Legacy of a Cornish Playwright
Gabby visits Falmouth's Nick Darke Archive to learn more about his life and works.
Nick Darke is a well-known name in Cornwall, renowned for his deeply insightful writing about people and issues that are often grounded in immersive and compelling locations. He is also remembered for his commitment to politics and environmentalism in the local community, as well as his dedication as a husband and father. I arranged a visit to the Nick Darke archive to learn more about him, his life, and the functions of an archive.
The archive resides within the library at Penryn Campus and is open to students, researchers, and anyone with an interest in it. I arranged a visit to the archive with no idea of what to expect. Nick’s collection is so vast that the archivist had chosen a small selection for me to look at that illustrated the breadth of the works available. Each piece is carefully preserved, tucked away in individual files to avoid damage and catalogued for easy access. There are 25 boxes and thousands of records in the Nick Darke archive, which contains everything from the conception of ideas and first drafts, to rehearsal notes and production posters.
It is incredibly important as a record of one of a well-loved local playwright and as a reminder that Nick is more than just a regional writer, which he is often labelled as. He wrote prolifically about Cornwall and gave wonderfully intimate descriptions of Cornish life, but often introduces concerns on an international scale. He wrote about what he was interested in and we can see in the archive just how many different areas that was. Having never met him, looking through the archive we get a sense of Nick not just as writer, but as a person - shopping lists, coffee rings, his children’s sketches, all live quietly amongst the pages of his notebooks.
The archive is available for those who want to gain an insight into Nick’s work and professional life, but is excellent as an academic resource for anyone who wants to study his works in depth. Several students have made use of the archive, one English student writing her dissertation on The King of Prussia and another creating a textiles project based on her experience of the archive, which won Maddie McCollin a Gorsedh Kernow medal for her contribution to Cornish culture. The archive has clear practical uses for academic research, but can also be helpful in teaching the creative processes of writing. It is a realistic representation of a working writer’s life - the frustrations, disappointments, and practical aspects of life that aren’t immediately apparent to someone looking from the outside. In short, it is a brilliant facility for anyone with the slightest interest in professional writing, playwriting, or Nick Darke, and should be on your list of literary places to visit in Cornwall.
Jane Darke generously arranged for the archive to be established in the Library at Penryn Campus, and has been invaluable in cataloguing her husband’s work over the years. The archive is always growing and evolving and Jane adds context to the archive, allowing visitors to develop a personal connection to the works within it. Her input has helped the wonderful team working on the archive to preserve Nick’s legacy in the fullest and most truthful way, creating an amazing resource that will remain a vital part of local heritage for generations to come.
by Gabby Willcocks