Dark Angels Review: Finding a braver way to work with words

I don’t know about you, but I find the average writing course or conference a bit trying. Sure, it’s nice to be reminded of the basics, and to cover some niche material that perhaps we didn’t know. But on average, a lot of it is foundational, and I personally don’t feel the need to drop £500 to have my ego massaged. Saying all that, I’m keen to learn. I want to hone my craft. How do I do that without going to a session full to the brim with jargon and self-aggrandising bullshit? Dark Angels has an answer.

Dark Angels is not a course. It has no syllabus, no key learning objectives, no certificate at the end. Dark Angels is instead, an invitation. A walled off space, quite literally remote from the outside world, for you to explore.

In our lives, we create so many spaces for ourselves, but they often end up cramped, spaces that make us feel small, homogenous and lacking. Within, we pursue our own nebulous concept of success, which inevitably involves narrow vision, the pursuit of success markers like awards over experimentation and curiosity, and a steely sense of competition. It’s not conducive to real creativity.

 Many say that in order to write, first you must create space. A physical space, a tiny corner of a room that is indisputably yours. A mental space, time carved out in an ever-changing, packed schedule to put pen to paper and to bring something new into the world. And an emotional space for you to say ‘this is for me’.  And it is absolutely okay if it’s rubbish. Perhaps that is the hardest thing, the permission, not only to create, but to do it badly. It feels like such an indulgence that it must be good in order to be brought into the world.  

Dark Angels invites you into a boundless space, where it’s fine to be mediocre. You can write total crap and it’s fine. All they ask is that you bring yourself to each writing task, and try. Say yes. See what happens. Bring a little bravery back to your writing practice.

How many times do we get permission from ourselves, from our clients, our bosses, our friends, to show up and try, even though what we produce might not be good? Rarely, if ever. Time demands quality, and if we cannot immediately produce something brilliant, we are rubbish. It’s a false paradigm. Sometimes it takes being somewhere else, getting advice from a stranger, to realise that.

Basically, often our writing is a bit naff. It’s fine. No one died because you wrote a crap sentence. Move on. Keep going.

At a Dark Angels retreat, essentially you do writing exercises. Lots of them. You open yourself up to discover what you can do with a single word or object. You explore. You engage with the world. You share with likeminded strangers. You come away a community. It’s simple, it’s brave and it’s profound. It is strictly no bullshit. It is heavy with honesty, depth and personal stories, lovingly told. It’s the best writing course I’ve ever done.

What can you expect? The unexpected. Arrive in a remote place. Open yourself to the world. Go somewhere unbidden, somewhere unique to you. A writing workshop that helps you do that? That’s priceless. I can’t wait to do my next course.

Up for an unexpected creative adventure? Join the dark side. Become a Dark Angel. Do it, do it, do it.


Below is my personal piece from the course, still very much a work-in-progress, but in the spirit of bravery I’m sharing. This particular poem came unbidden in the middle of a larger rant on my general uselessness as a human being. I binned that nonsense and focused on this instead. It was a good decision.

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