26 Fruits


Time Pieces

Last weekend was a Dark Angels workshop at Hawkwood. Eleven writers having extraordinary fun with words. The time, from Friday till Sunday whizzed by, but I noticed on Sunday afternoon that my watch was slowing down. Was it ten minutes slow because it needs a new battery or was this another serendipitous sign that Dark Angels has its own effect on time itself?

The workshop was inspired by my novel The Good Messenger at Neil Baker’s suggestion. Neil and I then devised a whole weekend’s worth of new exercises (or experiments) based around the book and exploring the idea of ‘a writer’s purpose’. From the complete engagement of our participants, half of them completely new to Dark Angels, we can count the experiment a success.

What was it about? It’s about time. I think it’s significant that we have so many familiar, and often ambiguous phrases, that relate to time. Time and tide wait for no man. Time will show the wiser. If we had but world enough and time. We cannot escape the fact that time is always moving forward. So the central experiment we did was all about time, particularly recording what was happening at different hours of the day.

The Good Messenger uses time as a structural narrative device. The first part is told in 15 different chapters, one day at a time, to record the experience of a 9-year-old boy in a country house set in woods (not unlike Hawkwood). The second part tells the story of one day, Armistice Day 1918, through the eyes of one person. So I was interested in seeing the changing periods of a day as a storytelling structure, perhaps the one that is most naturally familiar to each human being.

I had stated one purpose I have as a writer being to connect – or reconnect – with the natural rhythm that is there in life. Writing does that for me, it’s where storytelling learns from life. Life’s natural rhythm emerges from observing the world around us, marking its changing patterns, and seeing where there are connections.

So we took one day – that central day, Saturday in Hawkwood – and each of the writers was assigned a particular hour when they were asked to focus on what was happening at that moment. To capture the nowness of now as Dennis Potter once put it. So we went from an insomniac’s middle of the night through particular hours of the day up to the time when heads were about to rest on pillows and go to sleep. Everyone took notes at those times, then turned the notes into short pieces of observational writing, based on the world inside the house, outside the house, inside their heads.

On the Sunday afternoon (skipping a few stages) we gathered in the Hawkwood library, formed a circle and read out the pieces one by one without pause for comment. What we had created was a beautiful prose poem, a collective piece of writing by eleven individuals.

I’m currently gathering the pieces in. We’re thinking how best to produce them: as a digital document, as a printed booklet, as a podcast? Whichever way (perhaps all three ways) we will make them available as a Dark Angels gift for the participants. If you’d also like to see the result, comment here or let me know.

9 Responses

  1. Lacy Rohre says:

    Hi John – I attended the Dark Angels American Course last October and longingly observed the Hawkwood weekend from afar, via yours or Neil’s social media posts. Count me in to see the pieces.

  2. Johnny Lyons says:

    What an amazing Dark Angels weekend that must have been! And another reason to finish the book I’m reading and start reading The Good Messenger.

  3. Paul Murphy says:


    Interesting piece as always. I would be interested in seeing the output. Have attended a couple of Laurie Lee workshops at Hawkwood. I am now teaching Creative Writing as part of a Recovery Learning scheme for a Homeless Charity in Bristol. Second book still in my head….

    Best wishes


  4. Paul White says:

    Hi John,
    I would love to see the results of that amazing Hawkwood weekend. Especially as I live my life in NZ half a day ahead of you all.

  5. Steve says:

    Ralphy wanted to point out he is not mentioned in this
    blog. Just mentioning it.

  6. Therese Kieran says:

    John, this sounds wonderful. I’d love to see the collective piece – delighted your return to Hawkwood proved to be so fruitful.

  7. John Simmons says:

    Thanks, Paul. Stay in touch. John

  8. John Simmons says:

    Ralphy just wasn’t there on the day in question. Seems we were slaves to Realism, whereas Ralphy, I suspect, is more of a Magical Realist

  9. Chris Logan says:

    Hello John. Nice post with the usual elegance. I’d be interested to see this. Perhaps a podcast would be good so that I can listen to it during my lengthy commute into Waterloo, when the train dawdles and dithers and sometimes runs fast, and time often seems to go into suspension.

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