“That special author galaxy is very much real to them in that the process that we engage in when writing, is magical, and exists somewhere in the realm of elves, Batman and magic swords.”
Nerine Dorman edited SSDA's 2014 anthology, Terra Incognita: New Short Speculative Stories from Africa. Nerine is not just an editor, she's the author of several adult and Y.A. novels, as well as the brains behind Bloody Parchment, a short story competition for horror writers. We sent Tiah Beautement to find out more.
TB: I haven't told my son I'm interviewing you. After reading your book, The Guardian's Wyrd, I think he believes that you exist in some special author galaxy where mortal mothers, such as I, do not exist. But you do meet some of your young fans. Any interesting stories from interacting with them that you can share?
NERINE: My readers always surprise me, and they’re not just young but sometimes older too (and young at heart), like the retired gentleman who read The Guardian’s Wyrd then went on to reading every single book I’d brought out over the past few years, all within the space of the week. He read EVERYTHING. Even the romance stories I publish under a different name. I’ve had people accuse me of keeping them away from their day-to-day routines, like milking goats or nearly missing stops on the train, and it’s these little comments, often shared in the passing on social media, that make me smile.
I did a talk at the Hout Bay library last year, and what amazed me the most about the youngsters was the questions they asked. They seemed fascinated by the fact that I’d written an *entire* novel (and not just one). That special author galaxy is very much real to them in that the process that we engage in when writing, is magical, and exists somewhere in the realm of elves, Batman and magic swords. If you see it from their perspective, simply putting down enough words to fill one A4 sheet of paper may be a superhuman feat in itself. That we manage a BOOK, that is a tangible, physical object. That’s just amazing.
But I love encouraging them, and talking about the stories that move us. What I’ve discovered is that age gap vanishes the moment we discover we’ve been reading the same books. I love asking what they love about characters, and the conversation flows from there. Our stories bring us together. Now that is magic.
TB: I read the book, myself. I wanted to have a bit of a chat with the main character over his issues with Chopin. Why pick on Chopin?
NERINE: Here’s a small biographical detail: I absolutely *loathed* Chopin when I was at school. My music teacher despaired because I had to play some pieces from the Romantic era, and I and the Romantic composers were never good mates. Chopin to me was too wishy-washy and fluffy. Give me a solid JS Bach prelude any day. Or even Erik Satie.
TB: You are also a musician. How does music influence your work? And do you listen to it while you write?
NERINE: Oh, music is the other half of my soul. I went through high school convinced I’d be a rock star. Granted, now, in my late-30s, I’m living that fantasy out again, but this time tempered with a big dose of experience (No, Nerine, you are not a rock star, because that also becomes a tedious day job eventually). Also, my motivations for making music have changed. Now it’s simply because I *have* to write songs and play my guitar. Back then it was out of a misplaced sense of stage diving and “making it” (whatever that entails).
Each novel I write has its soundtrack. My Those Who Return duology (due for a revamp/new release at some point) was written on a steady diet of gothic and doom metal, which suits the main character quite well. Ash is edgy, angsty and a bit of a rebel.
Yet Raven Kin and The Guardian’s Wyrd were written while immersing myself in the soundtracks of Hans Zimmer and Howard Shore, as well as Dead Can Dance and Lisa Gerard’s solo works. Epic, lush.
Currently, I’m trawling Bandcamp.com for new sounds, and have discovered neoclassical offerings by Arcana in addition to an entire explosion of dark ambient, which I hope infuse my writing with a little bit of otherness.
Music reflects how I interact with my imagination, and also acts as a filter to shut out incidental noise. Without it, I get too easily distracted by dogs barking, people talking or the husband playing video games in the room next door.
TB: In Dawn's Bright Talons, one of your characters is a vampire. What characteristics of the vampire made you want to put one in a story?
NERINE: As characters, I love vampires. They are individuals who’ve been taken out of time. They also have to come to terms with their otherness, and the fact that they are predators. They have this incredible gift, in my mind, yet they are also incredibly vulnerable (the whole sunlight thing). I feel this combination makes them a lovely subject to treat in a book, beyond the obvious current popular trend of purely setting them up as the love interest. How do you cope with the idea that you’re essentially immortal, in a hostile world where your prey can very well rise up and destroy you, if they know of your existence? What sorts of games do you play throughout the centuries? Who are your friends? Is your long existence a blessing or a curse? These are all questions I like to ask and play with.
Michel Roux, the vamp, is also described as recluse. Jay, in The Guardian's Wyrd walks to his own beat and Rowan is nothing short of a unique individual. Watchers, rebels, quirky – are these the sort of characters that make you zing?
I’ve always had a passing fondness for the outsider, the individual who doesn’t quite fit in, and who wants to do his or her own thing and not play by the rules set up by others (which are, frankly, boring). Of course reality may have other things in mind for the individual, and it’s how they manage to stay true to their own path or perhaps find a new current. Sometimes we are unlikely, unexpected heroes in someone else’s story, and that is the sort of tale I love telling.
TB: You also write short stories, and have your own collection, Lost Children. Do find short stories easier to write than novels with such a busy life?
NERINE: At present, yes. While I’d love to finish two of the novel-length works that currently have my focus (one is in revision stages, the other is in a semi-congealed first draft state), I’m finding it easier to write short stories. Granted, the most recent two short stories have ended up being novelettes, but my editor, Storm Constantine, for whom I was writing them, was perfectly fine with this and they’ll be included in her upcoming anthology set in her Wraeththu Mythos. I spent the better part of 2015 writing these, and they were just shy of 20 000 words each. Short stories are easy to plot out, easy to revise and send out into the world. Especially between the university assignments and freelance work.
TB: And speaking of busy life, you have a full-time day job, you're studying through UNISA, plus you're the editor and writer of a variety of different titles. I hear so many people lament that they want to write and can't find the time. How do you make it work?
NERINE: It’s simple. I make time. You’ve got to want something bad enough, that you’ll do without sleep, without TV and without a social life, if need be. Also, I make short-, medium- and long-term goals. During weeknights, for instance, I *have* to spend at least half an hour to three quarters of an hour on music. This is non-negotiable. My lunch hours are currently spent studying. I study and read on the train. I write in 15-minute bursts throughout the day when I have down-time, either on the train or at the office. I make to-do lists. Every day.
Mostly, it’s about desire. You stop saying, “One day when I have time”, and you say, “Okay, I have half an hour free. What can I do during that time?”
And I also set aside time to relax. That is equally important. I hardly ever work on a Friday night. That is my time to watch movies or play video games. Video games have become vital to me, because I completely escape this reality and get drawn into another where, yes, I can slay dragons and shoot lightning bolts from my fingers.
TB: What themes keep drawing you back to the page, pushing you to explore?
NERINE:I keep coming back to the Monomyth. Call me old-fashioned, but I love exploring the concept of how a character can change the world, and be changed by the process. The Monomyth provides the spine for every story ever told, and will still be told, that gives us the framework to explore themes that are central to our Selves. Currently, I’m interested in exploring themes surrounding women of agency in a patriarchal society, but there is often an idea of a character who transgresses in some way, who is either redeemed or doomed. I love these shades of grey, and my imagination is always asking “what if” and running from there.
TB: Is there any mythical creature you'd avoid putting into a story?
NERINE: It’s not so much *what* the mythical creature is, but *what* the author does with it. So for any other author, I say, go ahead, do it. Put your own spin on it. Personally, I don’t have any mythical creature I particularly hate or want to avoid. I just can’t take goblins seriously, even in The Hobbit. And if I ever (dog forbid) write about faeries, they most certainly will not be the Flower Fairy kind either.
TB: What are some of your top editing tips?
NERINE: Learn from your past mistakes, and make sure you don’t keep repeating them (it makes editors weep when authors persist in the same bad habits). Read lots of different stories, especially ones that challenge you and take you outside of your comfort zone. Critique other authors’ stories if you can, and allow them to critique you (you often learn the most from other authors). You will never finish editing a story, so don’t be afraid to read through it several times before you submit it. Keep writing, revising, and keep submitting – do it every day, if you can.
TB: Lastly, what question do you wish I had asked?
NERINE: I’d have asked something about the pigeon holing of authors as either writers of adult or children’s fiction, but more and more, I’ve reached the conclusion that to make these hard-and-fast definitions of appropriate age groups for particular stories, we’re cutting out many potential readers.
For instance, I’ve just finished Cat Hellisen’s Beastkeeper, which I know was sold as a children’s story, but it spoke to me so profoundly as an adult. There were themes present that may have gone completely over the head of a younger reader, but I read those chapters with my heart bleeding, and part of me saying, “Yes, yes, I feel this.” Look at how many people loved JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the list of so-called children’s stories that have resonated with adults can be further elaborated on. The point is that more and more today, we are limiting what we will read based on preconceptions of what we’re “supposed” to like.
We forget also the importance of that childlike wonder of *play*. I’ve recently started playing video games again, and have rekindled much of my sense of wonder for immersing in worlds not our own. Remember when you were younger, and you could be a princess, a dragon or a pirate? As adults, we get too swept up in the day-to-day grind that we forget how important that magic of make-believe is, and that it can convey universal truths if we stop and listen.
Nerine Dorman subsists on gourmet coffee, and spends most of her day untangling sentences, making words, and pushing little picture boxes around on screens. She freely admits to having impure thoughts about Varric Tethras. Stalk her on Twitter @nerinedorman.