26 Fruits


A Midsummer Weekend’s Dream

It was a gathering, more prosaically called a conference, more imaginatively and AngelFest. Perhaps, in reality, just a dream. I had designed it over the last six months for a long weekend near Stroud in Gloucestershire at a place called Hawkwood. A country house set in woods in the Cotswolds. An idyllic setting, Laurie Lee country.

The weekend had a celebratory feeling. It’s quite something get more than 30 Dark Angels together, flying in from many parts of the world. These were our most loyal followers, up to Masterclass level, and still the perennial question “What next?”

We decided Hawkwood would be next, and that I would devise the weekend’s programme around books and writers that have meant a lot to me and Dark Angels. Tinged with the little bit of sadness that goes with that word and thought ‘legacy’, but I was keen to make this weekend about the future not the past. Creating the new exercises was a joyful exercise in itself and, as people asked for it afterwards, it provided a good reading list.

This is it – exercises related to each of these:

Charles Darwin, The Origin of the Species

An Oxford Dictionary, with words randomly chosen, one per person

Laurie Lee, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Sherman Alexie, Sonnet with Bird

Matsuo Basho, Collected Haikus, Penguin (would he approve of the haiku nouveau?)

Established by Dark Angels, published by Unbound. And Keeping Mum, the Dark Angels collective novel

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest

John le Carre, The Pigeon Tunnel and the George Smiley books starting with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

George Orwell, Why I Write

John Berger, I Send You This Cadmium Red and his novels G, To the Wedding and A Painter of Our Time

It’s impossible to go into the exercises that, linked to these books, then released such a torrent of fine writing. You had to be there to experience it. We had tears, good cathartic tears. We had laughter, even more cathartic (with special thanks to Craig Watson for his last-evening comic tour de force.

My personal favourite was the twilight excursion into the woods by torchlight to hear extracts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Stuart as Oberon, Catriona as Titania and Tim Rich as Puck. Unforgettable.

The whole weekend should have been filmed. Parts of it were, by Recording Angel Stuart for later editing, sharing and possible blackmailing. And, of course, Jamie Jauncey, aka the Angel Gabriel, who provided music including a new chant in the morning and his legendary songbook around the grand piano at night.

All this unleashed a flurry of social media activity and, it seems, the request to do it again next year. Can we do it again? We can. No doubt we will. No doubt we’ll aim to make it different and even better.

The final book to mention is my own. No, not Spanish Crossings but my next novel The Good Messenger, whose proofs I am just reading. I send here an invitation to those who know me. The book will be published in September (featured in WH Smith Travel shops) and will be launched at the Bloomsbury Festival on Sunday 21st October in Bloomsbury. You’ll be welcome. Let me know if you’d like to come and I’ll put you on the list.

4 Responses

  1. Neil Baker says:

    Yes, wasn’t it magical. And what an incredible group of people you managed to assemble. Kind, thoughtful, clever and achingly, achingly funny. I’ve never been to anything like it. Closer to a wedding or a birthday party than a ‘conference’. But then I’ve been to plenty of dreary weddings and parties. No, I’m lost for the word. But I know I’ll look back on it in years to come and say, “the first time we did this, I was there.”

    So yes, what next?

  2. John Simmons says:

    I thought you’d tell me

  3. Stuart Delves says:

    I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows… Hawkwood.

  4. Gillian says:

    A week later and I’m still grinning like a fool. Thank you, John.

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