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Interview: Cat Hellisen, Debut Young Adult Author

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Born in 1977 in Mowbray, Cat spent her early childhood in Cape Town before her family relocated to Johannesburg. Since then she’s bounced back and forth between the two cities, with occasional stays in Knysna and Nottingham. 

Cat’s short story This Reflection Of Me appeared in Sean Wallace’s Jabberwocky 3 collection and is available online as a teaser for the anthology.

Cat’s YA fantasy novel, When the Sea is Rising Red, comes out from FSG in 2012.

Cat was kind enough to be share her life as a writer, woman and tea addict.

Being a new author, who or what has been the biggest influence on your writing?

Everything I read or see influences my writing. That and TV Tropes. Actually, let’s be honest, it’s mainly TV Tropes.

Who has been your biggest support?

I have a great circle of writer friends who keep me sane. Without the Musers, and my partner and my amazing agent, Suzie Townsend, I’m sure I would have given up ages ago.

Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?

Definitely character-driven. That’s why I’m working harder on plot these days. Or, you know, at least thinking about working harder.

What do you feel are the essential elements of a great story?

A character we can relate to in some way, tension, clean prose.

What is it about this genre that captures your imagination?

That I can play the what-if game to the extreme.

What are the challenges you face writing young adult and dealing with the sensuality?

Eh… I haven’t faced any problems as yet. But I tend not to write flat-out erotica.

What media influenced your writing? What were your favorite things to read (or watch) as a kid?

Everything influences me, but the ones that stuck for this book were Tanith Lee’s early books. Her work, along with the books of Diana Wynne Jones really shaped my world. There’s also a dog-shaped shout-out to Enid Blyton.

Who has been your favorite character to write about and why?

Dash was great fun to write because he starts off as this mysterious figure, and just when you think you’ve got him all figured out, you get these hints of deeper complexities.  I love that he’s so hypocritical.

Do you plan to or would you like to write novels in other genres besides YA? If so, what?

I have an adult novel I’m working on at the moment, yes.

Why do you write for young adults? What do you think is different about writing for teens than for other audiences?

This is something I’ve not yet totally worked out for myself. I just write stuff, and then people say, this is YA, or, this is more adult. Mostly I just roll with it.

What are some must haves when you sit down to write?

A computer. Tea.

If you became trapped as a character in a book or series, which would you choose and why? (Any book, any series, new or old)

Ah it would have to be Tanith Lee’s Books of Paradys. They’re so delightfully, creepily decadent. Also, gender-bending.

Were there any Books, Movies or Writers that have inspired you?

Too many to mention.

What do you feel are the benefits of the new electronic readers such as Kindle, Kobo and Nook to the environment?

Hmm, no idea. My partner loves the Kindle, I’m still more into pages.

What impact do electronic readers create on the bottom line for authors in the end? Do you feel they have a negative impact or positive, or no impact at all that you can see?

I honestly have no idea.

What sort of things influence you into naming settings and characters from your books as they are named?

The world around me.
 

Did you write as a teenager?

Yes. Badly.

What, or who, has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?

Life. The Universe. Everything.
 

What’s your greatest comfort food?

Cheese, glorious cheese.

Who is your favorite cartoon character? Which cartoon character is most like you?

I don’t really watch cartoons…. I don’t know why not.

What were you like as a young reader?  And when did you know that you wanted to write?

Voracious. Probably in my early twenties.

Could you describe your road to publication for us?

Long. I wrote a good many books before the one which got me my first agent. When that didn’t sell we parted ways and I queried Suzie Townsend with When the Sea is Rising Red. My friend had just been shifted to Suzie after her agent had left Fine Print, and I loved everything I heard about her. So when Suzie offered I was pretty much ecstatic. She sold When the Sera is Rising Red to FSG and I ended up working with a fantastic editor who really pushed me into making the book better and better. Whenever I hear people saying editors don’t edit anymore I feel like waving the first and final copies of the book in their faces and going REALLY? REALLY? Obviously I don’t, because then people would know I’m crazy.

 

Visit Cat’s website for more info.

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About Diane Morasco

  • Pj Schott

    Wish I’d had wonderful books like this when I was a young adult.

  • Stephen Isabirye

    I am heartened that Cat Hellisen was in part influenced by Enid Blyton’s books as a child. I too was influenced by Enid Blyton’s book in that I attempted to publish a novel based on Enid Blyton’s plots at that time. Although my plans to publish my maiden book at that time fail through, instead, later, I was able instead write and publish a book on Enid Blyton, ttiled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage.
    Stephen Isabirye