Next week we go to Merton College, Oxford to run the second of our biennial Dark Angels masterclasses. It will be an exciting few days. Not only do we have BBC Radio 4’s In Business team joining us for part of the time to make a programme about the course, but also the best-selling author Philip Pullman is coming as our guest speaker. There’s a special resonance here because Philip’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, and John Simmons’s book, Dark Angels, from which our courses take their name, both owe inspiration to Milton’s Paradise Lost; while Philip’s literally fabulous landscape is a kind of ever-present backdrop to our own work. As if that weren’t enough, we’re housed in one of the most ancient Oxford colleges, one of whose boasts is the oldest continuously functioning academic library in the world, built in 1373. I remember from last time we were there the sense that wherever one turns at Merton, knowledge seeps from the masonry.
Our ten students are all from business, and they represent activities as diverse as television and Formula One motor racing, environmental and communications consultancy, and freelance writing. They have all previously been on our advanced course in Spain, so they know the score. As always it will be a cocktail of the personal and the professional, with exercises related both to the world of work and to their individual creativity, as we continue to make the point that good writing is good writing, no matter what the context; and in business, good writing means better communication, better connections, better decision-making, better relationships, better pretty well anything you care to name.
As preparation, we ask everyone to re-write a piece of typically bland financial services writing in the style of a novel we have allocated them, a novel that has a connection – either through its author or subject – with Oxford, for example: Brideshead Revisited, The Hobbit, Zuleika Dobson, The Hunting of the Snark (not a novel, I know), Jude the Obscure, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and others. As well as offering plenty of scope for amusement, the exercise makes serious points about tone of voice and the value of a more imaginative approach to writing about business subjects. There will also be poems and stories, a field trip into the city itself, and one-to-one tutorials.
I’m hugely looking forward to it. It will be an intense three days and we tutors will get as much out of it as the students. Though this, which came in yesterday from a friend in response to my two recent posts about Tycho Brahe, elevates the whole concept to new and undreamt of heights:
“A propos your dream the other week, I had a dream last night you might find interesting. Dark Angels had taken out a whole page advert in a broadsheet – I think it was the whole front of the Guardian, but no masthead on it, with your website address www etc… in very large letters going right across the page (and underlined) with wings either side, but half a wing, a sort of capital D on its side… I can’t remember what it said exactly but the gist was that with everything going on in the world it was time for people to listen to what the Dark Angels had to say to change the world for the better. I can remember thinking, in the dream, that I would need to get in touch with you to help because you would be inundated with people contacting you. There was also some sort of image, I think it might have been Mount Rushmore, but instead of the presidents, it was the faces of you, Stuart and John in the rock.”
So, no pressure next week, then … And Susan, stand by your phone.