The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Twelve

I write this with Thomas asleep on my shoulder (he says snorf), while Caroline is asleep, still getting over what seems to be one of those horrible 24 hour viruses that are going around (if perhaps not the norovirus).  Thus I was summoned back from a festive comicker dinner in London last night.  A less formidable woman might not have said 'when you're ready', but I knew that for her to do that at all it must be serious, so hurried back.  This has made our holiday plans somewhat complicated.  We'll see later today how much travel she's capable of.  The main priority is making sure Tom doesn't catch it, hence my continual looking after of him today.

So, getting to the end of the Twelve Blogs this year has been a bit of an obstacle course.  I've always previously regarded the hard work of putting them together, just when I should be starting to relax, as a sort of deliberate journey, a way to exhaust myself before the grand moment of the year, the pivot about which the seasons turn.  But this year there's been no need for such artificial exhaustion, and my friends have stepped in to help out in a wonderful way.  I don't feel at all Christmassy at the moment, but that numinous sensation was all about ritual, and having Tom in the world both prevents such selfish summoning of feeling, and replaces it with the real meaning of Christmas.  I will at some point try to describe my love for him, the love all parents feel, but now I don't have the energy.  He makes me walk the walk.  Usually to the changing mat.  No Patrick Moore appreciation either, something else I'm sorry not to have fitted in.  The apocalypse which was only predicted by those desiring a world without all those awful people in it failed, of course, to happen.  In the midst of death we are in life.  We continue.

There are a handful of things to mention this morning. I've done a new interview about London Falling at Cultbox.

It was good to see the novel appear on Joanne Hall's 13 Must Reads for 2013.

And I was delighted by this crafter's downloadable patterns for making Doctor Who- themed paper Christmas snowflake decorations, available here and here.

Now, before we get to the main guest of today's blog, I'd like to give the floor to SF critic and author Graham Sleight.  Hello Graham...

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: commercial break.

'If this is appearing on Paul's site now, it means he's very kindly allowed me a little space in his Twelve Blogs of Christmas to offer a sort of uncommercial break.  This is not one of the Twelve Days proper: just think of this as the Valeyard of the verses.  Or something.

I wanted to take the opportunity to plug a favorite charity of mine – and one that's especially relevant at Christmas.  If after reading this you'd like to make a donation, that's great.  If not, no problem, and I hope you have a great holiday.

The charity is Crisis, a UK-based organisation that provides support for single homeless people.  They offer education and health check-ups for people who find themselves without a place to live, among many other services.  They also campaign on issues around homelessness, and provide data on the scope of the problem.  If you look through their website, you'll see that, for instance, last year more than 5,600 people slept rough in London alone.

At Christmas, Crisis do something special.  They open up a series of centres across the UK where homeless people can stay and, well, have a Christmas.  For several days, they provide shelter, warm meals, advice, and support for thousands of people.  The cost of doing this is £20.48 per place.  So, if you're able to, you might want to support part or all of the cost of a place – the donation link is here.  If you're a UK taxpayer, ticking the Gift Aid box will add 25% to the amount you give.

That's all. Happy holidays to one and all, and we now return you to your regularly-scheduled blogs.'

And thank you, Graham.  Crisis is a charity I also support.  Please give generously.

Now, for the last time, to our theme, 'The Twelve Days of Christmas'.  Today, we welcome author Maura McHugh to talk about... Twelve Drummers Drumming!  Hello, Maura...

'What image springs to mind when you read Twelve Drummers Drumming? Perhaps - considering the festive season - it's an image of twelve soldiers, dressed in military red, rattling out a rhythm for the antics of the lords, ladies, and assorted fowl?

It's likely that the default image that arises is of a male drummer.  For instance, if you check the Wikipedia entry on Drummer the photographs only depict men drumming.

Women have a long association with drumming, but that story isn't the everyday narrative we are told, or the images we are shown.  In 1997 Layne Redmond wrote a book called When Women Were Drummers, which details women's role as drummers in early civilisations, and how it changed.

Redmond reports that the first drummer named in ancient records is Lipushiau, a Mesopotamian priestess who lived in Ur in 2380 BC. She was the head of the most important temple in the city.  "Her emblem of office was the balag-di, a small round frame drum used to lead liturgical chanting."

The drum replicates the heartbeat of humanity, and it was one of the first instruments developed by people.  The First Nations of the southern plains of America tell that the drum was given as a gift to women from the Great Spirit.  In this tradition the heartbeat of Mother Earth can be heard in specific rhythms of the drum, and its sound connects women, men, and the planet together.

However, in many cultures there was a shift away from women participating in drumming activities.  Redmond notes that, 'The Catholic synod of 576 (commandments of the Fathers, Superiors and Masters) decreed: "Christians are not allowed to teach their daughters singing, the playing of instruments or similar things because, according to their religion, it is neither good nor becoming." '

Drummers stand out.  They play the backbone of music, set the beat, and send a resonance through our bodies that urges us to move and dance.  It's not surprising that this ability could be considered problematic when women's roles became restricted.

Despite the subtle and not-so subtle pressure against drumming, women kept playing, and in greater numbers in the Western World during the twentieth century.  One prompt for this change was the popularity of all-women bands, which began in the 1920s (it's a central plot device in Some Like it Hot).

These swing/jazz groups had fabulous names, like The Ingenues, Babe Egan and Her Hollywood Redheads, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, The Bricktops (previously called The Parisian Redheads), Thelma White and Her All-Girl Orchestra, Sarah McLawler And The Syncoettes, and in the UK there was Edna Croudson's Rhythm Girls - their most famous player created her own group called Ivy Benson And Her All Girls Band.  They were hugely popular and most of the bands toured internationally to big crowds.

The popularity of jazz meant that several women found careers as drummers in mixed ensembles.  Dottie Dodgion jammed with legends Benny Goodman, Charlie Mingus, and Herbie Hancock, among others.

The advent of all-woman rock/pop bands in the second half of the twentieth century ensured women drummers got attention, such as Honey Lantree in The Honeycombs, Sandy West in The Runaways, Gina Schock in The Go-Go's, Paloma McLardy (Palmolive) in The Slits, Lori Barbero in Babes in Toyland, Tobi Vail in Bikini Kill, and Patty Schemel in Hole.  There are women drummers who have become famous in mixed groups or on their own right, like Cindy Blackman, Meg White, Samantha Maloney, and Terri Lyne Carrington, or they have created their own drumming band, such as the Raging Asian Women Taiko Drummers.

But perhaps the 'face' of women drummers in 2012 is Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish, profoundly-deaf drummer, who was featured in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.  Her TED talk about 'How to Truly Listen' is not only an insight into her sheer talent, but also how she has overcome prejudice and learned to use her deafness to open herself fully to sound in all its manifestations.

In 2013 I hope all the drummers of the world continue to sound the beat that inspires our hearts and moves our feet.'

Maura McHugh played recorder in her all-girl school band, loves drums, and is a writer who lives in Galway, Ireland.  Her collection, Twisted Fairy Tales, will be published in the USA in 2013.  She wrote a section of the anthology horror play, The Hallowe'en Sessions, which was performed in London in October this year, and she has written two comic book series for Atomic Diner in Ireland: Róisín Dubh and Jennifer Wilde. You can follow her at @splinister on Twitter.

Thank you, Maura, and again to everyone who contributed a blog this year.  I'll see you all in again in the New Year.  In the meantime, I hope you have a happy, and healthy, Christmas.  Cheerio!

6 Response to "The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Twelve"

  • Says:

    Wonderful! I got to attend a master class with Glennie at my college; such a treat! And Redmond has just crowd-funded a film on Brazillian drummers and the Orishas.

  • Unknown Says:

    The prototype woman drummer of the modern era, of course, was Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground. She wasn't chosen because she was glamorous, because she was a woman, or in spite of being a woman. She was just in the band because she was exactly the right drummer for the band.

    I'd also like to mention Jeungri Hori of Arizona's Bear Ghost. In a very active band, you can't take your eyes off her. (

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Excellent comments!

  • Dennis the Menace Says:

    Hi Paul. It's me - the Ghost of Christmas Past! I'm Dennis Richardson and we used to write together for Cygnus Alpha back in the eighties. Of course, I'm not REALLY Dennis Richardson - that was always my alter ego. I'm really Dr George Sik, the psychologist and football nut. Anyway, I was hoping you might be able to sign my copy of London Falling at a bit of a Cygnus Alpha reunion down in Exeter. There is a Dr Who/SF/genre fiction do at The Phoenix on Sunday April 7th. The organiser, Lee Rawlings, is my friend's brother-in-law. Paul West is up for it and I might be able to get Graeme Bassett down from Cleethorpes. I know you're a busy man but Paul reckoned you might fancy it - and there will be loads of your fans there who will want their copies signed (me included!) won't tell you that they preferred Blink to Being Human. If you fancy doing a short guest spot or penning a little article (I might do a 'What fandom were like in them days' piece myself), Lee would be on Cloud 9.

    What do you reckon?

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    I'd like to see you lot, obviously, but I haven't been invited to the con. Also, new baby, which would, in any case, prevent me from going. So, sorry, I hope to see you all on some other occasion. Cheers.

  • Dennis the Menace Says:

    No problem - knowing about the new baby, they are probably waiting until next year to invite you!

    Enjoy fatherhood!