Cat Hellisen's Blog
March 11, 2014
I need for 2014 to be a more productive year writing-wise, and now that we’ve moved house and that stress is out of the way, I’ve decided to concentrate a bit more on all those books I’d abandoned because I’d lost my faith in my vision for them.
Partly it’s because I’ve realised that while some books just aren’t right for large (or even mid-sized) publishers, that doesn’t take away their worth. I mean, I *know* this, I can see it in the books I like, but for some reason it didn’t translate to my own work. If a large publisher couldn’t see any value in a book I wrote beyond “nice prose”, then it was essentially valueless.
Yes. I am well aware that I am an idiot.
So I am working again on those projects I abandoned for lack of commercial appeal. (Ha! Dear Cat, when did you ever successfully write a commercial novel – get your head on right.) So I am working on my epic multi-viewpoint saga about gods and magic and destroyed angels and using sacrifices to turn all humanity into gods and how that might be, like, a totally bad idea. It’s also way more romantic than it sounds, though *my* version of romantic, which is often fractured and twisted and maybe more than a little brittle, but no less true.
After that it’s back to the book about going mad and the power of gift economies and how to kill god.
And then there’s my little booklet about finding love with memories after the world has been destroyed and all that’s left of it is fragments of the human imagination, and the aliens which live off said imagination and pieces of human skin. I have plans for that much-maligned baby.
Also, some short stories! Because that’s what I do now – write one a month, just to make myself be productive on some level.
So, in order to get all this stuff done, I’ve taken to being all proper about working, like, even keeping time sheets of the work I’m doing. It’s weird, and feels slightly wrong, but also kinda cool to have a record that shows I am not just wallowing in my own filth while clutching a half-finished bottle of wine.
So that’s cool.
February 15, 2014
Some of you may already know that I wrote a sort-of sequel to When the Sea is Rising Red. (And if you didn’t, you do now.) I say sort-of sequel because the two books are intended to be stand-alone novels within a greater universe of stories. Some reviewers disagree, and feel the two books go hand in hand, calling them “a solid duet”.
I wrote House of Sand and Secrets because although I was happy to see Felicita’s growth from the spoiled, naive girl who believes in her family’s superiority, I wasn’t happy enough. I wanted to see what happened to her when she had no family or friends to support her, in a strange, hostile city, caught up in a marriage of convenience. I wanted her to show me how she was going to rise above all of that, find her own power, and perhaps most importantly, how she was going to deal with her guilt.
This was not going to be a YA book, which made things a bit awkward (apparently publishers don’t like it when you jump marketing categories .) In the end, it became the flagship book for Folded Wherry (where you can get various DRM-free ebook versions. It’s also available at Weightless Books, for those who hate buying through Amazon), because working with someone who totally understands your vision for your world is YAY!
I found that working without the constraints of YA expectations also gave me a certain amount of freedom to play with things I could only hint at in When the Sea is Rising Red, and I feel it’s a stronger book for that. (So do others.) At the end of House of Sand and Secrets, we’ve included the opening chapters of the next book, Bones like Bridges. For those of you who remember Hob an Lam, they are one and the same, and I can’t wait for people to read Jek and Sel’s story, and to see Felicita’s world in the future. I’ve also got some short stories planned out, so there should be plenty of Hobverse coming out in the next few years.
February 12, 2014
Some of you may have noticed I have been a little bit missing. We just moved house and I had to wait to get internet reconnected. In the interim I rang up a hefty phonebill going on twitter so I guess I’m an addict?
I did manage some creative stuff while away, about which I will do proper posts.
Until then, I shall bask in the gloriousness that is my wifi.
January 29, 2014
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.
Much fun was had, though it was very amusing to be towered over. I felt vaguely threatened by Ms. Cherry Blossom as she had just bought herself a new pair of heeled boots and was probably scraping 6’4” or so. I would love to be that tall. Let’s swap a foot or so, yeah?
Before we met up, I took the spawn to go feed squirrels in the Gardens (and spotted The Boy returning from lunch) and much fun was had holding out nuts for fluffy-tailed rats and winged rats.
I’m sure I should know what this building is called seeing as how a) I live here, and b) it’s pretty distinctive, but I confess my ignorance. Someone enlighten me?
Elder Spawn became The Bird Girl of the Gardens, and had people trying to film her. She did look rather striking surrounded by pigeons. There’s also something quite spectacular about how they will all suddenly take flight at the same time and wheel and arc in a great silvery -grey flock. Pigeons: surprisingly magical.
January 26, 2014
My kids have become increasingly distressed by the realisation that chickens and lambs etc were once actual cute little animals, and aren’t grown in a vat somewhere… (Margaret Atwood, that chicky nobs franchise is looking good ) So every now and again I make the effort to buy vegan replacements, but generally the selection in South Africa is limited when it comes to the kind of food I enjoy making.
So it was with great yayness I discovered that Fry’s has been expanding its range, and they now have lamb for curries.
Herewith today’s curry. Please note that this curry is about as authentically Indian as I am. It’s also pretty simple and you can go play around with ingredients etc. I still need to do a proper shop so I just used what I had on hand.
Ingredients:(ie: what I had in my fridge)
1 packet Fry’s lamb pieces
4 medium potatoes
curry powder (however you like it)
1 yellow pepper (red would probably look nicer, whatever suits you.)
4 cardomom pods
1/2 a lime
3 spring onions
1/2 can coconut milk
oil for cooking
Incredibly Difficult Recipe:
Cook Fry’s lamb pieces according to packet, + a few extra cracked cardamom pods and a teaspoon of medium curry powder, plus a few squeezes of lime, set aside.
Peel and cube 4 med potatoes, shallow fry until golden, drain off oil
cut up a yellow pepper, add to potato, toss in the fake lambkin, add 3 chopped spring onions.
Add some more lime juice and ½ cup coconut cream. (I would add more next time, to give this a “saucier” feel)
add in garlic/chillies/whatever seasonings you want (I just used garlic because the spawn are not big on heat.)
Stir through to cook – about 2 – 3 minutes
I served this over aged basmati, with a dollop of peach chutney on top
January 23, 2014
I am trying to “eat down” my grocery cupboard before we move, which means I am occasionally throwing together leftover things and hoping for the best.
This very quick “pudding” came out really tasty, and I’m kinda bummed I didn’t think to take a pic. I will definitely make it again though. Because it’s all the last bits of bags and stuff like that, I dont have any actual measurements, but with a recipe this simple you cna adjust to taste anyway.
Here’s what I had:
2/3 can coconut cream (CREAM, not milk)
Here’s what I did with them:
I boiled up the last of the sago, then rinsed it clear, drained it and added sugar, about half of the remaining coconut cream, stirred in an egg (in retrospect, though I like the golden colour it turned, if you wanted to keep the cream white, then just use beaten egg white), grated in some lime zest, and cooked for a few minutes over low heat.
Served in a bowl with a dollop of cold coconut cream melting on the top.
Yeah, I said it was easy.
I can imagine this looking really pretty served as tiny portions in small clear glass tumblers, with a bit of extra lime grated on top of the dollop of coconut cream.
January 21, 2014
Professional jealousy. It’s a horrifically unproductive state, and one that many if us seem to still get occasionally trapped in. Or maybe you don’t, but I certainly do.
Things will be going okay, I’ll be working on the stuff I love that makes me happy, ignoring the hype that is the sea in which authors drown, and suddenly I’ll see a picture of That Really Annoying Author I Can’t Stand and they will be waffling on about their awesomeness, and their success will be oozing from their pores, and the urge to go and throw myself and all my work off a cliff becomes rather strong.
Jealousy about the success of others is pretty normal, I think. Feeling guilty about it isn’t going to make me any less jealous. So I have to tackle what it is that really upsets me – loads of people are more successful than me; that’s a given and it always will be. Is it because every personal interaction I have had with this person has left me wanting to bash their brains in? Closer. Is it because I can’t stand what they write? Probably.
And there you see the heart of how utterly pointless professional jealousy is. I’m upset because someone I don’t like, who writes stuff I don’t enjoy, is successful? Can you see any logic there, because I can’t. If they were vaguely nice, and wrote stuff I enjoyed, then I’d be okay with their success, (and I know this for a fact because this perfectly fits my usual attitude to other people’s success in writing.)
Seriously, guys, let me repeat the key fact here: I’m upset because someone I don’t like, who writes stuff I don’t enjoy, is successful.
Short of taking handfuls of porridge and smearing it on my face while giggling maniacally, I can’t think of anything more childish.
So, I will laugh at myself, shake my head, and carry on writing the stuff I enjoy, and work on letting stupid shit go.
January 8, 2014
I’m doing pretty well on my writing goals, and I did a little #januaryshort twitter exercise yesterday (don’t know how many people may have participated, but I know at least one person besides myself came up with some ideas for something to work on, which is nice to find out.)
The whole thing was inspired by my goal to write and sub one short a month. Now I tend to have this cumulonimbus-like fear of not being able to ever come up with a story idea EVER AGAIN and then I roll around in despair telling myself I am Made of Teh Suck, and drinking wine-glasses filled with tears. Which, bizarrely, is not *as* helpful as you might think. Crazy, I know.
So in order to stop my rollaround before it could begin, I made myself accountable to others. See, if I go and say Do This! It Will Totes Help with Your Creativity! and then don’t actually do it myself, I will be the worst kind of liar. So I set myself a little exercise. I stepped away from the computer for ten minutes, and wrote down ten opening lines to stories. They didn’t have to have plots, or involve deep complicated thoughts as to where they were going, they didn’t have to be good, or sound cool, or anything. I just had to write them.
And then I had to pick the one that sparked, and do something with it. It’s a throw-away line – I don’t have to keep it, it has done its work. What I need to do is write the story that spills from that one line.
Most of my lines were pretty shit (okay nine of them were pretty shit), but one clicked something, and I’m now 1200 words into a story. Which is a pretty great feeling when you’ve convinced yourself you’ll never write again, let me tell you. This technique has really helped me, and three of my last five stories have come from doing that little exercise.
In other news, I started watching Dracula yesterday, mainly because well JRM (shut up I am allowed to crush on that filthy filthy man), but hey, I am liking and so it will be my reward now for having met today’s writing goals. *fangs* (Also, Lucy is so familiar…is she…Morgana from Merlin? Because UNF YES)
January 2, 2014
After the general insanity of the festive season, I am doing a final sweep through Beastkeeper before I send this round of revisions off to my editor. I realised I quite like Alan and Sarah’s interactions. I would totally be drawing cute manga pics of them if I could draw cute manga pics.
I also had a little trawl through the garden to check the figs. Sadly, still not ripe. But closer closer closer yes!
And I must be watering my plants again because this little guy is looking more green and less red (they turn red when they are Dying of The Thirst. I have no idea what it is, but I would put good money on Nerine Dorman being able to tell me its common and Latin name off the top of her head. Woman has mad botanical skills, yo.