On Monday I’m driving up to the writers’ centre at Moniack Mhor, in Inverness-shire, to run a Dark Angels course. There are several reasons why I’m particularly looking forward to it.
Firstly, I missed not being involved in the Advanced Course in Spain much more than I thought I was going to. Photos, glimpses of the writing produced there, and the flurry of euphoric emails that followed the course, did nothing to alleviate the pinch of something missed or lost. So I’m looking on Moniack Mhor rather like the breaking of a fast.
On which theme, secondly, we haven’t been there for five years and it’s one of my favourite of all the Dark Angels venues. A converted farm and croft house, perched high on a hillside between Loch Ness and Beauly with spectacular views north to Ben Wyvis and the big hills of Wester Ross, it feels wild and remote and quintessentially Highland. I’m even secretly hoping we get some snow next week.
Thirdly, it’s the original and longest in duration (five nights, four days) of all our courses – which is why we haven’t run it since 2006. We felt that in a tougher economic climate people might have difficulty taking so much time off work; though having reinstated it this year we’ve filled it without any trouble, which we now suspect may be the In Business dividend, the payoff from the programme BBC Radio 4 made about Dark Angels back in the summer. In any event, we call this one the Full Foundation Course and it runs from Monday evening to Saturday morning. It’s long enough to take people on a proper journey of creative and personal discovery; to get some real traction, as they say.
This is the nub of Dark Angels, this traction. Yes, our courses are about the words, about honing the craft, dusting off the vocabulary, polishing the syntax – those are all good things for any writer to do. But beyond that they’re about the kindness of the words – the humankindness (as in the title of this blog), that allows us as writers and communicators to make the powerful connections we seek with others who, whether we work with them or share our lives with them in other ways, are mostly just like us; people who become engaged, moved, bored by the same things as we do.
And the best reward for us as tutors is when we see our students first making that connection with themselves, understanding that the very greatest value those words, that vocabulary, that syntax can have is to provide the lens through which they start to see clearly their own purpose. Because only then are they ready to start using the words to make powerful connections with others.