The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Three

It was great to get on the road yesterday, with my Christmas playlist on in the car, heading first to Waterstone's in Reading, then to the branch in Staines.  The latter appearance was particularly fun, with an interesting gang of folk showing up, including many familiar to me from Twitter.  I had a good time, and probably read too much, so thanks very much for that, everybody.  Today, at 7.45pm, I'm going to be appearing at Topping and Company in the City of Bath. Do pop along if you're in the area.

Today is also the publication date of what are, for me, two important comics.  Demon Knights #15 is my last  issue as writer (although, loving the title as I do, I've told editor Chris Conroy that I'm always up for popping back for back-up strips, special issues, etc), and there are major happenings inside those pages, which will be of particular interest to Stormwatch fans.  I think there's a nice sense of plots being tied up, and of turning the page on to the next chapter, setting things up for incoming writer Robert Venditti.  I intend to keep following the title now he's writing in, and I really hope you will too.  I want to see that world we made continue to flourish.  You can see a preview of the first five pages of lovely Bernard Chang art here.

Also out today is Saucer Country #10, the conclusion to 'The Reticulan Candidate', one of the arcs I'm most proud to have written for any comic.  You can see a preview of the first five pages of Ryan Kelly's beautiful art on that one here.

I'm also pleased to announce that I'll be attending the rebranded Sci-Fi Weekender in North Wales in March.  I'll also be hosting Just A Minute for them.  This has been made possible by them offering me Panel Parity, thus completing my year of only going on panels with 50/50 male/female ratios.  (I'll be blogging about the whole year at some point.  And I should offer immediate apologies that I'm chickening out of keeping it going on a permanent basis.  I will, however, be trying to make sure that I carry on supporting the principles behind it, and I've got a few ideas about how.)  While I'm in Wales, I intend to get started on Dancer Nakedness Parity.  Seriously.  

And so, before I get on a train and head west, let's to the meat of today's blog, continuing our theme of guests writing about 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'.  Today it's SF writer Gareth L. Powell, talking about... Three French Hens.  Hello, Gareth...

'I'm pleased that Paul's given me the chance to write today's blog because, this year, there are a number of reasons why the 12th December will be a special day for me.

In the first place, the date itself.  At twelve minutes and twelve seconds past twelve o'clock, the date and time will be: 12:12:12 on the 12/12/12.  That's a lot of twelves.  A date like that feels as if it should have some cosmic significance.  And it's also the last time we'll see such a date, unless we live until the first of January 2101, when it will be 01/01/01.  

Secondly, today is also the day I travel to London to launch my new novel, Ack-Ack Macaque, at the Forbidden Planet store on Shaftesbury Avenue.

And thirdly, today's the day I achieve one of my childhood ambitions.  For, today, 2000AD's bumper "end of year" issue hits the newsstands; and this year, for the first time, it contains a comic strip written by me.

I was given my first 2000AD Annual for Christmas in 1979, and I still have it on my bookshelves.  At the time, Judge Dredd was my favourite character.  Later, I discovered others, such as DR and Quinch and Halo Jones.  And now, thirty-something years after that first Annual, I'm finally going to see one of my own creations strut their stuff across those hallowed pages.

The strip I've written ties in with the novel I'm launching today.  In fact, it's a prequel, and features the adventures of the titular monkey in WWII, battling German ninjas atop a steam-powered Martian tripod, somewhere in the middle of the English Channel.  Monkeys, Spitfires, ninjas, Martians... it's everything my ten year old self would have thrown into the mix, if he'd been given the chance.  And if I can ever get my car up to eighty-eight miles per hour during a lightning storm, I'll go back to 1979 and give him the highest of high fives.

But in the meantime, I hear you cry: "What of the three French hens?" (Indeed - Paul.)

Well, I'm coming to them...

The final reason the choice of the third day of Christmas seems appropriate is that the novel version of Ack-Ack Macaque features three female French characters, all of whom are crucial to the events in the story. These are my "three French hens".

First off, we have Victoria Valois, a former journalist with half her brain missing, who finds herself forced into the role of detective when a mysterious smiling assailant kills her estranged husband, and steals her electronic soul.

Secondly, there's Julie Girard, a purple-haired politics student from Paris, a girl with a dark secret who's somehow caught the eye of her classmate, His Royal Highness Prince Merovech, the Prince of Wales.

And lastly, we have Merovech's mother, Her Grace Lady Alyssa Celestine, the Duchess of Brittany, a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur from Paris, and wife of the British King.

Between them, these three women will – aided by the monkey and the Prince – turn their world upside down. But why did I make them all French?  Well, the simple answer is that I set my story in a world where France and Britain merged in the late 1950s, so I needed characters to reflect the intermingling of countries and cultures such a merger would have produced.

In our world, when the French President, Guy Mollet came to London on 10th September 1956 and proposed a merger between the UK and France, with Queen Elizabeth as head of the French State, the British Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, turned him down, and that was that.  A few years later, France allied herself with a rebuilt Germany, and the foundations were laid for the Europe we see today, with its political and economic power centered in Paris and Berlin.

In Ack-Ack Macaque, things turned out rather differently.  In the world of the book, an Anglo-French victory over Egypt and a successful resolution of the Suez Crisis persuaded the British to accept the French proposal.  Despite rumblings of discontent from Washington and Moscow, the two countries founded the United Kingdom of Britain, France, Northern Ireland and Norway.  By the time the story opens, in 2059, London and Paris are at the heart of a vibrant European Commonwealth about to celebrate its first centenary.

In the wake of Suez, the British and French wanted to relieve themselves of some of their dependency on Middle Eastern Oil and traditional shipping routes.  So, instead of closing the shipyards in the wake of WWII, the Commonwealth turned them over to producing a new generation of airships, filling the skies with lighter-than-air, nuclear-powered transportation, and boosting the economy by keeping thousands of skilled workers in employment.  Sometimes it seems that every alternate world story features Zeppelins; but here, I felt I had a sound economic reason for them to exist – beyond the fact that I just happen to like Zeppelins. (Zeppelins are cool).

But what's the point of constructing a complex alternate society like this if you're not going to blow it apart? As Victoria Valois pursues her husband's killer across London, it soon becomes apparent that his death is only a small part of a much larger plot – one that could spell the end of the world.  At least, the end of the world for humans...

Ack-Ack Macaque mixes a lot of genres: alternate history, pulp, noir, science fiction, and Steampunk.  It's the kind of book I've always wanted to read; and therefore the kind of book I just had to write.  Today, I launch it out into the world, and wish it well.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?'



Gareth L Powell lives in Bristol and is the author of the novels Ack-Ack Macaque, The Recollection, and Silversands, and the short story collection The Last Reef.  He has written for the Irish Times, SFX Magazine, 2000AD, and the Bristol Review of Books. You can find him online here.

Thank you, Gareth.  Every now and then it's good to let a friend, particular one for whom everything is happening at once, blurb about his monkey.  We'll continue tomorrow with novelist Seanan McGuire talking about... Four Calling (or Colly) Birds.  Until then, Cheerio!

3 Response to "The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Three"

  • Emma Newman Says:

    Huzzah for the Weekender Paul and I'm 100% with you on the dancer nakedness thing :)

    Wow, this is truly an auspicious day for you Gareth - and that's an ace photo. Can't wait to read Ack-Ack Macaque - see you on Saturday!


  • Paul Weimer Says:

    I do like that photo. :)


  • Paul Cornell Says:

    It is a nice photo. And thanks, Em! Err, Saturday?