Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Sometimes it’s easy to let go of your own creativity. Yes, as a voice actor, bringing other people’s words and ideas to life is a daily occurrence, but often expressing your own ideas regularly gets lost in the mix. What you need is a warm, safe space — away from the studio, to let go of all the daily chaff and go deep within.
A Walk in the Woods
And so it was, last weekend, I spent a few days in the magical grip of a Dark Angels writing for business course at Hawkwood House in the Cotswolds — a beautiful part of the world, and birthplace to Laurie Lee. I lived round here years ago, and driving through the countryside evoked many happy and forgotten memories.
Dark Angels is a business writing collective, whose name was inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost — the idea that we are all nestled precariously between ‘the fertile, if broken ground’ in between heaven and hell. I love the notion that ‘creativity can be found in our flawed human nature’, and re-reading passages of Paradise Lost, after spending months on it moons ago, made me hanker for a stuffy lecture room and my gloriously eccentric lecturer and friend — a Milton expert, Professor Gordon Campbell (do please check out his beard, it is a thing of beauty).
Being cared for by the wonderful team at Hawkwood, with delicious food, burning hearths and sensational views, was just the ticket. The writing experience itself was intense, but deeply nourishing. Over two days, you’re led gracefully by the hand through a number of writing ‘experiments’ by John Simmons and Neil Baker — both professional writers with a ton of experience under their ballpoints.
The Way it Is
John, an original Dark Angels founder and former Director of Interbrand and Newell and Sorrell, is generally considered as the man who invented the phrase ‘tone of voice’ and ‘verbal identity’ in the world of branding. He is a natural born storyteller and elicits a cocked ear from his faithful subjects. Neil, by contrast, has a hankering for Haikus, is brimming with passion for William Stafford, and offers some rather splendid hot sock action by a roasting log fire.
The Good Messenger
The weekend was centred around John’s latest book, The Good Messenger. Each writing experiment focussed on a number of themes, including exploring a writer’s purpose and the notion of time (The Good Messenger uses time as a structural narrative in the book).
We were each assigned a particular hour over the course of a day, to take notes and write our observational piece.
It was an interesting and evocative exercise, and the experience prompted me to dust off my copy of The Artist’s Way and start Morning Pages again. Funny how similar this all is to Bill McMahon’s Authentic Radio Personality stuff we used to do years ago, when I was a breakfast host for the GWR radio group. What resulted was a collective study on what Dennis Potter calls ‘the nowness of now’. The final piece could possibly end up as a beautifully bound booklet, and I may well produce it as a podcast over the next few weeks. I’ll keep you posted.
Just turn up
From a personal point of view, the weekend and the writing experiments reminded me to stay true to myself in all aspects of life and work. It’s so easy to follow the formula, to churn out the chuff because often, so little of you is expected to show up in business writing. But writing from the heart is what counts and actually, is what’s interesting. And as is so often the case, an experience like this can help you come all the way back round to what you already knew — to trust in yourself, and crack on with it.
As the emails still trickle in from the wonderfully warm circle of people I shared the weekend with, I feel revived and creatively inspired to kickstart a few personal voice projects I’ve had on the back burner for a while.
Just watch this space.
Disclaimer: I am now working (very) part time, on a freelance basis for Dark Angels, but all views are my own.