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Waltzing with Frances and Martine at the Swindon Festival of Literature

5 May
Paul and Hilda and Frances and Martine

Paul and Hilda and Frances and Martine

A piano dominates the stage, a very cosy looking sheepskin or polyesterpelt rug is thrown casually, but accurately, beside it. The Teasmade is on and the knitting has been put to one side …. Just for now.

Frances and Martine, dark, humorous and adventurous creations of Hilda Sheehan, are waltzing tonight and who knows where that glide and swish will take them?

Spotted late but somehow menacing is a metal chair with a seat of words and a back made from the steel of Salvador Dali’s shaven moustache, what will these two opinionated women make of that?
Timing was the key to the performance, with Paul Turner’s piano fracturing the language and creating darker, deeper impressions. Continue reading

Sweaty and smells of fish – Nell McAndrew at Swindon Festival of Literature

5 May

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It’s not an admission you’d expect from the 16th Sexiest Woman In the World (FHM Magazine, 2003) but if you meet Nell McAndrew in the school playground, chances are she’ll be sweaty and smell slightly of mackerel.

The original Lara Croft, Tomb Raider – she was the face of the arcade game franchise three years before Angelina Jolie claimed the ponytail in the movie spin-off – and the fourth most popular contestant in the first series of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Nell was at Lydiard Park to talk about her new book, Nell McAndrew’s Guide to Running. Continue reading

Adventures with Bevis – Richard Jefferies Museum, Swindon Festival of Literature

4 May

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Chronicler Milo (age eight) enjoyed Adventures with Bevis today at Magic Monday at the Richard Jefferies Museum, a family friendly day as part of the Swindon Festival of Literature. He shares why it’s good for you go to the Museum too…

Are you going mad? Are your kids really sad?
Then come to Richard Jefferies in May, come out for a wonderful day!
Climb a tree up high, reach your hand up to the sky. Continue reading

Dawn Chorus – Swindon Festival of Literature 2015

4 May

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Twenty-two, full of vigor, a sunny disposition, so hot flames pounce at the sky and totally up for it at 5:30am, the Swindon Festival of Literature 2015 juggled, joked and sunshined its start at Lawn Woods this morning.

The Sun Arise Choir filled the air with all of the gentle beauty Swindon has to offer, gorgeous harmonies, Park South and the County Ground being the only other Swindon landmarks which come close from that ridge in Lawn Woods where the town slumbered in early morning loveliness.

A packed and cheerful crowd were treated to storyteller Chris Park and tale about a cloak being a story, which for me ended up cloaked in as much mystery as when he started, his huge Irish Wolfhound is amazing though. Continue reading

Town with a city heart – Swindon Festival of Literature launch

22 Mar

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The Swindon Festival of Literature has a thing for bracing days, ya know – freezing brass monkeys. It kicks off at a cold dawn in May and Thursday, a biting March day you may have noticed, was the launch, outside in a windy Swindon Central Library atrium.

The Festival likes to stimulate ‘thinking parts’ so maybe all this chilly fresh air enables our brain to fully engage and not lie indolent in the sloth-like embrace of central heating.

So, back inside the warm library, I munched on the lovely homemade launch food and thought how good it is when politicians speak from the heart rather than generic politic speak. Matt Holland, Festival director, seemed to appreciate this too because he expressed his love for guest speaker, Teresa Page, the mayor of Swindon: for her, Swindon is the town with the heart of a city; she only had one book a year at Christmas (a present from her sister); and (a girl after my own heart) she also enjoyed comics Bunty and Judy. No tired ‘cultural desert’ metaphors for the Lady Mayor. Continue reading

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


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