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SA Partridge

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Interview with Cat Hellisen (plus YA at the Book Fair)

At this year’s Cape Town Book Fair, publisher Pan Macmillan will be celebrating kid lit and young adult fiction (YA).

YA titles to look out for include Moonsong by L.J. Smith, the latest edition to the Vampire Diaries series, Mortal Instruments book 5 by Cassandra Clare as well as Torn, Switched and Ascend by Amanda Hocking.

Pan Macmillan will also be showcasing South Africa’s very own Cat Hellisen, whose debut fantasy YA When the Sea is Rising Red, was launched at the Book Lounge last week.

After seventeen-year-old Felicita’s dearest friend, Ilven, kills herself to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege. She fakes her own death and leaves her sheltered life as one of Pelimburg’s magical elite behind. Living in the slums, scrubbing dishes for a living, she falls for charismatic Dash while also becoming fascinated with vampire Jannik. Then something shocking washes up on the beach: Ilven’s death has called out of the sea a dangerous, wild magic. Felicita must decide whether her loyalties lie with the family she abandoned . . . or with those who would twist this dark power to destroy Pelimburg’s caste system, and the whole city along with it.

Read my review of When the Sea is Rising Red here.

Below is an interview with Cat, who chats about her novel, being a writer, and current issues pertaining to YA.

What inspires you to write?
Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved reading books and watching TV and basically just immersing myself in stories. I spent a lot of time living inside my own head, acting out little scenarios with myself.
(Yeah, I was that weird kid. You know the one. You probably pushed me into a dustbin). Writing is just an extension of that, except now I have to try and have those stories make sense to people outside of my head.

Why do you love YA?
When YA is good, it is amazing. One of the things I really do love about YA is the way there’s so much genre-muddling. Teens seem to be less stuck in a rut where they’ll only read one type of book. So in
the teen section you’ll get contemporary series stuff like Gossip Girl rubbing shoulders with vampire romances. Funny, dark fantasies by people like Sarah Rees Brennan will be sitting with books about
addiction written in verse, or next to the historical magical realism of Alice Hoffman. And I love that.

Do you enjoy writing for teens? How did you get started?
I’ve never really set out to write for teens. Mainly, I write for myself, and for those people who like what I like (Narcissistic much? heh). As it happened, my agent felt that When the Sea is Rising Red was a Young Adult novel with crossover appeal, so it was marketed as Young Adult. Sometimes I feel that YA can be a little restrictive about certain topics – unless a moral comes attached – but things will swing back again at some point, I believe.

When the Sea is Rising Red is set in the Hobverse. What is a hob?
When I wrote the first book set in the Hobverse, I originally envisioned it as a dark twisted fairy-land where the fairies were almost indistinguishable from the humans. So Hob was short for hobgoblin. As things changed and grew, that idea was pretty much lost, though elements of it remain, like the aversion to iron, for example.

When the Sea is Rising Red features vampires as a race. How do your bats
differ from the vampires in paranormal YA fiction novels like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries?

They’re not immortal, they don’t shape-shift, or die in the sun. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but I never set out to write an Ann Rice novel. However, my vampires are easily affected by sunlight and break out in blisters. They can’t see well in the day and have a third eyelid (like a cats) to protect their eyes from bright light. They drink blood, and it’s mainly this that has made them an untouchable caste in the Hobverse.

Your book features a few gay characters. How would you describe the current status of gay and lesbian related children’s and young adult literature?
Improving. But not fast enough. Author Malinda Lo has just recently written a great blog post that catalogues the LGBTQ YA of 2012, and you’ll notice that you’ve never heard of most of them. Gay and
lesbian YA is still being marginalised and not included in teen reading lists. And that’s a pretty sad reality at the moment.

Buy When the Sea is Rising Red here or grab it at the Cape Town Book Fair at Stand D44.


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