Monthly Archives: August 2011

Ebook schedule and another cover

Approaching Omega - science fiction adventure from Eric BrownDue to time pressures on other projects, I’m afraid the planned four infinity plus ebook titles for August have slipped a little.

We did manage to get Eric Brown’s Meridian Days out on schedule, but the other three have been pushed back to September.

In the meantime, here’s Dominic Harman’s fantastic cover for Eric’s Approaching Omega, which will be out soon.

Production work is well under way on all three remaining titles, so we should be able to stick to the target this time, and by the end of September we’ll have hit twenty titles.

And, of course, we have several more in hand for the rest of the year, including novels from Stephen Palmer, among others.

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On being a promising mature writer

Fifteen years ago, I was a regular in the British science-fiction magazine Interzone. I was, according to the “About the author” slot that appeared after each of my stories, a promising young writer.

Fifteen years ago, I turned 30 and so I asked the editor, David Pringle, to stop calling me that – it just didn’t seem appropriate any more. So next time he published one of my stories I was labelled, I think, a “promising mature writer”.

I guess that’s what I still am.

I’d never thought of 45 as a particularly significant age, but on Tuesday this week it was an age I hit and I realised I’d started to think about my writing in different terms.

It seems incredibly morbid to start thinking about how many books I might have left in me, and that’s not quite what I was thinking, but still…

Each book you write counts. Whether it’s a pseudonymous piece of spinoffery or a big weighty novel (and I’m not dissing either of these – I love writing most things), the author invests so much of him- or herself in it that each book is a significant achievement. For most writers, at least!

But now? Now each piece somehow seems more significant.

I’ve been an SF author for over 20 years, but I realise there are one or two of the big tropes I’ve steered clear of, in particular time travel and aliens. I’ve touched on these with a few short stories over the years, but nothing more.

Time travel seems to have been done to death in so many ways that it just didn’t grab me. And I can’t take most aliens seriously, and certainly not for long enough to write a credible novel. Both of these are failings on my part, I’ll readily acknowledge.

But now I find myself in the position where my two current projects are… a time travel novel for teenagers and an alien novel for grown-ups. This isn’t deliberate, but I’m sure there’s a part of my mind that realised the clock is ticking and it’s really time I took on these big challenges.

If I keep on trying new things, does that mean I’m still a promising writer? Or just a writer?

Yes, each book is significant to me, but shouldn’t that be the case anyway? I think it’s more a perception thing: of course the books have always been significant, it’s just that right now I’m particularly aware of that. Yes, I’m feeling old. But old and promising, at least.


The end is in sight…

…because I’ve just written it!

It’s been a long and tough slog on the first draft of alt.human, but just now I finished the thing, and god it feels good.alt.human by Keith Brooke (Solaris, 2012)

I’ve written here before about the difficulties of fitting writing into a life crammed with day job, family and, you know, actually having a life. This is so much harder when your work-in-progress turns out to be a tough one; in this case, it was a high-concept science-fiction novel, crammed with ideas, a serious attempt to do big, trad SF but retain a close focus on characters.

Writing that kind of book in bursts of a couple of thousand words here or there, interspersed with long breaks to concentrate on the day job, was by no means the best way to do it, but it was the only way available to me.

As things drew towards a close, that became harder and harder, but pressures at the day job made it impossible to take more time away to concentrate on the writing.

Finally, though, with the end in sight, I took a long weekend, which gave me the luxury of a five day burst of head-down, keep slogging away, writing. What I did was this:

  • Up at 6am. During the couple of weeks before this final burst, I was up at 6 most mornings to get a short burst in before work, so on my long weekend I continued with this regime. It meant that by 8 or 9 I’d often got as much as 1500 or more words in.
  • After that early burst, I’d take a break, as I’d find my brain was starting to seize up. Time for Facebook and Twitter, to catch up with email and read a bit of news – the freelancer’s equivalent of a chat around the water cooler at work; and most importantly, time to get away from the computer and clear my head.
  • Refreshed, I’d have time to have another session before lunch and another break. By now, I’d often have hit 2,500 or more words, my normal target for a day, so anything more would be a bonus.
  • An afternoon session would boost the word count considerably, and after another break, I’d sometimes fit in final session, often shorter, but still bonus words.
  • By the evening I’d find that I’d written way beyond my normal daily target, and on the best day, today, I hit 5,700 words!
  • Working in bursts of 1,000-1,500 words has really worked for me with this novel, allowing me to cram far more writing into a day than normal. It’s also allowed me to be flexible: on the Friday I had to take several hours out of the middle of the day for a hospital visit, and I still managed to write 3000 words.

Starting early, and squeezing extra sessions in, I ended up doing 12-14 hour days. That’s far too intense to be sustainable for longer periods, but has worked really well for me at times like this. In five days I wrote 22,500 words – almost a quarter of the novel. It wouldn’t have been possible without the long slog beforehand, though, all building up to that final onslaught.

Possibly the biggest advantage for me is that this approach keeps it all in my head. Breaks away from the writing make it so much harder to grasp the novel as a whole and really dig deep into the ideas; writing intensely fills my head with it all – vital for a big ideas novel.

The end result?

Even though I’d start each session by revising the previous day’s work, this is by no means finished prose. As well as a complete novel manuscript I have another long document covering two areas. I already had pages and pages of notes on characters, settings, plot, etc, before I started, but once you get going you add all kinds of detail and I always keep a running document where I make a note of these for reference as I’m writing. This document also contains a list of things I need to check, and things that I know are broken and will need fixing in subsequent edits.

Written fast, and written intensely, this novel’s going to need a lot of fixing.

But it’s written, it’s written.

 


Guest blog, Eric Brown: First novels

First novels are curious creatures because they are rarely, of course, first novels.

It’s very rare for a writer to sit down, write a first novel, and a little way down the line have it published. More often than not, a ‘first’ novel is the result of years of laborious apprenticeship, writing numerous novels in order to learn the craft, and abandoning them to the bottom drawer or, more drastically, to the flaming hearth.

There are exceptions, of course. J.K. Rowling’s first effort found a publisher – after numerous rejections – and I seem to recall it did rather well. And the host of this site, Keith Brooke, sold the very first novel he wrote, Keepers of the Peace, damn him.

But for the rest of us, the hill is steeper.

Meridian Days by Eric Brown

Looking back on my career, the hill seems to have been a mountain of my own making.

You see, I was labouring under a misapprehension from the very start.

In my late teens I read somewhere, in an interview with the SF great Alfred Bester, that all writers must write a million words of rubbish before they finally become published. Now, had I read that the prescribed total should be a hundred thousand words, I might have been published a lot earlier… But that magical million words lodged in my brain and wouldn’t be shifted – affecting me, I’m sure, subconsciously, and ensuring that Meridian Days came out when it did.

Meridian Days, my first novel, was in fact around my twentieth written novel.

The very first novel I wrote, I recall, was a terrible pastiche of two of my favourite writers at the time, Leslie Thomas and Tom Sharpe. It was horribly written, cliché-ridden, badly plotted, and unfunny… which for a comedy novel was the ultimate crime. But at least I finished it, eighty thousand words written longhand over a period of eighteen months. I even typed up the first two chapters, before realising how bad it was and abandoning the thing.Then came a slew of very short science fiction novels using the usual tropes: time-travel, alien invasions, future dystopias. These were short because while living in Australia for four years until the age of eighteen I’d come across the Ace Double range of SF novels (they also published westerns, romances and thrillers in the same format); each one was between around 25k and 55k – giving me the false impression that this was the length of SF novels. So I churned out dozens of the things, and even submitted one or two of them to paperback houses in the UK and US – Hamlyn, I think; Sphere, and in the States Major Books (that ms was returned with the note on the package that the company was no longer in business). I have a vague recollection of receiving a rejection letter from my now agent John Jarrold, when he was a commissioning editor.All the while I was writing short stories in various genres: SF, crime, mainstream, and getting nowhere.

In ’84 I spent a year in India, and that seemed to spark something – that, and the fact that I’d written a million words of rubbish, and a few years after I got back I began writing the short stories which would be published in Interzone, beginning in ’87.

A year later, on the strength of these tales, I was approached by an agent: did I have a novel I would like him to look at? Well, I had twenty of the things under my bed, but none of which I thought up to scratch. I bundled together a collection of shorts instead, and miracle of miracles Pan Books bought them. The volume appeared as The Time-Lapsed Man and other stories in 1990.Of course, Pan then wanted to see a novel, so over a period of nine months I wrote Meridian Days, a short novel of doomed love, extraterrestrial colonies, matter transmission, and much more, which was published by Pan in 1992.My first novel.

Or my twentieth… which now is reincarnated by infinity plus ebooks.

Now available from Amazon UKAmazon US and SmashwordsMeridian Days by Eric Brown.

Meridian, twenty light years from Earth and with just a tiny scattering of inhabitable islands, seems the perfect place for Bob Benedict to escape the tragedy of his past. But when he meets Fire Trevellion he is drawn into a world of corruption and murder that is far darker than his past. Soon it’s all he can do just to survive…

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

“SF infused with a cosmopolitan and literary sensibility… accomplished and
affecting” – 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


New for August: Meridian Days by Eric Brown

Now available from Amazon UK, Amazon US and Smashwords: Meridian Days by Eric Brown.

After a bit of a break for summer and novel-writing, we’re Meridian Days by Eric Brownback with a new infinity plus ebook: Eric Brown’s first novel, Meridian Days. This was first published in 1992; a moving and powerful thriller of love and loss on a colony planet, this novel has stood the test of time well, and it’s great to be making it available again.  Once again, we have a lovely cover by Dominic Harman.

Here’s a bit more about the novel:

‘ I survive. I live from day to day – a Meridian day which humanity has created from one eternal stretch of daylight.’

Meridian, twenty light years from Earth and with just a tiny scattering of inhabitable islands, seems the perfect place for Bob Benedict to escape the tragedy of his past.

Here he can live out his days in drug abuse, despised by and despising the self-obsessed community of artists who make up the population of the colony planet: the Altereds who have swapped human form for animal, and the Augmenteds who have boosted their minds with computers.

But when Bob meets Fire, the daughter of the formidable Tamara Trevellion, the most ruthlessly ambitious of the artists, he is drawn into a world of corruption and murder that is far darker than his past.

Soon it’s all he can do just to survive…

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

“SF infused with a cosmopolitan and literary sensibility… accomplished and
affecting” – 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


It’s for kids, right?

Just because it has a teen protagonist, it must be a book for teenagers, right?

I was quite surprised when one or two people said that about my 2006 novel, Genetopia. Yes, the protagonist was in his late teens, but the the novel pulls no punches (not that teen fiction necessarily should pull punches, of course), and to me was definitely for an older audience.

SF and fantasy have a long tradition of using younger protatagonists, so I don’t think that should define the categorisation. My protagonist in Genetopia may have been young, but he was a young man, not a kid; his environment forced kids to grow up more quickly, and his own story meant he had to be mature for his age. Genetopia is a story about adults doing adult things.

This set me thinking about my current novel, alt.human: some of my lead characters are teenagers in this one, too, but again they’re in a world where kids grow up tough and they mature way beyond their years in our terms. Also, it’s about things like the Fermi paradox and our understanding of what is, and is not, human – not really the kind of thing I’d tackle in a teen novel (the former, at least – probably all of my novels are to some extent about the latter).

The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie - a fantasy novel by Keith BrookeThe Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie is another example of where my work crosses over these boundaries. The novel grew from a short story about kids but which was very adult in tone. I did start the novel with a younger audience in mind, but as soon as I got writing I knew that this was another novel where I was using younger protagonists to explore adult concerns.

I’m struggling here to justify the difference. Frankie is about loss and grieving, about bullying, about the power of the imagination and the nature of fantasy, about everything having a price… all ripe for exploring in a teen novel. And yet I found something ineffable about that combination, and about the way I was writing about these ideas, that made Frankie more of an adult story.

The novel’s reception shows how difficult it is to categorise. It has been reviewed as adult fiction, and as teen fiction; I’ve had fantastic responses from adults, but also from younger readers.

Maybe I shouldn’t care, as long as it’s finding an appreciative audience.

As a professional writer, though, I do need to care. Publishing works in categories, and my kids’ fiction is handled in very different ways to my adult work. I need to understand what it is that I’m writing if I’m to market it appropriately.

So… my current novel, alt.fiction: it features some younger characters, so it’s for kids, right? Of course it’s not. It’s my take on trad SF, exploring mature ideas in an adult way. And what’s more, it’ll be on the shelves in the grown-up part of the bookstore. So there.

Blatant plug:

The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie is available as a Kindle ebook from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Print formats are also available through these links.

The original story that led to Faraway, Beside The Sea, is also available in a dirt-cheap ebook version.

Both of these are published by Newcon Press. For grown-ups.


My novel is half-empty…

Or at least that’s how it nearly always feels when I reach the halfway stage.

One of the reasons for this is that I tend to use word-count landmarks as a psychological trick to keep me positive. Usually, by the time I’m ready to start a novel’s first draft I have a pretty good idea how long the draft is likely to be: in my mind there are clear differences between an idea that’s going to be an 80,000 word novel and one that will need 120,000.

So, with a 100,000 word novel, at the end of day one I’d usually be a fiftieth of the way in; then a twenty-fifth; and it won’t be long before I’m a tenth of the way in and suddenly it feels like I’m making real progress. The fact that I still have 90,000 words to go doesn’t seem so daunting when I tell myself I’ve written a whole tenth of it already.

It’s great to have written a quarter of a novel, a third. And at the halfway point you know that from here on in you’re always going to be closer to the end than the start.

But then the landmarks fizzle out.

Being 55% of the way into a novel just doesn’t seem noteworthy. So suddenly I’ve gone from ticking off the landmarks to having nothing on the horizon apart from the long slog home.

The other side of this is that it is a slog. As I’ve already written here, writing a novel when you have a demanding day job and lots of other commitments is hard work. In the early stages you have the adrenalin-rush, but by the time you reach halfway you just have to keep going, chipping away at it, finding ways to keep yourself feeling positive.

For me, passing halfway is the toughest part of a novel first draft. I’m exhausted, I’ve been intensely immersed in this thing for months, I’m getting impatient to just have the whole thing down in print (or at least in an electronic file).

alt.human by Keith Brooke (Solaris, 2012)I passed the halfway stage of my current novel, alt.human, two or three weeks ago and still had the momentum, but then I hit that novel-half-empty point last week. I’d had a good three-day writing burst, but then went away to a conference for a week, where I had almost no opportunity to work on the novel, other than a 500-word burst on the first day. The following weekend was tough: dragging out barely more than a couple of thousand words in all. It didn’t help that the gap coincided with a natural break point in the novel, which made it harder to pick up again.

I still had something like 30,000 words to go and I was floundering. The stress in the day job was piling on. My health was suffering. I seriously thought I might have to put the whole thing aside and come back to it in a month or two, regardless of deadlines.

And then I got tough with myself. Yesterday was my first real chance of a writing day in a couple of weeks. I woke with a migraine, not a good start. I took painkillers, waited for it to ease, and then just sat down to write. Slowly – so slowly! – I picked up the pace, got past that natural break point and into the next section. I hit a couple of thousand words, which was pretty damned good considering the amount of reading and editing I’d had to do in order to get going.

That was enough for the day, so I stopped.

And then I did that writer’s trick of starting a new session after a bit of a break. Anything I wrote in that session would be a bonus, and I was delighted to hit 3000 words for the day. (See? I still use landmarks to gee myself along. It works for me. It works for lots of writers: a way of convincing us that we’re making progress in something that edges along in relatively tiny increments.)

Suddenly I find myself within about 20-25,000 words of the end and my novel’s no longer half-empty. It’s pretty damned full and suddenly I believe again that I’m going to get this draft finished quite soon.

Most authors would argue that a writer’s life is a pretty good one: we make up stuff and write it down. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s pretty tough too: if it’s not difficult, we’re not doing it right.

I do love it when the writing comes easy, but I appreciate it when it’s tough, too.

And I’m so glad that I’m safely past the half-empty stage!


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