Has there ever before been a fifteen-author book signing? Unbound, publishers of the Dark Angels collective novel Keeping Mum, have just posted photographs of this unusual, probably unique event on Facebook.
It preceded our 10th anniversary dinner last week at the Goldsmiths’ Centre in London, and marked the culmination of a mammoth creative endeavour, characterised by record-breaking speed and a rare spirit of collaboration. We gathered for the first time on 15 March last year in the Highlands where, over a chilly weekend, the basic plot was thrashed out and the writing tasks assigned. The book was published a mere thirteen months later, on 25 April this year.
The resulting story, told in the voices of its fifteen characters, gradually reveals the hidden life of botanist Iris White who dies in mysterious circumstances in a Highland hotel, and whose corpse is then transported back to London in the back of a white van, driven by a young undertaker of peculiar habits and accompanied by her three squabbling children as they visit what transpires to be a series of her secret haunts along the way.
‘A blackly comic picaresque tale’ says the blurb. ‘Brilliant!’ and ‘A stunning read!’ tweet the twitterati. It’s also beautifully designed, imaginatively typeset and you can order it here. Please do! It’ll take a lot of sales to keep 15 Dark Angels in ambrosial nectar.
But that wasn’t the only book of the evening. Unbeknown to John, Stuart and me, our dinner guests had arranged to have printed three copies of a volume entitled The Angels’ Share which they presented to us at the end of the evening, relishing our looks of amazement as we unwrapped the tissue paper.
This was no ordinary book. Held in a smart slipcase, leather-bound and embossed with variations on the Dark Angels logo, each book’s cover was a different colour, and more wonderful still, each had slightly different contents. The same collection of photos and written pieces from ten years’ worth of courses were augmented by personalised messages from the students to each one of us. To the list of things that make me cry (A Few Kind Words, April 18) I can now add ‘being presented with a surprise gift by a room full of Dark Angels’.
In my introduction to the evening I recounted how I had first become involved when Stuart had been unable at the last minute to take part in the second course, back in 2005. I said: ‘Running that course with John I realised, first of all, what a brilliant programme he and Stuart had devised. Second, that far from being simply about the nuts and bolts of business writing, this was something that had the potential to reach people in a very deep place. Indeed it could be, and for some people has subsequently proved to be, life-changing.
‘If there are two things that go to the heart of what Dark Angels is about for me, they are this. First, that if we pay very close attention to the words we use, we can each play our part in making the world in general – and the world of work in particular – a kinder, more creative and more connected place.
‘And second, that there’s no greater gift anyone can offer a writer than to help them find their voice. It’s no coincidence that the collective noun for angels is a choir. The rewards for me in helping tune up that choir have been incalculable.’
Even so, I never in a million years expected that those rewards would include a beautiful, personalised leather-bound book. Nor that we would end up in an elegant dining room in London in the company of 70 people whose very presence testified to the effect that Dark Angels has had on their lives.
It was an emotional evening, surrounded by many of the nicest, most intelligent and most thoughtful people I know. Some of them are readers of this blog. I salute you all!