Dark Angels Note 88

Dearest Friends,

Welcome back to our Friday note. This week Martin Lee drops in for a chat. Many of you will know Martin from the weekly gatherings. He’s a writer, marketing wizard, brand specialist and one of the cleverest (and kindest) people you’re likely to meet.. He’s also the co-founder of strategic research consultancy, Acacia Avenue.


1. Tell us about something you’re working on right now. 

I’m working on lots of things, such as self-organisation, being kinder and so on. But also, as it happens, a book. This has been percolating in the procrastination factory for a few years, but I’m finally showing worrying signs of determination. It’s about borders, of all kinds – geographical ones for sure, but about many others, such as the borders between truth and lies, life and death, heaven and hell, taking in liminal states like rites of passage along the way. It’s a frankly ridiculous idea to take on, and I’m regretting it enormously already. But I might as well see it through now I’ve started, although I’m in the market for a ghost writer to take it on from here.


2. Can you recommend something for us to read?

Can you recommend something for us to read? Here’s a link to one of my all-time favourite poems, by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle). It’s called ‘Oread’ (an oread is a nymph of mountain conifers, which helps to know).  I love the wild, almost erotic energy, and how much is compressed into just six lines.  And I’ll also recommend my best read of 2021, which was The Vanishing Man by Laura Cumming. It’s part art criticism, part investigative journalism, and part rumination on the nature of genius. If you hold any kind of torch for Velazquez, it’s an absolute priority. And in fact, I didn’t before reading it, and now happily acknowledge that he has indeed been the best artist of all time.


3. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever read or received?  

I love the advice I read recently by the thriller writer Harlan Coben. “Just get it out. You can fix bad pages. You can’t fix no pages.”  And then the follow up advice once you have got it out comes from James Baldwin. “My first drafts are overwritten. Most of the rewrite is cleaning. You want to write a sentence that is clean as a bone.” I love that notion. I also love his use of the word ‘sentence’ in relation to writing. It reminds me of my all-time favourite writerly thought, which many of you will know, because it’s quoted by Annie Dillard, in her classic This Writing Life.  Student: “Could I become a writer?” Teacher: “I don’t know. Do you enjoy writing sentences?” Such a brilliant insight. If you aspire to be a writer, you’d better get visceral pleasure from the act of writing sentences.


4. Share one thing you do when you get stuck.

Walk away from it. Go for a run, walk or cycle and place the stuckness very lightly in my mind without consciously thinking about it. It’s often resolved by the time I’m back.


5. What’s your desert island book and why? 

The best reason to not be on Desert Island Discs is to avoid this question! However, I’m going to go with Moby Dick. It’s ill-structured, majestic, maddening, inspiring, often boring, beautifully written, overlong, sensitive, soaring and, crucially, unforgettable. In decades of reading books, it’s one of the few to have imprinted itself in my mind and heart. As Melville himself said  ‘To produce a mighty book, you must have a mighty theme.  No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea.’


Thank you, Martin. Now on perpetual lookout for nymphs of mountain conifers.


Telling Stories – A One Day Workshop
Join Neil Baker and John Simmons to explore new ways of using storytelling techniques in your business and personal writing. We’ll be working with a series of creative and playful exercises to help you make, shape and remake powerful stories. If you’re new to Dark Angels, the day will be a perfect introduction to our approach to business writing and creativity. And if you’ve worked with us before, it’s a chance to try new exercises and recharge your creative batteries.

Date: 27th April 10:30 – 16:30
Venue: October Gallery, Central London
Fee: £275
Reserve your place by emailing Susanne@dark-angels.org.uk


Weekly Tuesday Gatherings
The Tuesday night gatherings will be taking a break this Tuesday (8th March), but Neil will be back as usual on the 15th, so please join us then.

Be well, keep reading, keep writing and know that we’re always here.. 

From everyone at Dark Angels


Also published on Medium.