Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by Gareth L. Powell.
Gareth L. Powell is a novelist based in Bristol, UK. He has written four novels and a collection of short stories. His short stories have featured in Interzone magazine as well as numerous anthologies, and his novels have been favourably reviewed in the Guardian. He has written about science fiction for The Irish Times and SFX, and recently penned a comic strip for 2000AD. You can find him on Twitter (@garethlpowell).
Gareth L. Powell's new novel, Hive Monkey, is released by Solaris Books in January 2014.
Click here to visit the author's official website.
How I Got This Monkey On My Back by Gareth L. Powell
You know the way you sometimes get a phrase stuck in your head? Maybe it’s a line from a song or poem. Maybe it’s somebody’s name. You keep repeating it to yourself. There’s something about the rhythm of the words, the way they echo around your head and trip off your tongue.
That’s how it started for me.
Way back in 2006, I somehow got the words ‘Ack-Ack’ and ‘Macaque’ lodged in my brain. They went round and round in there until I finally wrote them down in my notebook. A nonsense phrase, I thought: catchy, but absurd and meaningless.
And that should have been the end of that. Except, a few days later, I started writing a short story about the crumbling relationship between a young man and the creator of an online web animation, and I needed a cartoon character for this woman to have created. I wanted to say a few things about the commodification of culture, especially in movie adaptations of books and comics, and so I needed a character with rough edges. And there, in the notebook, I found him.
Ack-Ack Macaque. I couldn’t resist the name, even if it meant he had to be a monkey fighter pilot. I added him to the story and he immediately tried to take it over. He was part Lee Marvin, part Biggles, part John Belushi in ‘1941’—a cynical badass stick-jockey with an eye patch and a cigar.
The short story went on the win the 2007 Interzone magazine readers’ poll for favourite short story of the year, and I went on to write some more stories and a couple of novels.
When it came to writing my third novel, in 2010, I decided to write about the nature of what it means to be human. I had touched on the theme in my two previous books, but now wanted to examine it more overtly. To do so, I’d come up with a near-future murder mystery set in an alternate world, complete with mind-recorders (or “soul-catchers”) and huge nuclear-powered Zeppelins. I had two of the main characters: a former journalist who has had most of her brain replaced with artificial processors following an accident; and a young man who doesn’t realise that he’s been synthetically created and grown in a laboratory from cells provided by his mother. I wanted to look at humanity through the eyes of people who weren’t sure whether or not they qualified as ‘human’. The first had been human, but now didn’t know what she was; the second thought he was human, but then found out he was something else. What I needed was a third viewpoint: an animal that had never been human, and had been ‘uplifted’ to consciousness.
Yes, once again, the monkey proved to be the missing piece of the jigsaw.
The trouble was, as such a larger-than-life character, he has a tendency to steal every scene that he’s in; so I had to use him sparingly, and ensure that the other characters were just as vivid in their own ways. You could say he made me “up my game” when it came to writing the other characters.
The book was a joy to write. In some ways, it almost wrote itself. I always try to write the kind of books that I want to read; and I always try to have as much fun as possible while writing them—so I threw everything I had at the novel.
Solaris Books published Ack-Ack Macaque in January 2013, to excellent reviews, and immediately commissioned a sequel.
Hive Monkey will hit the shelves in January 2014. It picks up the adventures of the monkey and his friends a year after the first book, and sees them going up against diabolical villains in a race to save the world. In one respect, it’s a rip-snorting adventure with explosions, fierce air battles, and dastardly deeds; but at a deeper level, it continues the speculations of the first book, continuing to look at the nature of identity and individuality through a prism of damaged and all-too-human characters.
I am currently writing the third book in the trilogy. Macaque Attack is due for release in January 2015, which seems a very long way away. Maybe by that time, I’ll have said all I have to say about Ack-Ack, the one-eyed talking monkey.
Maybe, but somehow I doubt it.