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Whistle – Martin Figura

21 May

Martin Figura chose the Swindon Festival of Literature for the last performance of his hugely successful show ‘Whistle’. Shortlisted for the ‘Ted Hughes Award’ and winner of the 2013 Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Show, ‘Whistle’ tells, through poetry and images, an incredible and compelling story.

Martin’s mother was killed by his father when Martin was just 9 years old.

Expectation could be set for a ‘misery memoir’ style hour of poetry but Figura’s elegant storytelling and engaging stage presence makes sure for a riveting and unique experience instead.

Cleverly used visuals place both the poetry and the narrative in context with 1960′s toys and adverts both used by Figura to add humour to the show.

‘Whistle’ is not about self-pity or dark shadows, it does have its laughs although the overall picture painted by Figura’s poetry is one of pain, disbelief and loss.

Particularly resonant for me were the childhood visits he made to his father in Broadmoor, the mere name conjuring some sort of chill but Figura brings beauty even here with his poem ‘Dad’s Alma Mater’ ending

‘A deer breaks loose from the gorse     shakes rain from yellow flowers, I remember being small.’

Built from fragments of memory, letters, photographs and research ‘Whistle’ is a triumphant and captivating show.

The accompanying collection of poems also called ‘Whistle’ ends with a piece where Figura imagines dancing with his mother in her later years.

Entitled ‘June’s Birthday Waltz’ it is a touching and very personal dream sequence.

Swindon should feel very privileged to have been the location for the final performance of this powerful close reading of lives and death.

Of chickens and beards. Writers Workshop at Swindon Festival of Literature

20 May
Chicken going about her business at Lower Shaw Farm ©Calyx Pictures

Chicken going about her business at Lower Shaw Farm ©Calyx Pictures

Aims of a lit fest:

  1. Meet writers
  2. Hear about writing
  3. Think about what’s been written about
  4. Do your own writing
  5. Work out what to do with your own writing so others can
  6. Go back to number 1.

I’d done numbers one to three (a lot) and written (a lot) about the experience. Now it was time to come up with my own composition. Which was, as it turns out, something to do with chickens and beards. Continue reading

To be or not to be? Do it. Do it! Think Slam at Swindon Festival of Literature

20 May

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So I decided the night before the Think Slam that I was going to do it. Do it. Do it.

That needed to be said several times as the only time I previously entered the Think Slam, I came last. But that’s me. Utterly nail it or completely miss the point. I am not an inbetweeny kind of woman.

So on Thursday I finally had three solid ideas in my head for the three times three minute pieces, and checked on the off chance that there was a place left in the competition. There was. Okay, I now had one chronicler piece to write up that day. Check. Two for Friday. Check. And three think slam talks to hone for Friday evening. Oh gawd. I really don’t like life to be simple.

And to really make it interesting, I woke up on Friday to a nasty headache.

At 1pm, after chronicler Pete shoved some painkillers down my throat, I began to write. I spent three hours on the first talk and an hour on the next two. I work quite well under pressure, fortunately. The chronicler pieces would have to wait.

After Sandrine Berges’s interesting talk on unsung hero Mary Wollstonecraft, it was time for the Think Slam to commence. Continue reading

Festival Finale

19 May

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With a touch of sadness, songs, guitars, words and bicycles that lit up, the Swindon Festival of Literature 2014 came to a typically unique close.

Guitarist Richard Durrant opened proceedings with works by Paraguayan composer Agustin Barrios, his intricate plucking courtesy of a local nail bar. Continue reading

How to get a book on the best seller lists – Carole Blake at Swindon Festival of Literature

18 May

Do your research, says legendary literary agent, Carole Blake.

Carole’s event at Swindon Arts Centre on Thursday night wasn’t appropriate advice for all writers – poets, people happily writing for fun, journalists, non-fiction, niche – but this gem universally rings true, whether you’re writing a CV or pitching your precious first book to an agent.

And it’s easier than ever. Check out most agent’s website and they’ll give you a step-by-step guide of what they do and don’t represent, in which format to submit your work, etc. And, of course, you need a cracking book that they like and think they can sell. Continue reading

An overlooked hero – Wollstonecraft in Swindon Festival of Literature

18 May

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As with many notable historic women, Mary Wollstonecraft is an overlooked hero.

Sandrine Berges, a French professor flown from her home in Turkey for the Swindon Festival of Literature, has a mission to raise Wollstonecraft’s profile.

Wollstonecraft was a British writer and philosopher who wrote what is probably the first feminist tract.

“Wollstonecraft would have been shocked at how slowly things have moved for women today,” said Sandrine, arguing that Wollstonecraft’s values have still not been fully realised.

The eighteenth century writer and philosopher lived a pretty racy life for a women in that age. She did not deliberately set out to provoke society – she came from a respectable family abeit with issues – she simply wanted the freedom to live the life she wanted to lead. She had two lovers, fell pregnant, fell in love with another man and fell pregnant again. She married the father of her second child but lived apart from him so they could both maintain their independence. They shared childcare of the first child. Sadly for her and for early feminism, she died days after the birth of her second child. Continue reading

A night at the museum – Swindon Festival of Literature

18 May

Salvador at museum


What could be better?

A night at the museum, a smile and a new book!

Salvador our official Night Time at Museums Correspondent says ‘Jump, the stories that made me jump, I jumped, everybody jumped at the scream, jumped, I did, I jumped.

The stories that made me jump were the best. Continue reading

Tracey Thorn rescued me from a lifetime of listening to Gene Loves Jezebel – Swindon Festival of Literature

17 May

It was 1982, I’d bought a black coat, black boots, PVC trousers, cheap blue hair gel and a Bauhaus single, then Tracey Thorn released ‘A Distant Shore’ and saved me from now hanging around town in my late-forties looking very hot in a black PVC trench coat with every conceivable part of my face pierced or tattooed.

Instead I wear red trousers, thanks Tracey.

Thorn had released a mini album of simplicity that soon allowed her the plough her trade alongside Aztec Camera, The Go-Betweens and Orange Juice. Continue reading

Speak, Memory – Philip Davis at Swindon Festival of Literature

17 May
Philip Davis

Philip Davis the writer of Reading and the Reader ©Calyx Pictures

I was immersed in words, in the idea of literature, in the excitement of reading, in the prospect of discovery, I was at The Arts Centre. Philip Davis was enthusiastically proposing literature as a way of exploring yourself, accepting it as a form of mental travel. Here is part of the journey he took us on. Please read the following poem aloud -


The Road Not Taken


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Continue reading

Filer nails it – Nathan Filer at Swindon Festival of Literature

16 May
Nathan Filer (centre) ©Calyx Pictures

Nathan Filer (centre) ©Calyx Pictures

Luckily ‘The Shock of the Fall’ is not a kiss and tell memoir by Mark E. Smith’s dentist, but an award-winning jewel of a book by first time novelist Nathan Filer.

Written completely from the point of view of nine-year old Matthew, the book has an implied darkness from the very start.

Filer was an enlightening guest, as he described the process of writing his novel from the very first moment the phrase ‘I had no intention of putting up a fight but these guys weren’t taking any chances’ entered his head and wouldn’t stop repeating. Continue reading


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