Keith Brooke is a writer of crime fiction, science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors.
“Drive Through” by Keith Brooke: The quirky detective had run through all the standard questions. The vehicle’s make and colour, the driver’s description, the victim of the hit and run … But he had missed one very important question: Did you recognise the driver?
One of the most often-repeated pieces of advice to writers is that you should write the book you would want to read, rather than chasing some idea of what readers might be looking for.
That’s good advice for anyone wanting to write their best work, but not necessarily good career guidance. Taking my own career as an example, I started out a little over thirty years ago with a gritty, anguished post-cyberpunk thriller. I followed this with a horror novel that never sold, and then a high-SF duology, and then a fantasy novel about the death of fantasy (and therefore one that didn’t feature a lot of actual fantasy), and then a contemporary crime novel.
If I’d chosen to follow up that first novel with a direct sequel, a top US publisher was willing to publish me at the top of their list, but I held to my artistic principles and followed my muse. No regrets, but my career would have been very different. Hell, if I’d even stuck a little more closely to a single genre groove my career would have been very different. But I genre-hopped and never quite settled – and probably had a far more interesting career as a result.
Anyway, this is a rather long-winded introduction to an idea that occurred to me recently. I’ve written a lot of fiction over the years, and now I’m very far-removed from actually writing those early books. What would it be like to re-read some of them? Would I find that it all came rushing back and it’d be something akin to that umpteenth editing pass where you’re sick of the words you’ve written and don’t believe anyone might find them even vaguely interesting? Or might that distance actually allow me to read the books with fresh eyes?
So I thought I’d give it a go.
I’m not intending to slavishly reread every word I’ve ever written, but there are some interesting concepts back there. Like that fantasy novel about the death of fantasy and belief. It’s an idea that’s been explored elsewhere, of course, but this was my take on it: a story set in the tail end and aftermath of a brutal civil war, where some people rally around faith while others question any kind of god who might allow such carnage. Early drafts went by the title Scar Tissue, and my lead character was called Blair, in acknowledgement of George Orwell, whose Homage to Catalonia was one of the big influences on the setting and dramatic tensions. The novel was a very near miss, with interest from a major publisher taking it right up to the point where it was listed in their Forthcoming Titles catalogue, but internal changes at the company before signatures hit the contract led to it falling through the gaps. After that, it was a difficult book to place – for a variety of reasons, one of which was that it didn’t fit any neat publishing categories, being neither mainstream nor out and out fantasy. It ended up coming out under the title Lord of Stone from Cosmos Books in the US in the late 1990s, and then I republished it through infinity plus a few years ago.
Rereading it now has been an interesting experience. The book is full of familiar echoes, like a movie rewatched after several years. There are scenes I remember vividly, and others that have surprised me; characters who are like old friends or colleagues, and others who I had totally forgotten.
Within a very short space of time I was totally absorbed in the story of a young man in the thick of a foreign war. First a bystander, Bligh (as I renamed him, because by the time the book came out a certain other Blair figured large in UK political life) soon becomes passionately involved in the struggles of people he has come to know and love; and before long he’s fighting in the international corps, while powerful forces of the old religion close in around him, and he is clearly being marked out as something special. The fantasy element remains ambiguous – just like the characters in the novel, the reader can choose to believe or not, a fine balance that, for me at least, draws me right into Bligh’s struggles to understand what is happening to him.
It’s odd. This is a book I wrote. These are words that occupied a year or more of my life back in the early 1990s. And yet I’ve actually enjoyed reading this novel as much as any other novel I’ve read this year. Does that sound egotistical? Arrogant?
Perhaps. But remember that piece of writing advice. Always write the story you would want to read. And by setting Lord of Stone aside for a couple of decades I find that I’ve given myself enough distance to prove that true. This novel might not have the same resonances, or power to move, for you or anyone else, but for me this is exactly the book I would want to read. And regardless of career trajectory, marketing, or any other aspect of a writer’s life, you can’t really ask for any greater success than that.
Trace: a country where magic is dying out. A country at war with itself. A country where the prophecies of the Book of the World have started to come true.
Bligh: a young foreigner, drawn irresistibly to the war in Trace. A man who has rejected religion, yet appears to be possessed by one of the six Lords Elemental. Bligh thinks he’s going mad, but if he is then it’s a madness shared by others…
‘Satisfying prose … well realised and visualised characters … powerful and vivid portrayal of the conditions of war.’ –Eric Brown
‘Keith Brooke’s prose achieves a rare honesty and clarity, his characters always real people, his situations intriguing and often moving.’ –Jeff VanderMeer
Monique, resident for as long as she can remember at Shrobbesbury Orphanage, has a strange talent, which she neither understands nor can control. This talent, however, is only supposed to be possessed by men.
Should she conceal her abilities in order to survive, or should she be true to herself? If she hides her gift she will languish, yet if she reveals her true self she will be hunted down and experimented upon by men whose talents outshine her own…
A most peculiar adventure through a fantastical alternative fin de siècle Britain where the darkest creations are those that come from within.
‘His work is unique, original, sometimes challenging, always fresh…’ Amazing Stories
Today the tenth story in our year-long Fictions collaboration with Future Care Capital goes live: “CareFree” by Keith Brooke. It’s been a fascinating project, and unlike anything we’ve worked on before: four writers and an artist working with a health and social care charity to explore near-future scenarios – putting fictional flesh on the bones of what might be as a way of helping professionals and policy-makers in these fields to shape their thinking about how things should be.
The stories range from explorations of virtual living funerals, disease tourism and various interventions in childbirth, care, and more. One of our stories was shortlisted for this year’s British Science Fiction Award for best short story, which was particularly satisfying as a project operating beyond the normal publishing channels like this could easily pass unnoticed by genre readers.
All ten stories are available to read for free on the FCC website, with two more to come, and all are illustrated by Vincent Chong:
Ten years ago today, the first ebook title from infinity plus was made available. (Well, actually, Amazon lists the publish date as 23rd November rather than the official 24th, because it went through their systems faster than expected and became available a day early.)
In that decade we’ve published a total of 95 infinity plus titles; this figure includes a series of 20 standalone short stories, the infinity plus singles, so that leaves 75 full-length books – novels, collections and anthologies. We’ve also published a further 20 titles in our infinite press imprint.
So I make that a grand total of 115 titles in a decade. Not bad!
Our authors include winners of World Fantasy Awards, Hugos, and most of the other major awards. A fabulous set of people to work with.
And we’re still going strong. We’ve just published a fine collection from Tony Ballantyne (‘Superb’ The Guardian), and we have another collection, including an original novella, from Garry Kilworth in the new year.
Written on the road between the past and the future, a writer explores his relationship with his dying father.
Literature, fantasy and science fiction come together in this unique and very personal piece.
Tony Ballantyne is the author of the acclaimed Penrose hard SF novels, Twisted Metal and Blood and Iron, as well as the groundbreaking and surreal fantasy novels Dream London and Dream Paris.
‘Sharp, touching, and very original, this collection uses stories of different genres to explore aspects of the same emotional landscape, creating a very personal and very satisfying whole.’ Chris Beckett, winner of the Arthur C Clarke Award
Published today, over at the Future Care Capital website: All I Asked For by Anne Charnock – a powerful and moving story about the impact of technological intervention in pregnancy.
This is the second story in our year-long Fictions project: short stories exploring near-future issues in health and social care. The first, published last month, was Stephen Palmer’s Goodbye; next month it’s my turn, and in October we have a story by Liz Williams. All the stories are illustrated by Vincent Chong.
Fictions: Disease tourism, uses of virtual reality in care, widening adoption of self-diagnosis apps… Four authors and one artist, working with the Future Care Capital charity, explore the near-future. Running July 2020 to June 2021, one story a month takes a key issue in health and social care and examines its implications for people on the ground: patients, carers, practitioners and all those close to them. Thought-provoking and challenging, Fictions presents world-class fiction intended to inspire debate and new thinking among practitioners and policy-makers.
Fictions: Four writers, one artist, twelve futures.
Four SF authors, one artist, twelve stories – exploring near-future issues in health and social care.
Launching today, Fictions is a monthly series of short SF stories produced in collaboration between four authors, one artist, and a UK charity working with practitioners and policy-makers in the health and social care sector.
The brief was simple, and so obvious it really should have been done lots of times before: a charity looking for innovative ways to encourage its audience to move away from conventional patterns of thinking in order to consider how the near future might really be, brainstorming and developing ideas with a group of creatives whose job it is to do exactly that.
As writers, we spend our time looking for the surprises and twists, the gotcha moments; we identify moments in a sequence of events that pull you up in your tracks and make you rethink. That’s one of the key elements in a good story: the building of a scenario and then what I call the rug-pull moment, when the rug is yanked from beneath the reader’s feet and they’re forced to reassess all that has gone before.
And this is what Future Care Capital asked us to do. Surprise them, and the people they work with. Make them stop in their tracks and see things from other perspectives.
It’s been a fascinating project to work on, from the early discussions with FCC about the topics and challenges they see in the next decade or two of health and social care, to working with the writers – Anne Charnock, Stephen Palmer and Liz Williams – and artist, Vincent Chong, to discuss these topics, and look for stories that would meet the brief of being challenging and surprising… writing fictions that provoke.
And above all, turning what might start out as dry, academic discussions into believable realities. Because once you have compelling and surprising stories with characters you care about and challenges that are real you can go anywhere… which is exactly what we were asked to do.
Fictions opens today with Stephen Palmer’s ‘Goodbye’, a story about technological innovations in supporting those at the end of life. In August, Anne Charnock takes us back to the beginning of life, with a look at uses of technology in conception and birth. And from there, who knows? Four authors, one artist, and twelve stories, exploring beginnings and ends, and all that lies in between.
With the outbreak of war on the Continent, Erasmus Darwin finds himself caught up in a jingoistic fervour for which he feels no sympathy. Yet soon he is on the Western Front: frightened, appalled, and alone apart from a few pals who don’t understand his pacifism.
Soon however he finds himself entangled in a secret mission the like of which has never been attempted, one which stretches his pacifism to the limit…
A unique and thought-provoking alternative history of the First World War from the author of Beautiful Intelligence and the Factory Girl trilogy.
The Factory Girl trilogy:
“I would highly recommend this to any steampunk lover…” SFF World
“It’s a fascinating book and I very much enjoyed it.” Nimue Brown
“As the first in a series this novel is pretty special… a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting read.” Goodreads
“Provides an exciting ride trhough a clockwork version of Edwardian England, leading to a conclusion that brings together the various themes in a satisfying way.” Amazon
“This is all good thought provoking stuff, that I thoroughly enjoyed…” Goodreads
Also published in December 2019:
2nd editions of the entire Factory Girl trilogy, with stunning new covers by Tom Brown: