Inspiration at the Beach


Ballycastle, November 2017.

The sea air, bitterly cold, but accompanied by glorious sunshine, one of the few days this autumn and winter where the elements seem to have been in proper harmony to enable a good, stimulating walk in the outdoors, no horrid, freezing rain to soak you through to the bones, no flurry of snow to leave you struggling to walk properly from one end of town to the other, no overcast sky stealing the light, and robbing you of enjoyment of the view before you.

One of the rare days, too, where I got to enjoy the company of a long-absent friend, and be in his company for more than an hour without searching for an escape.


It was really only supposed to be a research trip.  A short afternoon visit to make sure I had the geography of the place all correct, ahead of finishing my novel largely set there.  Not having been in the town for a few years, I wanted to be sure I was referring to the correct street names etc. (and, good job I did, as I did indeed have a couple of roads mixed up in the narrative).  But, instead, with the sun beaming down from above, the seafront largely deserted in the middle of a school day, and an invigorating sea breeze rolling in from the Atlantic, it ended up being one of the most surprising, spontaneous hits of creative inspiration I’ve ever had in my life.

Popping into the coffee shop in the Marine Hotel, I sat and perused local maps for half an hour, before ordering myself a new latte, and heading down to the beach with it in hand, passing a couple of dogs and their walkers, and a local cameraman taking advantage of the stunning views, but mostly alone for the duration of the walk.  Stopping to collect a few stones, wet enough to be reflecting back the sun and sparkling like diamonds from a distance, from among the pebbles for my Mum, I approached the wooden walkway at the far end of the strand, and headed right to the edge, looking out at the sea before me.

And, it happened.

A rush of creativity so strong it almost felt like a spiritual experience.  Ideas, and thoughts, and characters, all rushing to me in one powerful ten-minute period, as though it were always supposed to happen that way, in that place.  The waves crashing against the rocks below, dogs barking from the distance, and seagulls shrilly dipping and diving along the beach, formed the backing soundtrack to this moment of wonder, resulting in me turning back with no fewer than two brand new novels planned out, and ready to write.

But, perhaps the best thing about that day, about those moments, was how good it felt to be in my own company.  How free of anxious thought, how in control of things, how worry-free I felt.  It really did feel like reclaiming a lost friendship.


Christopher Moore


Postscript. The woman in the tourist office all but bit my hand off when I mentioned the book I’m writing.  Apparently, she thinks having a novel set in the town will do wonders for local tourism.

Fingers crossed.




‘Look out!’ cried the watchful bird, flitting to and fro.  ‘You are all in peril, and must jump immediately!’

The other birds glanced up, briefly roused from their slumber, observing the caller in the upper reaches of the tree, squawking down at them with its dire prediction.  But they soon went back into their stupor, rhythmically hunting for food, for sustenance.

The watchful bird peered about nervously, knowing the danger was coming, whether the others believed him or not.

‘The great cat!’ he cried to them, raising his voice in the hope that it might better persuade them.  ‘It is preparing to pounce!’

Once again, the other birds took only momentary notice of his prophecy, before going back to their work.  They had been in slumber for too long now, conditioned only to work and hunt for food, to be capable of easily changing their habits.

‘You must jump!’ the watchful bird insisted, screeching in distress that his warning was falling on deaf ears.  ‘You must leap to a higher level, or the great cat will trap you all where you stand!’

This time, the shrillness of the bird’s warning made some of the other birds look up for longer, something in the panicked tone stirring something dormant inside them.  Seeing this subtle change, the watchful bird took a deep breath, and opened his beak to deliver his loudest warning yet.

‘You must jump now!’ he cried.  ‘You must leap higher, get to a place of greater safety, before the great cat strikes!  If you remain where you are, you are doomed!’

At this, several of the birds kept staring at the would-be-protector, rather than instantly resuming their deadening work.  Many more remained uninterested, still searching for food, but the watchful bird took heart that his message was finally getting through, at least to some.  He opened his beak again.


More than half the birds looked up in alarm, recognising the urgency in the sentry’s voice, the truth of it, the utter terror of the situation they had sleepwalked into.  The protector glanced to the bushes in the near-distance.  Stared at the eyes within their depths, blazing with hunger and greed.  He summoned more air into himself, and screamed out a final plea.


All the birds who had listened in the end spread their wings and leapt from the ground in unison.  The great cat sprang from the bushes, propelled by its lust for food.  The birds still on the ground were ensnared, trapped beneath its callous claws.  At the mercy of its selfish whims until the hour it decided to put them out of their misery.

Above, however, a greater number of birds leapt to their freedom.  Airborne and safe.  Guided to a higher perch by the one who had been watchful.


Christopher Moore


The Perfect Destination


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


Smoke and Fire


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


Anything but a Dream


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


Irony in the Life of a Writer


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




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