Monday, October 26, 2009

Nerine Dorman, Author of Dark Fiction and Wrangler of Penguins

I met a talented woman during the editing process of Dark Knowledge, my editor, Nerine Dorman.

Nerine lives in Cape Town, South Africa. She edits for various publications and as a freelance editor, she's had short stories and travel articles published, and now she is under contract for two novels, the first of which comes out this year. Nerine's novels are supernatural horror, the darker side of horror.

I'm pleased to have Nerine here on my blog today, where I can ask her a few questions about her upcoming novel, her fiction, and her passions.
First of all, a little about Khepera Rising. It's scheduled for a December release, and it sounds fascinating. Here's a brief summary taken from the Lyrical Press website.
The wickedest man in Africa has problems, and they can't all be solved by magic.

Occult bookshop owner and black arts magician James Edward Guillaume reckons he has it all, and enjoys living up his reputation as South Africa's "wickedest man", a nice house, a business that's breaking even and the pick of all the pretty Goth girls and boys in Cape Town.

Little does he know, a group of violent Christo-militants are panting at his heels, ready to destroy his carefully constructed fantasy world. To add mischief to his misery, he's unwittingly unleashed a terrifying demonic entity, and he alone holds the key to The Burning One's secret. To bring order out of the chaos, all James has to do is conquer his personal demons, teach a rather nasty, self-righteous sod a lesson in humility and find out whether he can win back the trust of an old flame. Only, as James discovers, getting back on top is hell on earth.

Nerine, what planted the idea for this novel?

For this I must thank the lady with the lilac glasses. I was walking up Fish Hoek Main Road in a bit of a happy fugue state thinking about… well, writing and stories, when she interrupted me with a rather surprising “Jesus loves you.” For those who know me, I’m a bit of a coffin kid in her dotage so I do stand out in public.

This little incident got me thinking. What if I was the very thing she feared the most? That was when Jamie, my black magician who is delightfully morally ambiguous, jumped out and said, “Hey, howzit!” and I started writing his story in the summer of 2007.

How did you germinate this idea into a plot?

I’d known for a long time that I’d wanted to write a novel but I held myself back until the elements pulled together and slapped me through the face. I have a deep, abiding interest in esoteric matters and wanted to write about a magic practitioner in a sympathetic light sans the Hollywood slant of “If you mess with the unknown you’re going to come to a sticky end”. I just didn’t want to jump in unless I had a clear idea, as well as the possible conflict such a character would experience and how it could be resolved. Too many authors start with a good idea but they don’t think it through and the idea usually fizzles out after the first few chapters.
Khepera Rising involves drug abuse and religious intolerance. Were these themes you chose to address or did they work their way into the plot as you went along?

Drug abuse is sadly something that I’ve seen first-hand with people I care very much about. When they are in that dark pit, they often cannot see their situation as being problematic. In many cases it’s rampant drug use that clouds their judgment. This, in a moment of abandon, can tip them over the edge and prevent them from reaching their full potential. I decided that I’d like to show how a character finds the strength of will within himself to claw his way out of the bad space instead of relying on a crutch to attain the same end.

Religious intolerance is something that is very much evident in South African society. I have a soft spot for alternative teachings, mainly because I despise the groupthink associated with the major world religions, especially the Abrahamic faiths. People aren’t dough to be pressed into homogenous shapes in a cookie-cutter process. If you’re different in any way, this is often seen as bad.

These are two major themes that are dear to my heart. I guess what I’m trying to show with the story is that there are dangers in every path a person chooses, be it in a mass religion that results in hysterical suppression of that which is different, or the path of the individual who has to take sole responsibility for his demons, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

It’s a case of live and let live. Everyone has a right to self individuation, no matter how strange or silly their ways are to those who disagree, so long as what you do doesn’t interfere with the rights of another.

I understand you run a writers' guild for speculative fiction writers in Cape Town. Tell me about that.

Cape Town has so much potential with its writers yet so often they don’t know where to begin or how to go about clawing their way to being published. More often than not, manuscripts are submitted to publishers and/or agents that are nowhere near ready. I started the Adamastor Writers’ Guild about three years ago in order to create a group where writers can meet others who are in the same situation and, through mutual critique, improve their writing. It’s been full of ups and downs but we’ve got a method that’s working well. I’m very proud to brag about two of the newish authors who’ve both seen their work-shopped stories sell in the past two months.

Although writing is a solitary craft, you can’t create in a vacuum, and having a friendly eye that isn’t your mom, brother or uncle, deliver solid constructive criticism, makes a world of difference.

If a writing group like this had been available when I was eighteen, I may have been published sooner.

What about horror and supernatural works appeal to you as a writer?

There’s always so much potential for things to go horribly wrong in ways you hadn’t previously imagined. With regular fiction sans supernatural elements, unless there’s something about the story that has captured my fancy, I tend to get bored pretty quickly. I’ve always had a preference for the worlds of fantasy and magic. A big turning point for me was reading Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls at the tender age of fourteen. Neil Gaiman’s series of The Sandman graphic novels blew me away when I was about eighteen or so. Storm Constantine’s Stalking Tender Prey was another. Coupled with that, I used to roleplay a lot as a young adult, mostly the White Wolf systems and I had a preference for Werewolf and Vampire.

A common theme that appealed to me as a storyteller is that beneath the exterior of our world, there’s another world that is infinitely darker and filled with secrets. Consumed with boundless curiosity, I always want to peel back the layers to find the story beneath the story. Stories tell us a lot about ourselves, our culture and our past. I prefer to seek the mysteries that suggest that there is more to this life than shopping malls, reality shows on telly or big sporting events.

I have to ask about something I read on a bio of you. You're an experienced penguin wrangler? Enlighten me, would you?

I’m a bit of a fervent environmentalist. For a long time I worked as an assistant at my brother-in-law’s veterinary clinic on weekends, so I ended up living out some of my interest in nature that way, hand-rearing baby birds, rehabilitating chameleons and such, but also interacting with the people who love animals. In 2000 the Treasure oil-spill disaster in Table Bay threatened our highly endangered African penguins and my sister, a veterinary nurse, persuaded me to take time off work as a waitress to help with the care of these birds.

It was heart-rending. We arrived at the SANCCOB headquarters and were faced with 7000 oiled penguins. There were only about fifty volunteers at that point. I learnt to tube-feed the birds the charcoal and electrolyte solutions, which was very rewarding. Then we received a call that the army had started collecting birds from further afield and could they please send some volunteers to a warehouse near the docks.

It was horrific. By the end of the week, we were tubing, feeding and washing more than 17,000 birds. As a volunteer you learnt very quickly how to avoid having your eyes pecked out or being bitten more than necessary (the bruises on my arms were something else). It’s like wrestling a very muscular rugby ball with flippers and a razor-sharp beak. The best part was washing the birds and seeing the distinctive black-and-white plumage shine through. Another was seeing the birds accept the fish straight from your hands. It’s almost as if some of them knew we were trying to help them.

Watch for the release of Khepera Rising and the upcoming The Dead of Night at Nerine Dorman's page at Lyrical Press. You can also learn more about Nerine and her dark fiction at the following links.


  1. Thank you for bringing Nerine's work to my attention, Keith. And thanks for this revealing interview. I'm looking forward to reading my copy of Khepera Rising.

    Nerine, best of luck with your book promotion. And thanks for sharing your experience. It seems we are all unique with similar experiences.

  2. Keith, thank you for interviewing Nerine. I find her fascinating and love reading about her complex thoughts and life experiences. While I don't write dark fiction, she intrigues me to read it.


  3. Thanks for dropping by Joylene and Rebecca. I agree Khepera Rising sounds wonderful, perhaps as fascinating and complex as Nerine is.