Author guest post: Cat Hellisen on finding inspiration for her book settings

Hi everyone

Today I’m really excited to welcome Cat Hellisen, author of YA fantasy novel When the Sea is Rising Red, to my blog today.

The reason I’m so delighted to have her featured on my blog today is because not only is Cat and incredibly gifted author whose novel just happens to be one of my top reads of 2012, but also because the settings of her novel is, on so many levels, so very recognisable to me.

Photo:Nerine and Thomas Dorman
Imaginative book worlds are always such a treat to immerse one’s self into, but they’re made even more phenomenal, when the author takes elements from the city she lives in (a city which I hail from and reside in too), and incorporates it into a her fantasy novel,

After I’ve read When the Sea is Rising Red (do please check out my review of the book), I simply had to ask Cat if she’d give us a little insight and background into her book world.

So, without further ado, I’m handing over to Cat and let her do all of the talking…

How Pelimburg grew up on Cape Town's beaches.
When I wrote my first book set in the Hobverse, I was still living in Johannesburg and dreaming of going back to Cape Town where I was born.

That first story was set in the sprawling mining city of MallenIve, but I missed my home, and out of my longing Pelimburg was born.

Later I wrote a book set in that dream-city, and it seems almost fitting that the new book sold after I returned home. In When the Sea is Rising Red, the character Felicita describes Pelimburg as “a city of rain and mist and spray”, a grand thing slowly decaying. That's not the Cape Town of today. 

Old Muizenberg Buildings
The inspiration came from my childhood, of the faded grandeur of the narrow Victorian façades in Green Point, the long beaches of Muizenberg, the hill-side houses of Fish Hoek and the harbour and mountains of Simon's Town. 

Image from: Hilton Teper
One of the first places Felicita runs to when she tries to escape her tightly-controlled life is the promenade I loosely based on Sea Point's (then) crumbling promenade that runs along the rocky little beaches.

As a young adult I lived all over Green Point and Sea Point, before the big boost turned Green Point into the re-invented place it is today.

Like Mouillie Point, it's losing anything that gave it any charm and is being turned into an extended soulless wing of the Waterfront Empire of the Wealthy. But that's not how I remember it. 

Some of my favourite moments came from getting off the last bus home to Sea Point, leaning my elbows on the promenade railings and smelling the night sea while the fog horns sounded blearily.

Or of sitting on the rocks sharing my fish and chip gatsby with the gulls. Walking the dog at 6:30 in the morning and surprising a large bull seal in the mist. Those are the images and feelings that informed Felicita's first tentative exploration of her city.
Cape Point
Pelim's Leap is one of the pieces of landscape that plays a significant role in the story as the place where Felicita fakes her suicide.

This one is easy to dig up the inspiration behind, as anyone who has made the often wind-ripped trip to Cape Point will know.

I did leave out all the baboons, though.

What with selkies and unicorns and jackals and gulls and penguins, I was worried that book was going to turn into more of a zoo than a story.

I would have liked to add in porcupines, hippos, baboons and all the birdlife I love, but I think it might have been a bit much.

Simon's Town: Image from Daguero
The harbours in Cape Town all played their part in the shaping of Pelimburg – from the V&A with its huge industrial harbour, to the smaller fishing harbours of Kalk Bay and Simon's Town. Simon's Town in particular is the one I was thinking of when I was writing about the music of the masts – that eerie whistle that hums and shivers right through your skull as the wind blows.

Pelimburg is not a transplanted Cape Town – for a start, we definitely don't have navigable shipping rivers - but my home is a great place to get source material and I loved embroidering the little pieces of Cape Town into my made-up city, stealing sights and sounds and smells and working them into the bizarre tapestry of Pelimburg.

I'm sure that readers familiar with Cape Town will recognise little places here and there, and I love that connection. I wanted my made-up city to feel real, no matter how strange it was, and I didn't want to write just another medieval-lite fantasy setting.

Hopefully, I achieved that and one day I hope to be able to share the other books and the other cities, like the monstrous city MallenIve, “known for her vices and pleasures” with my readers. 

About When the Sea is Rising Red

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.

Where you can find Cat:

Facebook page

You can also purchase a copy of the book over at, Exclusive Books, The Book Depository or


Sam said…
I need to move to Cape Town!

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