have actually drawn something, however small.
I’m hoping that my drawing practice is going to help my writing. Art is about attention to detail, and good writing comes alive in the details, in the specificity of the language. Here’s to creative cross-training and future results and present happiness.