Monthly Archives: June 2011

Alt.Fiction 2011

Just a quick note to say what a lovely time I had at Alt.Fiction over the weekend. Many thanks to Alex and the team for organising such a slick, content-packed event.

I took part in a panel on YA fiction, moderated a panel on the writer’s life, and did a reading with Guest of Honour Alastair Reynolds, which turned into a very relaxed chat. As ever with these things, what really makes them for me is the chance to catch up with people, and this was no exception: a wonderful mix of old friends, ‘net contacts I’ve never, or rarely, met, and new friends. The weekend was spent in the excellent company of the 1966 boys (Al Reynolds, Tony Ballantyne, Ian Sales), Roy Gray, Conrad Williams, Stephen Volk, Ian Whates, Kim and Del Lakin-Smith, and many more.

Another of the really good things about these events is the confidence boost. I went there having had a fairly shitty time in the day job, and I didn’t realise it but my confidence was shot to pieces. The thought of standing up and “performing” in front of an audience was pretty damned daunting; even the thought of all the meeting people was pretty challenging, when I could so easily just have stayed at home and concentrated on my novel; when I’m low it’s so much easier to retreat into my antisocial shell. But did I mention how nice everyone was and what a good crowd was there? I came away with a healthy boost of confidence and renewed enthusiasm for writing, raring to get back to work on the novel and all the other projects buzzing around in my head.

That panel on the writing life? I think the consensus was that the writer’s life is actually a lot tougher than most people credit, but when it comes down to it, a writer’s life is good, and none of us would want anything else. That was certainly my conclusion!

Fair deal for authors? You judge…

Interesting little exchange on LinkedIn over the last few days, between me and a “publisher” that was advertising for writers. (Since when have decent publishers had to advertise for authors?)

Here’s what was said:

Keith Brooke • I haven’t checked the rates, other than in the thread above, but 10% royalty for ebooks is appalling! It’s way below minimum rates recommended here in the UK by the Society of Authors, and is below what most publishers are paying.

inspired-words • Hi Keith,

Please check all of the above threads, as we feel we explain more about our business methods within them.
You will see that we take more of a realistic approach to the difficult publishing market we all exist in.

Best wishes

Inspired Words team

Keith Brooke • Sorry, but I have seen the above thread (not sure about the plural – where are the other threads…?). And I stand by the observation that a 10% royalty is appalling and way below industry standards. The Society of Authors describes 15-25% as miserly and unjustifiable: – so what makes 10% a fair deal?

inspired-words • Hi Brooke,

What we strongly disagree with, are publishing houses that charge authors just to read their manuscripts, to then reject said works.
We also object to the unreasonably long time it takes some houses to publish their works, however we understand that at times there are logistical reasons to how each publisher reach their decisions on where to charge and where to pay, what to do and when.
We may not always understand them, but we respect them and their right to operate as they see necessary.

Best wishes

Inspired Words team

Keith Brooke • Erm… I certainly wouldn’t argue that “publishing houses” that charge authors are acceptable in any way, but I’m not sure why you’ve thrown that red herring into the discussion.

I’ve still to see a single argument that justifies paying so far below the industry standard, though – in effect, if you pay the authors that little then the authors are paying you to publish their work: if we say that the industry standard is 25%, then your authors are paying you more than half of that on every sale.

I’d still warn any author who was serious about their work to steer clear of any deal like this.

And by the way, my first name isn’t Brooke.

inspired-words • Hi Keith Brooke,

Our apologies, we did not mean to confuse your original issue with us, and being an e-book publisher yourself, can see that this is something that you are clearly passionate about.We also see that you are relatively new to the market yourself, establishing your business just last year.
When asking an author to steer clear of us, we assume it would be toward your own organisation.
We are also wondering why the books that you have written are more expensive to the UK market than the US?
Everybody has their own reasons for operating in the way that they do.
Good luck with your endeavours.

Best wishes

Inspired Words team

Keith Brooke • Stop putting words in my mouth.

No, your assumption is wrong: when I advise people to steer clear of publishers who offer such a poor deal it’s because it’s a poor deal. As simple as that. I don’t need to try to steer your potential authors towards my business, thank you very much.

Simple answer to your next question: VAT. I’d have thought you would have been able to work that out.

And for any authors reading this, I’d suggest they do two things: have a look at the inspired-words website and look at the quality of the work (the typos, the artwork). And then have a look at the Society of Authors website for guidance on the publishing business. I don’t think you need to look any further than that.

Here’s a quote from their website:

 “To Revolt is a Peoples Right”
sic (from one of their “books”)

And another:

‎”We endeavour to prevent the futures, great poets and novelists from falling into obscurity, and seek to bring them to the World’s market for all our sakes.”

Yay for them!

For the record, this outfit offers their authors “10% royalties on full, book length publications to the author after the first 50 units sold, this covers our costs.”

Really: go and have a look at their website. (Surely they can’t object to me sending traffic their way? Or, to put it in their terms: Surly they cant object to me sending traffic there way?

Brief thoughts from the depths of a novel

I’ve just about hit the halfway point on my current work-in-progress, an adult SF novel called alt.human, due out from Solaris next year.alt.human by Keith Brooke (Solaris, 2012)

I’m having fun with it, but it’s also quite a scary ride. I know where it’s going to end up, but much of the route to get there is unmapped. This is probably the closest I ever come to free writing; normally, I have more in the way of landmarks to look out for when I’m working on a novel. I may not know the precise route, but when I hit the next major junction (to over-stretch that particular metaphor) I at least know which exit to take. This time it’s more a case of “Junction? There’s a junction? There’s a road?”

It’s working out so far, though, and I’m getting lots of those neat moments when the story turns in an unexpected direction. There was one particular example of this early on when a character appeared in the background of a scene she should never have been in. But as I wrote that scene, she was insistently sitting there, even though I tried to ignore her. In the end, I gave in and wrote her into that passage. Then, later, when I’d finished writing for the day, I suddenly realised why she was there and that chance development brought three story strands together so that they looked inevitable rather than completely unconnected.

I love it when that happens.

The novel? It’s one that’s been bubbling away for a while now, driven at least partly by a growing recognition that even though I’ve been an SF writer for twenty or more years there are certain tropes I’ve always shied away from. In all that time, for example, I’ve only occasionally written stories about aliens, and never a whole novel. So there are aliens in this novel. Lots of them. Everywhere you look, in fact. I really am making up for not having done aliens in two decades.

Right now, the novel’s building up to a big climax, and then the transition into the second half of the story (which is actually just past the halfway mark in terms of page-count, I think). I can see ahead to that transition quite clearly. And I know where they need to end up by the end of the book. All I need to do is see how my characters get from here to there.

Wish me luck!

Newcon is five years old, and much drinking and eating will ensue

The Unlikely World of Faraway FrankieLast year Newcon Press published my fantasy novel The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie and did a beautiful job of it. Newcon supremo Ian Whates has done some fantastic things with the Press over the years. Five years, to be precise, and he’s such a nice guy he’s even putting on a birthday party.

This is what he has to say on the subject:

Incredible though it may seem (I know it does to me), Time Pieces, our first publication, was released as long ago as 2006. The mathematicians among you will already have spotted that this means NewCon Press has reached the ripe old age of five. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m hosting a party at a London pub, to which you are cordially invited. Venue: The Cittie of Yorke public house, Holborn, London on Saturday 9 July from 1.00pm.

The event will also mark the release of our latest title:  A Glass of Shadow, a short story collection by Liz Williams with an introduction by Tanith Lee.

Attendees can look forward to: Free alcohol (until my money runs out). A free limited edition booklet of original fiction from various Newcon Press authors. Special party-crash bargains on several current Newcon Press titles. The opportunity to meet and chat to a host of NewCon Press authors and contributors.

Those who have confirmed attendance to date include: Liz Williams, Tanith Lee, Keith Brooke, Eric Brown, Pat Cadigan, Andrew Hook, Dave Hutchinson, Philip Palmer, Stephen Palmer, Sarah Pinborough, Kari Sperring and Ian Watson.

So please, feel free to come and make merry! Anyone is welcome to simply turn up on the day, though if you do know for certain in advance, please let me know, as this will give me some idea of how much money I’ll need to put behind the bar!

As the good man says, I’ll be there. And I hope you will too.

What you want to write

Is it possible to teach creative writing?

Well yes, of course it is. Just as it’s possible to teach the skills of, say, football. You can train players to get fitter and stronger and faster, you can work on ball skill, you can spend time in the classroom teaching them tactics. Do all that with me and I’d still be a pretty poor footballer, of course – you can’t teach me to be Lionel Messi. But you can certainly help me develop skills and strategies to make me the best player I could possibly be.

Teaching writing is like that. I can teach attitude, I can teach basic technique, I can lead brainstorming on plot and character development. I can’t teach just anyone to be F Scott Fitzgerald (I don’t have the alcohol budget, for a start), but I can help you to become the best writer you can be, and it’s something I love to do. Over the years I’ve worked on various approaches to this, and maybe I’ll return to these in later blog posts.

One thing I always tried to avoid doing was telling writers what they should be writing.

It can be odd to teach in an academic university department for a writer who works in what is generally a commercial genre, but it’s something I’ve enjoyed doing for several years now. Universities are generally far more comfortable with more lit’ry types – “serious” poets and writers who labour over stories in some obscure form read by three people are a far better fit.

My approach has always been to talk to students about how it really is to work as a novelist: the ups and downs, the craft, the strategies that can help. And to push them damned hard at every stage. It’s all about finding the story you want to write and then working out the best way to tell it, whether it’s an experimental novel, flash fiction, an adventure story, a romance or whatever. I want you to write your story, not some approved and respectable form. Some of my favourite teaching experiences have involved working with a class of a dozen students, each working on completely different stories: family saga, witchcraft, children’s fantasy, cyberpunk science fiction, historical hyper-fiction, a 1960s pop-culture novel, a fragmentary mosaic novel…

Some writers are meticulous planners and plotters, working from reams of research notes and brainstorming mind-maps; others dump characters into interesting situations and watch them fight their way through. There are as many ways to write a story as there are authors. More: I’ve used very different methods for different stories. I love that process of working with developing writers to help them find an approach that suits them at that time, for that particular project. It’s fun, it’s stimulating, and it’s immensely rewarding.

Is that because I just happen to be drawn to that sort of thing, or might it have something to do with my background as a writer working in diverse fields where we have to discard prejudices and assumptions and concentrate on story? I don’t know, but I think there might be something in that: maybe it’s easier for a genre writer to be open to all the various and wonderful forms literature can take, than it is for those wrapped up in the more approved forms of writing favoured in some parts of academia.

alt.human cover

alt.human by Keith Brooke (Solaris, 2012)I’ve just seen this cover draft for my 2012 novel alt.human. I love it! Not only is Adam Tredowski’s artwork really striking, but it also manages to capture the drama and gritty atmosphere of the novel.

This is all the more impressive because Adam’s only had my rather brief description of a few scenes to work on, and I’m only a third of the way through the novel so far.

I haven’t even reached the scene illustrated on the cover, but I’m looking forward to getting there even more now. It’s great when cover art not only captures a story, but builds on it and enhances it as this does.

You might have gathered by now that I’m pleased with this.

I’ll be at Alt.Fiction 2011 – will you?

…and not just because of the similarity with the title of my novel-in-progress, alt.human.

I’ll be on various panels, talking about the writing life, teen fiction and giving a reading (title to be confirmed) with the wonderful Al Reynolds. Here are the details of the event:

Alt.Fiction 2011
25th-26th June, at QUAD, Derby

Saturday 25th June 10.00am – Midnight
Sunday 26th June 10.00am – 5.00pm

Alt.Fiction marks its fifth year with a fantastic weekend for readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Bringing together some of the UK’s leading talent in the genre, Alt.Fiction presents a full programme of readings, panels, workshops, podcasts and much more over two days, giving you the chance to hear from your favourite authors, find out more about the world of publishing and learn more about the writing process.

Alt.Fiction is a weekend not to be missed for book lovers and budding writers.

This year’s Guests of Honour are bestselling science fiction author Alastair Reynolds and acclaimed comic book writer and novelist Dan Abnett. They will joined by speakers Tony Ballantyne, Cathy Brett, Keith Brooke, Mark Chadbourn, Stephen Deas, Paul Finch, John Jarrold, Juliet McKenna, Mark Morris, Adam Nevill, Mark Charan Newton, Sarah Pinborough, Robert Shearman, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Conrad Williams, Chris Wooding and many more.

Don’t miss!

Alt Fiction has joined forces with QUAD’s regular Fright Club horror programme and the Mayhem Horror Film Festival to present a specially curated film programme on Saturday 25th June.

Firstly a cult classic double bill of furry, feline fear with a Cat People Double Bill at 8.00pm, followed by a special bonus preview of Hobo With A Shotgun at midnight.

Alt Fiction pass holders gain free entry to these screenings.

Click here for the full Alt Fiction schedule.

Who am I?

This is a serious question.

Does any writer really have a good sense of where they stand in their field, and how they’re regarded by readers and peers? I know I don’t.

I remember years ago, attending my first signings and cons and getting used to that very strange experience of chatting with people whose names I’d only ever seen in magazines and on the spines of books. Getting used to the fact that they were real people. Weird.

Did they have the doubts I have about myself now? Did Rob Holdstock and Chris Evans realise I was some awe-struck young fan who happened to have sold a couple of stories and looked up to them as pinch-me-they’re-not-quite-real figures? Or were they, as I find myself now, insecure and unassuming when talking to all the youngsters appearing on the scene, wondering if they’ve even heard of me or my work?

Does a writer ever feel established? Secure?

Me? I’ve been doing this thing for over twenty years. I’ve had a dozen novels published, 70+ short stories, and masses of non-fiction. But do I feel established? Hell, no.

Am I a writer with actual fans? Are there people who look out for my next story, and my next book? I’m not fishing for compliments or reassurance here: I really have very little feel for what my profile is, of where I fit.

Here’s my best guess: I’ve been knocking around for years, so there are probably quite a few people who at least recognise my name in passing. I’m probably the kind of writer where readers think, “Oh, I’d forgotten about him.” I think readers would expect decent stories from me and I hope I can sometimes surprise them with a good’un. I’m probably more respected among people within the field, rather than beyond: my books generally pick up good reviews, but there’s rarely much buzz. I’ve been guest at conventions, but rarely top-line. I’ve been in Year’s Best anthologies, but rarely on shortlists. I’m there, or thereabouts, is what I am.

What does it matter, other than in terms of ego? There’s the curiosity value, I guess: I think we all like to know how others regard us. And it’s nice to feel that I’m at least thereabouts. For me the most important thing is audience, and being thereabouts means that my work gets out there in front of people. I want them to read what I write, and to respond to it, and I want to carry on finding those readers for as long as I have things to write.

So who am I? I don’t know. I really don’t know.

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