In summer 2003 I was invited to chair an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The book in question was by a writer I knew and admired but had never met. The event was sponsored by a small Edinburgh copywriting agency whose founder I had only recently got to know.
The author, who lived in London, was staying with a neighbour and mutual friend, who had introduced me to his work a year or two previously. We met up the night before the event and got on at once. I remember little about the event itself, but I came away feeling that here were two good connections, two people I would make sure to see more of. Quite how much more, at that point, I could have had no idea.
The author of the book, The Invisible Grail, was John Simmons. The event sponsor was Stuart Delves. We all stayed in touch and two years later, Stuart rang me with a request: in summer 2004 he and John had run an experimental writing course in Devon, inviting people from the business world to come and shake off the chains of management speak and try a different approach to the way they wrote at work; now, autumn 2005, they had a second course planned at a writing retreat in Inverness-shire, but at the last moment Stuart was going to have pull out. Would I step in?
Was the Pope a Catholic? I would have hitch-hiked to Moniack Mhor if I’d had to. We spent five days there with a boisterous group of 12 people, half of whom we’re still in touch with more than a decade later, and one of whom now has a major screenwriting career. I came away feeling anointed. We straightaway set about planning further courses and naming our new venture after another of John’s books, Dark Angels.
The rest … well, to say it’s history would be to ignore the fact that it’s still very much present. Today Dark Angels continues in rude health, indeed is about to enter a new phase as our group of associates becomes more involved in its running and direction. Over a dozen years the journey has carried us from Cornwall to the Highlands, Welsh-speaking Snowdonia to the Republic of Ireland, Spain, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States; and next month it will take us as far as we can physically go, when John and I fly to New Zealand to run a series of courses for Auckland University of Technology (details here).
Perhaps, at that far end of the earth, we may gain some new perspective on the metaphorical journey Dark Angels has come to represent for the three of us. As I write this I can feel emotion swelling – but without any very clear sense of what it is. Pride? Gratitude? Joy? Friendship? Love? Probably all of these, bound up in a sense of deep connection with many of the extraordinary people we have met over the years; a connection fostered by mutual learning, shared experience, a continual and sometimes painful striving for honesty and authenticity, and the pleasure of seeing people in moments of personal discovery. Plus memories of some spectacular writing, along with spectacular locations, evenings of stories and laughter, and quantities of wine drunk.
For those who seek it, the kind of writing we practice through Dark Angels offers not merely a greater facility with language, but a route to self-understanding. The greatest privilege of all is that in facilitating this for others we are also continually facilitating it for ourselves. I thank John and Stuart daily for inviting me to travel with them.