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Mementoes by Keith Brooke – due late 2016 from Newcon Press

Back in 2012 the fabulous Newcon Press launched a series of twelve single-author short fiction collections called ‘Imaginings’, each available in limited edition hardback and ebook versions. Each book contained a mix of reprints and original fiction, often with accompanying notes by the author, and the line-up of constributors was impressive:

  1. Tanith Lee: Cold Grey Stones
  2. Stephen Baxter: Last and First Contacts
  3. Tony Ballantyne: Stories from the Northern Road
  4. Lisa Tuttle: Objects in Dreams
  5. Nina Allan: Microcosmos
  6. Adrian Tchaikovsky: Feast and Famine
  7. Steve Rasnic Tem: Twember
  8. Eric Brown: Strange Visitors
  9. Adam Roberts: Saint Rebor
  10. Dave Hutchinson: Sleeps with Angels
  11. Liz Williams: The Light Warden

You might have noticed that the 12th volume is missing from the list…

On Saturday I attended a lovely gathering to mark Newcon’s tenth anniversary, and among other things Newcon supremo Ian Whates announced that the final ‘Imaginings’ volume, due later this year, is… Mementoes by me.

This is a special book for me, marking various anniversaries in the field, including almost 30 years to the day since I first sat down to try to write for professional publication, and 25 years since the publication of my first novel.

The collection includes the four-part serial Memento, first published in Aethernet and now compiled as a novella to form the first part of the collection; the second half of the book comprises six short stories, and a novelette. Two of the stories are original to the collection, one a big SF story the revisits the Fermi Paradox (as many of my recent stories have done), and the other a quiet and nasty little horror story (returning to the kind of writing I did when I was starting out). Others included a novelette about alien languages and mind-sets (a rare exploration for me, as up until recently I’ve shied away from aliens in fiction, for reasons explained in the story notes), and a near-future story that was shortlisted for last year’s Seiun Award.

It was fun to put the book together, revisiting the stories and thinking about what was behind them, and it’s a genuine honour to be part of such a series. And it’s the perfect landmark to celebrate all those anniversaries for how long I’ve been knocking around in science fiction and fantasy!

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.

The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie – new ebook edition

The Unlikely World of Faraway FrankieI was delighted earlier this year when Ian Whates of Newcon Press approached me about producing an ebook edition of The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie, which I regard as one of the best things I’ve written. Newcon did a superb job with the paperback and hardback editions, so naturally I didn’t hesitate to say yes to the e-version.

And this week it came out (just in time for Newcon’s 5th anniversary party):

This is what it’s all about:

Frankie Finnegan, or Faraway Frankie as he is sometimes known, is a boy who retreats from the harsh struggles of day-to-day life into daydreaming, adept at turning the bullies’ insults and cruelty into a joke so that he can laugh along.

To cope with the pressure, he turns inwards: he has a most vivid — and sometimes disturbing — imagination, and telling tall tales is one of his ways of coping. Everyone is accustomed to his flights of fancy, and his occasional lapses when he forgets the boundaries between his dream world and the real one. But then… as Frankie’s humiliations mount up, more and more elements from his faraway fantasy world start to appear in the real one. Can he use his imaginary world to escape? Can he learn how to construct the world around him from his dreams, and so get some kind of control over his life?

But when power goes to your head, and your head is where the world comes from, that’s a very dangerous mix.

“A masterclass in how to transcend labels. It is wiser about youth and imagination than most other novels published today; and everybody, of whatever age, should read it.” – Adam Roberts

“An accomplished coming-of-age story that balances the real and the surreal to great effect.” — The Guardian

“One of the best short novels of childhood you will read this year.” — SF Site

“It will stay in my mind for a long time” — Science Fiction & Fantasy

“This is an elegant little gem of a book: unsettling, funny and exciting in equal measure… Recommended.” – Tony Ballantyne

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.

Ian Whates interviewed

Ian Whates is an author, editor and Ian Whates: City of Dreams and Nightmarepublisher.  He lives in a comfortable home down a quiet cul-de-sac in an idyllic Cambridgeshire village, which he shares with his partner Helen and a manic cocker spaniel called Honey.  Ian has seen more than 40 of his short stories published in a variety of venues and has two ongoing novel series, the ‘Noise’ books with Solaris and the ‘City of 100 Rows’ series with Angry Robot.  The second volume of each, The Noise Revealed and City of Hope and Despair appeared in early 2011.  Ian has also edited a number of anthologies, many of them through his own NewCon Press.  He is currently the chairman of the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA), has served as a director for the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), and has been one of the key organisers of the Newcon series of conventions in Northampton.


You organise events like Newcon; you run a successful indie publishing company, NewCon Press; you’re so prolific a writer that you have two publishers as a mere one can’t keep up; you edit anthologies; you write short stories… How do you find the time?

That’s a question I often ask myself.  I do tend to work long hours – often ten hours plus on a week day, three to five hours a day at weekends.  The last time I spent a day without doing any work whatsoever was December 25th.  However, I’m not really the martyr that might suggest.  Various factors make this sort of schedule possible.  I work from home, which means no commute.  I simply walk downstairs and switch on the computer.  As you suggest, there is variety.  If I ever get bogged down with the writing, I can generally switch to editing someone else’s work for an anthology, working on a book cover, chasing up an author for a promised story that hasn’t arrived… and come back to the writing with a fresh eye later.  Most importantly, I genuinely love what I do, so although it’s often hard and intense, it’s rarely that much of a chore.

How did you get your break as a writer?

The short answer is through determination, a great deal of hard work and perseverance.  To put that into context, I’ve always wanted to write.   I made an attempt to do so back in the late 1980s, selling half a dozen stories to small press magazines, but that early start was aborted for reasons that don’t matter now.  In the mid-noughties I took stock of my life and realised that if I ever was going to be a writer, now was the time.  I jacked in the rat race and set about trying to establish myself as an author.  I joined the BSFA.  I joined a writers group.  I went to conventions and met authors and industry professionals etc.  Then, in 2006, I began a relentless regime of writing and submitting short stories.  This led to a shed load of rejections but an increasing number of acceptances as well.  By the time I turned my attention to novel writing in 2008, I’d had 30-odd short stories published in various venues, been nominated for a BSFA Award and qualified for SFWA membership.

I then set about writing a novel.  When I mentioned this to the editors at Solaris (who had bought one of my later shorts, “the Assistant” which was itself award nominated), they asked to see what I had, which was just six chapters.  The novel was also enough to secure my first agent, John Jarrold, and my career as a novelist was under way.

Tell us about the Noise series: pacy, action-packed space opera, described by Stephen Baxter as “Unreasonably enjoyable. 24 meets Starship Troopers. If you read Reynolds, Hamilton, Banks – read this.”  What was it about space opera that made you want to write it?

The ‘Noise’ books had an interesting genesis.  Among the short stories I’d written was a loose series of tales set against the background of a centuries-long war in human space.  The idea was to tell the story of a war from the point of view of the ‘little people’ who are caught up in the conflict, creating a collage-style impression of events and consequences without ever actually addressing the war itself as a continuous narrative.  The intention was to pull all these tales together at a future date and create a mosaic novel.

As mentioned earlier, Solaris asked to see the first six chapters of my work in progress, which would become City of Dreams and Nightmare.  It turned out, unfortunately, that this wasn’t the type of novel they were looking for at the time.  They wanted space opera.  They evidently loved my writing, though, and invited me to pitch a space opera idea to them.  The only thing I had was the mosaic novel, so I duly sent them a rough outline of that.

Except this was Solaris, who were then owned by Games Workshop.  They politely pointed out that they already had all the war and military SF they needed.   However, there were several elements in the outline that they liked.

I mulled this over and decided to carry forward the ideas they were keen on (AI spaceship, intelligent gun, etc etc) and contemplate a story using those elements but set a generation or two after my war.  The narrative would centre on an element from a story that I’d planned but not yet written, an experiment attempted during the war which went disastrously wrong and had now returned to haunt its creators.  I pitched the resultant synopsis along with the first chapter, and Solaris liked it enough to offer me a two book deal on that basis.

City of Dreams and Nightmare might appear to be a bit of a departure for you, a steampunky Peake-y fantasy. Why fantasy? How do you feel about genre boundaries: constrained by the ghetto or inspired?

Not really that much of a departure.  I’ve always written both SF and fantasy and have had several short stories in both fields published.  As for ‘genre’ boundaries, when I was younger they mattered a great deal, but now not so much.  I actually think the ‘City of 100 Rows’ series straddles boundaries, and tend to describe it as urban fantasy with SF underpinning and steampunk overtones.  That pretty much gives me licence to weave anything I want into the narrative and I’ve delighted in doing so.  I’ve been very much inspired by the urban surroundings rather than constrained, though of course Thaiburley is a great deal more than just the City Below, its basement level, so I was able to dip in and out the other 90-odd Rows as well, and, in the second and third volumes, pursue some elements of the narrative in the world outside the city’s walls.

What’s a typical working day for you, with so much to pack in?

‘Typical’ might be pushing it a bit, but… Get up between 6.00 am and 7.00 am.  Come downstairs and turn the computer on.  Over the next hour or so, and fuelled by cups of tea, deal with emails and visit a couple of regular forums, then start writing.

7.45 Take dog for a walk (30 to 40 minutes).

8.30 Make breakfast for me, the dog, and my long-suffering partner, Helen.

9.00 Back to work – writing.

12.30 Stop for lunch.

1.00 Back to work; mainly writing, probably interspersed with some editing or other NewCon Press related matters.

Anywhere between 5.00 and 6.30 (depending on the situation with the writing and who’s cooking the evening meal) stop work.

What part of the writing process do you like best? And least?

The best bit is the writing itself.  I write in a very organic way, with only the loosest of plots.  I generally write a given book’s closing scene when I’m perhaps a third of the way through, because the ending will have come to me very vividly while I walked the dog or ate my breakfast and it simply demands to be written down.  Immediately.  The exciting part is then discovering how my characters got to this final juncture.  I love it when a character surprises me, which might sound a little odd coming from said character’s creator, but it happens all the time.  In one particular instance it was only right towards the end of a novel that I realised two characters were actually the same person.  As soon as I had, it was obvious.  I went back and made one small tweak to an earlier chapter to provide the reader with the hint of a clue, but didn’t necessarily need to.  I don’t believe this was my subconscious shaping the writing so much as the creative process continuing to evolve even as the narrative nears conclusion.

What next?

Well, I’m about to launch two new anthologies through NewCon Press (one of them homage to Sir Arthur C Clarke’s classic Tales from the White Hart), featuring original stories from a raft of fabulous authors – Neil Gaiman, Charlie Stross, Dan Abnett, Stephen Baxter, Lauren Beukes, James Lovegrove, Ian Watson, Eric Brown, Tony Ballantyne, Stephen Palmer, Liz Williams, Adam Roberts etc etc – many of whom I’ve worked with before but some of whom are completely new to the Press.  Then, in the summer, I’m launching a new short story collection by Liz Williams with introduction by Tanith Lee – A Glass of Shadow – and in the autumn a novel by Gary McMahon entitled The End… not forgetting I’m throwing a party at a London pub in July to commemorate five years of NewCon Press.  I’m also co-editing with Ian Watson a new ‘Mammoth’ title for Constable and Robinsons – The Mammoth Book of SF Wars – and putting together a new SF anthology for Solaris, Solaris Rising, due out at the end of the year…

As for the writing, I’m taking a break from the ‘City of 100 Rows’ and the ‘Noise’ books – either of which I could return to in the future – to write something new.  SF again rather than fantasy… and this one will feature a banker as central character (yes, really!).  I’m planning this as a trilogy, the working title for which is ‘Drake’s Dark Dilemma’.  As for describing it, I’m aiming for something akin to Sherlock Holmes meets Firefly.  How close to that I actually get, we’ll have to wait and see.

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