It may not be the hill I’m willing to die on, but I would say that if you are at all interested in Fantasy or graphic novels and you have not have heard of writer, anarchist, dissenter, bardic wizard, prophet and die-hard Northamptonite, Alan Moore, then you either died sometime in the early 1980s (in which case, what’s it like in the Afterlife and how’s that shellsuit holding up?) , or you are currently living under rock on Barsoom.
From Hell? Watchmen? V for Vendetta? Not the films, mind, which Mr. Moore has disavowed, but the graphic novels they are loosely based upon. Why does that make him a name? Simply, because each in their own way have redefined what a graphic novel and for that matter, what fantasy writing could be. On top of that, V and Watchmen also seemed to eerily predict the ills that now plague our societies, particularly the return of fascism and the rise of the surveillance society – although if you were paying attention to politics and not just busy being Loadsamoney or vicariously Shopping in the 1980s, you might have seen them coming, too.
So when I noticed a clip on YouTube for a writing course Mr. Moore had recorded for BBC Maestro, I signed-up in seconds.
Colour me Fanboy.
In exchange for the equitable sum of $90 (which sadly is a little too close to £90 for my continued purchasing pleasure these days), I gained access to six glorious hours in the company of the greatest living magician of the second Elizabethan age.
With his leonine mane, wizardly beard, sativa-stained voice and twinkling eyes, Mr. Moore is like an avuncular uncle after Sunday lunch, albeit one who arrived in leathers on a Harley and gives the definite impression that he’s just gone 7 rounds with a Balrog. And won.
The 32 concise classes range from how to create character, texture and plot, to pacing, place, language, and the importance of progressive writing. Interspersed is a wealth of anecdotes, fascinating asides (the Oulipo Movement, anyone?) and wry observations on the connections between writing, words and magic.
For Mr. Moore, Magic (Magick?) is an act that occurs in the mind, not in The Real World, although given that he has also said on more than one occasion that the distinction between mind and world are at best tenuous (viz. an early exposition on the bardic magic origins of storytelling, an art he says once instilled greater fear than the conjuring of demons for its power to change perceptions and by extension, the world), I suspect that this may be hair-splitting, perhaps even an example of what he refers to in Episode 16, as Misdirection.
I am still only on Episode 21, for after binging the first seven episodes in one sitting, I realised that I was missing a lot of what Mr. Moore has so carefully and cunningly packed into each segment, and so I have decided to slow down. But my favourite takeaway so far is the injunction to treat each of your characters as the centre of the story. It seems like simple enough advice until you consider the ramifications. If characters have agency, then you as their writer must provide a convincing reason as to why they should they jump through the hoops required.
While he did not touch on this in the series (at least so far), the comment did make me wonder if this is why Mr. Moore no longer writes comics for the Marvels and DCs of this world (though he did for many years), and why he is equally uninterested in contributing to the cinematic worlds into which they have evolved – for if there is an arc to most superhero characters, it is two-dimensional, at best.
Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.
With the kind of voice that makes you want to drop everything and listen – and I also think here of the late Kenneth Williams and of course, of the unforgettable Brian Blessed – Mr. Moore is a talented orator and is able to move fluidly between his chosen topics with enviable grace.
Of those, there are many. What you would call a writer’s writer, Mr. Moore’s knowledge of the craft is erudite and wide-ranging. A voracious cultural omnivore, the fruits of his interests suffuse the talks, inevitably leading to diversions into his life and learning.
While being offered a front row seat on what makes one’s cultural icons tick can sometimes be a double-edged sword and if you are then unable to disassociate the writer from the person, a Pandora’s Box (cf. Millennials and J.K. Rowling), I found that getting to know a bit more about Mr. Moore gave his work greater depth. I appreciated the detective agency scene in his surreal vaudevillian film, The Show, all the more for knowing by then that one of his favourite authors is Raymond Chandler.
Experienced, not encumbered
Like Mr. Moore, I too am, as the French say of ‘a certain age’, although in my case, I am Gen X, not a Boomer, a generation that by and large, has not aged well, and has often strayed far from their radical roots. After 40 years of writing, Mr. Moore has not. He still retains his original subversion. In place of mellowing him, age appears if anything, to have made him even more dangerous. Which I naturally mean as a compliment.
He wears his experience as trove to be plundered, rather than as albatross. As was once said about Alexandria – I think perhaps by Cavafy, though I could well be wrong – Mr. Moore is in the times, while not being entirely of them. In this too, he differs from many other writers of his generation, for whom the onset of age has brought with it an inability, or unwillingness, to adapt to contemporary cultural trends. Perhaps this has been easier for Mr. Moore because as a dissenter, he has lived his life on the margins. Equally, it must just be because as a prophet, it is simply that the rest of the world that has finally caught up. But I digress.
As Lebanese film director Nadine Labaki once asked, so where to now?
As a fledgling novelist engaged in what he hopes will be the final rewrite of City in the Mist before it is professionally edited, the talks have been both boon and bane? While they have given me grist and left me feeling energised, the ease with which Mr. Moore handles his subjects has also renewed in me the conviction hardwired into every jobbing writer that nothing we produce is worth reading.
On reflection, that is probably not the right kind of secret to reveal to readers, particularly not to ones I also hope will become readers of my books (don’t let cats out of bags, dear, as my Granny would have said), it has reinforced my determination to write the best damn story I can, stop worrying and, to borrow an aphorism popular when I was a sprog, to Keep on, Keepin’ On.
See you again next week?