A photo of catherine with blue and pink short hair wearing a blue and pink crochet scarf she made herself she is smiling at the camera

On Tuesday, 8 February, we learned that our friend and fellow Smart Bitch Catherine Heloise, lover of Eurovision and gleeful reader and reviewer of romance, died suddenly of a heart attack.

We here at SBTB HQ are just heartbroken, and sending so much love and comfort from all over the world to her family and friends in and around Australia.

It’s hard to summarize or put into words how much of a light Catherine was. She would write for thousands of words about every detail of a book she loved, or try to work out the nuance of what she didn’t. I could always hear her voice in what she wrote. Editing her work was always fun, though she and I clashed regularly with great sarcastic humor in the editorial comments when I tried to limit her number of em-dashes and ellipses.

Catherine was so colorful, in every way. Her posts in our internal Slack were full of pictures of wildly vibrant crochet, and outlandish cakes she made for her friends and her family. In the picture above, she’s wearing a scarf she crocheted herself. You may have noticed it matches her hair.

Catherine was one of those people who connected individuals who needed to know each other, and was a next-level social organizer. She hosted virtual Shakespeare performances on Zoom with actors (in costume!) from several countries participating. She would organize virtual happy hours for us, and I’m sad to know I missed the last one on New Year’s Eve because I was traveling.

My favorite posts of hers were the Eurovision recaps, partly because of the nonstop attempts to find videos that would play inside and outside the US. She’d have a complete technicolor buffet of performance clips, and I’d get “Video is not available for you” when I clicked them – which I figure was only fair since the other half the time Australia is blocked from our sales and media links. But after many, many trials and geographic restrictions, we’d usually find at least one link to a retina-exploding stage show, and as a result, my workout playlist is much embiggened with gleeful Eurovision songs.

We have a few pieces of content to which she contributed coming up in the next few days, and I will miss hearing her voice in our community. I am so, so sad beyond words to say goodbye to her.

 

Claudia: One of the many great things Catherine did for us here at SBTB HQ was organizing our virtual get-togethers. We are spread out pretty far and wide, but Catherine made a point of every so often organizing those chats and I appreciated them so much. It was all her — coordinating the different time zones, getting that zoom link out there, reminding us. Just a very small example of how generous she was.

I also recall how I once complimented (and meant to just admire them) her crochet cat coasters and she sheepishly said she was busy at the moment but could I wait until she had a bit more time and she would do one for me? Pure Catherine.

She and I also had baking and love of historical romance in common: I knew that a book she liked was a book I was bound to enjoy. I kept dreaming that one day maybe she’d come visit me and we’d find out all the plants in my area that are native to Australia! It pains me that now she never will. She would send us photos of all the interesting plants and flowers she’d see on her walks and bike rides. It was one of the many ways she shared the beauty in the world.

The seeds look like pimento olives hanging from this tree

a fluffly red flower blooming on a green bush in Melbourne A fluffly white and pink flower on a dark green bush from Melbourne

In my last convo with her she offered to pray for one of my family members (her faith was very important to her), and talked about her love of (and expertise in) singing. I can’t believe that I won’t get to tell her that her prayers worked. It still feels very strange to say goodbye, and I will miss her, her generosity, her vibrancy, her good wishes.

 

Elyse: There are people you meet who bring a light into your life that wasn’t there before and Catherine was one of those people. The joy she felt for the things she loved was infectious–cycling, singing, reading, baking, Eurovision. Her cakes were magical and I was always in awe of the photos she posted, especially her Ken cakes.

I am a better person for knowing Catherine. She was endlessly kind, even during a time where empathy and kindness felt like too much emotional currency to spend. I was having a rough time when we first met and she sent me a care package of Australian goodies unprompted, leading to my love of Tim Tams.

Catherine was vibrant and funny and intelligent, and to lose her feels especially painful. She took up room in every space she occupied in the best way, filling it with her enthusiasm and joy, while never pushing anyone aside. I hope that her family and friends can find some peace in knowing how deeply she was cared about all over the world.

 

Maya: Without Catherine I would have never known about the terrifying drop bear menace that plagues Australia, a random aside that is emblematic of the best things that come from an amazing internet friend—we got to have conversations that are silly and profound and cathartic and necessary. Those conversations were always ongoing and they never felt like they would end.

Catherine and I weren’t done talking and that’s the part that is hardest to grapple with. Like everyone has said, Catherine was wonderful and her love language was Eurovision and cakes covered in candy. It hurts to know that such an essential part of SBTB won’t be popping back up in our Slack to spread her joy one weird story about Australia at a time.

 

AJ: Catherine was one of those people who just lights up a room, or a Zoom. I was nervous to join my first SBTB happy hour but when I got in, she was chatting about crochet and murder mystery plots and I thought “Oh okay, my people are here.”

She used to worry that she was talking too much, but she never was. She could make any topic fun — everything I know about Australian politics, I learned from Catherine, and I loved every minute of it. I’m so very grateful now that I got to hear her talk as much as I did, I wouldn’t trade one word.

There’s a lot I wish I could show her — the delights of Ravelry, the drawing I made of a gum tree she photographed.

A photograph of a blooming gum tree against a blue sky with white clouds

A sketch by AJ of a gum tree in blossom, based on a photograph Catherine took on a walk in January 2022

She leaves a big space in all of our lives. But it’s a space filled with love, and sparkles, and over the top performances, and I know she would want that. We were lucky to have her as long as we did. May her memory be gold lame, Eurovision, and cake.

 

Tara: I still can’t believe that the world has lost such a bright light, someone full of so much love, curiosity, and enthusiasm. I lived for it every time Catherine showed us a new multi-coloured hair style, shared a beyond-impressive baking feat for one of the littles in her life, or delivered an incisive take on government fuckery.

Speaking of which, Catherine was actually the person who alerted me when my local government became a global laughingstock because of a Very Bad Announcement. Of course, her message started with “Hey, I hope you are doing OK,” because that was the important thing to her — checking in on me, because things were obviously bad if the news had traveled more than 13,000 kms from my home to hers. It was the kind of gesture that closed the distance gap in an instant.

The other moment that specifically stands out for me is when Catherine asked me to look at a review she’d written for a book with a nonbinary character. She so wanted to get it right, because she believed in the importance of the representation, and almost stepped back from reviewing it entirely because of being cisgender. I was grateful to see firsthand how fully her love showed up in her allyship.

I kind of can’t believe she’ll never pop up in our Slack or Zoom meetups again. Catherine was a real one and I’ll never forget her.

 

Aarya: I’m at a loss on what to write. I could say how kind and generous and lovely she was… but they’re just hollow words. How can anything I write possibly convey how much light and warmth she brought to every interaction? The mere notification of her online avatar sparked joy whenever I doomscrolled on social media. I feel like crying when I consider the possibility of never seeing that small circular avatar again – amusingly, a picture of Catherine’s face photoshopped onto a medieval nun painting.

Catherine was the type of person who made Facebook bearable. The rest of my feed would be gloom and political headaches, but her posts were witty, contemplative, and soothing. Catherine shared everything: her crochet patterns, her anger at the Australian government, funny anecdotes about her friends, etc. I learned to see the world through her eyes, compassionate and determined to hold powerful entities accountable. She was nearly 10,000 miles away, but I saw her every day when I refreshed my social media feed. Distance was no barrier for our mutual admiration and companionship.

a bright blue crochet dragon crocheted by catherine

My final conversation with Catherine concerned the intersection of our interests: tennis and the political cowardice of the Australian government during the 2022 Australian Open. We DMed for ages; she taught me so much about the migrant detention struggles in Melbourne and the Australian government’s inhumane border policy. I was initially focused on the tennis angle of the story, but she opened my eyes to the bigger (and more important) issue at hand. This was Catherine in a nutshell: social justice was always at the forefront of her mind.

As a reviewer, Catherine had no equals. She was aware of her shortcomings, and took explicit steps to make sure she wasn’t insensitive or ignorant about a certain topic. On more than one occasion, she requested that I beta-read (for lack of a better word) a review because she felt I was more knowledgeable about the main character’s background. When I gave feedback on how to reword criticism, she never got defensive and usually agreed with my correction once I explained the justification. On the rare occasions where she disagreed with my opinion (I am hardly infallible!), the ensuing dialogue led to a better and smarter review. These times where I beta-read were supposed to help Catherine, but the reality is that they made me a better reviewer, too.

Online friendship is a peculiar phenomenon. I’ve never met Catherine. I don’t know anything about her childhood or her family. I barely know what she looked or sounded like. Yet the friendship is real. Anyone who argues otherwise is wrong. This grief is a strange thing – I can’t go to her funeral or talk to the people who knew her best. I hope that I will feel a little less lonely by sharing this remembrance of Catherine with all of you.

 

Shana: I will miss Catherine. We honestly could not have been more different, but she always made me feel welcome and cared for. When I needed her wide-ranging expertise (Nuns! Inspirational romance! Australian reality tv!), she would drop everything to chat at some ridiculous hour because of the time difference.

Catherine was one of those people who was inherently generous and caring. She shared so much of her baking knowledge with us and her enthusiasm for baking for people with dietary limitations made me feel less apprehensive about cooking for my gluten-free partner. I will think of her every time I make one of her recipes.

As a reviewer, Catherine was meticulous and thoughtful, pointed, but always kind. We had divergent taste in books, and she had this way of helping me appreciate elements of a story that I’d missed on my first reading. Her reviews were masterful, and reading them made me a better reviewer. In our last conversation, we were working on a joint review for a book that I’d loved, and she’d disliked. She insisted on rereading the book before she’d tell me what she’d hated, because she wanted to make sure she was giving it a fair shot. I can’t believe I’ll never hear her long list of the book’s literary missteps! I loved that Catherine was always confident in her opinions, but never closed-minded. I hope I can carry her legacy of kindness out into the world.

 

Amanda: I’ve loved reading through everyone’s memories and it’s prompted a sudden wellspring of emotion.

For me, Catherine embodied thoughtfulness. She would jump in to plan end of the year virtual shenanigans or would invite anyone to share their opinions in a review. Sneezy is our resident birthday card wrangler, but funnily, Catherine was the one to handle Sneezy’s own card. She didn’t want anyone left out. She wanted you to feel welcome and free to come to her at any time for anything. I regret not taking advantage of those opportunities when she presented them.

As a reviewer, she was so thorough, but there was something about her squee or A-range reviews that I loved most. There was a warmth that shined from her words and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people saying they picked up a book because of Catherine’s unabashed love for it.

But I can’t finish my thoughts without mentioning Catherine’s love of cooking. She posted this recipe for Ricotta Cake for a post we did on favorite recipes that really worked for us. It’s from Catherine’s own blog. It was light and decadent and so delicious. It immediately went into my mental filing cabinet of favorite things to make. I’ll always remember her support and gusto when I told her I was going to try making it. Her loss is deeply felt, but I’m glad we all have found a way to carry her with us through books, food, and Eurovision.

 

Kiki: Catherine was the troop leader: working to gather us all together on zoom to see and hear each other, wanting to know us as much as she wanted to share herself. Being in the farthest time zone, she led us boldly into new years more than once.

Catherine felt made of curiosity, joy, and a never-ending willingness to try. To try and make crocheted coasters and creatures, to bake the most whimsical cakes for her niece, to offer up suggestions and help when needed, and to always keep learning and keep speaking up for what was right. She had an energy and vividness that I could feel across continents and I think we are all a little more adrift after the loss of her.

 

Lara: There is so much about Catherine that I will miss. I’ll miss her Christmas cards, her thoughtful explanation of Australian politics, her love for Shakespeare and singing, her brilliant reviews, stories of her cake deliveries and so much more. The lesson from Catherine that I will try to carry though in honour of her memory is her endless supply of compassion and understanding. No matter what was going on, Catherine’s kindness was front and centre. I will miss her so much.

 

Carrie: Kiki is so right – Catherine was our troop leader and Team Mom. I just read through some of the messages we sent each other and realized again how delightful they were and how thoughtful all of her comments always were. We often read the same books and had to decide who would review what, and she was always clear, direct, and kind at the same time, which is not an easy thing to achieve in a digital medium. She was non-judgmental and positive and warm and brilliant. I loved seeing what creation she would devise next, whether it be ducky cupcakes for a niece or a crocheted “happy uterus” for a friend undergoing a hysterectomy. She was constantly making things for other people and sharing her voice with her churches and online.

I have very few regrets in life but on the top of the list is that I never accepted the invitation she issued to all of us to visit her in Australia (she promised me that the giant spiders are in a different part of the country and offered me snacks). At least I got to visit her vicariously, as she patiently explained Australian politics (and democracy sausage!) to us.

Catherine was all about connecting with people. She came up with the idea for us to have zoom hangouts so we could see each other’s faces – something that I think made a big difference in the dynamic of our far-flung group of reviewers.

With her arts, her crafts, her writing, and her vibrant personality, Catherine made the world more beautiful. I feel so lucky, so blessed, that she was part of my life, and I’ll miss her in so many ways.

 

Susan: I don’t know where to start, but Catherine’s always been so bright and colourful and creative – when I think about her, I remember her always-incredible hair colours, and the beautiful things she created. I loved seeing the new things she came up with every week, whether it was cake, or music, or a new way she improv-ed for Shakespeare, or a new craft she was trying – I still remember her sharing her initial foray into crochet with us, where she hadn’t gotten the hang of granny squares, but had absolutely mastered rainbow jellyfish! Catherine was always so kind and excited about new things, even when they weren’t perfect yet, and I really hope I can keep her inspiration in mind on that.

I can’t believe we’re not going to get to enthuse about the next Ursula Vernon book together, or watch the latest SFF fandom drama go by. I’m going to miss her.

 

Ellen: Catherine was such a warm, wonderful person who contributed so much community building to the Smart Bitches team. She was so generous and welcoming and I always felt so invited into her life and world, which is such a rare and beautiful thing. She was truly a person of many unparalleled talents. I loved seeing her craft and cooking projects, reading her reviews, and hearing and reading her jokes and commentary about Australian and world politics and events. I can’t believe she’s gone and in a lot of ways I just feel at a loss for what to say, but I’m so touched reading everyone’s memories and seeing how her bright spirit was known by all of us. Also, she recommended many books which now number among my absolute favorites. As all of us book lovers know, that is one of the most impactful and soul-restoring things someone can do for us. As Susan said, I just feel blessed to have known her.

 

Sneezy: From the moment I ‘met’ Catherine on Smart Bitches, I completely adored how clear her words are, her vivaciousness, and her passion for so many different things. Catherine’s someone who MADE. THINGS. HAPPEN, and would speak up and advocate for what she felt is right wherever and whenever she could. I don’t know where she finds the energy to do half of what she did. It’s a running joke between us that I would nag at her to rest, and Catherine would tell me she gets bored then bait me well over the hills.

But her secret for being amazing at pretty much everything she tries her hand at wasn’t a Herculean nuclear core of energy. (Catherine frequently needed to fall over after whizzling around.) It’s being willing to put herself out there and being okay with making mistakes.

She said this to me one time:

“It’s much harder to be so accepting of my own manifold imperfections, but one of the things I do try to do is just… keep putting things out there, even knowing they aren’t perfect, because they are better than nothing. (I also have a strong philosophical belief that amateur art is important – everyone ought to have the opportunity to be creative, and I think one downside of the online world is that we now have so much perfect, professional art at our fingertips that we feel intimidated by it – you know, if I can’t sing like Patricia Petibon, is there any real point in singing?

But creating things is good in and of itself, and so while I try to make my one-woman choir stuff perfect,  I’m actually failing at that every single day and I’m still putting it up there, because I think it’s a good thing to set an example of imperfect, participatory art. Like our Shakespeare!

I sometimes conduct community choirs, and I’m good at it because I know how to create a space where people feel comfortable making mistakes, and that means I can often get them to do things that are much harder than they think they can manage.”

She’s also an incredible organizer, kind and generous, and always went the extra mile to make things not just accessible but ENJOYABLE for everyone. I was talking with one of our friends today, and she talked about how Catherine never let the bad things she saw twist her. Like you would expect from a Smart Bitch, Catherine is outrageously intelligent, and well aware of the many terrible things that have happened and are continuing to happen in the world. It upsets her and she’s too practical to hold her breath for miracles, and she still found and created joy anywhere and everywhere she’s at, still put massive amounts of energy into making the world a better place.

Catherine has been hosting retro Eurovision watchings for months. We watch every Friday evening, and we all wail at Boring White Men together, claim fabulous performers as wives, and troll each immensely.

This is one of Catherine’s favourite performances.

Catherine’s an incredible singer, and appreciates a well done, tasteful performance as much as the next person (provided it wasn’t boring) and absolutely adored bonkers performances like this one. Lasha Tumbai in particular because even in the genre of Eurovision, it’s still significantly MORE outrageous. There’s a ‘made up language’ to boot that was absolutely not blatantly blaring any political message. It’s a cacophonous mess of a song, and Catherine gloried in it.

Catherine is honestly one of the most important people in my life, and I expected to be lifelong friends with her. We had been planning on having a chat this week about theology, and while I still have Very Complicated feelings about God and monotheism and the many narratives enmeshed with religion, I hope wherever she is, Catherine is being taken care of at least as much as she took care of everyone else in her life. She sang at multiple churches EVERY week, even more so at Christmas and Easter, subbed in as the accompanist when needed, helped organize and kept her fellow choir members safe when COVID hit, and that’s not even touching on all the singing and cooking she did for birthdays, weddings, and funerals. I doubt whatever comes after operates on a points system, but clearly Catherine deserves at least a set of sturdy wings to aid and abet her precarious leaning and travel to her heart’s content.

A while back I told Catherine that no matter in which timeline or lifetime, I’ll find her and be friends with her, over and over again. I’ll hold her in my heart for the rest of this life and beyond so I’ll recognize her when we meet again.

Lastly, here is another of her favourite Eurovision songs

North America Friendly version:

Some of you will probably recognize this song from Catherine’s first post on Eurovision.

It’s beautiful and dazzling just like Catherine.

❤ 

Farewell, our friend.

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