Where Once We Stood

The 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon
Guest Post by Christopher Riley

From the moment I first saw artist Martin Impey’s paintings of the Apollo astronauts in 2009, I dreamed of finding a way to collaborate with him on a book. I loved how his artwork brought a new dimension to the story of Apollo, and wanted to find a way to do justice to them through words.

Over the following years we both became busy on other projects and didn’t return to the idea until 2018, when I read Francois Lelord’s book “Hector and the search for happiness”. I so enjoyed Lelord’s child-like language that I decided to try and write an Apollo story in a similar voice – drawing on the actual words spoken by the astronauts on the Moon; to bring out their characters and delight at their lunar adventures.  

Christopher Riley

I didn’t want the book to read like a history book – so chose to refer to all of the astronauts solely by their first names – Neil, Buzz, Alan, Pete… and so on.  This personal, accessible approach seemed to create a telling of the story which complimented Martin’s visceral paintings, and so I continued writing about each mission to the Moon in this way. 

In distilling down all the words spoken on the lunar surface to a series of readable adventures I somehow stumbled across the reality of what it actually felt like to walk on the Moon. Because there in their transcripts was the child inside each of them – tumbling out of their words as they found a renewed excitement in re-learning to walk, run, jump and play in the Moon’s strange new gravity; stepping like children into freshly fallen snow – as they danced across its pristine, ancient, untouched surface. 

But there was more to these stories than a series of expeditions to the Moon. For me – the message of Apollo has always been a story of us rising to the challenge of achieving something that feels impossible.  As the president had reminded everyone when he first spoke about it publicly in a Texas sports stadium in 1962, they weren’t doing it because it was easy – but because it was hard. Because it’s only by doing hard things that we become better individuals, better teams and better societies.  

Half a century after the flight of Apollo 11 – reversing our impact on the climate and our destruction of other life on Earth is unquestionably the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced.  It is only by working together on this common goal that we have a chance to preserve society. 

And daunting, even impossible as this might feel, it’s worth remembering the stories told in this book, of just what we can do when we work together to solve a problem.  Apollo was something we achieved on an interplanetary scale. As I remind readers at the end of the book – Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon, used to say: “Don’t ever count yourself out. You’ll never know how good you are until you try. Dream the impossible and then go out and make it happen. I walked on the Moon. What can’t you do?”

Fifty years on – that is still the message of Apollo.

WHERE ONCE WE STOOD by Christopher Riley, illustrated by Martin Impey is out now in paperback (£19.99, Harbour Moon Publishing)

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