Ben Moor is an television actor, radio actor and writer, stage performer, and has authored the books Each of Us and More Trees to Climb–transcripts of his live shows. And sometimes he does interpretive miming behind Robin Ince, but we didn’t ask him about that. The Guardian calls his sci-fi radio drama Undone “Excellent.” He is currently working with an Italian theatre company to develop a new stage script, tentatively titled Who Here’s Lost?, which Moor hopes to self publish like More Trees to Climb.
Anglonerd magazine got the chance to catch up with Ben Moor about his writings, love of science, and future projects.
Each of Us was created a few years ago, so given everything that has changed in the world over the last few years, are there any new details that you would have added or removed from your imagined near-future world if you were to have written this story in 2016 instead?
I don’t think so. I did the first full reading of the finished piece in December 2012 and it’s hard to say that much has changed since then. I’m not really a predictor of trends, or even much of a satirist; rather I just see how things might go and what the effect on people might likely be.
I like the description of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror as being set in the near-present. The technology isn’t generally that far off what we have, but some of the uses and practicalities are a little warped. That’s a great show; if you haven’t seen it yet do check it out. (editor’s note: currently on Netflix U.S.)
I guess there’s a huge influence on my work from Mark Leyner and JG Ballard. They both are interested in the internal and the psychological struggles we tend to have, versus the technological and social changes we’re seeing.
At a Q&A in Italy, one audience member suggested Each of Us was pessimistic, but I disagreed. I think it’s essentially hopeful that we can all find our own way as the paths that society offers us keep changing. I’m inspired by innovation and new thinking in all fields. My show in 1997 was about particle physics before the Large Hadron Collider grabbed a lot of attention–and I think this comes from a childhood with my head filled with the ideas and anarchy offered by the comic 2000AD in the 70s and 80s–such an inspiration.
I think all my characters, and this goes back to my very first, awkward, pun-ridden solo shows, are stuck in a present they’re not fully in control of and are trying to hack their way through it–some do it with emotional work, some are more active, and of course some are more successful than others.
How do you balance the real world concerns of the characters against the overarching background story without giving too much or too little away?
So I think everything begins with world-building. I use a specific way of creating works that is a little difficult to explain (I made an attempt in a piece for the blog Skylight Rain) and is more baffling the more it’s examined. But either somehow a story emerges from a disparate set of images and ideas, or the images and ideas are inspired from a central core of a story. It is kind of like magic. I mean, have you read The Prestige by Christopher Priest? Or any of his Dream Archipelago books? I’ve spent the last couple of years making my way through his complete works and he’s extraordinary. Like Ballard, he mixes internal landscapes with external ones and especially in The Prestige (the film is good, but the book is amazing) and The Affirmation there’s a real sense that characters are shaped by their story-world, and once you buy into that, you happy to go on the ride.
So in a live show, once the audience trusts that the world I’m creating, while similar to our reality, has a few different features and situations, if the main thrust of the tale is universal, they’ll actually enjoy it more somehow. When I teach, I call this The Trance; it’s like a kid having a bedtime story read to them. Their everyday world may not feature princesses and dragons, but if a story is well told they will believe the rules of the fairy tale and be led to the lessons at the heart of such stories (be brave, be kind) without almost noticing them. But it has to be a balance. By creating an emotionally truthful base for a story, you can reflect and develop a slightly quirkier, more imaginative setting. I like to make readers and audiences do this work. I’m never going to give them every bit of information they need to understand the entire story, rather they should put things together themselves. In Edinburgh 2008 I had about half a dozen encounters with people wearing Not Everything is Significant badges, asking me if their “solution” to the mystery was accurate–and they kind of all were. Who Here’s Lost? features a similar puzzle.
Lastly, we’re often unaware of how tiny decisions we make in our lives shape our entire existence. We’re always looking for bigger pictures while we miss the fact we’re drawing miniatures every single day. I guess that’s part of the game I’m in in that my characters interact with their realities, but it’s only in the telling that they (and we) see how that works out.
What is your favorite scientific idea/fact/theory that really makes you excited about science?
I do love science. I watch the BBC show Horizon pretty much every week. I’m always reading articles and books about parallel universes and quantum physics; there’s a sub-plot in Who Here’s Lost about the dangers of quantum computing leading to information bleed from alternate realities. I love the idea of nano-technology and where that’s going, specifically in the medical field. And the whole trans-human concepts of artificial intelligence and body upgrades. I kind of think anyone who wears glasses is part of the way to becoming a cyborg; if you have dental fillings you’ve already hacked your body. And there’s going to be a lot of advertising in the next decade or so, telling people how just tiny tweaks to ourselves can result in longer, better lives. Nuclear fusion, obviously, is super-cool and I’m always keen to read stuff about the solar system and Mars colonisation.
What is in the pipeline for you?
Well I’ve got some bit parts as an actor coming up. There’s an adaptation of one of Trollope’s Barchester novels called Doctor Thorne that’s going to be on ITV on Sunday nights soon. I play an election agent in a couple of episodes. I turn up briefly as a hansom cab driver in a movie of The Limehouse Golem, and I play a teacher in JA Bayona’s movie of A Monster Calls. They’re all very tiny wee roles but I kind of enjoy that.
I have a couple of sci-fi comedy radio scripts with the producer of the series Undone, Colin Anderson and we’re looking for the best place to develop them.
There’s a weird TV show idea called Pages from Ceefax that may one day emerge into the light. It’s a mix of comedy, drama, sketch and commentary.
Ben Moor’s Ultimate Recommendation List
- Christopher Priest
- JG Ballard
- Dan Rhodes (amazing novelist)
- Francis Plug: How to be a Public Author by Paul Ewen (“made me cry with laughter”)
- Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe
- Cummings Your Way (“a YouTube series, very softly paced travelogue pieces about English towns that drift into ambient brilliance”)
- The video art of Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard