The Perfect Destination

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The sun is starting to feel like fire on my face as I wake up, and at first I assume it’s the blistering heat that’s stirred me out of my dreams.  But then I start to hear the groans, low, pained, strangely defeatist, and I turn on my sunbed to find a sight that startles me up and on to my feet.

Everywhere I look, by the pool, on the beach, as far as I can see across the whole resort, tourists are in some kind of distress, many burnt a frightening red by the afternoon sun, as though someone has accelerated the slow lethalness of the rays to deadly proportions, skin steaming and mouths open in contorted screams, mostly silent as the result of fried vocal cords.  Elsewhere, I see other figures disturbingly emaciated, scantily-clad youths riddled with some ailment, covered in sores and hives, crawling across the tiles and reaching out to no-one in particular.  Others still are trapped on their beds, stomachs bloated to almost ridiculous proportions, bellies hanging out over the sides and hands clutching at their chests as trickles of beer run out of the cans lying knocked over at the base.

I stumble away from those nearest me, moaning and crying and reaching out for me, and start running, desperately, flitting an eye up to the sun every few steps as if anticipating the moment the orb will start to burn through my own skin with sudden speed.  But it doesn’t happen.  I make it down to the beach, to the edge of the water, and on instinct, perhaps simply to get as far away from what I’ve just seen as I physically can, I plunge in, wading through the surf until I’m fully in the sea, head immersed and the waves crashing over the top of me.  I look down at the seafloor below, and my mouth falls open in fresh, disbelieving horror.

Across the ocean floor, more souls, much older, are making their way along, shuffling, struggling, most clad in heavy, drab coats, almost all with bowed heads, eyes dead and disappointed, all optimism apparently crushed from them.  Some are wheeling themselves along in chairs, others depending on crutches, some carrying shopping bags in both hands as tears of isolation flow down their cheeks.  Some, in concentrated groups, line up in queues, waiting in single file for packages being handed out.

A few, the ones with the barest traces of hope still on their faces, look upwards towards the surface, eyes searching as though wondering if things are better up there.  On instinct, I glance up and see brief flashes of legs and arms moving through the water, muffled laughter of children, and I make for the top, swimming my way to the surface and breaking my head above the surf.

The resort is a scene of bliss- sunshine and fun, holidaymakers enjoying the best of summer escapism, splashing in the water, laughing and playing on the beach, drinking on apartment terraces.  Glancing down, I find no sign of anything beneath me, nothing on the sea floor, no movement of lonely souls below my floating feet.  I open my mouth to question, to speak, to ask someone, anyone, if I’m losing my mind, when I feel the burning heat of the sun on my face, and my vision goes blank.

I open my eyes, blink, and find myself stretched on my sunbed.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

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Smoke and Fire

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There is no smoke without fire.

Most take that to mean no rumour without truth or scandal lurking close behind it.  We take a different meaning.  We make a different meaning.

To us, the phrase means ensuring substance behind our threats.  Making sure our targets, our puppets, our victims if necessary, know that we will deliver on any promise we make them, on any warning we choose to give.  Guaranteeing that our names, our image, the very concept of us, is synonymous with dominance over, and if required, retribution against, those we seek to influence.

So, if an election appears not to be going the way we wish, we make sure we have the fire of media hostility behind the smoke of ideological criticism.  If corporate rivals become too big for their shoes, too arrogant, too quick to believe they can get away with causing us displeasure, we ensure we have the fire of front-page exposés behind the smoke of shadowy blackmail.  If the public prove temporarily brave enough to challenge the politics we wish to see implemented, we make sure we have the fire of punitive measures behind the smoke of denouncing civil unrest.  If churches embark on misguided objections to our social policies, we make sure we have the fire of hidden skeletons behind the smoke of secular ridicule.  And if rogue nations opt not to play their part in the shaping of our desired world order, we make sure we have the fire of scorched-earth warfare behind the smoke of whipping up and manipulating public opinion.

This is what is required to be effective pullers of strings.  To be quiet rulers of countries without the knowledge of their populaces.  To be the power behind thrones, behind corporate desks and presidential chairs, behind newspaper headlines.  The absolute, unbending will to ensure that, whenever our enemies recognise the warning sign of smoke drifting their way, the fire of their destruction is already sweeping rapidly behind it.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

Anything but a Dream

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How not to try out Rowing.

Step One: Believe that being accustomed to the Rowing machines in the Queen’s University PEC gym will somehow correspond to you having any proficiency for the actual sport, that the energy and exhilaration caused to your body from fifteen minutes of pulling and releasing in a warm workout room will bear any resemblance to the wind and crowds and unsteadiness beneath your feet of a trip up the Lagan.

Step Two: Leave it until the final year of uni to try out the activity, long after any of your peers who would have been interested have gotten into the sport, and far too late for the three or four-year time period you might otherwise have given yourself to learn and practice and train to become any sort of powerhouse in a boat, missing the best, freest window of your life to really give it a shot.

Step Three: Invite a friend along to the ‘Come and Try It’ morning of your last ever semester at Queen’s, so that not only do you run the risk of embarrassing yourself in front of total strangers, but you expose yourself to the prospect of someone who actually knows you well seeing you flounder.  Ignore the voice at the back of your head warning that this is most likely a terrible, terrible idea, and foolishly entertain optimism that you’ll perhaps surprise yourself, and turn out to be a natural or a pro.

Step Four: Manage to exhibit the worst Rowing prowess known to man once you’re actually inside the boat, immediately put on edge by the buoyancy and unpredictability of the water, instantly uncomfortable with the sheer weight of the oars, and proceeding to be besieged by unpleasant memories of feeling under pressure during team sports going all the way back to primary school, petrified of letting the group down by not performing your part properly, and enduring the shouts and urgings of people who don’t grasp that you are almost literally out of your depth.  Manage to not only fail to lift and release the oars the right way as instructed (repeatedly), but essentially all but capsize the boat with your particular ‘technique’, all the while listening to the payoff of the earlier bad decision to not come alone in the form of your friend’s raucous laughter.

Step Five: Manage to lose your sense of direction and orientation on the way home from the boathouse, having not familiarised yourself previously with this particular part of South Belfast, and your friend having had to go on to work earlier.  Compound your existing humiliation and frustration by having to ring for a taxi, and spend unnecessary money on having the driver find you your way home.  Arrive back to Malone Road, which really wasn’t all that far away in the first place if you’d only known which direction to walk, and hope that someday, at the very least, the experience might serve as an amusing anecdote for a writing exercise.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

The Coming

WHAT ARE THEY?

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  • World in grip of extra-normal horror as governments urge calm
  • Nature of invaders still unknown
  • Biological dangers being investigated at global level

 

The world was in shock last night as an unknown and inexplicable phenomenon began to engulf the entire planet.  From Britain to China, Russia to the US, Brazil to South Africa, world governments are issuing pleas for calm as reports of civil unrest and mass panic begin to emerge from major cities.  At approximately 3pm yesterday afternoon, apparent tears in the fabric of space began to open across the planet, apparently in similar concentrations from country to country, through which unidentified, translucent, often barely-visible entities began to crawl through, often evident only by their eyes, which observers have commonly described as bloodshot and lacking pupils.  Unconfirmed witness claims suggest the portals through which the creatures stepped, revealing nothing beyond but almost unbearable light, may have been cross-shaped in form.  No reports have been made of the entities emitting sounds or making contact with the public, and indeed since yesterday afternoon, all but a few seem to have disappeared to locations unknown, only a select number still visible on hillsides or places of height in major urban areas.  Unverified reports are suggesting the concentration of those still lingering in public sight is at its highest in the Holy Land: this is still being investigated.  Where the gatherings are still in evidence, local military forces are cautiously stationed in these areas, assessing the nature and intent of the creatures.  Some members of the public are reporting experiencing sensations of extreme shame or distress upon gazing at the entities’ eyes for too long, or of crushing sorrow over past mistakes or misdeeds.  Most notable of all are reports of agonised, mournful screams issuing from within major faith centres, with prominent figures such as the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and eminent Jewish and Muslim leaders, reportedly locked within their private quarters sobbing uncontrollably.  Further reports of flora and plantlife across the Middle East breaking out in thorns, and in some particularly disturbing instances, seeping a blood-like substance, remain completely unverified, and it is unknown what, if any, link exists between the phenomena.  Whatever is occurring across the globe, however, one thing appears absolutely clear: the world has never seen anything like it, and what it bodes for our immediate future remains frighteningly unclear.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

Irony in the Life of a Writer

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The irony of it all is that sometimes, it seems, you have to let go of an aspiration or hope in order for it to come true or to bear fruit.  Several times now in my writing life, I’ve spent long weeks and months hoping and dreaming of particular outcomes, without seeing much progress.

During the latter half of 2011, upon finishing university, all through 2012 and a good portion of 2013, I worked stubbornly and determinedly on a fantasy novel, believing I had the skillset to produce something worthy of publication.  That dream and long-term goal sustained me through the relative emptiness of those couple of years, filling the void that the loss of the routine and social life of university (specifically Queen’s Belfast) brought to my life.  It almost became a sort of private obsession, a justification to myself that if only I could hold out, be patient, wait long enough, I’d achieve success, and the sense of being cut adrift from real life, of being in a social wilderness, would be worth it in the end.

But the months marched on, and my patience faltered, and a foolish decision to send out a synopsis and sample chapters before the book was anywhere near properly finished, resulting in several rejection letters and emails, almost dissuaded me from continuing to write at all.  As a coping mechanism, from somewhere in the depths of my mind, my brain formed an alternative, relatively simpler story to tell, worthy in its own right, I felt, of trying to turn into a novel.  Newly inspired by the idea, I began working on this fresh story, barely completing a first chapter before, practically on a whim, deciding to submit that chapter to be considered for entry to a prestigious novel-writing course run by one of the agencies, Curtis Brown, that I’d received a rejection from, and which I’d seen advertising said course in their monthly electronic newsletter.  The irony of it is that if I hadn’t submitted that earlier work to that particular agency, even if it was destined to be rejected, I wouldn’t have received that newsletter, and may not have become aware of the course that particular year.

So, sending the sample chapter to them by way of application, I went on a family holiday to Croatia and thought little more about it, only to find several missed international calls on my mobile, which I had no credit to return, but which I began to suspect might be Curtis Brown trying to get a hold of me.  If I hadn’t used my brother’s phone to check my emails on one particular day of the holiday, I would have lost the place they offered me to someone else that same day.  The irony of it is that, only when I’d stopped worrying or expecting anything from the novel writing, only when I’d set the story I’d been working on for so long aside and started a new one, did fortune finally decide to let me get somewhere with it, opening up an opportunity for me when I was at my most relaxed about it, almost to the point of missing out on a place.  And of course, the irony of it is that after years of working on one project, the piece I’d barely started was the one that now caught the interest of the right people, and so that whole process of long-term creative work had to begin again- but this time, with a guaranteed interest from professionals to buoy me along.

Fast forward two years, to summer 2015, and, albeit with some welcome successes and opening up of opportunities in stage writing in 2014 via Tinderbox theatre company and their Fireworks Young Writers programme, I found myself once again feeling somewhat lost and in a bit of a wilderness, still polishing the novel Curtis Brown were interested enough in to give me a place on their course, and starting to wonder again if I was on the right path.  So I eagerly applied to the MA in TV Fiction Writing at Glasgow Caledonian University, seeing this as an excellent chance of achieving the hat trick of getting a foot in the door in the world of screenwriting, along with prose and stage writing.  But after a series of conflicting and contradictory emails, I was eventually left with the distinct impression that my application hadn’t been received in time, and that that opportunity was now closed to me.  And after an initial period of gutting disappointment, I came to accept that it just wasn’t to be, and to pour renewed effort and determination into finishing the novel, and capitalising on the links with Tinderbox by working on some stage pieces.

Again, almost on a whim, I applied for a bursary place for the John Hewitt International Summer School, being in no position financially to attend any of the events otherwise.  And the irony of it is that, some weeks after accepting things weren’t going to work out in the way I wanted them to just yet, I received an email informing me of success with the bursary application, and welcoming me to the summer school and all the fascinating workshops and events I would now get access to- a welcome, if modest, boost to my self-confidence.

But the best was yet to come: days later, I received an email from the MATV convenors inviting me to have a Skype interview for a place on their course, revealing that I was still very much in the running for a place on that programme, despite having believed for weeks  that that was a lost cause.  Fast forward three days, and I arrived home to find an email waiting for me, timed less than an hour after finishing the interview, offering me a place at GCU and on the MATV course.  The irony of it is that I had once again waited so long with little sign of any progress, and had started to accept that things just weren’t going to happen for me any time soon when, like buses, two fantastic opportunities came along at once.  Combined with the continuing links and potential opportunities with Curtis Brown and Tinderbox, it was a moment that the late 2011-early 2013 version of me would have killed to be in- and that was most certainly exciting.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

Fear

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Of all the feelings on the emotional spectrum, there is nothing so horrific, but at the same time so utterly fascinating as fear.  That’s not to say it’s the most fascinating emotion in itself- for me, that honour goes to the more positive sensation of love, be it the platonic, deep-rooted love for family, friends or places, or the even more compelling, enthralling onset of romantic love, the passion and longing of which often seems like a flame overtaking and possessing the whole body and soul.  No, it’s the combination of the two reactions, horror and fascination, that makes fear so interesting.  Everyone cites guilt as the most pointless emotion, the one that serves no useful purpose, but, for me, fear is instinctively the sensation that feels useless- crippling as it does the human ability for aspiration and fulfilment of potential whenever it’s at its very worst.

And yet, that instinct has to be wrong, as without fear, we would cross roads without looking, swim out to unsafe distances at sea, recklessly provoke those out for an excuse to do us harm.  But still, when you’re in its grip, it feels pointless- you resent its hold on you utterly, lamenting what you could do or achieve if it just left you alone, relinquished its claim to you.

From a logical viewpoint, you acknowledge its purpose, even necessity, when you’re not actually experiencing it, but when it has you, there’s no other feeling you want to banish so completely.  It’s the most unwanted of emotions the brain has the capacity for, followed only by impotent anger or sorrow.  When trapped within it, it feels like being in a desolate landscape, somewhere stripped and bleached of all warming light, a total void when at its worst, populated by oppressive shadows trying to fold you within their embrace and block out any memory of happier moments or knowledge that there are people and techniques that can help, that you can turn to.  Nothing makes you feel so utterly alone, and in the most extreme cases, hopeless, and when you truly reflect on the sensation, you think it’s the most insidious price to have to pay to maintain a healthy survival instinct.  The cruellest feeling a human being can experience, and yet, in its twisted, powerful way, the most vital.  In that sense, perhaps nothing sums up the human condition quite so well.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

Broughshane to Inverness

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I’ve made the same trip to Inverness so often I could probably do it in my sleep.  The same routes, the same bus and train connections, the same airline, the same sections on foot.  And yet, given my love of the destination, it’s a journey I’ve been all too happy to keep repeating.

Up at 7.20 am, courtesy of the alarm on my phone.  I dearly wish for another half-hour of sleep, and unwisely allow myself a few minutes of it.  Springing out of bed in a panic at the tight window of time I’ve left myself, I wolf down a bowl of cereal while waiting for the water to heat up, then shower with barely enough time to get dried, hurriedly pack everything I need for the trip into my rucksack, and rush for the school bus two minutes around the corner from my house in Broughshane.  Mercifully, I make it, and allow myself to relax a little as the bus heads for the Pentagon in Ballymena, where I get off and walk the remaining few minutes to the station, partly to kill time, partly for at least a little bit of exercise- something I get nowhere near enough of.  A purchase of a newspaper in the Kiosk shop proves initially pointless, as I spend the majority of the train ride to Belfast asleep, having made that particular journey more than enough time since starting university in 2007 not to feel cheated of the scenery.

At Great Victoria Street, I unwisely spend a few minutes magazine-browsing in WHSmith, and just about make the bus over to George Best airport.  One particular woman who’s often driving that shuttle must be one of the cheeriest employees Translink has, with a persona some of the drivers back home, often with faces like Lurgan spades, could learn a thing or two from.

The trip through the airport is the usual fare- over to the Flybe Kiosk to print a boarding pass, then straight through security, where it’s always 50/50 whether I’ll be frisked or not.  Getting my belt back on is always the most irritating bit- somehow you feel like everyone else is watching as you do, even though they’re patently not.  Up the stairs in the lounge, I’ve time for a bit of food and a browse-through of the paper, usually containing at least one story daft enough to make me glad to be leaving Northern Ireland for a few days- one example being a protracted dispute at a church in the greater Portadown area over the sermon style of a ‘too-modern’ vicar.  Snore.

The flight is usually about half-full- Belfast-Inverness on a weekday perhaps never destined to be jam-packed.  But that just makes it feel more like my own hidden gem, my secret refuge- the same peaceful retreat it was when I first started making the journey in 2013.  That familiar feeling of affection only increases as the captain announces the final descent about 40 minutes in, and I glance out the window to see Inverness in miniature, temporarily disappearing from view as the plane heads onwards and down towards the airport eight miles out.

The flight arrival coincides well with the connecting bus into the city centre, and in no time at all I’m heading away from the tiny airport towards the retail park just outside the city centre, where my friend will be waiting for me to walk the rest of the way into town from his workplace.  The bus gets closer and closer to the centre, and the familiar landmarks begin to slip into view- Raigmore Hospital, the Beauly Firth, breathtaking as ever, the bridge, and there, in the distance, Craig Phadrig, the hill walk I’ve done several times before.  All of it brimming with happy memory, and hopefully, the promise of more to come.  Nothing perhaps as iconic and grand as London or Edinburgh, or any of the more obvious UK tourist spots, but, for me, much more resonant and significant- it’s mine, an escape I found and made for myself, off the beaten track, home to a best friend and honorary family who’ve made me feel like it’s as much my home as theirs.  Over the weekend, I’ll walk along the River Ness, hopefully catch a movie at Eden Court, enjoy the best hot chocolate I know at So Coco, maybe take the canal walk up to the Firth, savour the quiet beauty of the Crown area, just up and around from Stephens Brae, and probably rush in a panic for the airport bus at Falcon Square on Monday afternoon when it’s time to head home.  And even though I will look forward to getting home, with Northern Ireland, Belfast, and indeed Broughshane still holding a lot of emotional significance for me, I’ll equally enjoy this home from home while I’m here- my idyllic escape from a busy world.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris