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

The Bridge

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You watch as he keeps peering over the edge, your nerves fraying with every inch closer he leans.  His hair, long, dark, falling further to his shoulders than it ever used to, is swept up and ruffled by the steady breeze, billowing out at intervals to reveal the diamond stud earring in his left ear, glinting in the late winter sunlight.  You can see a rogue muscle dancing and twitching in his neck, noticeably bare against the February chill, an odd contrast with the smart winter coat the rest of him is wrapped in.  His face, as he keeps peering down at the surface of the river, is a mask of tension and stress, hurt and weariness, all combining into one toxic, apathetic mix, a tiredness creeping over his very spirit.  Even from ten feet away, you can feel the turmoil raging inside him.

‘It wouldn’t really take much, would it?’ he asks, mostly to himself.

‘Just…come away from the edge,’ you say, tentatively, carefully.  ‘We’ll go get a coffee, talk about it.  Then we’ll go home.’

He scoffs at the word.  ‘You make it sound so domesticated.’  You ignore the rebuke.  You have to.

‘I know what you’re thinking,’ you say, a little firmer, as firm as you dare.

‘You do not.’  He throws you a withering look.

‘You think this would be an answer.  An escape, a way of ending the pain.’

‘You know damn all,’ he mutters, eyes fixed once again on the surface of the river.  The hard, cynical edge in his voice cuts through you.  Causes you worse pain than his fists and kicks did after the funeral.

‘I know the person I used to know would never consider this in a million years.  Would never contemplate leaving people behind this way.’

‘You of all people should know things change,’ he retorts.  You take it.  It’s a deserved criticism, after all.

‘Come back with me,’ you plead.  ‘This isn’t the answer.’

‘It’s too late,’ he answers, and the deadness in his tone terrifies you.

‘No, it’s not,’ you urge.  ‘You still have a choice.’

He didn’t, though, did he?’ he snaps, spinning round and glaring at you, his verdant eyes more furious than they’ve ever been.  ‘He didn’t get to say ‘‘No thanks, I don’t fancy shuffling off in my twenties’’.’

‘I know that…’

‘What is there really to stay for?’ he demands, turning back to face the river.  ‘What’s to stop me just letting myself fall over, right now?’

You pause, a question forming in your mind on sheer instinct.  You swallow.  Consider the implications for a few seconds.  Then realise it’s something you’ve wanted to ask for years.

You ask him.

He turns.  Stares at you.  Processes it.  Hesitates.  Casts his eyes back toward the river.

And you know, there and then, whether he’s going to jump or not.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

Journey From Hell

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How not to spend a Wednesday, specifically a Wednesday in late October 2013: make a journey from Glasgow to London over land, and find just about everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

To be fair, it’s a journey I’d made a few times before that week, and would go on to make fairly harmoniously for a further month and a half, in order to participate in the three-month Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course in the heart of Piccadilly.  But if that Wednesday had been the first, and had formed my initial impression of the trip, I would probably have ended up seriously rethinking my travel plans, and possibly my commitment to the course.

A twelve-week, Wednesday-and-Thursday-evening novel-writing course right in the centre of London.  Not enough to justify moving to the capital for the duration, but also far too good an opportunity not to take up.  So, staying at my Dad’s place in Glasgow Southside seemed like a decent compromise.  A nine-hour land journey there and back once a week for three month vs. regular flights back and forth from Northern Ireland or trying to survive full-time in the virtual city state that is London: it seemed like a no-brainer.  But that particular Wednesday, with its seemingly-endless run of bad luck, made me sincerely glad the travel routine was only for a very set period.

Up at 5am, courtesy of my phone alarm.  Straight to the shower, then a small bit of breakfast, before making sure everything was packed for a one-night stay and overnight bus back on the Thursday night.  Then out of Dad’s flat on Underwood Street and up the short distance to the Kilmarnock Road, where the 5.45 bus, the first of the morning, took me to Glasgow city centre, the fifteen-minute walk from Argyle Street up the gradually sloping Buchanan Street to Buchanan Bus Station providing a chance for some slight exercise, exercise which, on that day, I would end up being very grateful for.  A flash of my ticket to the conductor, and I was on the Megabus, ready to pull out of the station at 6.35am, settling straight into sleep as the long stretch of motorway began, and waking sporadically over the next three hours- enough to catch flashes of signs for Carlisle, and glimpses of the Dales as the sun started to come up.  But, as usual, I didn’t start coming fully awake until Preston, at which point the stop-and-start nature of the next hour’s journey over to Manchester always made it more difficult to slip back off again- a smooth, unbroken journey is always much better for that.

So the coach made it into Manchester city centre, and it was then that the trouble began.  The conductor came up to the top deck to inform us we’d got a flat tyre, and it would consequently be another hour before a replacement coach arrived- cue an angry tirade from one passenger furious about the fact he would now be late for a business meeting, which met with an equally irate response from the conductor, who rightly pointed out it was not her fault, as well as advocating the wisdom of travelling ahead enough of time to allow for situations like this.  For my part, I was still philosophical at this point- it was inconvenient, sure, and I didn’t much fancy another hour’s travel on top of the existing nine, but I would still be in London for about 4.30pm- still enough time to eat and head over to Piccadilly for the class.

But sometimes, one thing just spirals into another, then another, like some malevolent Butterfly effect, and lo and behold, after the usual dull, fully-awake, four-hour stretch from Manchester to London, characterised by endless motorway with no real distinctive scenery anywhere (a sharp contrast to the beautiful Scottish Highlands backdrop of the Glasgow to Inverness trip I was making at the weekends to visit a best friend), we ran into a nightmare scenario on the outskirts of the capital- traffic gridlock, the result of an accident that had occurred somewhere ahead on the motorway.  Hence four further hours of sluggish, barely-moving progress, the coach shifting about ten metres every few minutes, and leading to some inevitable strife among the passengers, one shrill woman in particular, persisting with questions about how soon we’d be in the city when the driver patently had no way of knowing, managing to cause tension and irritation for everyone.  Still: at least that provided a warped form of entertainment if nothing else.  It got to the stage where anything diverting, even bad atmosphere, began to feel welcome.

And so, finally, sixteen hours after leaving Glasgow at half six in the morning, I was finally in the heart of London at 10pm, exhausted from nothing more than sitting on buses all day, and with no energy to do anything other than leave Victoria Coach Station without complaint, re-learn how to walk for a few minutes, then head up Belgrave Road, finally arriving at Astor Victoria hostel, checking in, and going straight to bed.  This last part of the journey, at least, was a small mercy.  If it had been one of the couple of weeks during the course when we only had class on a Wednesday evening, resulting in me having to get on the coach straight back to Glasgow at 11.45pm that same night, I would probably have screamed London down.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

 

p.s. I should just emphasise the CB Creative course itself was one of the best things I’ve ever been on, and Megabus journeys ran smoothly for me 9 times out of 10: just in case the provocative title implies any criticism of either of those two bodies! CM

The Living and the Dead review

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Much has been made recently of how far the BBC is, or should try to be ‘distinctive’ in this current era of endless commercial channels and online platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime.  Along with Anthony Horowitz’s current cop show ‘New Blood’, ‘The Living and the Dead’ represents a new and interesting experiment by the corporation to try the Netflix model for itself, releasing content as a complete boxset weeks prior to it airing in the traditional weekly format on TV, to allow for so-called ‘binge viewing’.  As far as this reviewer is concerned, they couldn’t have chosen a better series for the project.  Because ‘The Living and the Dead’ is pure class from start to finish, wholly deserving of being devoured all at once (or in this reviewer’s case, 2 episodes a night over 3 days).

In the late 1800s, psychologist Nathan Appleby is drawn home to the family farm after the death of his mother.  Together with his devoted wife Charlotte, he sets about making the farm a truly successful enterprise, planning to have a railway built over the land to enable the village’s access to greater markets.  But there is something at work in the local area, something dark and unknowable, and soon Nathan, already haunted by the drowning of his young son Gabriel, finds himself confronted by eerie visions and apparitions, most troublingly of all a mysterious woman carrying a ‘book of light’.

‘The Living and the Dead’ is a fine English ghost story, evoking the best classic horror fiction, and having been marketed very much as one in all of the trailers and promotional material beforehand.  But coming from the mind of ‘Life on Mars’ co-creator Ashley Pharoah, who also pens the first two episodes, the series pleasingly subverts expectations beyond this already-compelling premise, and a fantastic twist at the conclusion of episode 1 sets the story off in a whole other direction, allowing the modern audience to be simultaneously more aware than, and yet just as confused as the 1890s characters.  The series is beautifully constructed, falling neatly into neither an episodic or serial category.  Although carrying a definite ‘story of the week’ component, events, even from these standalone stories, carry through into subsequent episodes, with the guest protagonists of episode 1 in particular happily remaining significant through the rest of the series, the village and local residents far too connected for a ‘Midsomer Murders’-style disappearance once their stories are concluded.  All of the guest tales are engaging fables in their own right, while also tying together and forming part of a greater whole as the underlying mystery of the series unfolds over six hours.

The writing team complement each other excellently, Pharoah launching the series with an opener that manages to capture the perfect balance between action and contemplation, setting the show up as a thinking man’s ghost story.  But it’s eclipsed by his magnificent episode 2, which proves to be arguably the most emotional of the series, and, in this reviewer’s opinion, boasts the best of the standalone stories.  Its denouement in particular is both brave and heart-wrenching.

Simon Tyrrell picks up the baton admirably with episode 3, another well-constructed standalone, but it’s his work on the finale that truly stands out, a low-key, sparse hour of television, especially coming hot on the heels of the dynamic episode 5, but one that works a treat in its noticeable change of pace, bringing to mind the similarly low-key finale of the BBC’s ‘Merlin’ in its concentration on the central characters and their relationship, to the exclusion of almost all else.

Robert Murphy’s episode 4 is perhaps the nearest the series has to a weak link, though in a series this high-quality, that’s hardly damning.  If the pace and structure sometimes feels a little off or repetitive here, it’s more than made up for by the premise, which culminates in possibly the best (and again, brave) standalone denouement of the 6 episodes.  Peter McKenna, meanwhile, contributes something truly raw and exciting in episode 5, in many ways the most blood-curdling of the six, and one which provides some of the very best individual moments of the series.

The direction, too, is top-class, Alice Troughton crafting a rich, philosophical, believable world with the first three episodes, full of beautiful, atmospheric shots of the village and farmland, and genuinely spine-tingling moments with the various apparitions that haunt Nathan (episode 2 especially raises some definite goosebumps).  The directorial switchover to Sam Donovan from episode 4 onwards, however, is noticeable.  This is both a good and bad thing.  On one hand, it injects a fresh energy and momentum into the series as it builds towards its climax, paying off most spectacularly in the brilliant episode 5.  On the other hand, there’s a subtle but definite sense of continuity loss for this reviewer, as the world of the village, the farm, even the house, feels visually just that bit different from what was previously established.  For many viewers, it’s doubtful this would prove a problem.  For me, though, bothered as I was by the sense of a lost visual continuity in, for example, the ‘Harry Potter’ films, it grated a little.  But only a little.

What a cast.  Again, the word ‘class’ immediately springs to mind, as the actors here have to be among the finest working in British television, rivalling even the terrific ensemble put together for the BBC’s ‘Dickensian’.  This reviewer cannot praise highly enough fellow Northern Irishman Colin Morgan.  Long overdue a leading role following the conclusion of ‘Merlin’, he is extraordinary here, by turns a loving husband and benevolent employer, while barely restraining deep-rooted grief for his dead son, and grappling with a genuine struggle over what to believe about the phenomena haunting his village.  There is an edge to Morgan’s performance here, something this reviewer hasn’t quite seen in any of his previous roles, and by episode 6, this culminates in a superb character study of a man driven to the very brink.  Morgan has expressed in promotional interviews his pleasure at getting to take the character almost to the point of villainy by the end, and his relish is clear to see throughout the final episode.  His confrontation with Charlotte in the kitchen towards the end, as she contemplates joining him forever in his desolation, is the Armagh-born actor at his very best.

Charlotte Spencer, as loyal wife Charlotte, is a true discovery.  Managing to portray both an utterly devoted spouse and an independent spirit, she imbues the part with sheer charm, making her namesake a thoroughly engaging personality full of fun and a zest for life, while also keeping a practical head and knowing what needs to be done for the farm and her relationship’s health and survival.  Right from the opening moments of episode 1 post-credits, we are given a snapshot of a vibrant, devoted, fully-in-love couple, ensuring the viewer roots for them and their happiness as the series unfolds, and making her devastation in the finale as Nathan drifts into madness keenly felt by the audience.  One gets the sense throughout that Spencer hugely enjoyed the part, and this reviewer hopes to see her on screen again sooner rather than later.

Morgan and Spencer are leant wonderful support by a rich array of minor characters and guest stars.  Kerrie Hayes is a warm, likeable, often witty presence as housemaid Gwen, afforded some punch-the-air moments in her support of her employees, particularly in episode 4 (and, very refreshingly, the character gets to be a sexual being without any sense of judgment or punishment all too common in period drama).  Nicholas Woodeson as Denning is the local priest we would all like to have, the moral centre of the show, while also exhibiting compassion and understanding, and, in the end, an open mind to the phenomena plaguing the village.  Next to Morgan’s Nathan, he’s the second most compelling study of a character changed and altered by extraordinary events occurring around him, and Woodeson’s primal scream at the sight of one particular horror in episode 5 may very well be the best, rawest moment of the entire series.  Tallulah Haddon, as Denning’s daughter Harriet, gets to show the best of her talent as the victim of possession in episode 1, creating a sinister, gravelly-voiced villain not unlike Linda Blair in The Exorcist- no bad comparison.  David Oakes, meanwhile, as local landowner William Payne, pours on the charm as Charlotte’s admirer, portraying a convincing rival love interest as Nathan slips into insanity- though not without fascinating glimpses of a less honourable side in the finale.

Robert Emms, as Peter, brilliant earlier in the year in series 2 of ‘Happy Valley’, creates another engrossing portrait of a loner driven into darkness in episode 3, while the excellent Elizabeth Berrington (so chilling in her recent stint in ‘Doctors’), gets to shine as his mother Maud in both that story, and the terrifying episode 5 (even if, in a significant grievance for this reviewer that feels like a continuity error, Peter remains frustratingly absent in the wake of her final, startling fate).  Elsewhere, Malcolm Storry is another fine presence as farmhand Gideon, initially distrusting of Charlotte’s managerial position over the farm, but building up a touching, subtle respect for her as the series progresses.

To say too much about Chloe Pirrie’s character would be to spoil a major component of the series, but suffice to say Pirrie does fantastic work in episode 6 as a woman haunted by demons of her own, and driven to find a way to escape them, while Fiona O’Shaughnessy, as episode 4’s Martha, gives a quietly fascinating performance as a repressed schoolteacher, her final speech during the episode’s denouement making sense of what seemed like a somewhat off-kilter portrayal previously, and moving the audience as her particular burden becomes clear.

Rounding out the cast are some excellent younger actors too, not least Isaac Andrews as episode 2’s Charlie, and Arthur Bateman as Gabriel, responsible for some heart-in-mouth moments in the finale as he menaces Pirrie’s Lara and her young child.

‘The Living and the Dead’ would have worked as a one-off series, unfolding with all the beauty and patience of a classic ghost novel, particularly when viewed in short succession as its release on iPlayer allowed, but the final scene of episode 6 all but guarantees it will return, provided the BBC don’t make an unforgiveable decision to cancel it.  Morgan is the beating heart of the show, a worthy, fantastically-crafted drama for him to finally become a leading man in again, but the talents of Spencer, Troughton, Donovan and Pharoah, along with the supporting cast, would also be greatly missed by this reviewer if it doesn’t return.  It simply has to.  In the vein of all the best ghost stories, it’s a show that stays with you.

More please.

 

*****

 

Atmospheric and scary, but with a huge heart, ‘The Living and the Dead’ displays the best of its leading man’s talent, while nurturing a rich supporting cast, and fantastic writing and directing talent.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris

Apocalypse

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She stood there, rooted in place, as the wave advanced further and further across the sky.  Almost with the speed of wildfire sweeping through a dry, choked wood, the shelf cloud rolled towards her, crackling with electricity and darkening the world around her.  Lightning danced across her eyes, her expression hardened in the face of imminent destruction.

All around her, people ran for their lives, simple souls instinctively fearful of death, of meeting their end.  Riddled with concerns impossible for her to empathise with.  They saw the approaching storm as their doom, an oppressor, a judgment come to hold them to account for their sins.

What sheep.

She held out her arms, as wide as they would stretch, her head hung back to savour the change in the atmosphere, the sizzle in the very air that sent each hair on her head flowing out, reaching into the gloom like tentacles, testing the void for a sense of when the strike would hit.

Soon.  Very soon.  She could feel it racing towards her, almost as though homing in on her, ignoring the fleeing cattle and seeking out the one defiant figure standing in its path.  Except it wasn’t defiance.  Defiance would imply the desire to stop what was coming.  This was a willing plunge.

Lightning flashed again, and with it, images and memories, some repressed, some having never been possible to purge.  All of them danced across her vision like luminous ghosts.  The laughter and jeering of a classroom of peers.  The disappointed frown of a stubborn father.  The stinging crack of a lover’s slap.  The platitudes of a regretful employer.  The plaintive moans of a slow-dying mother.  The tear-stained note of an unhappy daughter.  The last memory printed itself onto her eyes as though floating in the air right before her, and her lungs released a wailing howl, an enraged shriek against creation itself, every tiny hair on her arms standing bolt upright, static shimmering over her body like a robe.  She screamed at the sky, demanding it do its worst, urging it to.  She called down her own doom and shut her eyes forever against the world that had destroyed her.

The air crackled.  The cloud rumbled.  The wave rolled over her, eclipsing the rest of the sky, and everything, for one perfect, drawn-out second, went utterly still.

Then she was bathed in light and fire, and everything came alive for the final time.

 

Christopher Moore

@Moore_27Chris