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Tom Piccirilli – let’s do good by the man, and read some fine books too!

Tom Piccirilli: award-winning author of mystery, horror and, not to put too fine a point on it, bloody good fiction whatever the category.

Tom Piccirilli: lovely guy, always there to support his fellow authors, always keen to be in touch with his readers.

Tom Piccirilli: went into hospital last week with headaches, stayed there with a brain tumour the size of a tennis ball, having an operation on Monday (1 Oct), followed by radio- and chemotherapy.

Fuck. 

As others have said, there are bound to be fundraisers for so respected and well-liked a writer, but in the meantime, let’s buy his books – it all adds up. Also, much as it’d be cool to see his works from big commercial publishers doing well, income from those tends to get set against advance payments and takes a long time to ever reach the author; if we buy his indie books, there’s a greater likelihood that the money from sales will reach him sooner (and he’d probably get a bigger cut, too).

So… Tom Piccirilli: buy his books, buy his indie books, and let’s all send positive vibes.


One Of Us: an extract

One of Us by Iain RowanAnna is one of the invisible people. She fled her own country when the police murdered her brother and her father, and now she serves your food, cleans your table, changes your bed, and keeps the secrets of her past well hidden.

When she used her medical school experience to treat a man with a gunshot wound, Anna thought it would be a way to a better life. Instead, it leads to a world of people trafficking, prostitution, murder and the biggest decision of Anna’s life: how much is she prepared to give up to be one of us?

Shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award, here’s an extract from One of Us by award-winning writer Iain Rowan.

CHAPTER ONE

Twelve months more of medical school, back in my country, and I would have been a doctor. Here, I scrape grease from a stained griddle under buzzing lights, while drunks stagger and shout on the other side of the counter. When they vomit on the tiled floor, I have to clear it up, with a metal bucket and a mop that is falling apart. Maybe this is not so different to a hospital on a Saturday night. Thinking this helps, sometimes.

Before the burger bar I worked in a cheap hotel, stripping stained sheets and emptying ashtrays for three pounds an hour until the assistant manager came and closed the door behind him, and smiled while he undid his belt. If the old couple had not returned to argue about who had left their theatre tickets behind, I do not know what would have happened. Or rather, I do.

Before the hotel I scrubbed left-overs that were worth more than I was from dishes in a restaurant, and before that I shivered on the streets for four nights that lasted a year. Before that was a boat, and before that, days in the back of a lorry. Even now, if I smell lemons I also smell diesel and fear. Before that was another lorry, and before that another city, and before that was the day that the policemen beat my brother to death, and dragged my father away to die in a prison cell, and I heard it all from the cupboard under the stairs, shivering behind an ironing board with my fist stuck in my mouth to stop my screams from coming out.

So I scoured grills, and burnt my hands, and I wiped half-chewed chips from plastic tables. No-one asked me for any papers, the work paid me money in my hand, and the money paid for a bed in a room in a hostel. I shared the room with three other women, and a small bathroom and kitchen with everyone who lived on the same floor, but there was a bed for me, and there was a lock on the door, and after the four nights on the streets that was enough.

Alice came from Kenya. She worked very early in the morning, cleaning in a hotel. She had a picture of a beautiful child stuck to the wall next to her bed. At night she touched it with her fingers as if she was touching the child’s face, and she cried without making any noise. Safeta was Kosovan, and she worked in a laundry, washing and drying a thousand sheets that a hundred Alices stripped from beds every morning. She smelt of the laundry, a clean and nice smell, but her hands were always red and she bled from around her fingernails. Sally was English but she was also a drunk. I do not know what she did in the daytime but at night she just slumped on a couch in the common room of the hostel, drinking cheap wine and staring through the television into a world beyond. Sometimes she had bruises and what looked like bite marks all over her arms.

If I lived there for too long I would go mad, and end up sitting with Sally by the television, pulling at my hair or picking at scabs on my arms. But without the proper legal documentation I could not get a better job, and without a better job I could not make more money, and without more money I could not live anywhere other than the hostel.

I could not go back; it was not safe for me. Even if things changed I could not go back. Would not go back. I could not live with so many ghosts. So I am here.

I save as much as I can from the endless nights in the burger bar to buy some papers that will say that I am legal. I do not want to do this, because I want to be a good citizen, and because the men who deal in the false papers remind me of the men at home: they do everything with a swagger that says that anything that gets in their way will be beaten out of it. I do not want to deal with them.

But I do not want to go back.

Daniel was not one of those men, but he worked for them. He was all smiles and loves and sweethearts and he laid his hand on my arm as if he were my friend. Safeta knew a Kosovan who would not deal with me, but he gave me a phone number, and I rang it and spoke to an English man who did not give me his name, not then. I met him three days later in a busy coffee bar at the railway station. He was tall and slim, and the way that his black hair fell loose over his forehead made me think of a boy that I had known in school.

“I’m Daniel, sweetheart,” the man grinned. “Just Daniel.” He sat opposite me, sipping at his coffee, smiling at me a lot and looking at me a lot, and asking me questions about what I wanted. The cafe smelt of coffee and warm pastries. Daniel asked me why I did not have a drink.

“Because I do not want one,” I said.

“Don’t have the money for it, more like,” he said, shaking his head. “Come on, don’t lie to me, sweetheart. How can I trust you if you lie to me? And I want to trust you, really I do.” He leaned over, rested his hand on mine for a moment, just a moment, and then took it away.

“I cannot tell a lie,” I said. “It is because they use Robusta beans for this coffee, and I prefer Arabica. I am fussy that way.”

He smiled, a perfect white smile that I could tell he had practised on many girls before. I thought that it would usually have worked too, that and the way he held eye contact just that little bit longer than necessary. Once, it maybe could have worked on me. But not now. I was too tired, too busy just living, for anything like that. “So if you can’t even afford a cup of this slop, how exactly were you planning on paying me?”

“That is why I do not drink the coffee,” I said. “It is why I do not buy newspapers, or cans of cola, or anything except for rent and food. So I can save the money, so I can get what I need.”

He liked my answer, because he laughed a lot and bought me a cup of coffee and told me that he liked my spirit. He asked me where I came from.

“I come from North Ossetia,” I said, and Daniel made a face and shrugged.

“Russia,” I said. “To most people here, just Russia.”

“Don’t think I know it,” Daniel said.

“You won’t,” I said. Most people do not, and to them it is all just Russia and Russians. The one thing that people know about my country is the school called School Number One. This school was in a town called Beslan. But I do not like to talk about what happened there. “My home was in a city called Vladikavkaz.”

“I know that name,” Daniel said. “Why do I know that?”

It was my turn to shrug. When I did, I caught him looking at how my breasts moved under my sweatshirt. He gave a little grin of no apology but an acknowledgement that he had been caught.

“Think United played there once, didn’t they, mid-Nineties?”

I folded my arms, and then shrugged again, I am not here for small talk, do I look like a woman who cares what United did? Anyway, it was Liverpool, and we lost to them. Aleksey took me, kept threatening to embarrass me by holding my hand when we were walking to the stadium.

“So what did you do Anna, back in Vladiwhatever.”

“I was a medical student,” I said. “I was studying to be a doctor.”

“Were you now,” said Daniel, and he did not seem very interested in talking about it, because all that was past and gone, so I did not say anything else. I remembered when I was at school, studying hard for exams. I was sat at the kitchen table, my books spread everywhere, a cup of tea gone cold, when my father came in. He stood and watched me for a moment, not saying anything.

“How’s it going?” he said in the end.

“Lots to do,” I said. “And I’m tired, can I not—”

“No,” he said. “You can not.”

“But I haven’t—”

“You don’t need to. Listen Anna, your schoolwork is important. You pass these exams, as I know you can, and there will be a place in the Medical Academy and you will be a doctor, Anna. Think of that, a doctor.”

“I know,” I said, sulking because I wanted to be a doctor but I also wanted to be out with my friends. “But—”

“If your mother could see you a doctor,” he sighed. “She would be so proud.”

And that was the end of that. I could not argue any more, because I knew that he was right. She would have been.

My father placed a hand on my shoulder.

“Study hard, Anna. I know I seem like a tyrant. But my daughter, a doctor. I will be so proud, too, to see you do something with your life. Something better than I do.”

I stared down at my books.

“Yes,” he said in the end. “Well, dog won’t feed itself.” And he stomped off, out of the kitchen, and I went back to my work because I wanted so much to pass those exams, but it was hard to concentrate when my vision was so blurred.

Daniel bought me another cup of coffee even though I said no, and then he named a price that I could not afford.

“I do not have that much,” I said. “Not nearly that much.” Can you not tell, I thought. Look at me, look at these jeans, which cost less than I would once have spent on a pair of tights. Look at these hands, with their bitten nails and their red marks from hot grease. Once, everyone in this place would have looked when I walked in. Now, they probably think that I am staff, on a break.

He shrugged, flicked his hair away from his forehead. “You’ve got a problem then. I really do want to help you sweetheart, but that’s the price. I’ll throw the coffees in for free. You’ve got my mobile number. Phone me when you have the money. We’ll do business.”

“It will take me a long time,” I said. “When I pay for food and rent, there is not much left to save.”

“Girls manage,” he said, “they find ways,” and he gave me a long look over his smile. I went back to work, and ate food that customers had left so that I could save more money, and I slept, and I did not do much else.

~

A month later I was working the evening shift again, slapping a mop around the floor in front of the counter and trying to replace the stink of vomit with the smell of bleach. Rain rattled against steamed-up windows. Sean slouched at the till, deep in a library book about ancient Rome. The week before, it had been a library book about astronomy. His obsessions changed with the weather.

I met Sean on my first day at Peter’s restaurant. Peter handed me my uniform of bright red shirt and itchy grey trousers, and told me that he was going to be very busy in the office, so one of the team would show me how everything worked.

“Sean,” he said. “This is Anna. Show her the ropes, will you?”

A tall, thin man with scruffy hair that wasn’t the colour of anything in particular took an awkward step forward, like a heron. He held out his hand, and I went to meet it but my own hands were in my pockets and by the time I got one out he had blushed and dropped his hand, thinking that I did not want to shake hands, and then when I did hold my hand out again, he had put his in his pockets. He said, “Oh, sorry,” and blushed again.

“Sean,” he said. “Um.” He waved a hand around the kitchen. “I work here. Good to have you around, we’re short on staff. Sorry, don’t mean that it’s only good to have you here because we need just anybody, it’s good to have you here as um, you.” He tailed off, coughed, scratched at an eyebrow. “Right. Anna, yeah?”

“Yes, I am still Anna.”

I regretted it when I said it, because I thought that he would be offended, and I did not want to offend this shy man who I would have to work with. But he did not look offended, he laughed.

“Good. Be a bit scary if you were someone else, really. Let’s start again and give the comedy routine a miss.” He smiled, and held out his hand again, and I thought: there is more to this man than there seems. Sean became the closest thing I had to a friend. He was well-educated, I think that he too had been to university, but he never spoke of it, and only ever talked of many dead-end jobs like this one. There was often a sadness in his eyes and sometimes his hands shook and shook until he put them in his pockets and clenched his fists very tight and I pretended that I had not noticed.

I plunged the mop into the water that was already dirty, and slopped it onto the floor because I was too tired to go and change the water. The door banged open and I felt cold air and then somebody standing near me, so I concentrated on mopping in circles around my feet, not wanting to look up, to have to see a leer and allow the chance for a conversation to start with a middle-aged man running to fat who did not often get the chance to talk to twenty-five-year-old girls running to skinny. I tried just to be a piece of furniture, without age, without sex, nothing to look at of interest. Since I had left my country, I had much practice at this. Not that it made much difference to many men. I was a woman, and so I was fair game. I could have worn a potato sack and not washed my hair for a month, and it would have made no difference to some.

“Forgot which burger place you said you worked in, didn’t I,” a voice said. “Fifth one I’ve been in. I’m getting soaked, and I’m sick of chips.”

It was Daniel. He grinned at my surprise, like a child who had just performed his first magic trick. I did not know what to say so I did not say anything. I do not want to talk to you, I thought. Not now anyway, when my hair needs a wash, and I am sweating into this stupid shiny red blouse that reflected the lights on to my face and made me look like I was blushing.

“So, this is your office,” he said. Peter came out from the kitchen and frowned at the sight of someone standing talking and not buying, but he dropped a cardboard box of plastic cups behind the counter, grunted at Sean to put the damn book down and follow him, and stomped away again. Peter was the manager of the burger restaurant. He made me think of a bear in the zoo at home, he was hairy and he growled, and whenever he came into a room it looked smaller. Sometimes he was kind, sometimes his temper scared me. I forgave him that, though. He gave me a job, without asking for papers or identity cards, and he paid me on time, and he did not try to touch me. He looked sometimes, but he never did more than that, and that is no more than most other men that I have known and it is much less than many others.

“What do you want?” I said to Daniel. “Why have you come looking for me? I do not have the money yet.”

“Got some good news for you on the money side of things, sweetheart,” he said. “You come with me now, but no messing around, it has to be right now, just do one little job, and you get a new identity, the full works, all the papers. Real, not fake, people on the inside, worth ten times what I quoted you for a knocked-together one. Make you one of us, as legit as me.”

“A job?” I said. “I am already working in a job.” I slapped the mop down on the floor. “And you are messing it up with your wet feet.”

“Is that what you call this?” he said, looking around. “A job? Must have been desperate, where you came from.”

“Yes,” I said. “It was.”

I said it with more anger than I had meant to let out, and Daniel did not know quite what to say.

“Yeah, sorry, whatever.” He flicked hair from out of his eyes, and did not look very sorry at all. “Listen, man I work for, he needs your services for the night. But we have to go now, or not at all.”

I shook my head, backed away, holding the mop handle out as if it would protect me. “Fuck off,” I said.

“Didn’t put that well, did I?” He laughed but he was nervous, I could see it in the way that he shifted from foot to foot. “It’s not what you think, sweetheart. Christ, I’m not a pimp. It’s your medical skills, not your beautiful body, that Corgan’s after. But you have approximately, oh, fuck all seconds at all to make up your mind. I mean it, the car’s outside, you come now, do this little job, you get your papers, the works, make you more legal than the queen. Trust me, Corgan can help you go places. He’ll help you, and me bringing you to him will make me look good. We both win, see? Besides, you really, really don’t want to piss him off.”

“What do you mean, medical skills? I was only a student, I—”

“Close enough. You studied hard, didn’t you? Read all the books? Two minutes,” he said. “Up to you. I’ll be right in the shit if you don’t, but hey, it’s your call.” The door banged behind him. I stood for a moment, watching the floor dry to a dull smear. I thought about waiting for my number to be called, for yet another interview. I thought of the noise my brother had made when they were kicking him. I had seen a horse fall once, and break its leg. We were staying out in the country, at my uncle’s house, and my brother and I had been playing in the field. A woman had been riding a horse, hard. It was beautiful to watch, it raced the length of the field with power and grace. Then one foot must have gone into a hole left by a rabbit, and the horse came down in a tangle of legs that were now too long for it, the woman pitched over its head and onto the ground, and we heard the horse’s leg break from where we were standing. The rider staggered to her feet after a moment or two, cursing, but the horse rolled about on the ground, and I put my hands over my ears but I could still hear its terrible squealing. My father and uncle came rushing out. My father led me back to the house, made me tea and held me tight while I cried. He held my head tight against his big chest, and it was only that evening I realised that he held me this way on purpose so I would not hear the shot.

Late that night, when he and my uncle got drunk, and I was supposed to be asleep, I heard my uncle complaining about the woman who had been riding the horse.

“A beautiful animal,” he said. “I had to shoot the wrong one.”

When the men kicked my brother to death, he made a noise like the horse did. And I put my hands over my ears then too, but I could still hear the terrible sound he made.

I walked out into the kitchen and told Peter that I was sick, I had to go home.

“Sick? What the hell do you mean sick?” Peter tugged at his beard, as he always did when something came along that upset the smooth running of things. I often thought that when we had a health inspection at the restaurant, the thing that would get us closed down would be Peter’s beard.

“I mean vomiting. I think I have a stomach flu. There is diarrhoea too, I think, I need to go very bad.”

“Jesus, spare me the details. Don’t want to catch it either.”

“I can manage fine on my own Pete,” Sean said. “It’s not exactly busy. Tuesday, quiet night.” He frowned at me, from behind the coffee machine, his face a question I could not answer.

“Go on then, get yourself away Anna, before you give it to me. It’s coming out of your wages though; if you’re not here I’m not paying you.”

Daniel was waiting in a dark blue car, talking on a mobile phone. When I came near he finished the call, and leaned over to open the passenger door.

“Good girl. You’ve just saved my life. Already told ’em you were coming, had faith in you.”

I got in, and he drove away fast, looking in his mirror a lot. We drove down wet streets that shone orange on black, and I thought, this is how a life changes. A stupid decision, a moment where what you want so badly wins over what sense tells you, and then you are in a strange car, driving in the night and you do not know what waits for you at the other end. I thought of girls from my home, who had wanted so much, and so had gone on journeys across Europe without asking too many questions. And I thought about where they ended up. Because I knew this. I knew this very well.

I closed my eyes for a moment. Then I thought, this is stupid, because when you open them again, nothing will have changed. So I did, and it hadn’t.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Onwards and upwards, Anna, onwards and upwards.”

I did not see the point in asking any more, because I knew that I would not get an answer. We stopped at a quiet row of old houses. They had once been grand, I think, but now next to each front door a rash of bell pushes showed how the houses had been divided and divided and divided, and the sagging curtains at the windows looked as if they would not be opened in the mornings.

“Here we are,” Daniel said, and I could hear the tension in his voice.

“Here we are for what?” I said, but I knew that it was too late to ask the question. Whatever I was here to do, I would have to do. I felt sick.

Daniel did not answer. He got out of the car, then walked around to my door.

“Come on, it’s this one,” he said, and we walked up a cracked concrete path. Daniel used a key to open the front door, and I followed him in. The hallway was lit by a single dusty bulb that hung without a shade. A table inside the door overflowed with free newspapers and junk mail. A pay phone hung above the table. Someone had patterned the wall all the way around the phone with cigarette burns. Daniel walked up the creaking stairs, and I followed him. I could smell burnt food, and cigarette smoke, and sweat. We stopped on the first floor, and Daniel paused in front of a wooden door that was all pits and splinters.

“Keep your mouth shut,” he said in a low voice. “Keep your eyes on what you’re doing, say nothing. Just do what you’re told, and it’ll be fine. Promise you, sweetheart.” He tapped on the door. It opened a fraction straight away, as if someone had been standing there all along, and I saw a shadow inside. Then the door opened all the way, and Daniel put a hot hand in the small of my back, and I walked in to get away from it.

A man with an expensive suit stretched over big shoulders leaned against the wall by the door. He looked me up and down with the cold eyes of a shark. I could smell violence on him, like sweat. Another man lay on a bed, naked from the waist up, with a sheet wrapped round and round his arm. The sheet was stained dark red in the middle. The room stank of whisky, and an empty bottle lay on the floor by the side of the bed.

“This it?” the big man said, and it took me a moment before I realised that he was talking about me.

“Yeah,” Daniel said. “Don’t worry, Corgan, she’s cool.”

“Oh, thanks Danny boy,” Corgan said. “If you say not to worry, that’s OK then. I’ll stop worrying.”

Daniel looked as if he wanted to speak, but he did not.

Corgan said, “You waiting for something?”

Daniel walked off without a word.

Corgan reached out a hand and slammed the door shut. Then he turned the key. He was no taller than me, but he was wide, powerful, and a man who would never be afraid to use that power.

He looked at me for a long time and I felt like a fish on a slab in the market. “Well,” he said in the end. “Here’s our new doctor.”

…continues in One Of Us by Iain Rowan (available in ebook and print editions)


Seven things I hate about e-publishing

E-publishing is a rapidly growing and changing field* and we’re all learning and adapting. Or, at least, we should be. Here, in no particular order, are a few of my least favourite things.

1. Sloppy conversion and lack of checking. This one really bugs me. As owner of an electronic publishing imprint and a book reviewer – and, hell, as an ordinary reader – I see a lot of ebooks, and it still staggers me how poorly they can be produced. With electronic publishing being such a democratic endeavour, this is hardly a surprise: just because someone has mastered the technology for self-publishing their writing it doesn’t mean they’ve also mastered the basics of formatting, proof-reading, etc. But what really bugs me is how frequently I buy an ebook from a major commercial publisher only to find that it’s full of conversion errors. These include characters that have been converted into gibberish, paragraphs split in the wrong places, screwed up alignment and indents, and more. This kind of thing happens all the time when you convert from, say, a Word file to an ebook format. And if you give the slightest little toss you check for them and fix them. I’ve lost count of how many books from major publishers I’ve seen that still contain far too many of these errors and clearly haven’t even been checked after conversion. Which brings me to…

2. Pricing. Too many big publishers still charge far too much for ebooks, sometimes even more than the paperback edition. This irks even more when the amount of work – and checking – put into ebook production has clearly been kept to an absolute minimum. But while some publishers still try to charge too much, audience expectations that they should be able to buy a complete novel for 99 cents, or even get it for free, are particularly damaging to the livelihoods of writers, and therefore to the future availability of their work. Is it really better to get a free novel that, to be frank, probably isn’t very good, rather than spend $5 on a novel by someone far better? To some people, the answer would be “yes”, which is depressing, to say the least.

3. Poor covers. So many ebooks just look… well, pretty crap, don’t they? Do you really think it’s okay to spend a year writing a novel only to put it out with a cover that looks like it’s been made by a 12 year-old with a copy of Paint and ten minutes to spare? Actually, and I’m in danger of arguing my way out of this one, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing, after all. If someone thinks that crappy cover is a good advertisement for what’s inside, chances are they’re right. Maybe this is one of the filtering mechanisms that are slowly emerging: a good cover only means the self-published author has found a decent cover designer; a bad cover says far more.

4. Poor quality control. So much of it comes back to this. Self-published authors can’t be good at everything, and the successful ones know when to call in help, be it for cover design, production, editing, proofing, or whatever. But have I mentioned how much it bugs me when the big commercial guys get it so badly wrong, too? They’re cheating their authors, and their readers. When a publisher clearly doesn’t give a toss, it’s so much harder to give the book itself the chance it deserves.

5. Alternative revenue models, aka screwing the authors. I’m all for exploring alternatives – anyone familiar with my work at infinity plus over the last fifteen years could hardly question that. But one sub-current in the e-publishing/self-publishing/indie world that I really don’t like is the tendency for authors to start exploiting other authors. At its best, writing and publishing is a huge collaborative endeavour; I owe so many people in the business huge debts, and I’ve been told more than a few times that others feel the same about me. But this whole business of authors, for example, building up successful blogs and then asking other authors to pay for their work to be reviewed there, or even to get an “other books we’re vaguely aware of” mention there… well, I don’t feel that it helps me as a reader in the slightest, and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Worse, most readers aren’t aware that this is going on, and so take mentions and reviews on these blogs as recommendations, or objective listings. Is this any worse than the common practice of bricks and mortar bookshops charging publishers for display space? Perhaps not, but it’s so far removed from the mutually-supportive culture of writing and publishing that I’m accustomed to that, well, it’s another of those things that bug me.

6. I’ve got a book and I’m going to publish it. One of the great things about modern publishing is that authors can get their work out to small niche audiences, through the concept of long tail publishing: while the big commercial publishers concentrate on the books that they hope will sell in the tens of thousands and more, there are still a lot of people out there with more specialist tastes, the long tail that will never shift huge numbers. At infinity plus most of our books fall into this category: short story collections rarely sell enough to interest the big trade publishers, for instance, but steady sales of smaller quantities both satisfy that niche audience’s demand and provide a nice little income for the authors. Another category of book that fits the long tail model, is the early trunk novel. Lots of successful authors have very good novels that, for all kinds of reasons, never found a trade publisher, and e-publishing gives us opportunities to finally make these available. This is a Good Thing. However, most authors don’t sell their first novel; or their second. The key thing is how we determine whether the value in an unsold novel lies in the interest it has for that author’s fans and the fact that it won’t damage the author’s career or if the book’s value only resides in it having been a learning exercise and it rightly belongs back in that trunk in the attic. It’s a tough one to call, and we’re back to quality control again.

7. Ignoring the big guys. I’ve criticised the big commercial publishers here a little, haven’t I? And deservedly so. However, one of the big mistakes authors make now is in the rush to self-publishing. I feel the pull myself. When I’ve finished a new novel it can take a year or – usually – more before a big commercial publisher can bring it out. At infinity plus I’ve received a book’s final content and had it available for sale within a couple of weeks or so, on occasion. It’s hugely attractive to authors to be able to make their work available so quickly. But I’d argue that such impatience can be a dangerous thing. While I think commercial publishers have an awful lot to learn from this new environment, I’m a big advocate of working with them while they do so. For a start, you get to work with designers, editors, copy-editors, proof-readers, marketing teams, sales teams and far more – professionals; experts in their area, all of them. You get bricks and mortar distribution. You get far more coverage and publicity. You get the kudos of having a big publisher, that sense of validation that you’re working to the kind of standard that means a major international company is willing to invest significant money in your work. As a writer, if you break into commercial publishing, you get to learn and improve so much faster than if you’re out there doing it on your own. Yes, writing careers can be forged through indie publishing, but far more successful writing careers are still being launched through the traditional trade route, and whatever publishing models emerge in the near future I reckon that writers would be short-sighted to ignore it.

So… do these things bug you too? Have I overlooked anything? And yes, I’m just waiting for that first response to point out a typo; it would only be fitting when I’ve gone on at such length about quality control, now, wouldn’t it?


*And blog posts like this do a lot of stating the bleedin’ obvious.


New: One of Us, a CWA Debut Dagger shortlisted novel by Iain Rowan

One of Us by Iain RowanAnna is one of the invisible people. She fled her own country when the police murdered her brother and her father, and now she serves your food, cleans your table, changes your bed, and keeps the secrets of her past well hidden.

When she used her medical school experience to treat a man with a gunshot wound, Anna thought it would be a way to a better life. Instead, it leads to a world of people trafficking, prostitution, murder and the biggest decision of Anna’s life: how much is she prepared to give up to be one of us?

Shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award, One of Us is a novel by award-winning writer Iain Rowan.


BUY NOW:

CreateSpace (paperback $11.99)
Amazon US (paperback $11.99)
…Amazon UK (coming soon: paperback $11.99)
amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.99)

Nowhere to Go by Iain RowanTo tie in with the launch of One of Us, Iain’s highly-praised collection of crime and suspense fiction, Nowhere to Go, has been given a new cover.

Praise for Iain Rowan’s Nowhere to Go:

“Fine examples of modern crime stories, gripping and perceptive, probing the dark secrets of the human soul, just like an old Alfred Hitchcock movie… Crime enthusiasts must not miss the book: this is noir at its very best.”
SF Site featured review

“During the five years that I published Hardluck Stories, One Step Closer and Moth were two of my favorite stories. I loved the nuances and true heartfelt emotion that Iain filled his stories with, and Iain quickly became a must read author for me–everything I read of Iain’s had this tragic, and sometimes, horrific beauty filling it, and was guaranteed to be something special.”
– Dave Zeltserman, author of Outsourced, and Washington Post best books of year Small Crimes and Pariah

“A short story writer of the highest calibre.”
– Allan Guthrie, author of Top Ten Kindle Bestseller Bye Bye Baby, winner of Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year

“Iain Rowan’s stories never fail to surprise and delight, and just when you think you know what will happen next, you realize how much you’ve been caught unaware.”
– Sarah Weinman, writer, critic, reviewer, columnist for the Los Angeles Times and News Editor for Publishers Marketplace

“Iain Rowan is both a meticulous and a passionate writer, and these stories showcase his ample talent wonderfully well. You owe it to yourself to discover Rowan’s fiction if you haven’t already had the pleasure.”
– Jeff Vandermeer, author of Finch, Shriek: An Afterword, City of Saints and Madmen; two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award

“Every story in this collection is a gem… classy and clever Brit Grit at its best.”
– Paul D Brazill at Death By Killing


New: infinity plus singles, 16-20

Just out from infinity plus, the latest batch of infinity plus singles:

Pilots of the Purple Twilight by Kit Reed Pilots of the Purple Twilight
by Kit Reed ($0.99/£0.77)
infinity plus singles #16 [Mar 2012]The wives spent every day by the pool – this was where the men had left them, after all. A moving, incisive story that gets right under your skin from an author whose prose style has been described as “pure dry ice” by The New York Times Book Review.

BUY NOW: from Amazon USAmazon UKSmashwords

Memories of the Flying Ball Bike Shop by Garry Kilworth Memories of the Flying Ball Bike Shop
by Garry Kilworth ($0.99/£0.77)
infinity plus singles #17 [Mar 2012]Understand the one you hate. What did the old Chinese man smoke? He smoked his enemy, and when he had smoked the hated man he would know him. “The best short story writer in any genre” (New Scientist).

BUY NOW: from Amazon USAmazon UKSmashwords

All the Little Gods We Are by John Grant All the Little Gods We Are
by John Grant ($0.99/£0.77)
infinity plus singles #18 [Mar 2012]A moving tale by award-winning author John Grant about a man discovering that somehow the story of his past has been written all wrong. A superbly measured fantasy about loss, and sorrow, and the pain of dealing with past passions.

BUY NOW: from Amazon USAmazon UKSmashwords

Closet Dreams by Lisa Tuttle Closet Dreams
by Lisa Tuttle ($0.99/£0.77)
infinity plus singles #19 [Mar 2012]“Something terrible happened to me when I was a little girl…” So begins this extraordinary, International Horror Guild Award-winning  tale of abduction, survival and escape from the author Stephen Jones has called “a major force in macabre fiction.”

BUY NOW: from Amazon USAmazon UKSmashwords

Fear of Widths by David D Levine Fear of Widths
by David D Levine ($0.99/£0.77)
infinity plus singles #20 [Mar 2012]Home for his parents’ funeral … all the familiar, yet unfamiliar, things. And the horizon. How could he have forgotten the horizon? Mind-bending fiction from a Hugo-winning author.

BUY NOW: from Amazon USAmazon UKSmashwords


infinity plus singles at Amazon’s listmania

A new experiment: I’ve just set up an Amazon listmania list of the first 15 infinity plus singles. (Note: it was a bit faffy to set up, so I only did it at Amazon UK to start with.)

It’ll be interesting to see if it helps people find the books. Of course, it’s already easy to find them just by searching for “infinity plus singles”:

…but I’m intrigued to see if lists like this make it any easier for people to find us.

One striking thing that was reinforced for me when I was doing this is the quality of the stories we’ve been able to pull together for this list, many of them award-winners. What better way to spend all those Amazon vouchers?


Thirteen months of infinity plus: a whirlwind guide to ebooks for your Kindle

That thing the Reduced Shakespeare company do? You know: the entire works of the Bard in less than an hour. Well this post is kind of like that, only not Shakespeare, and it’ll take far less than an hour.

Let’s start with Eric Brown. We’ve been lucky enough to bring out the first ebook editions of several of his books, including the first edition in any format of his latest short story collection The Angels of Life and Death. His work is typified by his landmark novel Penumbra, a large-canvas story of space exploration and aliens, and a human race that is cosmopolitan and miles away from any stereotypical WASP future. For something a bit different, we also have his ghostly story of love, loss and writing, A Writer’s Life.

John Grant has won numerous awards, including the World Fantasy Award and the Hugo. We have fantasy, SF and horror from him in the collection Take No Prisoners and the short novel Qinmeartha and the Girl-child LoChi (published with a bonus novella in our edition). For something a bit different, we have his non-fiction collection Warm Words and Otherwise - some of the most insightful, perceptive and downright funny book reviews you will find anywhere.

Anna Tambour is a quirky satirist of the fantastic loved by many and sadly overlooked by many more who have yet to discover her work. Luckily, the infinity plus editions of her novel Spotted Lily and collection Monterra’s Deliciosa & Other Tales & have brought her to new audiences, hitting Amazon top tens in recent weeks.

Kaitlin Queen is a successful children’s author now finding success as an adult crime-writer. She has a new story due from PS Publishing in 2012, and her novel One More Unfortunate has been a big success for infinity plus, another top ten title in more than one category at Amazon.

The infinity plus book imprint got off the ground with collections of my own short fiction, and more recently brought out electronic editions of my big fantasy novel about the death of religion and magic Lord of Stone, and my SF thriller The Accord, described by SF Site, The Guardian and SFF Signal as one of the best books on virtual reality and transhumanism yet written, and by SciFi Wire as “a literary science fiction tour de force”.

We’re approaching 20,000 downloads of Iain Rowan’s work at infinity plus. His gritty, moving and very clever collection of crime fiction Nowhere To Go has topped Amazon’s short fiction charts and received some fantastic reviews.

Neil Williamson’s The Ephemera is a powerful collection of short SF and fantasy from an emerging author short-listed for this year’s BSFA short fiction award, while Garry Kilworth’s new collection The Phoenix Man, exclusive to infinity plus, is another showcase for an author described by New Scientist as “the best short story writer in any genre”.

Robert Freeman Wexler’s The Circus of the Grand Design is a circus novel unlike any other: imagine Ray Bradbury’s carnival fiction mashed up with Angela Carter and quite a lot of sex and you’d still only be scratching its wonderfully freakish and fascinating surface. And new to the infinity plus list, Stephen Palmer’s Hallucinating and Muezzinland offer helter-skelter, incendiary visions of how the nearish future might be.

Finally, there’s the small matter of the fifteen titles in our infinity plus singles list: short, cheap ebooks, each consisting of a single story. This list includes Eric Brown’s Interzone poll-winning The Time-lapsed Man, Lisa Tuttle’s Nebula-winning The Bone Flute (including a new essay on the controversy arising when she tried to turn down the award), Garry Kilworth’s Interzone poll-winning The Sculptor, and many more.

Phew… and breathe… There: a whirlwind tour of where we’ve reached after our first 13 months as an ebook imprint. Compressing it like this really does the list no justice, but if nothing else, it’s been a useful exercise for me, a chance to step back, catch my breath and think, “Wow! We really published all these fantastic books…” It’s been quite a year!


New: Penumbra by Eric Brown

Penumbra by Eric BrownWhen a young tug pilot’s career is ruined by a collision in Earth orbit he has no choice but to accept a commission to fly an eccentric ship builder to planet far from the trade routes. When they discover alien ruins on the planet and the hulk of a missing generation ship they are thrown into the centre of a conspiracy that reaches back centuries.

Meanwhile on Earth a young Indian police officer is trying to track down a serial killer little suspecting that the killer is linked to what is happening on a planet light years away and that her own past holds the key to everything that is happening.

Eric Brown has written a novel that brings together an extraordinary imagination, rare sensitivity to character and a love of Eastern philosphy.

A key novel from one of the UK’s favourite SF writers.

Buy now:
amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.99)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $2.99)

“This is a very skilfully plotted novel about which it is best not to give too much away… This is the book for readers who really don’t want to know where a writer might be taking them… The more meditative aspects of Penumbra bring to mind the calm of Arthur C Clarke’s work, while those who appreciate the involved mystery will find much to enjoy in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Icehenge.”
– Gary S Dalkin

“British writing with a deft, understated touch: wonderful”
– New Scientist

“SF infused with a cosmopolitan and literary sensibility”
– Paul McAuley

“One of the very best of the new generation of British SF writers”
– Vector

“Eric Brown has an enviable talent for writing stories which are the essence of modern science fiction and yet show a passionate concern for the human predicament and human values”
– Bob Shaw

Cover by Dominic Harman.


Keith Brooke on the background to new ebook release The Accord

The Accord by Keith Brooke“One of the finest novels of virtual reality yet written… a dazzling work of the imagination.” SF Site

The Accord, a virtual utopia where the soul lives on after death and your perceptions are bound only by your imagination. This is the setting for a tale of love, murder and revenge that crosses the boundaries between the real world and this virtual reality. When Noah and Priscilla escape into the Accord to flee Priscilla’s murderous husband, he plots to destroy the whole Accord and them with it. How can they hope to escape their stalker when he can become anything or anyone he desires and where does the pursuit of revenge stop for immortals in an eternal world?

This one came from three pieces of short fiction. After I’d written the first story I knew there was far more to do with that background; the second and third stories, set earlier, were deliberate explorations of the idea of a virtual heaven, with the intention always being that they would become part of a novel.

And that’s what I did. The first story was published in one of the Solaris SF anthologies and was then reprinted in the 2008 Gardner DozoisYear’s Best. The other two stories appeared in Postscripts (summer 2008) and Pete Crowther’s AI anthology, We Think, Therefore We Are (January 2009), both shortly before the print edition of the novel came out in March 2009.

To me, the best SF sets huge ideas against the intimate and personal, and this was what I quite explicitly tried to do with The Accord. Sure, it’s about building a complete virtual universe – ideas don’t come much bigger than that – but equally, it’s a love triangle; but when the triangle involves multiple personalities and different instances of the people taking part, the geometry gets a whole lot more complicated than that…

I have a lot of fond memories of working on this novel; it’s one I’m very close to, and it was gratifying to see so many excellent reviews – people got it. There’s one scene, however, that really sticks: one of those moments writers cherish where as you write a scene takes a new turn, or suddenly becomes fuller, more rich, as you pursue its internal logic to a natural conclusion. Earl on in this book, in the migrants’ camp; I won’t say any more than that, but it shocked me as I wrote it, and it still does.

I do love it when your own writing can have that effect!

Samples and purchasing:
amazon.com (Kindle format, $3.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £2.99)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $3.99)

“The emotion-driven love triangle neatly complements the tech- and philosophy-heavy nature of the Accord, making this rumination on posthumous, posthuman love a rare treat.” Publishers Weekly 5* review

“One of the finest novels of virtual reality yet written… a novel that combines elements of love story, thriller, and work of ideas, yet gains its impact from being more than the sum of these. And it all works. It works brilliantly. In The Accord, Keith Brooke has created a dazzling work of the imagination.” SF Site

The Accord is a literary science fiction tour de force that is sure to be one of the best novels of 2009.” SciFi Wire

“First and foremost a superbly written novel, featuring beautiful prose that instantly hooked me from the powerful opening page and kept the pages turning… a rare combination of thought-provoking ideas including hard sf… a lyrical novel of love, loss, revenge, exploration and adventure… The Accord is highly, highly recommended.” Fantasy Book Critic

“A truly major sf work that should be considered for all eligible awards.” SFF World

“Keith Brooke’s take on posthumanism is one of the best approaches of the subject I’ve ever seen.” SF Signal

“As well as being a masterful story, The Accord is a feat of daring and accomplished composition… Romantic, edgy, moving, tight and fast, The Accord is Keith Brooke on incandescent form and in an angry, sweary mood. The Accord offers a sense of obscene wonder the likes of which this reviewer might not have felt since Geoff Ryman’s The Child Garden. This is Keith Brooke at his absolute best.” Interzone


New: Hallucinating by Stephen Palmer

Hallucinating by Stephen PalmerEurope, 2049.

Nulight, a Tibetan refugee and notorious underground record company owner, emerges from an obscure Berlin night club realising that an alien invasion is imminent. Or is he hallucinating? Contacting his ex-lover Kappa and the invisible man Master Sengel, he begins an investigation.

Then he is abducted. Released.

And soon the aliens invade.

To save humanity, Nulight and his motley friends must decide if the aliens are real or not – and if they are, what to do about them. For Britain has become a land of pagan communities and wilderness, where the strength and resolve for the forthcoming struggle may not exist.

Can music save Britain?

Can it save the world?

Hallucinating is a unique vision of future invasion and future music, featuring cameo appearances from Ed Wynne of Ozric Tentacles, Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, Toby Marks of Banco De Gaia and many more. Michael Dog has written a foreword. This new edition contains an afterword written by the author and a never before published “syntactic remix” of the original story, also by the author.

Samples and purchasing:
amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.99)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $2.99)

“… [the] element of questionable reality raises this book above simply being a fairly entertaining read. This is an intriguing book with a novel take on the alien invasion theme that raises a number of questions about what we actually mean by alien.”
– Vector, BSFA

“Certainly the rock’n’roll science fiction vibe of the story and all the humorous bits adds to the fun of the book… conjures up some crazy imagery.”
– Aural Innovations

“…a tour de force in imagining possibilities that lie beyond our information age… If you enjoy the full immersion experience of neo-magic, you’ll [like] Muezzinland.”
– Gwyneth JonesNew York Review Of SF, on Stephen Palmer’s Muezzinland


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