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

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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

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