Monthly Archives: May 2011

Top 100s

Well, that’s quite a landmark:  every single infinity plus ebook – that’s all 16 titles – is in at least one Amazon UK top 100 chart!top one hundred Amazon bestsellers

Now anyone involved in ebook publishing knows that Amazon’s charts can be a bit fickle. Sometimes all it takes is a handful of sales at the right time to boost a book into one of the many top tens. But still… For all of our titles to be up there is really quite something. What’s more striking is that many of these top hundreds are for all books in a category – they’re not just ebook charts.

In a very short space of time at infinity plus we’ve built up an impressive list of authors, and some fantastic books. Authors include top science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime writers such as World Fantasy and Hugo Award winner John Grant, British SF Award winners Eric Brown and Garry Kilworth (also a World Fantasy Award winner), and more.

One possible reason for the current surge in sales could be Paul Cockburn’s fantastic review of a number of our titles in the current Interzone, the UK’s longest-running and multiple award-winning SF magazine. Having said that, it’s always hard to make the connection between a particular piece of publicity and sales, as there’s usually a time lag, particularly as people will often download samples rather than immediately buying an ebook.

Whatever the reason, it’s good to see our authors being rewarded by chart success in this way: it’s a fine set of books, and I’m hugely proud to have been involved in getting them out to their audiences.

You can find out more about our range of titles at http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/books.

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Mentions

Nice round-up of the latest infinity plus titles over at Locus.

And a great reader review of Neil Williamson’s The Ephemera at Smashwords (this is our best-selling title at that site): “Williamson is one of the best Scottish short story writers alive today… There isn’t a poor story here.”


The Edinburgh Marathon: I actually did it!

First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who has sponsored me, or at the start of the Edinburgh Marathon, May 2011supported me in other ways, through all this. It’s over now! I’ve done it: completed my first – and last – marathon, and raised over £1,000 for Epilepsy Action, who have been such a big help to my daughter Molly over the past 17 years. Thank you!

As anyone who’s followed my blogs and tweets and general whinges will know, the lead up to my first marathon had its ups and downs. Norovirus stopped me training for a couple of weeks at a key stage, and knocked me back from being able to run 20km to struggling to manage five; a broken thumb caused all kinds of problems – it jarred with every step I ran and made it hard to carry drinks on the longer runs; my sciatica started to play up after every training run; and then, to cap it all, a few days before the race a carpet nail left me with a gash on my heel that refused to, well, heal.

But still, the day came, as they do. Debbie and I travelled up by train on the Saturday. It was an interesting journey… I managed to work on my novel and a book review, despite the noisy, chavtastic pole dancer, and headphones man who stamped so hard in time to his music it felt like his foot might go through the floor. Later they were replaced by a lovely Geordie family completely ruled by Grandma; they broke out wine and beer and chocolate and we all had a lovely time with them.

The hotel was very central, and not far at all from the marathon start, which was handy. It was a small place with only ten guest rooms, all of them occupied by runners. We got the attic room. In a hotel with no lift. We had three flights of stairs to get up. No problem on Saturday, but come Sunday, after the race…

After a lovely evening exploring Edinburgh, it was back to the hotel for a night broken repeatedly by noisy vibrating pipes. Not the ideal preparation. Still, a good breakfast would make up for that. It probably would have, too, but that’s only surmise on my part. All the guests turned up for breakfast at 8, to allow time for it to settle down before the race start. The one woman running the place seemed surprised by this, even though she’d asked everyone on arrival when they’d be taking breakfast. There was instant coffee, tea, juice, bananas, bread for toasting and a few pieces of cheese. And not enough seating for everyone. There was supposed to be a cooked breakfast, but with no sign of it ever materialising we gave up, and I think everyone else did too.

We found our way to the rather chaotic starting area easily enough and hung around, not quite sure if we were hanging around in the right place or not, but then nobody else seemed too sure, either, so it was all okay. Ten minutes before the start there was a sudden shift in the crowd, and runners strode up the course, leaving behind spectators. Eventually I reached the starting line and then we were on our way.

I found my pace, which was intentionally very very slow, and stuck at it. The route took us out around the foot of Arthur’s Seat, not too shabby a way to start such a race. Within a few minutes my sciatica kicked in, and I ended up doing pretty much the entire race with back pain and a dead leg; there was no problem with my gashed heel though, which was a huge relief.

One of the many things that will stick with me long after the day is the people around the course. As I was at the tail end of the field, by the time I reached them these people would have been standing and sitting along the course to encourage people for five or six hours at least, but still they clapped us as we passed, yelled out encouragement and handed out jelly babies by the bucket. Every time this happened it was hugely lifting.

I reached Leith far more quickly than I’d expected. At one corner there were a couple of guys yelling out encouragement, along the lines of “Not far to go: just around the corner and a wee bit more…” Yes, some twenty-plus miles more, but it made me smile. Further along, in Musselburgh, one family had their stereo playing full blast with The Proclaimers’ Five Hundred Miles. At times like this I couldn’t help laughing, which must have made me look like a loon, but what the hell.

The route was stunning. From Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat, along the Firth of Forth, much of the route followed the beach, with beautiful views. At Gosford House we took a detour through the grounds, with the House looming magnificently and free range hens scattered across the route. Then, just past the hens, there was a cottage and in the garden a woman was playing violin accompanied by a man on trumpet. Completely mad. But great fun.

Now that we had turned and were on the return leg of the journey, it was possible to look ahead and see the power station we’d passed a while back, and way beyond that, Arthur’s Seat. That was a real Father Ted moment: little, far away, little, far away… I knew Arthur’s Seat was pretty damned big, so it must be very far away, which meant I’d run a long, long way. That was one of the poor things about the race organisation: until the last eight miles or so, there was very little to indicate how far we’d come. The first mile-marker I spotted was the one that said “You’ve reached halfway!”. Up until then, it had been guesswork to work out how I was doing.

My aim at the outset was to run at least half the marathon, then see how much more I could do before breaking it up with some walking breaks. All I wanted was to get round under my own steam. When I reached that halfway marker I realised I was actually doing okay. After that, it was a matter of setting little targets: the next village, the end of the next village, the point farthest east where we loop back, the funny little spur they clearly added on when they realised they were still half a mile short. Then I started to see markers every mile, so it was 20 miles, 21…

The day was pretty wild: heavy showers in the morning and big gusty wind. Heading out, this wasn’t too bad, as the wind was from the west, but everyone was dreading the turn, and the last six or seven miles heading straight into the gale. And gale it was. At one stage, a woman next to me was almost blown off her feet, and I heard later that at least one woman was actually blown over. Perhaps the worst point of the run was where the road passed a beach and the wind was whipping up the sand and blowing it in our faces. Now, the day after, I still have an irritated eye from getting sand in it, and I was washing the sand out of my hair that evening. That was tough.

After 20 miles I was seriously thinking that I might manage to run the whole 26, but it wasn’t to be. Around 22 miles there was a long exposed stretch, where the wind was relentless. Determined to keep running, I was almost at a standstill: every step I took, the wind was blowing me right back. Raise a foot and it was blown like a sail… People who had resorted to walking had a better time of it: it appeared to be easier to keep your head down and push through the wind if you were walking. But I was determined to keep going.

I made it past that stretch, but within another half mile I suddenly realised that I’d broken into a walk. From then on, it was a matter of running the sheltered stretches, and walking where it was more exposed. True enough, heading into the gale, walking was more effective than trying to run and I was over-taking those who persisted with running.

Reaching Musselburgh on the return leg, I started to run again. People by the road were yelling that we were nearly there, and this time I could believe them. Along Musselburgh High Street, turn right at the junction and I could see the finish line. I started to speed up; I even managed to sprint the last hundred metres. Well, as close to a sprint as my aging legs can manage these days.

It was a huge surprise at that stage to realise that I had more in me. No, I hadn’t run the whole marathon, but I’d run about nine miles more than I’d expected before starting to take walk-breaks. I’d beaten my six hour target by five minutes. And I genuinely believe that if it wasn’t for the gale I would actually have run the whole 26.2 miles. All in all, I was pretty damned pleased with myself.

Back at the hotel, the only challenge that remained was the stairs. Have I mentioned the stairs already? All three flights, as we were staying in a hotel with no lift and we had the attic room. I managed them. I even managed the stairs.

So yes, I actually did it: managed a whole marathon under my own steam. I even enjoyed it. I never did hit the wall. All that got in the way was that pesky wind. It was a day full of lovely memories, and a challenge I’m very glad to have met.

And what’s more, I raised over a grand for Epilepsy Action. It’s possible to sponsor me for another three months after the race, so do feel free to add to that total. I’ll stop pestering people now, though. And I’ll stop taking on these mad challenges. No, really I will.


quiet time

Apologies for the low profile, but I’ve been fully taken up with work on my new novel alt.human and final preparations for the Edinburgh Marathon (which takes place on 22 May).

Some quickies:

  • nice blog on my marathon efforts over at my publishers’ site Solaris; as I write I’m tantalisingly close to having raised £1000 for Epilepsy Action, the charity that’s been a huge help to my daughter over the past 17 years;
  • lovely review of my fantasy short story collection Segue at Amazon UK;
  • at infinity plus ebooks we’re taking a bit of a breather after our first 16 or so books; we have some crackers lined up for later this year, though, with work from Molly Brown, Paul di Filippo, Robert Freeman Wexler, Eric Brown and more;
  • and I’m close to 10,000 words into alt.human: the story’s taking shape nicely and starting to twist and turn in ways that surprise me, which is one of my favourite parts of writing; it’s due out from Solaris in summer 2012.

Running a marathon for Epilepsy Action

marathon manRunning a marathon is a big commitment. Particularly for someone who has a demanding, full-time day job, and also works as a part-time lecturer and freelance novelist, short story writer, reviewer, editor and lots more. And tries to have a life.

I’ve run a couple of half marathons and that’s what led to this: driving home after last year’s Great North Run was when I had the peculiar notion that it might be a good idea to do a full one. Only the day before, as I struggled to the finish line, I remember the striking realisation that to do a full marathon at that point I would have to turn around and do it all again… I still don’t understand how, within 24 hours, I reached the conclusion that that would be a good idea.

Two factors convinced me: almost everyone who completes a half marathon finds themselves wondering what it would be like to do the full thing; it feels like unfinished business. And it gave me an opportunity to raise some money for a charity that has been a huge help to my family over the years. Way back when my oldest daughter Molly was diagnosed with epilepsy, the charity Epilepsy Action were really good in providing support and answers whenever we asked. Over the years, they’ve continued to provide that kind of support at times when it’s been needed. Running the marathon for Epilepsy Action gave me a chance to put something back, and a chance for Molly to be involved with raising sponsorhip too.

So I signed up for the Edinburgh Marathon.

It takes place on 22 May, which seems awfully close right now.

The time commitment has been huge. I’ve been a runner for years, but increasing the distance takes a lot of time. Also, I’m a particularly slow runner (half marathons of two and a half to three hours), which means that once I’m doing training runs of 20+ kilometres (the full marathon is 42.2km) I’m out for several hours at a time. Still, I managed to gradually increase the length of my runs.

Complications kicked in in the last three months or so – probably the worst time to interrupt your preparation for something like this. My fiancee Debbie fell ill over a long period and ended up in hospital for a couple of weeks; over that time it was hard to fit everything in, as I spent most of my time with her, so the running had to slip.

After that I had a particularly nasty bout of Norovirus, which left me sick for a week, and in a weakened state for at least a week more. When I returned to running, I’d gone from managing long runs of 25km to struggling at 5km – the virus really took it out of me. Not surprising really, as at one point I lost 8 pounds in about ten hours.

Further complications? Of course. A recent one was when I helped neighbours dispose of a tree stump. It took four of us to lift it into a skip, but I was the only one who left his hand in the way when we let go. My thumb got caught in the stump, twisted and crushed. It swelled up to twice its normal size and went very blue. I should have had it checked out really, but didn’t. That was about a month ago, and it’s still painful, particularly when I run – it jars with every step, and it makes carrying a drinking bottle really uncomfortable. Debbie’s convinced I actually broke it and I’m pretty sure that’s true. Added to all this, now that I’m covering longer distances again, I’m suffering a lot of knee and foot pain. And blisters. Oh, and I’m getting sciatica after running too, now.

Sounds like I’m making excuses in advance, doesn’t it? That’s not the intention. This is more an account of all the little twists and turns that you don’t necessarily anticipate when you sign up for something as foolhardy as this. Something does always happen: the first time I did a half-marathon I broke a toe ten days beforehand, but still managed to do it.

In a week and a half it will all be over. I’ll get round that course under my own steam, but my ambition has slipped from trying to run it in five hours to simply trying to get round. That’ll still be a pretty good achievement, I reckon.

And would I ever do it again? You must be joking…

You can, of course, sponsor me. Here’s the link: www.justgiving.com/Keith-Brooke.

Here’s the Epilepsy Action press release.


Guest blog, Iain Rowan: Police and thieves

Often, when people think about crime fiction, they think of stories in which the hero is a detective.

When I put together Nowhere To Go, a collection of my short crime fiction that’s been published over the last few years, it occurred to me that none of my crime stories was like that. Closest it gets is one story where a character claims to be a detective, but turns out to be something rather different. It was never a conscious decision to avoid police protagonists, just the way that it turned out, story after story, so I’ve given some thought as to why this happens to be this way in the stories that I want to tell.

Some of the protagonists in the stories in Nowhere To Go are criminals themselves. Some of them are victims. Most are people caught in the middle, involved in something beyond their control – sometimes by the choices they have made, sometimes just by the random, uncaring malicious lottery of fate.

I read something once by a photographer which said the most interesting things are always at the margins: where day starts to turn to night; where land meets water; where cities meet nature. That littoral zone is what I’ve always been most interested in exploring in my stories: the edges of society and the people that live there, the blurry margin between good and bad, right and wrong, between what the law says, and what people do to survive. Sure, plenty of detectives swim those murky waters, but they are not of them.

No matter how maverick, no matter the disbelieving boss, or the rival colleague, the detectives represent the state, and the power of the state, and all of the resources of the state. Although constrained at times, they can call on that power, and those resources. The characters I enjoy writing about the most are people who have no power, have no resources, but must still find a way to survive or escape. Those drawn into crime, those who find themselves caught up in crime, the victims of crime, they’re all more fertile territory for me than those who are paid to solve it.

And sometimes, it’s the police that they are escaping.

This focus shapes the kind of stories that I write. There’s less scope for them to be whodunnits, and it’s much more likely that they turn out to be to be howthehelldoIgetoutofits. It’s not that one’s better than the other. It’s just that I enjoy writing one more than I do the other.

I like having a wide choice of protagonists, of backgrounds, struggles, conflicts. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read many excellent novels where the hero is a fictional police officer, interesting and rounded and believable. But I worry about falling into cliche were I to try, the terrible tightrope of making a character distinctive, without resorting to the cop-o-tron, where the lead is:

One Step Closer - a free ebook short story by Iain Rowanone of:

  • divorced
  • bereaved
  • long-term bachelor

has one of:

  • drink problem
  • psychological disorder du jour
  • implacable guilt

always plays one of:

  • bebop jazz
  • rare northern soul singles
  • scouse house

especially while drinking one of:

  • espressos, homemade in a lavishly detailed description
  • Wray and Nelson rum, neat
  • WKD. With a straw.

comes into conflict with one of:

  • ambitious, ruthless boss with executive haircut
  • cynical, jaded boss with wonky tie
  • Lieutenant Dobie

and doesn’t:

  • like authority
  • like authority
  • like authority

And anyway, everything I’ve said aside, the power and the politics and all of it, I’ve been re-watching Police Squad recently, and that alone ruins my chances of ever writing a detective lead.

“We’re sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn’t dead then.”

Iain Rowan’s short story collection, Nowhere To Go, is available in the following formats:
amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £2.12)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $2.99)

Iain’s Derringer Award-winning story “One Step Closer” is available as a free self-contained ebook:
.prc format (suitable for Kindle)
…other formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, available from Smashwords


So where do you do it?

The short answer is: “Wherever and whenever I can, whether it’s a good long session or a five-minute quickie.”

The longer answer…

I used to be really precious about where I could write. Spoilt by going into full-time writing straight from university, I had the luxury of deciding that I could only write under optimal conditions. Door shut on the world; silence; an uninterrupted block of at least a couple of hours…

Maybe that helped me in the early years: shut away from all distraction, I could concentrate on the very difficult business of learning to write. But I do think it was a handicap, too, and one I had to work hard to overcome in subsequent years.

Now? I’ve learnt to take my opportunities wherever I can. Yes, there are times when I’m still precious about my writing environment. Times like now, when I’m early in the first draft of a big novel, I need my peace and quiet to give me the best chance possible of losing myself in my created world. But most of the time I’ll adapt.

Writing habitats for my last couple of novels have included hotel rooms, lunchbreaks in the office, sitting cramped on a plane, outdoors with a netbook, sitting in noisy pubs, in friends’ houses, trains and more. And more often than not I’ll be surrounded by the hubbub of life.

Maybe it’s not ideal, but in a very busy life those fifteen-minute bursts in less than perfect conditions are far better than not touching a story for days on end. At best I can do good work in those sprints, and at worst I’m at least re-immersing myself in the world of the story, raking over it all in my head. Working this way, I’m far more likely to be struck by random insights and sparks at other times too, those moments when you just have to stop what you’re doing to make notes on any surface available. It keeps the story alive for me.

It all boils down to the old truism: writers write. They write whenever they can, wherever they can.

So where do you like to do it?


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