Category Archives: Ya

YA in SA: Interview with Cat Hellisen

Credit Nerine and Thomas Dorman

1. Hi Cat, until Joe at Something Wicked suggested you I must admit that you had not popped up on my radar, would you care to introduce yourself to readers that may know your book but not you and for those that are meeting you (virtually) for the first time?

Hi Matt, thanks for getting hold of me (and thanks Joe for the props). I live in Muizenberg, which is a village-by-the-sea inside a bigger village by the sea, basically. I grew up in Cape Town and Johannesburg, so while I write secondary world fantasy, being South African definitely influences my writing. I’m a huge music fan, and occasionally I like to torture my family and animals by playing the ukulele at them.

2. When the Sea is Rising Red your first novel is a fantasy laced with magic, vampires, young love, rebellion and a steep divide between the rich and poor. Have you always been a fan of fantasy literature?

Very much so. My earliest reading memories are of being engrossed in my Story Tellers, which were a series of tapes and magazines with stories that ranged from traditional fairy tales to poetry and various other weird and wonderful things. I think a lot of children’s literature is perfectly okay with the fantastical, and it’s only when we venture into the adult section that the battle lines are more clearly drawn. These days I’m very easily bored by a lot of fantasy. I like stuff that plays with tropes, or language, or brings new ideas to the genre.

3. Do you think that inserting social issues into novels (addressing social issues and the divides between rich and poor) helps readers identify more closely with the characters?

I have no idea. I think that in paranormal and fantasy YA there’s been a trend to make the main characters as one-dimensional and non-threatening as possible, perhaps to make it easier for readers to slip themselves into the story – the character is nothing more than a place holder. I find that insulting to most readers and I don’t enjoy books like that. I prefer stories that give me characters with meat and bones and flaws and failures – something that contemporary YA currently seems to do better. Social issues are perhaps a part of filling out the dimensions of character, but not if they feel tacked on or extraneous to the story.

Some of my favourite recent YA has done interesting things with character and society: Chime – Franny Billingsley; Slice of Cherry – Dia Reeves; Shadows Cast By Stars – Catherine Knutsson, and Above – Leah Bobet.

I can’t speak for how anyone else writes, but for myself I like to write characters who feel real, and that sometimes means not entirely likeable.

4. Who were your favourite writers when you were a YA reader (and were you a reader as a teen)?

I read voraciously as a teen, but mostly from the adult section. It’s only now as an adult I find myself reading more YA. Probably because a lot of what used to get shelved as fantasy or urban fantasy is being marketed towards teens now, and possibly because there’s simply more variety in teen-lit these days. My favourite authors as a teen were David Gemmel, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Diana Wynne Jones and Gene Wolfe.

5. When the Sea is Rising Red was published in New York by Farrar Straus Giroux (a Macmillan imprint) – how did you bypass local publishers and end up with an international deal?

When I first began querying my (unpublished) novels, there were no publishers in South Africa (and I think it’s still the case) who dealt with fantasy. It wasn’t so much that I bypassed them as I had to look overseas to find an agent and a publisher. I spent a lot of time hanging around on the Absolute Write forums, where I learned a great deal from publishing people who are way smarter and more experienced than me, and then I began querying. And carried on. And carried on. And kept writing. (A good thing because those early books are too awful to contemplate.)

6. Do you ever visit schools or libraries in South Africa and have you considered Skype visits for international virtual visits and if you answer yes to either of those questions what is the best way to get into contact with you to arrange visits?

I haven’t visited any schools. I’m weirded out by the idea because I don’t really know what I could possibly say that isn’t some variation of – “the info is out there, learn, and prepare to grit your teeth and keep going in the face of failure.” I believe I’m supposed to be doing some virtual book tour thing in the near future along with some fantastic YA writers, but details are a little hazy at this point.

7. What influenced your decision to write for teen readers?

I don’t really think I write for teen readers specifically, more that I wrote a book that could be marketed towards the YA audience. I write what I like to read, and then it gets labelled to sell. Hah, that sounds horribly cynical, but really, I just write stories, I don’t usually have a particular audience in mind.

8. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

When I read something months later, and am pleasantly surprised by the bits I enjoy.

9. The SA YA writing pool seems to be incredibly small, can you recommend other SA authors that you enjoy reading? (I currently have you, S.A. Partridge, Lily Herne and Michael Williams as well as Liz Davis from Namibia)

S.A. Partridge is much better at this than I am. Heh. Most of the YA writers here concentrate on contemporary, and I’m mainly a fantasy reader. I’m sure that there are fantasy YA writers out there in SA, I just don’t think I know of any off-hand. Sadly.

10. Are you currently working on anything new or do you have anything planned for the near future?

I’ve a couple of books on sub to editors at the moment; a scary enough thing in itself. To distract me from that I’m working on a very dark little children’s book and another story.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions

It was my pleasure 😀 Thanks for inviting me to be a part of your YA in SA series.

You can find Cat online at her website www.cathellisen.com/

or on Twitter at twitter.com/hellioncat

Mondays are Murder: The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan

Sam knows that he and his friend Lloyd made a colossal mistake when they accepted the ride home.

They have ended up in a dark mansion in the middle of nowhere with man who means to harm them. But Sam doesn’t know how to get them out.

They were trapped, then separated.

Now they are alone.

Will either of them get out alive?
I may have to speak to my lawyer!  Savita Kalhan has TRAUMATISED me!  She lured me in with the offer of a free (signed) copy on twitter and fool that I am I took her up on it .  
 When it arrived I looked at it and thought oooh! Pretty and creepy!  So very creepy-looking!
The Long Weekend is a fairly short book – 180 pages in length – oh good I thought!  Quick and easy – I need a book like that!

Then I made the mistake of reading it! 

It is quite possibly one of the most gripping abduction, escape and chase novels for young people that I have ever read!  The prose is very tight, there is not an inch of wasted text!
Sam is an amazing hero, he is a smart kid but he is just 11 years of age – same age as my nephew and sounds like him a bit as well! 
He realises that he is no Alex Rider as he engages in a terror filled game of cat and mouse in and around the house where he and his friend are trapped. There are no heroics, just a desperate struggle to stay hidden to remain alive.
I loved The Long Weekend it left me breathless – there were several sections where I discovered that I was holding my breath waiting for something terrible to happen. The building sense of dread compelled me to keep reading and as the book neared its end I realised that I had no idea what was going to happen, I had a sick sense of horror in my stomach as the page count diminished and I can honestly say that I was kept guessing until the very end.
It has probably been said before that this story is every parent or guardian’s worst nightmare!
I still feel twitchy even now, I have put the book on my shelf where it is safely away from me!  I fear that I may have nightmares about the worst that humanity has to offer and a little boy who wants to go home.
Five stars for a riveting story!

The fact that I finished The Long Weekend at the end of another long weekend is fitting and totally unintentional.

Many thanks to Savita for the book – it has a special place on my bookshelf of awesome YA books.

The Girl Who Was on FIre

Sarah Rees Brennan asks: Why are readers so hungry for the Hunger Games?
Carrie Ryan looks at how the Gamemakers shape the truth for television.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes rejects both sides of the series’ love triangle and declares herself Team Katniss.
Does real-life media training look anything like Katniss’?  Ned Vizzini says yes.

Who holds the real power in Panem

Trauma and recovery among Hunger Games survivors

Muttations in the real world

What the rebellion has in common with the War on Terror

The Girl Who Was on Fire answers lingering questions, provides new points of view, and will remind every Hunger Games fan why they love the series in the first place.

Having read The Hunger Games trilogy twice I was getting itchy to return to Panem for a third time when I heard that they were making a movie.  My heart leapt for joy as I have a fondness for dystopias.  My heart was still go-going in my chest when I bumped into a competition being run by Smart Pop Books – pay them a visit – they have some amazing things on their site!

Anyway to cut a long story short I won a copy of The Girl Who Was on Fire, which is a collection of essays by some of the best and brightest YA authors. They are (in no particular order): Leah Wilson, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Mary Borsellino, Elizabeth M. Rees, Lili Wilkinson, Ned Vizzini, Carrie Ryan, Cara Lockwood, Terri Clark, Blythe Woolston, Sarah Darer Littman, Adrienne Kress, Bree Despain

Reviewing a collection of essays is not the easiest thing in the world, with a novel you can give a brief synopsis and write about the story structure, characters and all the good stuff the story holds but in such a way so as not to give it all away and make the review reader want to go out and buy or at the very least borrow the book.

It is slightly more complicated with an essay collection (at least for me).  SO I will just say that the essays are witty, thought-provoking, deep and above-all readable.  They can be used for personal enjoyment but also for group discussion and sharing.

The blurb on the back cover says it perfectly:

In The Girl Who Was on Fire, thirteen YA authors take you back to Panem with moving, dark, and funny pieces on Katniss, the Games, Gale and Peeta, reality TV, survival, and more.

Go on!  Grab a copy! join some of the best-known authors of YA fiction (and maybe even discover some new ones) and be taken back into Panem and The Hunger Games.

A book for everyone who is, was or has ever wondered what it is like to be a 15 year old boy!

One seriously messed up week…

… in the Otherwise Mundane & Uneventful Life of Sam Taylor JACK SAMSONITE

Our hero? 
Jack Samsonite
His mission?
1.  pass his GCSEs
2.  get the girl (to notice he exists)
3.  survive the week without a serious face punching 
 Good thing he’s got a plan. Well, half a plan… 

One seriously messed-up week in the otherwise mundane & uneventful life of Jack Samsonite is being billed as a cross between Adrian Mole meets The Inbetweeners. It is also the only book I have had to stop reading on the underground as I was laughing too much in between cringing at the memories of my teenage years it was dredging up. I am seriously in awe of Tom Clempson, the man is a genius with the pen!  He has captured the awkwardness and uncertainty of being a teenage boy perfectly, combining crudity, romance, confusion, lust, friendship and the desire to get through the day without being bullied into the package of Jack Samsonite.

Warts and all protagonists of the male variety appear to be rare in YA fiction, it started with Adrian Mole in the ’80’s and then there was not much.  It is quite possible that we are witnessiong hte birth of a new trend in YA fiction.  The story is told in the form of a diary written as a school project. It begins with an introduction which was written at the end of the week, so I knew where Jack ended up but as someone once said “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it!”

The story starts on a Monday – with nob ache. Which, if I remember my teen years correctly, (and believe me there is not a man alive that does not – no matter what we may say. We remember every embarrassing moment clearly) is how many days start for boys in their teens. 
Read this book, gain some insight into the mind of a teenage boy and perhaps you will even sympathise with them the next time one of them really pisses you off for just being a teenI read it and loved it (unconditionally) for the laughs, the angst and the cringe-worthy memories it evoked. I was Jack without being cool but then most of us were in those days.