Dark Angels Debuts in Ireland

A conversation between Gillian and co-tutor, Mike Gogan

Gillian to Mike

So Dark Angels Ireland is official. Delighted to have run this first course with you and John. It was a rollercoaster wasn’t it? Did we expect that? Perhaps we did. We certainly should have. That’s the Dark Angels way. The remoteness, as always, played its part and thankfully so did the weather. Despite having already tutored a course with Stuart earlier this year in England, I was surprisingly apprehensive about this one. Maybe that was because we were making an Irish debut, or perhaps it was hosting at an entirely new and untested venue. Place is such an important part of the experience, I didn’t want it to disappoint. What about you?


Mike to Gillian

I have a great sense of pride being part of the first Dark Angels Ireland with you and John. Another two countries added to the list, the Republic and Northern Ireland. And the location, Loughcrew House nestled neatly in between. Maybe that's not the best word, because it conjures up a sense of sleepy comfort. Yes, the house was indeed comfortable, welcoming and a perfect location for Dark Angels, but there was nothing so sleepy about the course. It was a breeding ground for some good writers and fine results. As this was my first course to tutor I got a sense that we were nurturing the participants to a place where they discovered something in themselves. That's more of the Dark Angels nature isn't it?


Gillian to Mike

That’s it absolutely. It occurred to me that Dark Angels attracts different kinds of writers to do just that; and we had all of them represented at Loughcrew. Some are there to make their business writing clearer and more emotive, while others are looking to unlock something within them that leads to more creative endeavours, like fiction or poetry. Of course by the end of the course, our participants managed to achieve both in their own unique way. John wrote in his blog that at Dark Angels we don’t give people a map to be better writers, just the space and confidence to go and explore. I think after our time at Loughcrew, this is a perfect way to define the experience.

I know the Foundation course was new for you as well. Did you have a favourite exercise, I wonder? Or was there an aspect of one that spoke to you personally?


Mike to Gillian

Yes, the foundation course was intensive and fairly new to me. It was a little strange to tutor something I hadn't directly participated in before. But I prepared myself and found experience in the exercises I had covered in other Dark Angels courses. My absolute favourite was 'Not the furniture game', based on Simon Armitage's poem of that name. It brought the power of metaphor surging into everyone's writing, making it so much more alive with imagery. I remember you led the exercise asking everyone to think of someone close to them and describe what sort of drink, tree, clothing, sound they were like. The power of the exercise comes from the stimulation of our imagination, something we don't always use in writing. The result was a kaleidoscope of images, a chilling frisson of senses as we shared the heartfelt. Of course it spoke to me personally as I participated as a writer in that exercise. It spoke to all of us because we made a connection to someone dear to us and after all, the objective of writing as John so often says, it to connect. How about you, what exercise stood out for you?


Gillian to Mike

I was blown away by how everyone responded to the A to B constraints challenge. After spending time analysing the components of good and bad writing, each person wrote so eloquently and passionately on how they would make changes in their own work. They did this by beginning and ending on two given letters. I have to say Olive Hill’s battle cry for corporate clarity was fantastic. I also loved Brian McIntyre’s 62 word sestude about the roof light window in the orangerie. I do hope Emily, the owner, uses these little gems around the estate as we heard some absolute corkers.

Glazed roof, the Orangerie

Boned Glass Roof

It is a fish stripped of flesh
Lying there, not forlorn
But somehow willing to be vulnerable,
Splayed out in a grotesque display of death.
This glass roof is crowned by bones
Eaten until each rib is clean.
And yet it pulls a wink-eyed smile
To be left here, with only blue for company:
The eternal briny sea forever in sight.

By Brian McIntyre


Mike to Gillian
The course closed as they all do, with the participants reading their personal pieces. We enjoyed a mother at a rugby match speak to us, a mobile phone, the number three. The closing out always brings emotion into the journey; presenting nerves, peers’ applause, sighs of relief and nods of connection, uplift and downright pride. We had all of that. We had location, talent, magic, smiles, tears, beginnings and endings.

From left to right: Tutors Mike Gogan, John Simmons. New Dark Angels Olive Hill, Fiona McArena, Lucy Beevor, Brian McIntyre, Megan Kelly.