Tonight, one of our very own founding mother, Nerine Dorman, was awarded the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature 2019. We thought you might like to get to know Nerine a little better. So here’s an interview we conducted with her about her inspiration, creativity and life in general.
Tell us a bit about your inspiration for Sing down the Stars?
I was in the mood to write a space opera in part inspired by Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang with a side order of Star Wars, and possibly flavouring from the Dragonriders of Pern books. So basically everything I love about SF all mashed up together. I also have an abiding fascination with parkour and wanted to write about space elves too. Because everything is better with space elves. In essence, this was a story I wrote because it was fun, and I totally immersed myself in it. At the time I didn’t really care whether it would even be selected as a finalist because these days I primarily write to amuse myself, and if other people like my books, then that’s cherry.
What are the main themes in this book?
The main themes are about having the guts to stand up for yourself and also learning to trust the people closest to you – and allowing yourself to make friends. And it’s about endurance, and getting up every time you get punched down, and carrying on. It’s about learning to trust, and it’s about not being afraid to push yourself to your limits.
Have you addressed these same themes in any of your other books?
A friend once said I often write about absent parents, and in this case that’s an overriding theme for the main character Nuri. She is an orphan who is a runner for a criminal mastermind until she gets herself selected for an exclusive programme that may see her reach the stars as the avatar of a sentient space ship.
What was the first story you remember writing?
There have been so many, but perhaps the most memorable one was in high school when I was one of the few girls in Wynberg Girls High School who was awarded 100% for a creative writing exam. I wrote a story about a girl who’s in love with an older boy who is secretly spray painting the words of his dead friend’s poems in public places. And there’s suicide involved. Much more than that I can’t recall, but the teachers were all very impressed, and everyone said I should consider a career in writing one day…
What is a typical day like for you?
I’m a freelance creative who makes most of her money doing graphic design for a variety of clients, from a luxury petfood brand and clothing brands to film industry graphics and labelling for the wellness industry. That’s the not-so-glamorous part of my day, which is interspersed with editing fiction and doing the laundry. And in the time I have left over in my day, I tend to write and edit my own fiction. I love working from home because no one complains about my music or hear my terrible singing when I’m on deadline. Also, I don’t have to ride on Cape Town’s terrible rail system anymore.
When and where do you write?
I usually write after work hours and on weekends, at the same desk where I swear and mutter about not getting vector graphics to do what I want them to do. Writing has become work to me, but it’s also my main creative outlet and my deepest, abiding passion.
What would you do if you won the Lotto?
Build my downstairs studio, tell my husband he can retire to just make music and films, and then I’d pay someone to take over the design work so I could concentrate on writing full time. But I don’t play the Lotto, and writing in my mind is a kind of gambling in and of itself. You never know whether your next novel is going to be The One. And that’s enough to keep me going.
Do you have any pets?
Two dogs, two cats, and a husband. CiCi is our Belgian Shepherd and is the reason why the lady across the road sometimes sends me snotty WhatsApp messages when I’m not home (both bark, a lot). Isis is our Boerboel X Boxer, and she’s big and brindle, and looks far meaner than what she really is. She likes licking cats.
Our two kitties are both calicos, and spend most of their time on the specially rigged double-decker cat bed that has its own heating pad. I spend too time alone with the animals, so they’re people to me. And yes, I talk to them.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on re-releasing my 2012 novel Inkarna, which is currently out of print. Shortly after that’s been unleashed, I’ll bring out its previously unreleased sequel, Thanatos, which will tie up the story quite nicely. Other than that, Toby Bennett and I are writing something together, which is turning out to be far more fun than I expected. His mind is devious, and we seem to have hit a workable method. Most importantly, we’re having fun coming up with the various incidents in the world we’re building.
What do you think the future holds for storytelling?
I see more authors striking out and doing their own thing. Publishers are, by and large, focusing on projects that will have more mainstream appeal (think true crime, celeb biographies, sport, politics, cook books, self help), which leaves a vast majority of authors who write niche in a position where they’re better off self-publishing. I do see more experimentation with other forms, especially in terms of what interactive media provides, and possibly more crossover with other media, such as games. I believe there will always be storytellers. It’s just that we’ll change the ways in which we tell our stories.
Are there any particular scenes from Sing down the Stars that were influenced by events in your real life?
I was bullied in primary school, so I draw on those circumstances. I also never felt as though I fit in when I was younger, but these days I embrace my weirdness.
Who are your literary heroes?
I cut my teeth on JRR Tolkien, but authors such as Neil Gaiman (his Sandman comic books) and Storm Constantine (her Wraeththu mythos) were instrumental in making me want to be a storyteller. I must mention Robin Hobb, Cat Hellisen, Jacqueline Carey, Mary Gentle, CJ Cherryh, and Poppy Z Brite too – either as people in my life or their writing – they have been hugely influential as well.
If you could never write another word, what creative pursuit would you turn to instead?
I’d either be a musician or an artist, and hopefully not starving either. The biggest irony of my life is that I matriculated with double music then went on to major in illustration and photography at university. And here we are… I can’t conveniently pigeonhole myself.
What’s your motto/favourite quote?
“Make good art” (thank you, Neil Gaiman). That keynote speech he gave in 2012 set the benchmark for my life at that stage, as I was coming out of a really dark place. Whenever I feel awful, I think about doing something creative and fun, just because.