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.

A chilly-looking story-telling Rachel Rose Reid took to the mic with a tale ‘to warm our hearts’ where truth and story made friends. I’m especially looking forward to her truths and stories on 14 May when the fruits will be harvested from a collaboration with Swindon Dance, the Library and Swindon’s Harbour Project in What I Bring. Not to get all political but I like the Festival brochure’s reference to refugees as ‘Swindon’s newest arrivals’ with ‘new voices’ – it rather goes against the perceived idea that ‘we’re all worried about immigration’. Art needn’t be endless reinterpretations of the same theatre, or the perfect dance form (etc); that way leads to an artistic cul-de-sac, becoming increasingly irrelevant until (as the late, fantastical Terry Pratchett demonstrated in Small Gods), it fades out of existence. Exciting art thrives on new thinking, new approaches and change. No pressure then, Rachel Rose.

Talking of late, greats, Matt expressed his gratitude for the life and sadness of the death of a co-instigator of the Festival, loyal supporter and sponsor, Dominic Winter. Previously, Matt told me how the news put him out for days, how he had little inkling of what was imminent; near the end, Dominic had put off a meet up with remarkable understatement: things were complicated.

There’s a certain library on the front cover of the new brochure. I hope it’s certain what with all the cultural cuts these days. Literature festivals are selling tools for authors so having Swindon Central Library as the poster building of the Festival is a brave show of support: let those who can afford books, buy them; for the rest (or who read LOADS) the library, still, is a equitable literary treasure trove of magical stories and eye-opening knowledge (and stocks all the Festival books).

So now I could list all the authors and events from 4 to 16 May 2015, but instead I’ll politely direct you to to read for yourself.

Chronicler: Louisa Davison

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