I love Moniack Mhor, the Scottish writers’ centre near Inverness. I’ve often written about it here. Some of our most memorable Dark Angels experiences have taken place there, though none quite so memorable as last weekend.
To start at the beginning: last September, while the advanced course students were busy with an exercise, John, Stuart and I sat together in the Andalucian sun and pondered the future. What would we do with Dark Angels when John and I began to want to step back a little?
Winding our enterprise down was unthinkable. There’s probably some celestial law that says angels, dark or otherwise, shall not be unwound. And anyway, Stuart has a few more years on the balance sheet than the two of us and isn’t yet as prone to wing fatigue. So how to keep things going? We began to hatch a plan – a plan featuring Moniack Mhor, with its new eco-dwelling, the ‘hobbit house’, and drystone storytelling circle, at the next summer solstice. Place and season have always mattered to us.
Later in the autumn, invitations went out to a number of people we know particularly well, people who have been on all stages of the Dark Angels journey with us and who we respect as writers and value as potential facilitators. Come and help us think about the future, we asked them. Come with a new exercise, some thoughts about what Dark Angels means to you and what you could contribute to it, along with an idea for a chapter in a book about businesses of unusual longevity (how apposite, I now realise).
Yes please, chorused the new host.
And so it came to pass. Last Friday, in a seasonal smirr, we gathered on our Inverness-shire hilltop. We came from London, Sussex, the Borders, Perthshire, Belfast, Dublin, Canberra and Seattle. There were the three of us, along with Martin Lee and Elen Lewis (partners in the first Dark Angels marriage), Andy Milligan, Neil Baker, Gillian Colhoun, Mike Gogan, Mark Watkins and Richard Pelletier – writers all; plus Claire Bodanis, writer and miracle-working project manager for Keeping Mum, to keep us in order. These are names that will be familiar to some readers of A Few Kind Words.
The weather didn’t favour us, but no matter. The soul of Moniack Mhor smoulders in its log fires and wood stoves, whatever the season. We stoked the fires in the hobbit house and made it out to the storytelling circle for a damp ten minutes at midnight on Sunday. There was still a patch of that strange mid-summer duck-egg green to be seen through a rent in the clouds.
But we could have lit the sky with the connections that were going on during those two days. Dark Angels has become so much more than the writing courses for business people that we originally set out to offer. People quite often tell us that it has changed their lives, and perhaps we’ve come to take that power for granted. This was a reminder of what it really means. We heard of it, in one way or another, from each of our nine friends; and we felt it ourselves in the new exercises, in which we three had the rare luxury of taking part.
Most of all we felt it in the fellowship of these nine splendid people – kind, clever, witty souls – who are now going to lend their energy and creativity to the task of taking Dark Angels to places we had never previously dreamed of.
I left Moniack Mhor on Monday morning after four hours sleep. Following our midnight sortie to the storytelling circle, the small hours had turned raucous around the piano; well, what else do congregating angels do but sing? Driving away I thought, I have just spent the most remarkable weekend of my life. The next wing of the Dark Angels journey is assured. And I’m lucky beyond words to be keeping such company.